Crew Profile

Crew Blog | Emily Lau & Finn Gibson: Studying the Star Compass

We’ve spent the past couple of evenings working on navigation with Uncle Bruce, and it’s one of our favorite parts of the day. After a long day in the sun, working on the boat and going on amazing adventures onshore in Maui, the nighttime with all the brilliant stars and cool, clear air is refreshing.

Hōkūleʻa rests in Lāhaina after her crossing of the Kaiwi Channel.

We started with the canoe compass, which is the way we calibrate the canoe to the cardinal points: ‘Ākau, Hikina, Hema, and Komohana. We stand at the pānānā of the canoe and line up the sun, stars, and the moon along various markings which denote different houses of the Star Compass. These days, the sun is setting in the house ‘Āina Ho’olua (slightly north of west). So, using the canoe compass, if the sun sets directly behind us, that means we’re pointing in the direction of ‘Āina Malanai (slightly south of east). (Of course, we’re anchored right now waiting for the ‘Alenuihāhā Channel to calm down, but this is a great time for us to practice!)

The canoe compass is one of the foundational parts of navigating, because it helps us steer accurately — but in order to use the canoe compass, we need to know where the stars, the moon, and the sun rise and set. Uncle Bruce uses his laser pointer to indicate different stars and constellations in the sky, and to trace out their paths throughout the night. For example, the “ecliptic” is the path that the sun travels throughout the year and the moon roughly travels throughout every month. The cool thing is, the ecliptic is drawn in the sky by the constellations of the Zodiac: Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, and Aries. Right now, we can only see Taurus early in the evening, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Capricorn early in the morning. We’re learning these constellations, and how to pick them out, so we can predict where the moon will rise and set a few days in advance.

Uncle Bruce started sharing his ‘ike about navigation with us only a few days ago (what he calls small bites of the elephant that is learning navigation), but already, our perception of the sky, of the stars, and of our positions here on Earth has drastically changed. We’re starting to really understand why Uncle Nainoa calls it a “Star Compass” — because we’re using the stars to locate ourselves.

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