Traditional Pacific Ocean navigator Mau Piailug died on July 11, at the age of 78. Piailug, a native of the Caroline Islands (north of New Guinea) was a master mariner who was an expert in the ancient art of Pacific Ocean navigation that did not rely on charts, sextant or compass.
As a boy, Piailug trained by arranging chunks of coral on a woven mat to represent the islands of Micronesia. He studied the stars, habitats of fish and birds and the landmarks indicating safe passage through the countless reefs and shoals.
In 1976, he led a 6,000-mile voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti and back aboard a 62-foot doubled-hulled oceangoing canoe. The Hokule’a expedition proved that long-range navigation using traditional methods was indeed possible and may have been one explanation of how the Hawaiian Islands came to be populated. Piailug was also the focus of Stephen Thomas’ book, The Last Navigator, which described how American sailor Thomas lived with and learned many of the techniques of traditional Pacific navigators.