Sunday, 5 February 2012

It's all in a name...

It is the final southward steaming day today as we near our first 'proper' station at the western end of the North Scotia Ridge. We are about to pass 53°S, putting us at roughly the equivalent southern hemisphere latitude to Wales and the English Midlands in the northern hemisphere. The latest news is that we should arrive around 1 a.m. local time, though the weather conditions may delay the start of operations as both wind and wave heights are forecast to increase this evening.

During any breaks in our science schedule, we thought it would be nice to let you know a little bit more about our research vessel. Today, we focus on the man who lends his name to our ship, the great 18th century navigator James Cook.

 Copy of an original 1775 portrait of James Cook by Nathaniel Dance in the library on the ship. The original is now housed in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London.

James Cook was born on 27th October 1728 in a small village near Middlesbrough in Yorkshire. At the age of 17, Cook began work with a coal merchant and in 1755 enlisted in the Royal Navy. During his career, he commanded three major voyages of discovery for Great Britain and sailed around the world twice.

For his first voyage, he was placed in command of the Endeavour, which was to take a number of scientists to the Pacific Ocean to observe Venus. Cook was also issued secret orders to find the great southern continent. He landed in New Zealand in October 17th, 1769, before exploring Australia.

On his second expedition, Cook set out to answer a question that had long engaged the attention of the maritime powers of Europe: was the unexplored part of the southern hemisphere an immense ocean, or did it contain another continent? Cook embarked on the expedition with his flagship, the Resolution (only 110 feet long and 35 feet across) and the Adventure. They battled through heavy storms and dangerous seas filled with huge icebergs, christening both South Georgia (which we will be passing on our expedition) and the South Sandwich Islands. However, Cook was eventually forced to turn back by the cold. According to his account, the ice "extended east and west far beyond the reach of our sight, while the southern half of the horizon was illuminated by rays of light which were reflected from the ice to a considerable height...It was indeed my opinion that this ice extends quite to the Pole, or perhaps joins to some land to which it has been fixed since creation". The voyage, which returned to England in 1775 without the loss of a single seaman, lasted three years and eight days and covered more than 60,000 miles. It was then left to the owners of whaling fleets in Europe and America to continue exploration into the Antarctic waters.

In July of 1776, Cook set sail on his third voyage, again on Resolution. His mission was to look for a possible northern sea route between Europe and Asia. Great walls of ice in the Arctic Circle blocked the expedition, but he did become the first known European to reach Vancouver Island and the Hawaiian Islands. It was here, on February 14th, 1779, that Cook was stabbed to death by Hawaiian natives.

From a humble background, Cook was said to be particularly sympathetic to the needs of ordinary sailors.  Cook was the first British commander to prevent the outbreak of scurvy by regulating his crew’s diet, serving them citrus fruit and sauerkraut to prevent the disease. No such worries for us on board the RRS James Cook!

A copy of James Cook's first map of New Zealand, on board RRS James Cook

"... I had ambition not only to go farther than any one had been before, but as far as it was possible for man to go..." - James Cook, R.N.

Ben and Lou jam in the main laboratory!

Finally, many happy returns to Brian King who celebrates his birthday onboard ship today!

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