Nali Tasih I - 1998
‘Nale Tasih I’ was the first of The First Mariners experiments. It failed because of many issues, all of them providing deeply rewarding lessons for the future. It was put together from locally gathered inferior and termite infested bamboo on Pulau Rote also, not far from where the latest raft will be constructed. Always acceptable to advice from other interested parties – including ‘experts’ in various fields – the design was prompted by a famous promoter and builder of Polynesian-style catamarans and featured five parallel, round pontoons. The raft weighed about 15 tonnes when it took off on March 09, 1998, into headwinds caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon reversing the prevailing winds for that time of the year.
Within 48 hours the 23-metre long raft and its 14 crew were back on Rote, never having left sight of the island and making no easterly progress at all. Amongst the disappointed crew was an Austrian geologist and Australian rock art enthusiast, Robert Bednarik, whose fascination with ancient seafaring brought him into our project as Scientific Adviser which led to numerous scientific papers on the subject and our first, modest experiments with stone tools.
Once the vessel’s design was established, it’s construction and the preparation of ‘Nale Tasih I’ for the voyage were controlled by the local Rotinese fishermen whose knowledge of ancient techniques for fishing, food preparation and cooking, the practical use of natural materials for weaving sails, gluing water containers together, spear making, fire making and basic navigation.
So we listened and learned. And the knowledge gleaned from those lessons in stoneage maritime behaviour played a vital role in all the projects to follow. Robert Bednarik was with us for the two successive projects in Indonesia before we parted company. His role as academic mentor was assumed by various scholars on a casual basis and we would become indebted to them all for believing so earnestly in what we were trying to achieve; even with non-successes like 'Nale Tasih I.’