Sailing by stars

As guides in voyages far from land, stars were chiefly used. Probably many voyages started at night when stars were visible and at times of the year when recognized stars remained for some time above the horizon. A favorable time was when the dog-star, Sirius, appeared. Polynesian navigators were familiar with the position of important stars and knew of their change in position from month to month. Five planets were known and named and the time and place of their appearance kept in mind. Thirteen "canoe teerers' stars," among them Sirius, Regulus, and the Pleiades, were known, together with the months in which they appeared, the time they reached the zenith, and the times of rising and setting. In the Northern Hemisphere, Aldebaran was used, and the North Star was known as one in an unchangeable position, which could be relied upon throughout the year. The stars in an east-west belt over the equator were commonly used as guides in sailing.

A youth studying navigation in Hawaii was taught to view the heavens as a cylinder on which were marked "highways of navigation stars." One highway led from Noholoa (North Star) to Newa ( Southern Cross). The portion of the heavens east of this line was "the bright road of Kane," that to the west was the "highway of Kanaloa." A line drawn east and west through the place of the sun in winter was "the black shining road of Kane," and one drawn through the southern limit of the sun's course in summer was "the black shining road of Kanaloa." Within these limits are the stars to be used in sailing; outside, are the "strange" stars. The young man was taught that, in going southward to Tahiti, new sets of stars will be seen and that after passing the equator the North Star disappears. In the legend of Hawaii-loa, the navigator Makalii sailing eastward is said to have used Iao and Hokuula (Aldebaran) to guide him to Hawaii. On a journey from Hawaii to Tahiti the Southern Cross was the guide.

Kinds of boats

In making their voyages among the islands the Polynesians made use of three kinds of boats: the single canoe, the outrigger canoe, and the twin canoe. The simplest form of single canoe -- a short, narrow log hollowed out by chipping with stone adzes -- was little used. Such canoes capsize easily and are suitable for little else than fishing in lagoons and in shallow waters. Where large trees were available, single canoes with lengths exceeding fifty feet were made; some Maori single canoes were more than one hundred feet long and five feet wide and were capable of carrying one hundred thirty men and a cargo of provisions on voyages within bays, up rivers, and along the coast.

Outrigger canoe

The outrigger canoe is the type of craft most common in Polynesia. By the attachment of an outrigger, small narrow canoes are made seaworthy and are much less liable to overturn; if carefully constructed they may be safely used for voyages of considerable length even in rough seas.

Twin canoe

The twin canoe consists of two canoes placed side by side, several feet apart, fastened together by wood crosspieces or by a platform which occupies the space between them. It is like a raft which can be paddled from both canoes or sailed by erecting masts.

On the platform of large twin canoes canopies were erected to shield the voyagers from sun and rain, and even thathed houses were built which served the same purpose as cabins on modern steamships. Such craft were remarkably seaworthy, and the larger ones could accommodate as many as 200 men, women, and children, together with domestic animals and the provisions necessary for a long voyage. One canoe of a Kamehameha twin canoe, cut from a single log, measured 108 feet.

Canoes with sails

Many outrigger canoes and twin canoes were equipped with sails made of pandanus or coconut leaves, attached to masts which were permanent or set up when needed. For long sailing voyages with canoes, outriggers were faster and were considered safer than twin canoes, as twin canoes when broken apart were helpless.

Importance of outrigger and twin canoes

It was with the aid of such craft that the traditional war expeditions and peaceful migrations were carried on, and in the life of the Polynesians they played a very important part. They were the only means of travel from island to island and were required for fishing. Nearly every man, woman, and grown child could handle a canoe while fishing or in battle or during the frequent regattas (races) in which as many as one hundred canoes took part. But to build a big seaworthy canoe with nothing but stone adzes, stone chisels and coconut-fiber lashings was the work of trained craftsmen. There were building superintendents and special workmen for making hulls, sails, and outriggers. The principal chiefs kept canoe builders at their courts; other people hired them. The canoe meant so much to the island dwellers that it is not surprising to learn that each canoe had a name and that special ceremonies and special chants were associated with felling the tree, shaping the wood, and finishing and launching the boat.

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