Thursday, February 18, 2010

Paperless Charts


HA! Did my title fool you at all? Did you think I was about to make Frogma history with a review of a new electronic wonder-gadget?

Nope. Maybe someday, but not today & not tomorrow. Me, I'm still sort of attached to paper charts, a compass, and knowing where I am. It's not that I'm against GPS's or iphone apps or all the other doohickeys available to a person who wants to find their way around electronically - it's just that for my usual purposes, the non-digital stuff I've already got works fine (and the batteries never run down!).

Nope, what I'm referring to when I say "paperless" charts today is simply charts made from materials other than paper, like the one above.

This is a stick chart of from the Marshall Islands, showing a group of islands (marked by shells) and the directions & interactions of the ocean swells as they pass through (shown by the sticks).

I think it's safe to say that almost anyone that grew up in (or has even just spent some time in) the Pacific Triangle has seen one of these. I don't know about the rest of you, though, and I thought it would be fun to show you one today. I was reminded of these Polynesian stick charts after learning about another pre-paper wayfinding tool. This kind, I'd never seen before this week, and I thought it was just fascinating. See it for yourself over on E.B. Klassen's Kayak Yak.

You can read more about the use of the Polynesian stick charts at Jane's Oceania, where I found the picture above. For many more beautiful examples & a whole slew of additional links to more info, try The Nonist.

16 comments:

dennis G said...

Abby is almost to the equator. Is she on your chart???

Jos said...

Amazing and beautiful!
As I understood the seafarers who sailed by these charts did so by navigating with the stars. Did they make star-charts similarly?

bonnie said...

Abby would need to have sailed her Wild Eyes a good bit farther west to be on this chart!

Jos - You're right, celestial navigation was a big part how they got from island to island. I'm not aware of there being a similar tool for star charts, though - I can't swear that there weren't, but as I understand it, Polynesian celestial navigation is a feat of observation & memory, watching the patterns of the stars rising, travelling through the sky, observing the changes as your canoe travels to another location, & knowing things like that when a certain star passes directly overhead, you are at the same latitude as a certain island...can't even begin to explain it in a comment but it's all about watching the stars themselves & memorizing what you're seeing. The Bishop Museum on Oahu actually has a very good planetarium program about the science & one interesting thing about watching that there is that Nainoa Thompson, the navigator of the Hokule'a (a replica voyaging canoe) spent countless hours in that planetarium watching the stars rising & falling - Hawaiians had long since lost the knowledge. Nainoa graduated from Punahou (same school as Obama!) in 72 & made his first voyage under his Caroline Islands mentor Mau Piailug (at the time, one of a dwindling number who knew the old skills) in 1976. So I think we could say he was at least 18 before he began formal training. He may have been interested, but there was no one in Hawaii who could have taught him. Mau had learned in a far more traditional way - from his grandfather, beginning young. To gain the same skills & be able to succeed Mau as the Hokulea's master navigator, he had years of observation to catch up with - a project that he undertook at the Bishop Museum. There is something very special about watching a planetarium program about Polynesian celestial navigation there, knowing that you are in the very same place where the first Hawaiian to become a master navigator in centuries spent so much time learning the movements of the stars as well as he needed to know them someday guide the Hokule'a on his own.

The currents & swells were memorized, too - the stick charts were used to more aid in visualizing those (the stars, you see so many of them them rise, wheel above your head & set again as you travel beneath them - your view of the patterns of the swells is limited to the bit you're in) but the navigators carried almost all of what they needed to know in their memory.

Oh, I could keep going except that I really don't know much REAL stuff about the topic. So here a couple of good links:

Marvelous short essay by Hawaiian artist/author/historian Herb Kawainui Kane - actually an excerpt from one of his books

And then if your appetite is truly whetted, here's enough to keep you going for a lot longer - the website of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, the organization that built & sails the Hokule'a and a second voyaging canoe, the Hawai'iloa.

Hokule'a, by the way, was named after the guiding star that travels directly overhead when you near Hawai'i. Hoku means star, Le'a means joy & star of joy is Arcturus's name in Hawaiian.

bonnie said...

Good grief. My comment was longer than my post...

Buck said...

Love it!

E. B. Klassen said...

I understand that the First Nations paddlers here on the Wet Coast of Canada navigated with their testicles. They would sing while they paddled (marking off the time they needed to go in a set direction) and then the navigator would sit on the bottom of the canoe with his testicles resting on the bottom, and then would feel the transition from one current to another--marking time to change direction and change songs. I haven't tried this, so the information remains more theoretical than practical. But really an interesting concept.

bonnie said...

Intriguing. So one could say that they were...

nad-vigating?

bonnie said...

I'm sorry, that was terrible. Never know when to leave a pun alone.

Seriously, though - it is an interesting image. Seems that natural navigation does require an intimate knowledge of & intense sensitivity to the natural patterns that can tell a person where they are - I shouldn't titter to read that some people actually use one of the more intimate & sensitive parts of their bodies to read those patterns.

And I don't know that Polynesian navigators sing as part of their actual wayfinding, but I suspect that a lot of the knowledge was probably handed down in chants.

And oh dear...

My anti-spam word verifaction is "hangs". Honest.

Carol Anne said...

Intriguing. My knowledge of celestial navigation is based mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, and how the Vikings got where they needed to go. Of course, when one is north of the Equator, Polaris makes for a good guiding star.

Since Polynesian sailors were often in the southern hemisphere and didn't have Polaris, their navigation had to be much more sophisticated.

Meanwhile, I guess if I'm sailing to Hawaii and my GPS quits, I can always draw an arc to Arcturus and get where I need to go.

PeconicPuffin said...

That is so extremely cool. Wow wow wow. I love that. I'd love to see a big one for the eastern seaboard.

Meanwhile having a compass and GPS in my great too!

Greg and Kris said...

I'm gonna 'test the currents' on the Willamette next time I'm out there ... maybe I'll wait for it to get over 70 degrees F.

will said...

nad-vigating . . . i like that!! i used to paddle my aluminum canoe barefoot to feel the temperature change in various parts of a river. not really nad-vigating tho

The Natural Navigator said...

Just thought I'd drop in to say: loving this post.

If you enjoy this aspect of navigation, then a couple of books that you might like:

We, the Navigators by David Lewis

Emergency Navigation by David Burch

and this wonderful book that comes out in a few days in the UK called,
'The Natural Navigator', by... the name escapes me.

But it might be me. Forgive the shameless plug and happy navigating, Tristan.

bonnie said...

Thank you! What a nice surprise to have you comment here! I read Captain JP's log & I've enjoyed his posts about your classes.

JP said...

Great map, post and comments: as you will see, I pointed the Natural Navigator towards it.

Interested in what you say about noting star rising and setting as I've wondered if when you're doing celestial navigation near the equator the East-West axis becomes more important as you can't see the pole star so well

The World Tour said...

Beautiful!