Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal ( The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, ( and Visit the author's website:

Friday, September 25, 2009

Birds and Traditional Navigation: Expanding the Target

A curious brown boobie flys low over a traditional canoe at sea.
The homeward flights of these birds after a day of feeding are
used by voyagers to help determine the direction of land. (Photo by Ron Castro)

I just got back from a road trip to the Atlanta area where I helped celebrate my grandson's 1st. birthday. At twelve months, he's walking, talking, and a very happy, sweet-natured baby boy. Right on target. On the downside, Atlanta was a tragically sodden part of the world; they got fourteen inches of rain while I was there and seven people lost their lives in the flooding. Such horror.

Back to this blog where I've been thinking about traditional navigation as I slowly write/construct my next novel, The Spirit of the Voyage. In the last blog I did some thinking about etak, a technique that uses a navigator's knowledge of the changing positions of surrounding islands to help navigate from one island to another. Here's a brief description of another technique traditional navigators use: Island block landfall.

Imagine steering across five hundred miles of open ocean with an atoll that may be just four miles across as the unseen target. For thousands of years, navigators have used a system that "expands" the size of those tiny island targets thus decreasing the chances that they won't go sailing by them. Briefly, these methods include the feeding habits of birds, changing wave formations due to the interference of islands in the smooth flow of the ocean, deep-water phosphorescence, cloud formations, and floating debris. All these phenomena "expand" the presence of an island and tell the alert voyager in which direction land can be found.

Birds may be the most reliable of these indicators and indeed, for the Carolinian navigator, boobies are the most important. As I myself have seen many times while at sea in the western Pacific, boobies show a great curiosity in the vessels they encounter. They will circle the boat and at times attempt to land in the rigging. They will flirt with diving down on the fishing lure being dragged behind the boat. Most importantly, after a day of feeding, they will head directly toward their home island, which may be as far as 30 miles away. Again, an alert voyager need only take a bearing on the boobies flight and head in that direction.

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