Marshallese Outriggers – Sailing Innovation Beyond It’s Years

A self steering canoe that can cross five miles of lagoon in just 15 minutes. Magnificent, right? There’s truly nothing like a Marshallese Outrigger.

Rewuit, as they would call a toy model of a Marshallese Outrigger are often raced in the capital of the Republic of Marshall Islands known as Majuro. These models are miniatures of the sleek sailboat design fashioned by the residents of these islands thousands of years ago. Living in a nation which is 99% made of water, it is by instinct that these people would want to make sea travel fast and efficient. Their unique sailboat design consists of an asymmetrical hull that allows the vessel to move directly in the direction of the wind. It’s kabaak or outrigger is a shock absorbing system that improves the glide and efficiency of this boat’s sailing.

In an ideal day for sailing, locals gather in a windward bay called Rewuit Corner to sail their model Marshallese Outrigger. With a proper set-up, these model sailboats can steer itself in a straight line relative to the wind. When waves hit or knock it, it swerves back and instantly goes back to the right way! When gusts of wind come, they zoom away in incredible speed and yet still stay on course. The special relationship of the sail and outrigger creates a balance that whichever the direction of the wind comes from, these Rewuits will always stay on a straight course.

Generations of Marshallese outriggers were made by hand and virtually with no use of tools. With its hull made of breadfruit logs tied together by coconut strings and powered by a sail of pandanus leaves, only broken pieces of coral and sharpened clam shells were used in sawing and gouging. Making these canoes also require communal effort. A small fishing canoe that can carry one to two persons takes 8 months to make. Mid size vessels that can carry as much as 10 people takes a year to make. Full voyage canoes carrying a maximum of 50 people takes several years to make.

As these were means of transport and livelihood before, model Marshallese Outriggers or Riwuits are now often raced as a means of keeping the tradition of making these state of the art sailboats. They are very much treasured by a community that prides in the structural design that is remarkably fast and efficient, but also solely known as the Marshallese Outrigger.