The Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson is famous for his research into Polynesian shipbuilding. It’s thought the Polynesians used double-hulled voyaging canoes to colonise the vast island world of the Pacific Ocean.
But by the end of the 20th century, only petroglyphs – rock images – of those boats survived anywhere in the Pacific region, along with images of the European "discoverers". Examples are Captain Schouten's voyages in around 1620, and those of James Cook in around 1750. A small number of 19th century photographs show the last of the double-hulled boats in a state of decay.
Using modern methods and materials, Thompson built a double-hulled voyaging canoe called Hokulea. He proved that it was easy to reach a destination without GPS and using only traditional navigational tools. Thompson and others set their course based on a range of factors: the behaviour of sea birds, the way waves bend around islands, cloud formations above mountainous islands and the stars. For example, seabirds flying back to their nesting sites in the evenings indicated the direction of their home island from as much as 50 kilometres away, long before it came into view. Overall, that made it virtually impossible to miss the solitary island worlds in the vast ocean.
The rediscovery of this traditional type of seafaring is no longer a niche phenomenon! Traditional outriggers and double-hulled boats are again being built and used on many Pacific islands – not least because the price of fuel continues to rise. People cover long distances in these boats by wind power alone. Over short distances, they use muscle power by paddling. The ban on crossing colonial borders, imposed by former colonial rulers, no longer applies.