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David Lewis

(1917—2003)


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(1917–2003),

New Zealand deep-sea yachtsman, anthropologist, doctor, and adventurer. He was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit and also received many awards from nautical and scientific bodies. In 1960 he sailed his boat Cardinal Vertue in the first single-handed transatlantic race (see yachting: transoceanic racing) and later, in Rehu Moana, completed the first circumnavigation of the globe by catamaran accompanied by his wife and two small children. He wrote twelve books, at least two of which may well be numbered among the classics of contemporary marine literature. We, the Navigators (and to some extent its sequel The Voyaging Stars) is a masterly account of a nine-month voyage in the auxiliary ketch Isbjorn to investigate the navigational concepts and methods used by indigenous Pacific islanders. These were essentially a system of dead reckoning based on observation rather than measurement. No artefacts were used and myth and metaphor were the method of organizing navigational information.

We, the Navigators makes a profound and unique contribution to our understanding of the art of navigation by means other than measurement. Lewis made his investigation just in time, before the indigenous methods of navigating used in the Micronesian, Polynesian, and Melanesian islands ceased to be practised by a navigator caste, trained from boyhood and dedicated to their task.

Ice Bird, by contrast, is a hair-raising account of Lewis's attempt in 1972 to circumnavigate the Antarctic continent on his own. Quite apart from the atrocious conditions, the (finally abortive) voyage proved to be a remarkable feat of navigation. His later expeditions, always with some scientific purpose in mind, took him to the Australian desert and, in a wide variety of craft, three times to the Antarctic, to the Soviet Arctic tundra of Chukotea, and to Melanesia. From boyhood (‘shy and solitary, a poor mixer and an indifferent student’, as he relates) it seems to have been the beauty of the natural world that so challenged him. His contributions to navigation alone have, in many ways, been unique.

Dr Lewis's publications include: Dreamers of the Day (1964), Daughters of the Wind (1967), Children of the Three Oceans (1969), and We, the Navigators (1972), 2nd edn. ed. Sir Derek Oulton (1994).

Mike Richey

Subjects: Maritime History.


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