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Peopling the Pacific
Using the night sky
Other navigational signs
Making landfall
Voyaging canoes
Voyaging Sources

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Making landfall

Sailing in a vast sea with small islands as their destination, ancient navigators targeted entire archipelagos rather than focusing on particular islands. By aiming for larger blocks of islands, any errors in tracking or dead reckoning - caused by gale drift, leeway (lateral wind drift), or miscalculation - could be absorbed. Once any island in the larger group was located, the specific island target could be found. Landfall was always attempted during daylight, lest an island be inadvertently passed during the night.

Most sea crossings in Oceania are 310 miles or less - the exceptions are Hawai`i, Rapa Nui and Aotearoa. Reaching Hawai`i involved the longest voyage over open ocean but the Hawaiian island chain provided quite a large target: islands extend over 1,000 miles of ocean, and 340 miles of large islands rise as high as 13,000 feet and include active volcanoes. The target was enlarged further by the presence of atolls, reefs, shoals, wind shadows and wave interference.

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