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This is what sailors like me used to


Before 1400 many people traveled on open oceans: Polynesians, Micronesians, Persians, Arabs, inhabitants of Indian Ocean islands such as the Maldives.
But all traditional ocean sailing relied upon regular winds and currents or an easy-to-follow continental shelf.

Winds and Currents

  • Before 1400 traditional voyagers on the open ocean relied upon highly predictable seasonal winds and currents that came to be called "trade winds" because when they blew, the traders sailed into or out of harbors. In the Indian Ocean, for example, north of the equator northeast winds prevailed in the winter and south of the equator, the northwest winds. During the rest of the year the winds blew steadily from the south and west.
  • Similar regular patterns occur in the Pacific Ocean as the Hokulea has demonstrated the autumn of 1999 by sailing all the way from Hawaii to Rapa Nui (Easter Island.).
  • To supplement these predictable regional and seasonal patterns, all oceangoing travelers following trade winds and currents developed elaborate native star charts for directions, since the stars were their most dependable "landmarks" on open oceans.

Continental Shelf

  • is the very high ocean floor just near land. Sometimes this high ocean floor extends for hundreds of miles into the ocean. Taking the sounding depths of the ocean floor, sailors could navigate considerable distances, even without absolutely regular winds and currents. Most of the navigation in Northern Europe and the South China Sea for centuries followed the continental shelf. Continental shelf sailors usually also had a traditional star map--but often these were very simple--consisting of a few stars and constellations--and were far less elaborate than those of high seas navigators such as the Polynesians. The Vikings had managed to navigate to Greenland by hugging the high continental shelf. and using the midnight sun.