500 Sails celebrates its first-year anniversary since the launch of Sunday Sails, a free program begun by Master Navigator Mario Benito. Sunday Sails gives the public the unique opportunity to experience sailing on a traditional canoe and even learn how to sail. Despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sunday Sails has reached over 1,200 participants in 40 weeks over the past year.

Benito hopes to inspire others to take up sailing and navigation and by making it free, the barrier to learn and be a part of this cultural experience is removed. “I want to open it up to the community, because this type of knowledge is disappearing, and we have to keep trying to pass this down. I want my son and others to learn how to carve the canoe and navigate the canoe, so please come help us revive our canoe culture,” says Benito.

When Benito joined 500 Sails’ boatyard staff in 2020, he saw the canoes in the Guma Sakman as the means to start teaching. Sunday Sails is his concept, and he is supported by 500 Sails staff and volunteers, but more importantly by his extended family who sail the canoes every weekend.

Mario Benito is a Senior Sakman Leader (boatbuilder) at 500 Sails. Born and raised on the island of Polowat in Chuuk of the Houpolowat clan and Utts Wenimai and Wenipukuw, Benito is a highly respected leader who brings over 47 years of navigational experience into the fold. Since he was four years old, Benito has sailed with his father, uncles (of Western renown Mau Piailug), and his grandfather Taworhu Onopey and trained for years with some of the most famous late Grand Master Polowat navigators, including Hipour Ewoluth (Edward), Manipey Rapang, Teo Onopey, and Rainam Edward, who performed his Pwo ceremony in Guahan in 2016. Benito’s understanding of the ocean is a reflection of thousands of years of oral tradition and maritime skillsets. He received his formal training from the Weriyaeng School of Navigation and informally from the Fanur School of Navigation.

500 Sails is a 501(c)3 and CNMI tax-exempt nonprofit organization dedicated to reviving, promoting, and preserving the maritime cultural traditions of the Mariana Islands through community engagement in canoe cultural values and activities. 500 Sails envisions a healthy thriving native community that has successfully integrated traditional cultural values into modern life.

Sunday Sails is free to anyone interested in experiencing traditional canoe sailing. It runs from 10am to 2pm and is accompanied by a potluck beach barbeque. No reservations are necessary — just come to the beach behind the Guma Sakman with something to share.

For more information and notices related to Sunday Sails,  visit the 500 Sails Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/500Sails

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