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:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Star Chart Compass: The Beginning Lessons for Future Navigators

This chart of the navigation stars used by Carolinian navigators was developed by Manny Sikau, a master navigator from Puluwat, for the Traditional Seafaring Society at the University of Guam to instruct its members. The names of the stars are in both English and Puluwatese. Of course, on Puluwat and other islands where navigation is taught to boys beginning at a young age, the chart was drawn in the sand and the stars represented by pebbles or shells. If a voyage is to be made to a certain island, the navigator knows under which star that island lies, relative to Puluwat, and sets off in that direction.

Sound simple? On the contrary, in practice, the actual navigation is incredibly complex. The stars move up from the horizon and across the sky, so the navigator needs to know what star to use next as it comes up over the night horizon--and the next one and the next one--and where all the islands are relative to each new star. And what happens when clouds get in the way? And what about the concept of etak that we discussed in a previous blog? And fatique and storms and....In fact, it staggers the imagination.

While this chart is not based on western compasses, it does roughly coincide with them in that North is up, East is to the right, etc. However, ancient voyagers developed star navigation long before contact with European sailors and there are important differences. For example, the star westerners call Altair (Mailap in Puluwatese) appears to be due East on this chart while due East on a magnetic compass is slightly south of Altair, near Orion's Belt.

It is nice to think, though, that peoples on different sides of the world and from vastly different cultures, learned how to use the same natural phenomena--the orderly and unchanging nature of the movement of celestial bodies--to navigate across the trackless seas. The human genius for solving complex problems is universal.

I'm flying to Guam next week to do some research on The Spirit of the Voyage and I'll pick up the subject of traditional navigation again later. After we get back from the Pacific, we'll be heading up to Washington D.C. again and I'm looking forward to rousting about in that city for a while, looking for interesting restaurants and trying not to be too surprised at my observations of human behavior--mine included.

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