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.
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.
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.
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.
(Edit: both mentioned in the article, now that I've read it)
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.
> 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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
"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."
Sounds like a job for a neural network. Train it with video of the water as input and coordinates as output.
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.
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.
"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". 
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.
Longitude by Dava Sobel
Fate is the Hunter by Ernest Gann.
And yet the pedophile Cook leaned heavily on a Polynesian navigator who navigated without such tech.
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."
"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.
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.
> "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.
Minor correction: it was Charlottesville-marching unholy dreck.
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.
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. 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 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.
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.
 I mean a list of instructions that can be carried out so that success is guaranteed when correctly executed.
 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.
This is totally ridiculous.
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.
In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl didn't know about this possibility.
 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.)
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.
This led me to this article about their first trip to Easter Island, sailing from Mangareva:
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.
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) suffer from a "bad tack" due to the position of the mast, 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.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lateen (look for "bad tack")
The craft that were shunted were the smaller outrigger canoes.
 When it is rigged with lateen sails. It often is rigged with a Bermuda sail.
I googled "canoe shunted" and these were some links:
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.
That is an astonishing level of mastery.
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.
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.
Curiously, all it took was going to Polynesia, and asking them. Something 18th and 19th-century 'scientists' could not imagine doing I guess.