On board the canoe that proved ancient Polynesians could cross the Pacific

Popular Science | 5/1/1976 | Staff
doona07 (Posted by) Level 3
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One of the biggest unknowns was whether Mau’s navigational knowledge would be sufficient, given that the route was entirely unfamiliar to him. “A medieval Tahitian or Hawaiian navigator,” wrote Lewis, “would have possessed information about the Hawaii–Tahiti seaway exactly comparable to Piailug’s about his own and neighboring archipelagos.” He would have known the star path, the winds and currents likely to be encountered, and the distance typically covered in a day’s sail; he would be sailing, you might say, in his own neck of the woods. But Mau came from a completely different part of the Pacific, far to the west, where the sky and sea and weather patterns were all different, and his experience covered only some of the latitudes that would be traversed in the course of this journey. This last had significant implications for the navigation— the North Star, for instance, figures prominently in Carolinian navigation, but below the equator it can no longer be seen. Thus, once they crossed over to the Southern Hemisphere, Mau would lose an important celestial reference point. Part of Lewis’s job had been to help Mau fill in the inevitable gaps in his geographic knowledge, and one of the ways they did this was by visiting the planetarium at the Bishop Museum. There, using the star projector, they simulated the way the night sky would change as the canoe traveled from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere. “Once this background was filled in,” wrote Lewis, Mau “laid down his strategy for the voyage—the etak (the Marquesas) and the star courses...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Popular Science
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