The name "500 Sails" was inspired by the arrival of the Spanish galleon San Pedro at Guam in 1565, when it was met by the Chamorros in their sailing canoes:
We were no more than two leagues from [the island] when fifty or sixty proas under sail surrounded the fleet. These proas were furnished with lateen sails of palm mats and were as light as the wind...The day had scarcely begun when a great number of these proas appeared about us...more than four or five hundred around the ships..." — Legazpi aboard the San Pedro, 1565
The 500 Sails Project aims to reclaim the maritime tradition in the Marianas by getting 500 traditional Chamorro and Carolilnians proas on the water in the Marianas again. By matching the number of proas seen on the water in 1565, we will have restored our maritime traditions. The target date to accomplish this is 2030.
The 500 Sails Guma Sakman (canoe house), opened in June, 2017. Programs conducted at the Guma Sakman include:
- Chamorro and Carolinian Proa Sailing
- Water Safety (including open-water swimming)
- Boating Safety
- Cultural Programs (including maritime history, language and navigation)
500 Sails canoe building takes place in a warehouse in Lower Base, Saipan. The canoes are based on Chamorro and Carolinian traditional designs. To keep the costs down, speed the building time, and ensure long lasting canoes, both the hull and outrigger are made of fiberglass, using modern boat-building processes.
Participants in the canoe building program will work together to build canoes that they will own. Participants need only pay the cost of materials. Financial assistance for indigenous Chamorros and Carolinians is available based on need is provided through an Administration for Native Americans (ANA) Social & Economic Development Strategies (SEDS) grant. The grant, entitled "500 Sails – Improving Health Outcomes Through Traditional Maritime Activities", aims to improve the health of the indigenous community by encouraging and enabling widespread participation in traditional Chamorro and Carolinian proa construction and sailing.
In addition to the ANA SEDS grant, grant funding for 500 Sails programs has been provided by the Northern Marianas Humanities Council, and the Commonwealth Council for Arts and Culture (CCAC). Other in-kind and financial contributors include Soroptimist International of the Marianas, Atkins Kroll and Matson Shipping Company.