Position: Master navigator, Field: Māori tradition/celestial navigation.
Master navigator Jack Thatcher is based in Tauranga and is of Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Porou and Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti descent. Jack is self-employed and also manages the programmes of a small trust in Tauranga. As the trust’s event manager, Jack supports events based on traditional Māori activities such as waka kaupapa, mau rākau, kapa haka and cultural experiences. His main interest is in Māori traditional activity.
Jack was the chief navigator of the Waka Tapu – the waka hourua that sailed from Aotearoa to Rapanui (Easter Island) and back. The Waka Tapu vessels (Te Aurere and the supporting vessel Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti) set sail from Auckland on 17 August, 2012. They sailed to Rapanui via Tubuai and Mangareva and then returned via Moorea and Rarotonga, arriving back in Doubtless Bay (in the Far North) 9 months later on 15 May. In total, the journey covered over 10,000 nautical miles (18,500 km).
Jack has navigated numerous previous waka journeys, gaining more than 35,000 nautical miles (65,000 km) of deep ocean and coastal voyaging experience. He was 32 when first asked to train as a celestial navigator and considers the decision to do this as life changing. He was involved with the 1990 preparations for the waka pageant at Waitangi, as kaihautū of the Mātaatua waka from the Bay of Plenty. Through this involvement, he became aware of the first Te Aurere project to voyage to Rarotonga. Jack was chosen as a crew member in 1992. Following the maiden voyage, waka builder Hekenukumai Busby (Pūhipi) asked him to do celestial navigation training. He agreed and has been with Te Aurere ever since.
Jack says, “Voyaging has enabled me to see the world through the eyes of my ancestors, and what I have seen is a science that is ageless, a science that has sustained a deliberate exploration of an environment that was just as vast to my ancestors as space is to us today.”
Voyaging has enabled me to see the world through the eyes of my ancestors
Regardless of his exciting, ocean-faring life, Jack emphasises that his love for his family is first and foremost. He is also passionate about sport – waka ama, rugby, cricket and triathlons in particular. He has a keen interest in books about science, fantasy novels, good wine and food. He enjoys cooking and the movies. Although he likes to entertain his friends, Jack also likes to travel and meet new people. Jack considers himself a people person – but he also thoroughly enjoys a quiet stroll along the beach or a forest path.
In 2021 Jack was awarded the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM) for services to Māori and education. In this Stuff news article, read more about the path Jack took and his life that led him to him receiving this recognition.
Explore the range of content we have on navigating without instruments across the Pacific Ocean.
Listen to a 2012 Radio NZ interview with navigator Jack Thatcher.
Jack Thatcher tells of some of his experiences related to his ocean voyages. He is one of a panel of four people interviewed in this RNZ National programme about their experiences as they pushed themselves to achieve their goals.
This article is based on information current in 2014 and updated in 2021.