Nature holds the key to the deepest quests of man. That is what our ancients relied on to solve everyday problems – be it procuring food, sensing danger, transportation, communication or even determining their position on the planet earth – they did not need a GPS system or a super computer or sophisticated watches and equipment, all they did was to look around.
Ancient sailors relied on the winds, sun, stars and birds to find their way home. The sun moving across the sky gave them their direction and quarter. At night, they steered by the stars. At any one time in the year at any one point on the globe, the sun and stars are found above the horizon at certain fixed “heights”-a distance that mariners can measure with as simple an instrument as one’s fingers, laid horizontally atop one another and held at arm’s length. At places where the sun and stars were not visible, they relied on the behaviour of birds. If the beak of a seabird is full, sailors knew it is heading towards its rookery; if empty, it’s heading out to sea to fill that beak! Others relied on the direction and type of waves, the ocean currents and winds. In the Indian Ocean, for example, Indian traders over the ages have ridden the northeast monsoon to Africa in the cool, dry winter and taken the southwest monsoon back to the subcontinent in the hot, wet summer.
In the next article we will learn certain tips and tricks to find our way and time of day without clocks and compasses.
DID YOU KNOW?
The quarters we know today as east and west, the Phoenicians knew as Asu (sunrise) and Ereb (sunset), labels that live today in the names Asia and Europe.