(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.