Stick Chart used by Polynesian seafarers to navigate between islands. The chart encodes information about island locations, ocean currents, waves and swell.

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I grew up in the Marshall Islands, specifically on Kwajalein. I was lucky enough to see a stick chart used in a real life situation.

These charts are both decorative and teaching aids. They are not needed to take on a voyage as the people already know the paths. One story I remember hearing (this could be a tall tale) is that part of the traditional coming of age for a man was to be stranded well over the horizon from any islands and for the young man to then navigate back on his own.

Anyway, on to the story:

My family and several others had chartered a boat, iirc 12 feet long with a couple of Evinrude outboard motors on it. The boat was open except for a pilots cabin (8 feet tall). The captain was a red headed american man who had married a local, the Pilot (Roland) and Engineer (Ernest) where both Marshaleese. We where traveling from Kwajalein Island in Kwajalein Atoll to Mai Namu and Namu Namu (Mai and Namu Islands in Namu Atoll) and the to Ailinglaplap Ailinglaplap. This meant for periods on the open ocean.

On the way to Mai Name the boat wasa swamped repeatedly by huge waves, over 10 feet tall. I tell you this because I want you to understand that Roland and Ernest, neither of whom could read or had gone to school, where both PhDs in their milieu (and really really cool to my 5 year old self). Ernest spent the storm (which I spent vomiting on a nice hippy lady) on top of the pilots “cabin” because he had been looking for land when the storm suddenly came up on us. Nevertheless, Ernest held on for the entire storm, even though the hatch below him was swept off.

Anyway, the storm ends and we are totally lost. Ernest cannot see and land so we have to go full Marshaleese.

Roland and Ernest went to the back of the boat and simply stared at the water for quite a while, at least 20 minutes. Then they conferred (in Marshaleese) nodded to eachother and Roland drove us directly to the Island we were headed to.

Definitely masters of their environment and one of the coolest memories of my childhood.

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