Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Voyage of the Kon-Tiki Misled the World About Navigating the Pacific (2014) (smithsonianmag.com)
109 points by pseudolus 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 75 comments



I have not read much of Heyerdahl's work, but I did read Kon-Tiki several times.

The article may be right to dismiss Heyerdahl as wrong, but its depiction of his approach is not in line with what he wrote himself in Kon-Tiki.

The article says:

> He made his bias particularly clear by designing his Kon Tiki raft to be unsteerable.

which makes it sound like a conscious decision to use the expedition to mislead.

In fact, Heyerdahl says clearly that he and his crew were trying to preserve their project's integrity by keeping the design of the ship as close as possible to the original South American rafts he studied, even to the point of preserving elements professional sailors said would sink the raft.

They did eventually discover that some pieces on the raft whose purpose they didn't understand at first could be used for marginal steerage (though not for sailing into the wind or current, certainly), so the article is factually wrong that he did not include any steering mechanisms.

He might have been entirely wrong about where the Polynesians came from, but I think the article paints him as more dishonest than he was.


For what it's worth I didn't read the article as portraying Heyerdahl as dishonest, just wrong.


Lost me at "Navigation is as much an art—and a spiritual practice—as it is a science."

I'm a pilot and I've done coastal and ocean yacht navigation including coastal at night in a new country. No art or spiritual practice. Bearings for coastal nav, celestial angles if you want latitude at sea, accurate time source if you also want longitude and the option to automate it all with GPS.

Next time you're boarding a commercial flight, go ask the pilot which deity he summoned to select his IFR route. He'll tell you the frequency.


You're a western pilot. Polynesians had none of that.

Here is the essence of how Polynesians navigated. Lie on your back in the canoe. Pay attention to the main swell. During the day, use the swell to keep a straight direction. During the night use the points where specific stars rise and set to be sure you're still going in the right direction. When you get close to the target island, you know that by a variety of signals ranging from the movements of birds that nest on that island, to the waves bouncing back from the swell hitting the island. These make it OK to miss your target by a bit, you'll find it and still be able to steer towards it.

Note what is missing. No latitude. No longitude. No time source. No GPS. No instruments. And yes, the whole thing is done lying on your back.

For Polynesians, navigation was spiritual. Ranging from being able to keep yourself in a trance to keep from losing track, to the stories you told yourself to remember what each star told you about where you were going, to years of guild training.

I learned about this back in university. Included was a comparison of the safety record for sea voyages in the South Pacific conducted by western ships with western navigation and Polynesians during the 1950s and 1960s. The Polynesians did better.


Do you have some sources where I can read more on this stuff? I came across stick maps when I visited museums in New Zealand, and found the idea very fascinating. I have an amateur interest in navigation.

Sorry, I don't.

This is all from my memory of a textbook for a course that I took in 1991 through the Open University of British Columbia, which has since become part of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thompson_Rivers_University.

I no longer remember what the textbook was.


My 2 favorite books that explain it in depth, as well as the modern process of re-learning the lost art/skill:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18375122-hawaiki-rising

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We,_the_Navigators

(Edit: both mentioned in the article, now that I've read it)


Another book that elaborates at some length on non-instrument navigation and the evidence for it is Pathway of the Birds. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41112497-pathway-of-the-...

> No latitude. No longitude.

That's wrong. Tracking which star zeniths is exactly latitude.. you measure, for example Arcturus (which is super easy to find) for Hawaii or Sirius for Tahiti, and keep going due South or North until the "home star" zeniths; you can nearly guarantee due north and southness by traveling perpendicular to solar or stellar motion. Then you head due east or west (which does require stateful knowledge); accuracy can be in a say 200 mile swath and by carefully observing clouds which rise due to orographic precipitation, you can know when you're close.


>> Note what is missing. No latitude. No longitude. No time source.

> That's wrong. Tracking which star zeniths is exactly latitude..

I think you missed the point. Latitude and longitude are Western concepts; concepts which the Polynesians did not actually use as such. However, they were navigators, so some of their navigational concepts and practices would obviously map to the concepts of other navigators due to a shared domain.

Similarly, they obviously had some concept of time. You could probably map their concepts onto hours and minutes, but if someone said they didn't have hours and minutes, they'd be right. The existence of the mapping doesn't invalidate that.


That's wrong. Tracking which star zeniths is exactly latitude.

Read my description again. You will see that the navigational strategy is based on setting out in the right direction and keeping your bearing steady, then being able to tell when you get close enough.

In particular you do not track which star is at the zenith. That judgement is too hard to make with the naked eye on a rocking boat with no instruments. And therefore you do not know where you are. Which means that you do not know your latitude/longitude. (Though they did know roughly how long each journey would be.)


> During the night use the points where specific stars rise and set to be sure you're still going in the right direction.

That is equivalent to contextually figuring out which star zeniths, and in particular stars were assigned names to island groups based on which one zeniths, for example hokule'a for Hawaii.


You're correct. It's not magic. Papa Mau had an encyclopedic knowledge of the sea. He knew the birds, the fish, the constellations, the currents. At high noon on an overcast day Papa Mau could tell where they were by the way the water moved the boat.

This is a massive amount of information passed on through oral tradition. It takes a long time and if you ever visit, you'll often hear people call Papa Mau the last navigator, because he was the last human to be taught this kind of navigation from early childhood. Papa Mau passed before he could finish training the next generation.

This tradition is very important to the nations of the pacific. I don't have time to properly explain why right now. I have a meeting I need to get to.


> Papa Mau passed before he could finish training the next generation.

However, a new school of navigation was recreated from what he did pass on by one of his students, who recreated his non-instrument trip from Hawaii to Tahiti and then spent decades performing elaborate non-instrument trips around the Pacific as well as teaching other new navigators. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nainoa_Thompson


Going down the Wikipedia rabbit hole and reading about Papa Mau's tiny home island of "Satawal":

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satawal

"On March 18, 1994, the freighter Oceanus ventured out of the main shipping channel when its captain attempted to peek at topless Satawalese women. The freighter ran aground on the nearby Wenimong Reef, the primary source of food for the islanders, and 13,000 square meters of the reef were ravaged. The freighter's insurer, the North of England P&I Association, ended up paying US$2 million in compensation to the Satawalese.[2]"


That oddly parallels the 2012 Costa Concordia shipwreck.

Please explain it, later. Sounds very interresting to hear.

I interviewed one of the hawaiian elders who did a lot of work to save hawaiian graveyards from rogue archeology students, real estate developers, and the hawaii state government. To paraphrase what he said: "if we don't become experts on our own people, then they become the experts."

Strange coincidence: I just happen to be watching the PBS Nova episode "Great Human Odyssey", which shows Mau student Kalepa Baybayan's planned 3-year circumnavigation on the Hokule'a using traditional navigation techniques.

>At high noon on an overcast day Papa Mau could tell where they were by the way the water moved the boat.

Sounds like a job for a neural network. Train it with video of the water as input and coordinates as output.


It was, in fact, the job of a neural network.

The article is a summary, and doesn't go into the details, but navigation was also spiritual practice to the original Polynesian navigators. Skills at modern navigation, which if poor simply result in an emergency beacon to Inmarsat and a pickup by the next passing freighter cannot be compared to those needed by the navigator of a Polynesian ocean-going colonization canoe - whose passengers, most likely part of the same family group, would certainly all die along with the navigator if he failed.


Sure, that's one way of doing it. But as the article discusses at length, there have been people navigating long-distance ocean voyages long before such technologies existed. Understanding something of how they did this is (to some of us, at least) quite fascinating.


Cooking is just chemistry--science, not mysticism--though it is taught and passed down in the form of culture and tradition, not as a science.


What about the choices that go into mixing flavors?


> Bearings for coastal nav, celestial angles if you want latitude at sea, accurate time source

Right, that's the western way.

But non instrument navigators could find tiny islands on purpose thousands of years ago without any of that.

I'd call that an art. Maybe you don't practise it as an art, but others have and still do.


I'm sure Captain Cook in 1778 just plugged the coordinates for Hawaiian islands into his GPS and let autopilot navigate him there.


Did you notice I mentioned celestial angles? That predates the invention of an accurate time piece as a nav technique.

My point is that navigation is an analytical process. I'd go further and say that it is the ultimate in holding yourself accountable. If anyone here has ever done any kind of nav, you'll know this to he true because you're responsible for the lives of others. Whether you're navigating a Polynesian canoe using celestial angles or using a GPS on a cross country VFR flight.

That's why I was startled at the quote from the writer I included above. No navigator would write that because they hold themselves more accountable than that.

Curious that my post has been downvoted so heavily. At -4 right now.


Just guessing but perhaps your post is being downvoted because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the word "art", followed by "just plug the numbers into your GPS".

"As much an art as a science" does not mean "there is no science and it's all made up", it means the science is so involved that a layman would struggle to understand it and even someone trained in the practice sometimes needs to rely on experience and muscle memory more than a hard rule book. "As much an art as a science" means you can't just be taught how to do it without practical examples.

Everything you've mentioned in your experience (holding yourself accountable, analytical processes, etc) is the definition of "as much an art as a science". If it was just science with no art, you wouldn't need to hold yourself accountable. You'd just follow the rule book and be completely assured you'd make it to your destination. "Art" in this sentence means "technical problem solving", from an archaic definition of "art" which means "technics". [1]

You seem to have interpreted the word "art" as something lesser than science, then went on to redefine science as meaning exactly the same thing as art in this situation. Maybe think of the phrase as "it's just as much practical knowledge as it is academic". That's how we would phrase the same thing in modern English.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Useful_art


art as a term always seems to be used in this context as a gatekeeping tool. oh you may know "navigation" but you don't understand the "art" of navigating the sea. yeah, no shit you didn't tell me when those types of clouds are on the horizon it means there is a storm coming. it isn't art,it's just experience/ways of prioritizing knowledge

For some of the folks here that are interested in nav, its history, human factors and the development of accurate lat long navigation, the following two books are gems:

Longitude by Dava Sobel And Fate is the Hunter by Ernest Gann.


Downvoting is a spiritual practice and not just a method of selecting a directional arrow?


Nailed it. LOL!


> Did you notice I mentioned celestial angles? That predates the invention of an accurate time piece as a nav technique.

And yet the pedophile Cook leaned heavily on a Polynesian navigator who navigated without such tech.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tupaia_(navigator)


I suppose the downvotes are because you hadn't heard about their pedophilia. Google it. Cook's botanist/scientist on his second voyage, Georg Forster, wrote about how they often took girls as young as 9 and 10. They argued that this was acceptable because "Polynesian girls were sooner ripe".

I think it is well-known that Polynesians, probably the greatest navigators in history, considered navigation to be a spiritual endeavour. I always thought that this is possibly where the whole "spice-eating space navigator" idea in "Dune" came from, but I have not been able to confirm this.

The article spends some time rationalising the navigation techniques used so it is not clear what the deal with "spiritual practice" is.


[flagged]


> They have to stick that in along with the ole racist European trope.

Ostensibly, by "that," you are referring to the spiritual aspects of navigation noted in the article. But the "ole racist European trope" may better be classified as a plain acknowledgement of the facts on the ground. For example, the article states:

"To show that Polynesians descended from Europeans, Abraham Fornander in Hawai‘i, and Edward Tregear and J. Macmillan Brown in New Zealand, built the case at the end of the 19th century using the emerging science of linguistics to trace Polynesian languages back to Sanskrit and to European languages."

and:

"Ethnologist S. Percy Smith was one of several scholars who praised the Polynesians’ “intelligence, their charming personalities, and—one likes to think—their common source with ourselves from the Caucasian branch of humanity."

We could probably look up Fornander, Tregear, and Brown in the literature and gauge their relevance in their field. Ditto for Percy. Maybe it really is a liberal conspiracy to undermine the meritocracy. From the 1930s. Before we do that, though, maybe we should do a search on that tool of the left wing, Google, which turns up https://teara.govt.nz/en/ideas-of-maori-origins/page-2 among the top results for "aryan polynesian theory."

I think the quotes above more lend support to the idea that the article mentions in passing an accounting of the history of the (at least) sometimes racist scholarship in this area, rather than a trope. It's certainly possible that there are "factual tropes," I suppose. Nazis were, after all, pretty bad, no matter how many times we say it. (I have to say that I do think it's cowardly of people to hide behind the connotation of "fiction" in the word "trope." Like, they can't say "lie" or "propaganda" without revealing their racism, so they use "trope." Cheap.) However, calling something a "trope" in order to dismiss it as, I dunno, SJW tears or whatever, is a bit disingenuous. One might even call this common tactic an actual "trope," and a counterfactual one, of the alt-right.


You know what is _really_ disingenuous and intellectually lazy?

Assigning any recognition of the stretches you mention to to an alt-right world view.

We barely know our own motives then go on to assign motive to others. Which is exactly the mistake these kind of articles make. But I guess it sells. The article would have been better on it's own merits however imo, it didn't need to slander folks from the past who tried to figure things out with "hurr, durr, cuz white people all racist". That detracted from the point it was making.


How can you go about life without making internal decisions on what you believe other people's motive are? Or is it only bad when certain actions/views are assigned certain motivations?

Your most recent comment that is not a reply to something I've written is, in its entirety:

> "Your math is a conspiracy of the patriarchy!"

So, while I identified a tactic of the alt-right, without outright accusing you of being in the alt-right, I have to say that I'm not encouraged by this "coincidence," scare quotes deliberate. Well, I'm encouraged that I seem to be spot on in finding these rhetorical techniques. I'm discouraged at its prevalence.

This may come as a news flash, but there is a long, long history of racist scholarship in the West. And not the covert, "Well, there seem to be differences but we can all sorta be equal anyways" kind, but exactly the kind of, "Gosh, these inferior Polynesians did something better than we Caucasians. Ha! I got it! They're secret Caucasians! I knew it! See, if we go to the Sanskrit, we can see right where these inferior foreigners diverged and began their decline, holding on only to the True Scotsman, I mean, True Navigation Technique!"

> [The article] didn't need to slander folks from the past who tried to figure things out with "hurr, durr, cuz white people all racist".

I am, I suppose, as concerned as the next guy with the reputation of Professor A. H. Keane, quoted in the article describing Polynesians as "one of the finest races of mankind, Caucasian in all essentials; distinguished by their symmetrical proportions, tall stature...and handsome features," as thorough as he is do remove the Polynesians from the vast morass of ethnic inferiors. However, I still think that I'll just risk the accusation of deliberate racism against Keane, no matter how slanderous it turns out to be. I mean, gosh, first they came for the late 18th-Century scholars, and I'm doing nothing, because I'm not a white identitarian. Cats and dogs living together!

Look, if you're not on the alt-right, or if you are but you're just "concerned about some things" and not in it to win it with the Charlottesville-marching unholy dreck, then I have some bad news for you: You're a tool for some very awful people with a very retrograde, and ultimately self-destructive, agenda. Take a deep breath, because your rhetoric is their rhetoric, and you're accomplishing their ends.


> Charleston-marching unholy dreck

Minor correction: it was Charlottesville-marching unholy dreck.


Thank you! Fixed!

I have another reply to this in this thread, and I stand by it, but I thought this might explain the use of the terms 'art' and 'spiritual' used in the article.

Western navigation is typically learned explicitly, meaning that it consists of a set of techniques that can be explained and carried out by that rational part of the brain.

This has many advantages, except that the rational part of the brain has less 'bandwidth' than the rest of the brain. The brain is a massively parallel machine that can respond to patterns in myriad ways, with the rational part being just one late addition, kind of like a calculator grafted on.[1]

The tiny bandwidth of the rational part of the brain is why we need calculators, why we take notes, have books, devise theorems and notations. We do this because it reduces the bandwidth required to reason about a given problem.

That integral you are trying to solve for homework in university, has just about as many 'parts' as the algebra problems you used to solve in grade 7.[2] Theres'a huge intellectual scaffolding underneath that integral sign, and many revisions of that scaffolding were developed, of course, but your brain in university does not have a bigger bandwidth than it did in grade 7.

But there are other ways of learning and knowing. And it's not so woo woo: implicit learning.

I bet you now how to catch a ball. How hard would it be for you to rationally[3] explain to me how ta catch a ball if I've never done it?

But you could trivially teach me to catch a ball, you'd toss it to me and give me hints until I caught it, and then I'd practice that till it became automatic. Then I'd have trouble explaining that to someone, but I could teach them in the same experiential way and so the skill can be passed on.[4]

This is why it's harder to teach a computer to catch a ball than it is to teach it to navigate.

So this 'spiritual' word, is hinting that the Polynesian navigators learned their navigation skills implicitly.

Relying much more on non rational (but not irrational) parts of the brain: recognizing patterns in nature, the position of stars yes, but tons of other clues that westerners have the luxury of ignoring because our charts and tables and GPS can just get us there already without all of that messy stuff.

Once a skill is acquired in this manner, it can be very hard to explain to someone else making it look uncanny to outsiders perhaps.

I think the word mystical might have been better than spiritual. But art fits pretty well for a skill learned in this way.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magical_Number_Seven,_Plus...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_memory

[3] I mean a list of instructions that can be carried out so that success is guaranteed when correctly executed.

[4] A better example might be a sport like say surfing. It takes years to learn, and good surfers have a hard time explaining certain things. You just have observe nature (waves) and develop an intuition.


Great comment.

[flagged]


"You conducted your navigation adorned with aviator glasses while smarting off in a classroom between homoerotic beach volleyball scenes, while Polynesians embedded their navigation education in a spiritual practice. "

This is totally ridiculous.


ita est totali ridiculus! ergo ridebam tantum. concordamus nos. bonus risus, amice mi atave.

[flagged]


The reference was clear, and it's crude bigotry.


When Nainoa Thompson was learning/re-inventing Polynesian navigation one of the techniques he used was too spend time at a planetarium where he could learn what the skies looked like at different latitudes.[1]

[1] http://archive.hokulea.com/index/founder_and_teachers/will_k...


The winds in the South Pacific predominately blow east to west. Since Polynesian voyaging canoes have a very limited ability to sail into the wind, it seemed impossible for them to have colonized Polynesia from west to east. This appeared to be a pretty strong argument for a colonization of Polynesia from South America, since South American voyagers (either intentional or accidental) would be sailing with the predominate winds, not against them.

However, it turns out that during El Niño years the direction of the winds can change so they are blowing from west to east, making it much easier to sail east across the South Pacific.[1]

In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl didn't know about this possibility.

[1] Anomalous Westerlies, El Niño, and the Colonization of Polynesia - https://www.jstor.org/stable/677659?seq=1#page_scan_tab_cont... (I can't find the full text of the paper online, but I think this is the one I remember.)


They sailed west to east on purpose, because it made it easier to get home if they didn't make landfall.

The canoes they used were not tacked, they were shunted, which made it much easier to said into the wind.

To get back home, they memorized a bunch of zenith stars for their home latitude, went north or south till they put those stars at zenith and then just let the wind carry them home.

Non instrument navigation to Hawaii, for example, involves overshooting the island chain by going a bit too far east, putting Hokulea (Arcturus) at the zenith then sailing west till you make landfall.


I should have thought of it before, but it occurred to me that Hokule'a (the canoe) has been all over Polynesia, so they had to handle sailing east for part of those trips.

This led me to this article about their first trip to Easter Island, sailing from Mangareva:

http://www.samlow.com/sail-nav/giftofthewind.html

They expected the voyage to be difficult because it would be almost directly into the prevailing winds, but it turned out that they were able to sail pretty close to due-east the entire trip and they arrived at Easter Island 10 days early.

This was in 1999 which was not an El Niño year, but rather a La Niña year following the really large 1998 El Niño event.


I don't think shunting buys that much. The crab claw sail is still limited in how close it can sail to the wind. It's always going to be easier sailing when the wind is favorable. And it turns out that in some parts of some years, the winds are more favorable for sailing east in the South Pacific. Of course sooner or later the prevailing winds will return, and then it will be easier to get home.


IIRC shunting meant that they could keep the outrigger down wind at all times, which is supposedly more efficient than sailing an outrigger canoe 'the wrong way' half the time.


I had to look "shunting" up -- I'd heard of it before but then forgotten.

The big oceangoing voyaging canoes like Hokule'a are double canoes so they are symmetric, unlike outrigger canoes. There still might be an advantage to shunting depending on what kind of sail the canoe is using. According to Wikipedia, some types of lateen sails (of which the crab claw sail is a variant[1]) suffer from a "bad tack" due to the position of the mast[2], which shunting would address.

I don't think hokule'a is shunted, but I'm not actually clear on that. Hokule'a isn't a perfect replica anyway since it's built of modern materials.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_claw_sail

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateen (look for "bad tack")


Hokulea is not shunted, but it is a decent replica of a double hulled Polynesian ocean canoe.[1]

The craft that were shunted were the smaller outrigger canoes.

[1] When it is rigged with lateen sails. It often is rigged with a Bermuda sail.


>The canoes they used were not tacked, they were shunted, which made it much easier to said into the wind.

I googled "canoe shunted" and these were some links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_claw_sail

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drua

Interesting technique (shunting - need to read more about it), as is tacking. I remember first reading an explanation of how tacking works, i.e. of how ships and boats are able to sail (almost) towards the wind, in terms of two resolutions of forces (which I had just learned about somewhat recently in high school physics), one being of the wind against the sail (which is at an angle to the wind), and the other being of the movement of the boat at an angle against the keel, or something like that. If it had not been for the explanation of the two resolutions of forces and the result (enabling tacking), I would not have believed that a ship/boat can sail upwind (unless I had seen it).

Also, adding my 2c to the discussion about Polynesian navigators (I posted about this in an HN thread some months / years ago): the National Geographic magazine had done an extensive study years ago, in Polynesia and maybe Micronesia, about these ancient navigators and their methods, such as using the waves and patterns in the sea, swells, land, mirages, sky, clouds, birds, etc., to navigate and find their way between those islands separated by thousands of kilometers. They interviewed some of the surviving descendants of the ancient navigators, some of whom were themselves still navigators.

And related, the other point I had mentioned on HN (in a similar context) earlier, was the novel The Navigator, by Morris West, which is a great adventure story, involving threads talking about such ancient navigation practices, psychology in practice, social experimentation and other interesting stuff, all well woven together into the narrative by the author, who also wrote The Shoes of The Fisherman and a few other bestsellers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morris_West

Also:

Hōkūleʻa:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C5%8Dk%C5%ABle%CA%BBa

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polynesian_navigation


You might like the book 'Vaka Moana' if you haven't read it yet.


Just saw this (among other things) after searching for Vaka Moana:

https://okeanos-foundation.org/vaka-moana/

https://okeanos-foundation.org/foundation/


Vaka Moana means 'ocean canoe.'

Got it. I like the sounds of the Polynesian languages.

Thank you, will check it out.

Another good source, mentioned above, is Pathway of the Birds https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41112497-pathway-of-the-...

Something I recall from reading "Sail Performance", the crab claw is way better then most people expect. In fact for a smaller boat it may just be the best shape when averaged over all the points of sail. Modern sail plans are targeted more towards large boats and racing boats, which does not reflect the reality of what most people are sailing most of the time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crab_claw_sail


Missing from the article is the recent DNA evidence linking Polynesian peoples to the aboriginal inhabitants of Taiwan ... Making the west to east theory even more likely ... Essentially the Polynesians spread across the Pacific above the equator, the travelled back south of it, finally discovering New Zealand around 900AD (probably the last inhabitable land discovered by any humans)

this article from a while back provides a nice summary of current thinking (there's a bunch of waffle at the top of the aritcle before getting into the guts of it about midway through ) https://www.stuff.co.nz/travel/destinations/asia/67390585/nu...

There was certainly contact between the polynesians and native americans. The Chumash got their tomolo design after contact with ancient polynesians who sailed to the channel islands. Before that contact they used reed based boats to travel between the channel islands, after that contact and the adoption of polynesian style sewn boats they were able to radically increase the scale of their commercial activities by being able to transport far more goods than with the older boat design.


> On one voyage where he was not the master navigator, Mau woke out of a dead sleep and told the steersman that the canoe was off course, just by the feel of the swells hitting the hulls of the canoe.

That is an astonishing level of mastery.


There was a part in Kon-Tiki where Heyerdahl says that after a month or so out in the ocean, they realized that it was easy to navigate between islands. First sail north or south to the latitude of your destination. Then sail east or west, maintaining the latitude to the destination. If you were confident about your position and heading, you could mix N/S and E/W motion to get there faster.


This is totally true.

See the book Vaka Moana for the real story.

Polynesians populated the pacific islands from west to east.

They probably are the best navigators on the planet.


Wow.

This story is worth reading all the way to the end, where some of the traditional navigation techniques are briefly described. It's mind-blowing.


If you want to learn more about Polynesian voyaging, the book Vaka Moana is a great introduction to the various technologies. Navigation, boat-building, colonization, etc. It's a bit pricy at $70 but you can also find it in a lot of libraries.

https://www.worldcat.org/title/vaka-moana-voyages-of-the-anc...


The issue (can Polynesian navigators navigate by stars and swells) was actually settled and documented in 1967. See http://naturedocumentaries.org/14031/master-navigators-pacif...

Curiously, all it took was going to Polynesia, and asking them. Something 18th and 19th-century 'scientists' could not imagine doing I guess.


It is not seaweed on the "wooden carving" in one of the photos, but lā'ī, maile and other lei plants from the land/forest.

It is not seaweed on the "wooden carving" in one of the photos, but lā'ī, maile and other lei plants from the land/forest.



Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: