Saturday, July 11, 2009

Book Review: We the Navigators - The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific

I'm about halfway through this one and enjoying it immensely, although I don't know that I would recommend it to most. David Lewis is the author, and he turns out to be quite a prolific writer, mostly covering things Polynesian.

Born on some island off the coast of France, Mr. Lewis was raised in New Zealand and Rarotonga, where he attended a Polynesian school. He later studied to become a doctor and after many years practicing medicine, including some involvement of the establishment of the British National Health Service, he set off to circumnavigate the world in a sailboat and then into a second career as a sailor. He built his own catamaran and completed the first recorded circumnav of the world in a multihull.

Maybe you all know these things, but he's new to me and most interesting for his disciplined study of Polynesian navigation methods. I was fascinated by the concept of navigating without instruments and have always wanted to know more about how the Pacific Islanders moved about and established themselves in such an enormous expanse of open ocean with no modern navigation tools.

This book does an excellent job (so far) of detailing how the indigenous sailors of the Pacific use only the things they can see to determine where to find land.

With tribal knowledge passed on through rote learning, the subjects of Dr. Lewis's study seem to be able to establish their location by stars and sun position and then maintain course through periods of cloud cover by orienting themselves to the running ocean swells. Coupled with the detailed drawings and explanations of the primitive sailing vessels they piloted, the scientific research approach to understanding the navigation methods is turning into quite a page-turner for me.

If my life was not so much on the go these days, I'd love to write more of these reviews. I've got a stack of about twenty books lined up to read, many of a similar sort as this one. And I've got another twenty that I've read in the past nine months that have mostly been recaps of sailors trips around the world.

Thanks T-man.

Addendum: Some Older Reviews
A Family Cruise
A Family Cruise Gone Horribly Awry - NOT a light read


Joe said...

I have that book too. It's very good. I also recommend The Last Navigator by Steve Thomas, An Ocean in Mind by Will Kyselka, and Emergency Navigation by David Burch (who also wrote Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation).

Greg and Kris said...

Thanks for the references. I've got The Last Navigator queued up with Ben Finney's Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors and Voyage of Rediscovery to read yet.

Reviews to come.

I'll look for those others

JP said...

That sounds a really interesting read, I'll keep my eye out for it.

When did the Natural Navigator course one of the things he told us was how the Polynesians used changes in swell around islands to navigate.

Navigation Writer said...

Lewis' book is very good and one of the credited sources for my own book, 'The Natural Navigator', oops, sorry. To say thank you for the opportunity of mentioning my book, which is published tomorrow, I'll point you towards a rare film by Sam Low, called 'The Navigators', which covers the same ideas as Lewis' book. I show an excerpt during courses and it is always popular. It is quite hard to get hold of, but this company are supplying it at the moment:
The New Film Company, Inc.,
7 Scott Street
Cambridge, MA 02138, U. S. A.

Please mention my name if you order a copy as they have helped me in the past.

Happy Navigating,