I recently visited the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, HI. There I learned about Wayfinders, pacific voyagers who use a type of celestial navigation where knowledge of the wind, ocean currents, sun, moon and stars mainly guides them around the ocean and to their destination. Long ago, centuries before European explorers, this method of navigation was all that there was in the pacific region and over time it was almost lost. In an effort to revive this method a group of pacific islanders shared their knowledge and built a double hulled voyage canoe called the Hokulea. The name Hokule’a means “star of gladness” from the star that travels directly above the latitude of Hawaii, a guiding star.The Hokulea first sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976 using only the wayfinding method, no modern instruments, not even a sextant. It had several other successful voyages after that. Most recently, the Hokulea sailed around the world in 3 years covering over 40,000 nautical miles and visiting over 150 ports in 23 countries! It just returned home from that voyage, back here to to Hawaii, this summer.
Learning about the Hokule’a and the teamwork involved brought to mind my experience aboard the CGC Eagle last summer, when we (the crew) hoisted the sails and used only the power of the wind and ocean to move us. I was able to learn on deck, alongside the cadets, how to use a sextant. During my time aboard the Eagle I got to learn more about how a crew navigates such a huge ship across the ocean. Mainly they use charts and a sextant, they do have a GPS.
Learning about wayfinders also reminded me of Sea Scouts because we learn about and use navigation in different ways too. We navigate by using a chart and a GPS. Sea Scouts have learned not to be too dependent on the GPS, just in case something happens and it shuts down, so we also track our course on a chart.
We use the magnetic compass to tell us our heading, a clock to show us how long we have been underway, and the speed odometer to show us how fast we’re going. If we have the speed and the time we can figure out how many miles we have traveled. Then we plug in the heading on the chart and are able to figure out our exact location.
It is amazing thinking about how the Hokule’a never used any of the equipment we have today. Wherever they went it was based off of their own knowledge of the way the tides flow, the sun rises and how the stars align. It takes someone who is truly dedicated and puts in time to learn and study in order to really know what they’re doing and be able to complete an entire voyage using wayfinding techniques. The people aboard the Hokule’a depend entirely on their own knowledge.
I believe that it would be great if we could all learn wayfinding techniques, but it would take time and a big commitment. Using a sextant is a form of Celestial Navigation that we can more quickly learn. Celestial Navigation techniques are an important skill to have so that when you are out at sea you don’t need to rely on a GPS or compass.
How important is celestial navigation? So important the Navy and Coast Guard use these methods in case of an emergency that could knock out GPS satellites. This method of navigation also oriented astronauts when apollo 12 was disabled by lightning! Being out on the open ocean and not seeing land, anything could happen. So, take a challenge, get your ship comfortable with using a sextant. After all, it is one of the sign offs for Quartermaster!
*Interesting facts about the Hokulea are available on this website:
An overview on wayfinders and the Hokulea Worldwide Voyage: