Voyaging Canoes and the Settlement of Polynesia

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Science  17 Jun 1977:
Vol. 196, Issue 4296, pp. 1277-1285
DOI: 10.1126/science.196.4296.1277


Sailing trials with two reconstructed Polynesian double canoes indicate that these craft can make good a course to windward up to approximately 75° off the wind on long ocean voyages. This windward performance would have enabled Polynesians to exert a degree of control over their movements that would have been denied them had they only been able to sail or drift before wind and current. Indeed, without this windward sailing capacity there probably never would have been a Polynesian people today, for in a sense they are a product of their maritime technology. Had there been no great voyaging canoes, the settlement of Polynesia might have had to await the relatively late entry into the Pacific of the European navigators. But the Pacific was the scene of early innovation in weatherly sailing canoes, and as the European navigators "discovered" island after island, they were surprised to find that neolithic seafarers had preceded them into this vast ocean realm.