World’s first circumnavigation of the island of New Guinea in a traditional sailing canoe

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Thor F. Jensen, a young illustrator and adventurer from Denmark is soon to set records as he set off on August 30 on his circumnavigation of the island of New Guinea in a traditional sailing dugout canoe.

He is accompanied by three of the best sailors from the Milne Bay province that will teach him how to live and sail like a local.

The journey is around 6,500km, and it will likely take 6 to 9 months.

The team mark their starting and finishing point at Tawali Resort, Milne Bay Province – one of the last areas in Papua New Guinea where people continue to make and sail these boats, which have seen little change for thousands of years, and which are very much a part of everyday life for the islanders.

Job Siyae, Sanakoli John and his brother Justin John from Nuakata Island and Normanby Island accompanied Thor.

From very simple island villages, they take great pride in their sailing traditions and skills, and they are among the most renowned sailors in the area. The young men see the expedition as a testament to their sailing skills and a chance to be recognised for their abilities.

It is highly unlikely that the journey has ever been made before in a traditional local vessel and it is, for sure, a tough and raw expedition given the fact that New Guinea Island is the second largest island in the world after Greenland.

There are some challenging personal concerns; and that is, a long time to be exposed in a very small vessel with limited resources. But the island is also home to an exceptional diversity of cultures, extraordinary natural beauty and biodiversity, and tremendously warm, friendly, welcoming people.

Thor is undertaking the journey to learn to sail these boats that have been used for millennia, to learn to live like the locals, to experience the diversity of cultures and environments, and to share the adventure as it unfolds through updates on social media.

Having a background in tourism, Thor is collaborating with the tourism office in Alotau in developing a business model to secure the three sailors business in tourism, upon the end of the journey.

The canoe which was built by traditional methods on Basilaki Island is about 3 years old. After acquiring it in early August, the local sailors, along with Thor, spent a couple of weeks working on it to get it ready. It is 9 metres long – a small boat on a big voyage.

After successfully travelling the first 600km – they spent six days in the village Bucava between Lae and Finschhafen, in an area where they searched for, and found, a suitable tree to replace the outrigger. This was a part of the plan as the particular wood they wanted was scarce and expensive in the islands.

After 24 days and 950km the canoe is now safe ashore at the Madang resort, where some important improvements are being made on the canoe, including drying out the new outrigger.

So far the journey is a record in it self for such a vessel, but the expedition continues towards Sepik when the canoe is sorted and crew rested.

Thor F. Jensen is a young Danish adventure filmmaker, illustrator and speaker. He has won awards for his two last films. He has paddled around Denmark by kayak, guided expeditions and taught wilderness skills in the Venezuelan jungle and crossed the North Atlantic by sailing boat. He has a substantial knowledge of, and great interest in, tropical fauna, and has a fascination for indigenous people around the world and their ways of life.

A photographer Paul Kerrison, will be joining and covering the adventure on different stages trough out the expedition.

Joanita Nonwo

is a contributor with EMTV Online, specialising in international stories relating to development, environment and gender equality, all within a Papua New Guinean context.

Joanita Nonwo

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