Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

May 25, 2014

Using ancient navigation in the ocean

A Polynesian voyaging canoe will embark on a 3-year journey around the world

HONOLULU (AP) — When a Polynesian voyaging canoe called the Hokulea embarked on its first trips in Hawaii in the mid-1970s, its crew was trying to prove in part that travel without modern instruments or techniques was possible.

That early crew set out for Tahiti, an island 28 miles wide from more than 2,700 miles away, on a trip that's roughly like leaving Maine and hitting a bull's-eye the size of San Diego, without any roads or landmarks to show the way.

In an era of global positioning satellites, this can seem a relatively mundane feat.

Now, the Hokulea is set to embark on a more challenging voyage: a three-year, 47,000-mile odyssey that will take it to 85 ports in 26 countries. Among its goals is to impart the ancient style of navigation to a new generation of ocean farers.

Here's how they plan to do it:

COMPLEX ART, SIMPLE GOAL

Polynesian-style voyaging is a rugged art — a feat of mental math, applied astronomy, intuition, physical endurance, mental fortitude and keen observation.

"One degree off 2,000 miles away will take you to Antarctica," said Lehua Kamalu, 27, an apprentice navigator who was charmed by the Hokulea when she was a mechanical engineering student at the University of Hawaii.

The complexity also highlights the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, which occupies 46 percent of the world's surface (the contiguous 48 U.S. states would fit inside it 20 times) and the difficulty of hitting a tiny speck in it.

Pulling an island out of the sea, as navigators say, requires, among other things, a navigator to be alert 20 hours a day, with 20-minute sips of sleep as her only respite.

HOLDING DIRECTION

The rotation of the earth guides the sun and stars across the sky in a predictable east-to-west fashion. The prevailing wind and waves also scoot in from the east.

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