Canoe Building


Canoe Life

Polynesian Migrations

Weather: Observation and Forecasting

Nainoa Thompson

Sunrise, February 11, 2000; 6 days out of Tahiti, sailing for Hawai'i

View from Hokule`a's beam--towering cumulus clouds:

"A Navigator always looks for signs of weather at sunset and sunrise," Nainoa says. "Generally, at sunrise and sunset you try to predict the weather for the next 12 hours. Today I see strong evidence in the clouds of a change in the weather from what we have experienced in the last 2 to 3 days. Looking to the east--off the beam of the canoe (this is picture 1) I see various complicated towering high cloud masses, which are the remnants of the squalls that we went through last night. Yesterday and the day before I looked out and saw actual squalls there--today there are no squalls evident. You can't really predict the weather, as Mau taught me, from a single snapshot like this. You have to observe changes over time. In this case, I see a change from seeing squalls off the starboard yesterday to this view today where there are no active squalls. The wind definitely feels stronger today and I can see wing wavelets on the surface of the ocean. The wind is also coming from the normal direction of the SE trades, so I can presume that the trades are reasserting themselves."

View towards the bow of the canoe from roughly dead ahead to 45 degrees off the bow:

"I see a lot of low level cumulus clouds ahead of us in the direction we are moving. There are no indications of any squalls in those clouds so I think I can predict we are approaching an area of clean flowing wind--trades from the SE--which will be steady. That is quite different than the variable winds we have been experiencing. So, for the next 12 hours, I believe that the wind will remain steady from the SE at a fairly constant speed, maybe 10 knots, so we will be able to sail N today."

"Every time I attempt to predict the weather or sail on this canoe I am constantly reminded of how smart our ancestors were. My understanding of nature is feeble compared to theirs. We can have today only a glimpse into their world--into the strength and courage that made them the greatest navigators and explorers on earth. We sail in comfort with foul weather gear to protect us on a canoe partly made of modern materials, with all kinds of safety devices on board. They had none of that. They were attuned intimately to nature in a way that we cannot be. At best, our voyages are just beginning to give us a glimpse into their world."