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Polynesian Voyagers. The Maori as a Deep-sea Navigator, Explorer, and Colonizer

Rate of Sailing

Rate of Sailing.

Mr. J. A. Wilson reckoned that canoes sailing from Rarotonga to New Zealand in December would make the trip in about fifteen days, which would be about a hundred miles a day, or four miles an hour, which, he says, “all circumstances considered, is a fair progress for a canoe sailing half the time on a wind in the trades, and the other half with variable winds and perhaps calms, the wind in that region of the ocean at that season being however, generally fair from the northward and the eastward.” With a favourable wind all the way the voyage may have been much quicker, different writers giving the sailing-rates of Polynesian vessels from six to ten miles an hour.

Captain Berry, in his Reminiscences, states that the big canoes of the Fijians could lie within three points of the wind, and could sail at the rate of fifteen miles per hour with a good breeze.

Mr. Fenton, in his remarks on the origin of the Polynesian race, speaks of the peculiar circumstances under which, doubtless, the ancestor of the Maori first voyaged into and across the Pacific, such circumstances being (1) that these voyagers had no definite objective point to reach, but were simply seeking a suitable home, caring little where they found it; (2) that, owing to the prevalent winds and other causes, these migrants or voyagers sojourned for long or short periods on many isles. They were in no hurry, and took life as easily as possible. This is highly probable, and we might quote many items to prove that such a leisurely sauntering across the Pacific area would well agree with certain characteristics of the Polynesian. On the other hand there was evidently a period in the history of the race when it showed a spirit of energetic daring, and love of dicovery and adventure, that has scarcely been equalled by any other neolithic people; when long voyages were made by old Polynesian vikings in their primitive vessels that eclipse any voyaging done by our own ancestors prior to the adoption of the compass.

page 35

One of the most amazing of early Polynesian navigators was Hui-te-rangiora, who, according to traditions published in the Polynesian Journal, seems to have voyaged pretty well all over the eastern and central Pacific, and southeward to the iceberg region. This voyager is said to have flourished some fifty generations ago, or about the middle of the seventh century. He is said to have reached New Guinea on one of his voyages.