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Pacific Colonisation and Canoe Performance: Experiments in the Science of Sailing

Geoffrey Irwin, Richard G.J. Flay

JPS, Vol 124, No 4 pg (419-443)


We report on a collaboration between archaeology and the Yacht Research Unit at the University of Auckland to investigate the sailing characteristics of Pacific canoes, both ancient and modern. Archaeology provides a chronology for the colonisation of Pacific Islands, but one mystery that remains is how well the canoes could sail. We describe the first phase of testing reconstructed model hulls and sails. By combining aerodynamic and hydrodynamic information it was possible to compare the performance of three different kinds of canoe representing simple and more developed forms. We offer tentative suggestions about the sailing performance of canoes of the Lapita period and also conclude that canoes involved in the colonisation of East Polynesia were able to make return voyages between islands on passages that encountered adverse winds as well as fair ones.


Pacific voyaging, colonisation, canoe performance, naval architecture, wind tunnel

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