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:

Monday, September 7, 2009

Home from the Long Weekend at the Beach: Back to Writing and Thinking About the Ancient Art of Traditional Navigation

A Traditional Canoe Takes a Sea
(Photo by Sandra Okada)

I'm having to do a lot of research to write this novel. Even though it's an adventure novel for young adults it has to be based on solid stuff--facts, for example, and insights, if I'm lucky. How did they really do it? What is it all based on? What makes the impossible possible?

One of the books I'm reading and re-reading and then referring to again and again, is We, the Navigators, by David Lewis. He was a New Zealand physician, who, back in the 60's, gave up his practice to sail the islands of the Pacific investigating tradition navigation. He visited many different islands and sailed with many now long-gone master navigators. He was also an accomplished sailor and modern navigator himself and a true seaman.

His scientific background allows him to be pretty analytical when it comes to studying and attempting to document the skills of the great traditional navigators such a Hipour and Tevake. He tries to cover all the important concepts from stars paths to marine life to deep-water phosphorescence to swell patterns--on an on. The effect of all this information, rather than clarifying things, is to deepen your appreciation of just how skilled and courageous the master navigator has to be. After each reading, I was only more staggered by the mere idea of setting out to find ones way across hundreds of miles of open ocean in an open canoe with no compass or sextant.

I think you can only begin to appreciate the accomplishments of these islanders by going out to sea and staying out there for a while--a few days, and, more importantly, a few nights. Try to go somewhere, try to reach an objective--a distant island is best--against wind and current. I have done just that, more than a few times in various sailboats and if you are like me, you will at first feel humbled and then later, you will feel overwhelmed and then you will feel fear.

In my next few blogs, I'll take a look at some of the techniques the traditional navigators use to find their way across the "empty" ocean. It's fascinating stuff.


  1. Hafa Adai, Douglas!

    I enjoyed reading your blog which I stumbled upon by accident. I don't know if you will receive this message, but I did want to correct the photo credit above..."A Traditional Canoe Takes a Sea" is a photo I took aboard the Saina during her maiden voyage from Guam to Rota...Ron Castro took incredible photos during this voyage, but from another boat he was on that was our designated chase boat...thank you, Sandra Iseke Okada

  2. Hafa, Sandra, and thanks for the correction. I've made the change on the blog. It's a great picture. By the way, I finished writing a novel concerning traditional navigation and will be coming to Guam in April to complete the research and go over the manuscript with Manny and Larry. I would enjoy very much meeting you.