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Santa Cruz Boat: Engineering art from the South Seas

Silke Wünsch ct
June 17, 2019

The Santa Cruz boat testifies to the Polynesian seafaring art. With their unique sails, their boats could easily compete with today's sailboats.


Built between 1964 and 1965 on the island of Taumako, between Solomon Islands and Vanuatu in the South Pacific Ocean, this sailboat has not been in use by commercial travelers in the South Seas for some time. In the 1960s, Gerd Koch brought the last completely preserved boat of its kind, known as the Santa Cruz Boat, to the Ethnological Museum in Berlin's Dahlem neighborhood.

The former deputy director of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, Koch traveled the South Pacific in the 1950s and 60s, studying the cultural techniques of the indigenous people there. He was particularly impressed by their navigation technique: "The Polynesians had observed at which point in the horizon certain stars rose, over which islands they moved, and they knew that certain stars followed each other on an imaginary path in the vault of heaven. They set course for the rising 'guiding star' for the island to be headed for. If it had risen too high, they followed the next one on the 'Star Path.'"

The seaworthy outrigger boat, with its sail in the shape of a crab's body with its pinchers, is faster than many a modern sailboat. Together with other boats originating in the South Seas, the Santa Cruz boat was elaboratelytransported for display to the Humboldt Forum in the center of Berlin from the Ethnological Museum. 

Click here to see more videos from "Berlin's Treasure Trove: The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation."