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    Re: Ancient mariners enjoyed Hawaiian holidays
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2007 Nov 04, 21:59 -0500

    Clive, you wrote:
    "This contention that has been put by many "armchair" authors,(saving your
    grace), since no-one as yet has put forward a practical method of how they
    would use them to navigate!"
    In the days of dead reckoning, navigators used currents for navigation
    fairly often, but not in the way that a modern navigator might expect. There
    was no really reliable way to correct for a current, but you could use it in
    other ways. First, strong currents are visible. The water may be colored
    differently, waves will refract into them giving a choppy surface. The water
    in a current may have a different temperature and salinity and a distinct
    population of algae, jellyfish, salps, etc. If you find a current that you
    know about, you can follow it for a speed advantage, or you can cross it
    quickly if you need to avoid it.
    Also, many currents are reliable features in the ocean. If you find your
    favorite current, then you know you must be in a particular part of the
    ocean. Here's Joshua Slocum navigating by recognizing that he's in the
    Brazil Current: "On May 10 there was a great change in the condition of the
    sea; there could be no doubt of my longitude now, if any had before existed
    in my mind. Strange and long-forgotten current ripples pattered against the
    sloop's sides in grateful music; the tune arrested the ear, and I sat
    quietly listening to it while the Spray kept on her course. By these current
    ripples I was assured that she was now off St. Roque and had struck the
    current which sweeps around that cape." and he adds: "I saw nothing of the
    coast of Brazil, though I was not many leagues off and was always in the
    Brazil current."
    Of course this sort of navigation by currents only works with the strong
    ones, generally on the east coasts of large land masses, which happen to be
    the ones with famous names: the Gulf Stream, the Kuroshio, the EAC... Such
    strong currents would have been mostly irrelevant for a Polynesian
    There is another case where currents might be useful to Polynesian
    seafaring. Near some islands, there are points with strong currents running
    away from shore, around headlands, etc. Knowledge of these would clearly be
    useful for local piloting.
    You also wrote:
    "I also challenge the reliability of ancient voyagers knowledge.  In fact
    some currents, for example the Gulf stream have swirls and eddies that would
    be hard to map even with the benefit of satellite imaging and it requires an
    explanation as to how they would have acquired this knowledge."
    Well, ok, but consider that the Gulf Stream was well-known and used for
    navigation centuries before those "swirls and eddies" were clearly observed.
    This sort of navigation is not precision navigation, but it still counts.
    And you concluded:
    "It is conceivable the pacific islanders navigated over long distances,
    although I remain unconvinced that they did so with any prepared passage
    plan, but principally I argue that it would be impossible to navigate using
    this method."
    It all depends on what you mean by a prepared plan. Suppose I want to sail
    from Hawaii to Tahiti. I sail southeast (does not have to be exact). When I
    reach 15 South Latitude or so (again does not have to be exact), I turn west
    or southwest. Chances are excellent that I will run into some island in the
    Marquesas, the Tuamotus, or the Societies, and that's where local tricks
    like looking for clouds over islands can come into play. Once you make
    landfall, just look for a local and ask: "hey, which way to Tahiti?".
    There's much less controversy over voyages among the islands in that region
    so there would very likely have been local information available. Navigators
    encountered by Cook knew all the inhabited islands in that vast area of the
    ocean. Someone on the list, maybe George, worried that Polynesian navigators
    could not possibly have known the right way to enter the lagoons of the
    atolls, the safest way around the reefs, etc., but of course this problem
    faced every navigator, whether Polynesian or European or whatever ethnicity,
    when approaching these islands before the 20th century. And the answer is
    obvious enough: you hire a local pilot (maybe the negotiation went something
    like this: "hey, I'll give you this amazingly hard Hawaiian rock if you can
    help me through the reefs...").
    This new evidence, which Peter brought up, demonstrating that some volcanic
    rock used in tools in the South Pacific is from Hawaii, does count as
    rock-solid proof, pardon the pun, that these voyages took place now and
    then. But clearly there was only a very limited contact between Hawaii and
    the rest of Polynesia. There were only indistinct tales of voyages in the
    past by the time the Europeans arrived in Hawaii. More interesting perhaps,
    there was apparently almost no contact between Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and
    the rest of Polynesia after the initial colonization.
    Someone on the list, I think Wolfgang, also mentioned that very little of
    this discussion of Polynesian navigation is new. And except for a few recent
    archeological discoveries, the Hawaiian rock and the Lapita graves, which
    Peter also mentioned I think, there hasn't been much new in decades. In
    fact, you could go dig up an issue of National Geographic magazine from the
    1970s and find pretty much the whole story including a nice pictorial on the
    voyage of Hokule'a and a very nice fold-out map (come on, how many on the
    list still have that map today?). Of course, things are new to people who
    have never heard them before, so I see problem with people telling these
    stories of Polynesian navigation as if they are news.
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