Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Terra Incognita

Over this ocean the familiar lodestar of Polaris never rises. The year is 1769.  James Cook's Endeavour is exploring and charting the southern ocean.  The alien constellations of the south glimmer above the clouds.  Below, in the darker parts of the water, the wheels and pinions of clockwork appear.  Due to the careful observation of the sun and stars, in combination with the invention of a reliable marine chronometer, the crew of this ship knows where they are. 

Celestial navigation. Their immediate surroundings provide no hint to the crew as to their location.  Paradoxically, only by observing distant heavenly bodies, and by knowing the precise time on the other side of the globe, can they determine their exact location. 

Sometimes, it is only by observing that which is very far away, that we can determine where we are now. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Mapping Newfoundland

Between 1762 and 1767 during the summer months, James Cook surveyed the coast of Newfoundland.  His ship and crew traveled around the island and precisely locating every bay and island using the new science of celestial navigation. 

The world was being captured in a map.  Every point was precisely located within the grid of latitude and longitude.  The wilderness was transformed into territory; property of the British Crown. 

But when all the world had been found, was something lost? When there was nothing left uncharted, did something else go missing?   

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Joshua in the North Atlantic

Joshua Slocum's boat 'Spray' sails through an ocean that seems to be breaking apart. Between the gaps in the waves it appears as though a ship could fall into the sky.

This little ship that carried its single occupant across vast oceans tells two stories. On one hand it illustrates the resilience and ingenuity of the individual to accomplish remarkable things. On the other hand it shows how small and short-lived these achievements are on a larger scale.  The sailor is a tiny dot; the ocean is vast.  The human achievement is a fleeting journey; the ocean endures forever.

A decade after this successful voyage, Slocum and his boat were once again in the North Atlantic. He was headed for the west indies when he disappeared without a trace.  No wreckage or debris was ever found.