The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
Tacking and Shunting
A sailing boat can sail close to the wind, across the wind, and with the wind from behind. But it can’t go directly into the wind because the sail can’t catch any air. If its destination lies in the direction of the wind, the canoe has to sail in a zigzag GLOSSARY zigzag - back and forth pattern towards it.
The most common way to do this is to tack. The canoe sails on an angle to the wind. With enough speed, it turns its front through the wind. The sail flaps and then fills again on the other side. All European boats and many Pacific canoes tack like this. Tacking canoes are good for the changing winds around headlands, like those in Aotearoa GLOSSARY Aotearoa - New Zealand . Tacking is also good for when boats spend a lot of time heading in a direction that the wind is coming from. Modern ships often do that because they are delivering goods on a tight schedule, no matter which way the wind is blowing.
Another way to sail into the wind is to shunt – to change the front end to the back ends of the canoe, and continue sailing on with a new front end. The outrigger GLOSSARY outrigger - side float a shunting canoe is always on the side opposite the sail, so the vaka is well balanced. However, shunting takes more time than tacking because the sail (and sometimes the mast) must be taken down and raised again at the other end. This can take several minutes on a big vaka. But, vakas that shunt tend to go from a dead stop to moving top speed very quickly, while a tacking vessel can take some minutes to get back to a steady cruising speed.
Shunting is a good method for places with steady winds, like Micronesia, where it was developed, and for people who do not mind waiting months for the prevailing winds to change so that they can have a following wind to sail on when they go back to their home island. The people in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and the Tuamotu Islands also shunted because this way of sailing suits long-distance canoes on routes that are taken during the right season for a fair wind.