Rowing back in time of early sea travel

February 14, 2000

Jasmine Lee

NEWPORT BEACH -- Ask any seaman: the boats that go in and out of Newport

Harbor could not find their way around the vast Pacific Ocean without the

convenience of today's hi-tech navigational tools.

Just a little bit of that 68-million square miles of water is visible

from outside the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum. But inside, are the

secrets to wayfinding -- the art of navigating with no instruments, just


stars and wave patterns.

An exhibit, "Island Pathways: Wayfinders of the Pacific," opened this

weekend at the museum, and if visitors look closely enough -- they may be

able to see the ocean as the first maritime explorers did.

"For the Polynesians, there was no separation between aspects of the

natural world, and those of the spiritual world," said Marcus

DeChevrieux, the curator of the exhibit. "Each aspect of canoeing, from

the selection of the tree to the end of the voyage, was under the

auspices of the gods."

The display returns to the origins of sea travel, featuring the canoes of

Polynesian voyagers in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. These

early sailers traveled from island to island in their surprisingly

seaworthy, handcrafted canoes.

Legend has it that a great Hawaiian chief made regular trips between his

home and Tahiti. On one of his visits, he fell in love with a Tahitian

woman, who ultimately rejected his advances. The chief, frustrated and

deflated, returned to Hawaii and never sailed again.

"Somewhere, there is probably a grain of truth in there," said

DeChevrieux, who tells the legend in one of his displays.

The exhibit also features ancient pottery -- some dating back as far as

1100 BC. There are also primitive tools, which were used to cut the wood

for the canoes. The Polynesians always sought permission from their gods

before taking a tree to build a boat.

The artifacts, which also include war clubs, paddles and decorative

items, are on loan from the Kelton Foundation, which has the largest

collection of Pacific Rim items, DeChevrieux said.

Paintings by Hawaiian artist Herb "Kawainui" Kane show scenes of canoe

building and sailing in vivid colors.

Miniature models of the old-fashioned canoes, crafted by Melvin Schinkel,

are also on display.

Life-sized canoes, and wayfinding, are making somewhat of a comeback,

DeChevrieux said. Some modern-day mariners are bringing back the method

of sea travel without instruments.

It's a handy skill to have, because hi-tech gadgets can still fail.

"If you have a wayfinder with you, you'll have no problem," DeChevrieux


The exhibit will be on display until June 18 in the Grand Salon of the

Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, 151 E. Coast Highway. The hours are 10

a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

For more information, call (949) 673-7863.

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