We, the Navigators - Part I
Posted Sun, January 10, 2010 - 8:01 PM
hawaii, navigation, books
The day before I left Hawaii, Annie and I were browsing the shelves at Barnes & Noble before she headed to work next door. I was perusing the local interest shelves and I bought this book for the plane ride home:
Its author, David Lewis, has had years of experience sailing the world's oceans. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he undertook a study of the fast vanishing art of indigenous navigation across the open expanses of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. He sought out native navigators across the Pacific and learned many of their techniques in the most effective way possible - by actually voyaging with them for many days at a time and essentially becoming apprenticed to them. In 1976, as part of the bicentennial celebrations in Hawaii, he was one of the crew members who sailed the 65-foot voyaging canoe Hōkūle‘a (which is the Hawai‘ian name for Arcturus) from Hawaii to Tahiti using only traditional techniques, no instruments, and no Western knowledge.
In the book, he details the essential techniques he learned from these very competent navigators, and tries to convey the completely different worldview that informed their practice. In particular, none of the navigators he worked with were ever really able to understand nautical charts, something we would consider absolutely basic to the task. Nevertheless, it was pretty amazing to find so many correspondences between the navigational techniques of the islanders and the techniques many of us use every time we run an O-course, or do an adventure race.
More detail (much more!) below the fold.