Reading the Sea: Learning from the Polynesian Voyaging Society

indi's picture

Sometime in April 2002 when I was staying with Rani in Honolulu, Hawaii, I attended a talk by members of the Polynesian Voyaging Society on how people in Polynesian sailors have been able to navigate thousands of nautical miles without compasses for centuries.

One of the things I remember the most was when they spoke about reading the waves. What did they mean by reading the waves? That means when it gets cloudy and you can't use the sun or the stars all you can do is rely on the ocean waves. In short, their centuries-old celestial navigation technique (without compass or sextant) when combined with the ability to "feel" or "read" the seas allow them to perform

This Wayfinding article serves to introduce you the concept of open ocean voyages without instruments, through careful observation of natural signs. They memorize, literally, 220 stars (usually called Heavenly Bodies by Western Celestial Navigators) as well as how/when/where each star clusters move depending on time of day. Besides relying on heavenly bodies, they look at the textures of waves forming at the surface and identify types and movement of birds or fishes. These become roadsigns or signposts in mid-ocean consist of swarms of fish, flocks of birds, groups of driftwood, or conditions of wave and skypeculiar to certain zones of the sea.

When our son Noe (short of Kainoe which means Sea Mist in Hawaiian) has grown up as a teenager it is my duty to bring him back to where his name came from. Maybe in our future cruising lifestyle we could anchor in the Polynesia and learn about the knowledge of 'ohana.

*There are evidence that most of these Polynesian folks have genetic relationships with people in Sulawesi.


ancient knowledge and wisdom

ancient knowledge and wisdom are quite often relevant until today. digging into the past is sometimes interesting and rewarding. salam.

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