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Marianas Variety: 500 Sails embraces role in PROA summer camp (July 26, 2017)

500 Sails, the CNMI’s premier nonprofit group devoted to the rediscovery and practice of indigenous Chamorro maritime and sailing traditions, is playing an invaluable role in Northern Marianas College’s Project PROA this year.

Together with its aquatics division, Dolphin Swim Club Saipan, the sailing group was invited to participate as a cultural activities host for the PROA Summer Youth Camp Voyager program.

Voyager is designed to help CNMI high school students prepare for entry into colleges and universities.

While the other camp activities are focused on reading, writing and math, 500 Sails mentors camp students in the ways of indigenous maritime tradition and gives them an opportunity to swim and sail in the process.

500 Sails co-founder Pete Perez believes there are timeless lessons and values that the youth of today can benefit from through reconnecting with their roots and learning traditional maritime methods.

Values such as commitment to completing a process and working together as a community towards a goal, much like their ancestors once did while building and sailing proa canoes, can better prepare these youth for facing their future.

“We host students for two-hours each day this week [from Monday until Thursday] at our Guma Sakman facility.

On Day 1, we gave a 30 minute lecture and slideshow about the history of indigenous maritime traditions in the Marianas extending from pre-Western contact times, to the colonial period when the Chamorros lost their freedom and the Spanish suppressed canoe building and voyaging, until today when we are in the midst of a movement to revive our maritime traditions and bring them back into daily use. We also introduced the students to 500 Sails’ canoe sailing and building programs that are designed to enable participants to learn to sail, build and own their own canoes.

The students then split into two groups. One group went on a short sail on our canoe, Sakman Neni, the first 500 Sails built Chamorro canoe, while the other group had swim lessons in the lagoon with Coach Emma Perez who directs our water safety program, Dolphin,” Perez told Variety.

All the way on through Wednesday, the organization will continue conducting sailing and constructing basics of the sakman with students.

“On Wednesday, we’re taking the students to the 500 Sails indoor boat yard in Lower Base to show them where we are setting up for our second canoe build. This is where we completed Neni after shaping her hull and outrigger in New Zealand. It is also where we will be building over 50 more canoes in the next two years. We’ll be showing them the materials used and explain the building process from lofting through construction,” Perez continued.

Perez shared that students from Tinian and Rota will also be joining the Saipan students on Thursday. For that session, the visiting students shall get their own time reserved for them to spend sailing Neni while the other students continue to partake in swimming and paddling exercises.

To cover the academic aspect of sailing, 500 Sails is also providing some classroom instruction on how math and science play into sailing. Concepts like tides, currents, wind predictions and the art and science of sailing are introduced to students.

Perez embraces 500 Sail’s involvement with Summer Camp Voyager for the rare opportunity it provides to immerse graduating seniors in maritime activities. His ultimate hope is that the experience will bring a deeper understanding and appreciation for their cultural heritage and one day lead them back to the maritime traditions that formed Chamorro and Carolinian island culture and kept them healthy and happy for thousands of years.

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