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Tales of Ocean Exploration: Part II

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Ran, a stormy spirit of the sea, reflected the shifting moods of the ocean, sometimes helpful, sometimes harmful. She gathered sailors in her drowning net and dragged them down to the depths of the sea. There, with her husband Aegir, she entertained her victims in her gleaming coral caves, which were lit by the shimmering gold of the sea. Ran loved gold, named the Flame of the Sea, after the fluorescent quality of Nordic waves. Sailor's seeking Ran's favor wisely pocketed some gold for the trip.

--- The Myths and Legends of the Nordic Gods

The Vikings

We continue our salty tales with some of the most ruthless sailors that ever lived. Yet of all the people who ever lived on our planet, the Vikings epitomized man's connection to the sea. Spawned between fire and ice in the farthest reaches of our planet, these sailors commanded the seas with cunning, grace and respect. The fabric of their very lives was woven with the sea and many of their folklores and traditions survive to this day.

The Vikings, a tribe of people who inhabited modern-day Norway, Sweden and Denmark, otherwise known as Scandinavia, burst upon Europe in the last decade of the 8th Century. While the term Viking refers to "those who plunder", it was generally applied to all Scandinavians in the Viking Age, between 789  to 1100  A.D., more than  300 years.

Various hypotheses have been proposed to explain the sudden expansion of what otherwise were largely farmers and fishermen. Sure, they engaged in occasional warfaring, royal combat and games of violence, but they pretty much kept at home previously. Perhaps unusually harsh climate conditions, the lure of a better life, struggles for power, dreams of riches and trade or some other reasons played a part in their appearance.

Whatever the causes (which we are not going to examine here), the Vikings descended upon Europe like a black plague. Once popular middle age prayer of the time reads: "From the fury of the Norsemen, good Lord deliver us." While history has a way of creating larger-than-life legends, the Viking practices of human sacrifice, battle-enhancing drugs (they were particularly fond of a blood-red psychedelic mushroom that gave them superhuman power and, presumably, wicked-ass visions), pagan rituals and wanton acts of violence and terror were very real. Scandinavian accounts describe the Viking practice of the "blood eagle", where a victim's ribs were hacked on both sides of his spine and his lungs torn out so that he resembled an eagle. This sacrifice to Odin, the one-eyed god of the warriors, was designed to inspire soldiers and terrorize victims and it demonstrates the sophisticated and systematic methods used by these warriors.

Despite these incidents, some historians believe it was only a special class of warriors who carried out such violence. Modern interpretations also point to a climate of violence inherent in all people of this time. The Christian leader Charlemagne executed 4500 Saxons at Verden in 782, so violence was a common way to deal with problems. And because many of the Viking raids were directed against the booty-rich Christian churches, the descriptions of these "pagans" by monks, from whose writings much of middle-age history is taken, were understandably harsh.

Viking Shjp.gif (30053 bytes)Their violence nothwitstanding, what gave the Vikings their overpowering ability to rain terror upon medieval Europeans were their extraordinary ships. The Viking longship, as they were known, has been described as the "perfect mating of design, structure and material." The culmination of more than 6000 years of field testing under the harshest sea conditions known to man, these ships could travel long distances over the open ocean and maneuver in shallow coastal environments as well. Their speed, seaworthiness and versatility made them potent weapons in the Viking raids against coastal peoples.

The earliest archaeological evidence of Scandinavian water craft dates from 5000 B.C. at sites in Denmark. These simple dugout canoes, reaching lengths of 30 feet, are reminiscent of canoes built by indigenous peoples across the world. They appeared to be used for fishing, whaling and general marauding. The importance of these craft for early Scandinavians is reflected in their burial rituals: chieftains and important people were often placed in their ships and buried or stones were placed around their graves in the shape of a longship. Viking burial rituals in ships were even more elaborate, as we'll learn below.

John Hale's excellent Scientific American article on Viking longships traces the evolution of these phenomenal craft and the Vikings themselves:

About 3000 B.C., boatbuilders...in Denmark began to bore a row of holes along the upper edges of their dugout canoes. They could then secure the lower edge of a plank...to the top of the dugout with cords of sinew or fiber. The resulting overlap marked the birth of the distinctive northern European construction technique known as lapstrake...

During the Bronze Age (2000 to 500 B.C.), the watercraft of Scandinavia took on some of the appearance of the future Viking ship, including high posts at each end crowned with spirals or animal heads. Some of these heads are certainly serpents or dragons, and dragons are depicted hovering over boats in Bronze Age art. The warriors manning these boats often wore the horned helmets that have come to symbolize the caricature Viking of opera or cartoons. In fact, such headgear was quite out of fashion by the true Viking Age.

Hale describes the longships used in Viking raids as part oceangoing troop carrier and part amphibious craft. The longships were capable of delivering sixty men "over the low side of the hull within a few strides of land." Estimates of the numbers of craft and men vary, although reports of tens to hundreds of ships and upwards of ten thousand men or more are probably reliable. Whatever the number, a fleet of Viking longships off the coast warranted considerable attention.

0298hale_invaders.gif (103766 bytes)The first Viking raids were directed against England. Small numbers of ships conducted hit-and-run along the coasts of England, Ireland and France. Ireland, whose people were largely disorganized and anarchic, suffered considerably from Viking attack. In fact, if you are of Irish descent, it's possible that one of your ancestors was a Viking. The first Viking raiders in Ireland were largely Nordic and Irish-Norse towns proliferated during this period. Dublin, the capital of Ireland, was once ruled by the son of a Norwegian king, Olaf the White. By the late 10th century, the Norse settlers had lost their Viking identity through intermarriage, conversion to Christianity and adoption of the Gaelic language. I've always felt a certain connection to Norwegian peoples and their customs, especially their habits of drinking. Perhaps my half-Irish genes are trying to tell me something!

Viking speed and mobility as result of the longship gave the Vikings a considerable advantage in these early raids. Surprise attacks enabled them to plunder and run before opposing troops could be gathered to resist them. Yet, in the early 9th century, political dissary in Europe offered an opportunity for extended campaigns and the Vikings mounted a more serious offensive in 830 A.D. With fleets approaching the hundreds, Viking warriors attacked points far inland along the Rhine, Seine, Loire and Shannon rivers. It was during this period that the Vikings raided Spain and other settlements in the Mediterranean, but these were not hugely successful. The distinguishing feature of this second phase of Viking raids was the development of permanent settlements and overwintering in western Europe. Scotland and Ireland came under the rule of Vikings during this period. From these strongholds, raiding could start earlier in the year, as winter broke and better weather prevailed in the more southerly climates.

A new phase in Viking activity followed, characterized by conquest and settlement. As Viking raiders acquired land and riches, many of them returned to their farming lives. It most certainly offered a better life than that aboard a longship with the possible risk of death in battle. During this third phase, which lasted from 865 to 954 A.D., with the death of Eric the Bloodaxe, Viking raids intensified on many fronts, including England, Ireland, France and Germany. While Viking activity continued until around 1100 A.D., it became characterized by defensive postures, deal-making and eventually, assimilation.

The defining mark of Viking success was their mobility. Not only did it provide the element of surprise but it also led them beyond the far reaches of the known world. As Viking ships raided southwards to the Mediterranean and eastwards into Germany, another group of Viking people, primarily Norwegians, moved eastward. These Viking settlements occurred less violently than their European ones and Scandinavians quickly colonized Iceland, Greenland and even North America.

Sir David Wilson, the former Director of the British Museum, once wrote:

Their devastating raids in the eighth and ninth centuries gave the Vikings an enduring reputation for piracy and destructiveness - and yet their culture was in many ways as sophisticated as the cultures of the lands, which they ravaged.

In Dark Age Europe they stand out for the scale of their exploits, for they conquered large areas of Britain, Normandy, Sicily and Russia; they traded with Byzantium, Persia and India; they discovered and colonized Iceland and Greenland and reached the coast of North America. And, in the end, far from destroying Western civilization, they enriched it. Parts of their legal system, their tradition of individual freedom, their zest for exploration, and the great Icelandic sagas which reflect their heroic age - these have all become part of our northern European heritage.

Another distortion of Viking history is the one presented to many of us in our early school years paints Christopher Columbus as the man who discovered America (notwithstanding the fact that people were already here.) In fact, a Norwegian explorer, Leif Eiriksson, explored extensively along the coast of Nova Scotia and possibly as far south as Cape Cod around 1000 A.D. A Norse settlement in Newfoundland, L'Anse aux Meadows, may have accommodated up to 90 people, and was most probably used as a base for explorations southwards. Artifacts at the site indicate an occupation between 1000 and 1020 A.D.; butternut squash remains at the site indicate trade and or exploration to the south, as butternuts do not grow that far north. In any case, Leif Eiriksson's expeditions within North America certainly deserve as much recognition as Columbus' expeditions to the West Indies; heck, Columbus never even set foot on the continent!

But where the sagas of Leif Eiriksson faded away modern times, the sagas of Viking warriors and Norse mythology remain strong as ever. Consider this account of the Norse god of the sea, Aegir, whose sister-wife, Ran, is described above:

Aegir - the god of the sea, seashore and ocean and a son of Mistarblindi. He was a personification of the ocean, both good and bad. He caused storms with his anger and the skalds said a ship went into "Aegir's wide jaws" when it wrecked. Aegir was crowned with seaweed and always surrounded by nixies and mermaids while in his hall. Aegir's wife was Ran and they lived under the sea by the island Hlesey. Ran and Aegir had nine daughters who were the waves. Aegir brewed ale for the gods after Thor brought him a big enough kettle. Every winter the gods would drink beer at Aegir's home. He was, therefore, famed for his hospitality. Gold was put onto the floor of the hall to provide light, instead of having a fire. Gold is therefore called Aegir's fire. The cups in Aegir's hall were always full, magically refilling themselves. Aegir had two servants in his hall, Fimafeng and Eldir. Sailors feared Aegir, and thought he would sometimes surface to destroy ships. Early Saxons made human sacrifices to a god of the sea, possibly connected with Aegir.

While other gods perhaps had more power than Aegir, the sphere of his influence, the sea, certainly ranked him high among warriors who spent a good deal of their time at sea. Sailors, a superstitious lot anyway, carefully observed many traditions so as not to offend the god of the sea.

vikingfuneralth.gif (6075 bytes)Commanding officers who died in a sea battle were buried in their ships. As with most male graves of the time, a large number of weapons were buried alongside the warrior. The Vikings believed that dead warriors went to Valhalla, the "hall of heroes", where they ate and drank freely and kept in fighting form through battle. Typical weapons included a double-edged longsword (better for hacking than thrusting!), a wooden shield with an iron centerpiece "to protect the hand", richly decorated spears, a battle axe (a cheaper alternative to the sword),and "a bow with up to 24 arrows." The ridiculous head gear often associated with Vikings was not preferred, the true warriors preferring a toughened leather cap instead.

Here's an account from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Norway describing the burial ritual:

At the time of burial, the ship was drawn up on land and placed in a pit. A burial chamber was constructed behind the mast, where the deceased was placed to rest in a bed, dressed in finery. Copious provisions were placed in the ship, dogs and horses were sacrificed, and a large burial mound was piled on top of the vessel.

An Arab travelling in Russia at the end of the 9th Century happened upon a group of Vikings who were in the process of burying a chieftain in this manner. Ibn Fadlan made note of his observations, and his journal has survived. The deceased chieftain's ship was pulled ashore, and valuables were placed aboard. The corpse was dressed in fine clothing and placed on board in a bed. A slave woman, who had chosen to follow her master in death was sacrificed along with a horse and a hunting dog. The ship with its contents was burned, and a burial mound was constructed over the ashes. We have finds of cremated ships graves in the Nordic countries and in Western European Viking sites, but the large graves along the Oslofjord were not put to the torch. In the Gokstad ship a man was found, and the Tune ship probably carried a man a well. However, two women were buried with the Oseberg ship. The skeletons are of a 50-60 year-old and a 20-30 year-old. We can only speculate as to which was the companion and which was the noblewoman.

While Scandinavian people have given up the ritual of burying sailors in their ships, strong seafaring traditions persist to this day. The family of a sailor who dies aboard a Norwegian ship receives a large sum of money from the Norwegian government. People who make their living at sea, including Norwegian oceanographers, are well-respected and treated accordingly.

Finally, I'd like to leave you with this personal account of the degree to which Viking tradition plays a part among modern Norwegian sailors. This story was told to me by a Norwegian scientist while sipping M�k �l (Mac's Ale) in a tiny pub in the northern coastal city of Tromso, Norway. Preparing for a scientific expedition to the Barent's Sea (north of Norway, West of Svalbard), two female technicians were spotted boarding the vessel wearing rucksacks, the Norwegian equivalent of a backpack. Aboard Norwegian vessels, as in Viking times, any articles, like rucksacks, used in land-based activities, like hiking, were considered bad luck. So entrenched is this tradition that it is considered bad manners (and bad luck) to mention barnyard animals, especially horses. The Norwegians, like the Vikings, feel that these terrestrial trappings will offend the gods of the sea and make for a bad journey at sea. Upon seeing the rucksacks, several of the crew grumbled to the Captain, but he ignored their complaints and made the ship ready to sail. A few days out of port, the ship was entrenched in horrendous seas and a ferocious storm. The winds raged for more than two days and the mood of the crew grew ever worse. Finally, unable to tolerate the bad weather any longer, the crew demanded that the Captain "do something about those rucksacks." The Captain, a wise and diplomatic man, approached the women and politely confiscated their rucksacks. Realizing that some show of respect for the gods was required (and wishing to placate his crew), the Captain had the rucksacks hauled up the mast. There they flapped in the howling wind, a sign of acquiescence to Aegir and his legions. Within a few hours, the wind began to abate, the seas began to calm and finally, after nearly three days in the tempest, the sun broke through the clouds and all was well.

Whether the Captain had some idea that the weather would break or whether the legends of the sea have some salt of truth to them, we may never know. Yet this tale illustrates the power and influence that Viking traditions still hold on the people of Norway today. Of course, you won't find me carrying a rucksack on board a Norwegian vessel.

Web Links

The Viking Longships: Scientific American, great reading on the development of the Viking longship.February 1998

Timeline of Scandinavian History centering on the Viking Age

The Viking Network Web

The Viking Home Page

The World of the Vikings

Scandinavian Mythology and Folklore

Myths and Legends

The Viking History Web

Viking Discoverers

The Viking Legacy of Europe

Leif Erickson's Viking Ship

Killian's Chronicle: the first story of America
Fictional film account of Vikings in North America

Earth Station1: Nordic Prints

Larry Elmore's Fantasy Art Gallery

Cool Books

Norse Mythology: The Myths and Legends of the Nordic Gods, 1997, by Arthur Cotterell,   Annes Publishing Limited.
Encyclopedic illustrated index of Norse gods, goddesses and myths. Beautifully illustrated. I found this one in Bergen, Norway.

The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings, 1995, John Haywood, Penguin Books

The "Discovery" of California

juanship.jpg (6770 bytes)While the Arlington Springs woman pretty much confirms the presence of people in California at least 13,000 years ago, historical references to the dates of the discovery of California (and other regions of the world) appear to ignore these inhabitants. The folklore of history is hard to change but as our awareness of early cultures grows, history books are being rewritten to more accurately reflect the facts. Until that time, we just have to realize that the "discovery" of America and the "discovery" of California are more like marketing campaigns than anything else; like "discovering" the new taste of a soft drink.

The historical misstatements aside, the explorers who reached these shores deserve recognition for their accomplishments. Any travel by ship into uncharted territories carries a certain amount of risk and danger. Unknown winds and currents, hidden rocks and reefs, strange life forms and wary indigenous peoples were only a few of the problems a Captain had to face. Yet by charting these territories and establishing trade, these Captains paved the way (for good or for bad) for future settlement and commerce.

The history of the European exploration of California includes a good deal of "oceanography" and because it's our home state, I wanted to provide a few paragraphs here. By no means is the summary below a complete history of California or even a detailed account of coastal California history. Rather, my intention is to sketch enough parts to get you interested. There are several excellent web sites and references if you would like to research this topic further.

Although Europeans explored Baja (Lower) California as early as 1533, nearly a decade passed before Alta (Upper) California received any attention. And although these voyages brought word of California as early as 1542, it wasn't until 1769, more than 227 years later, that Europeans settled permanently in California. It's interesting to note the difference between those first 227 years, when Europeans were poking around California, and the next 227 years (taking us to 1996), when California changed dramatically. Such is the changing pace of human affairs.

Six ocean-going expeditions were undertaken to explore California between 1542 to 1769:

  1. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, Portuguese,  in 1542-1543;
  2. Sir Francis Drake, English,  in 1579;
  3. Francisco Gali in 1584;
  4. Sebastian Rodriguez Cerme�o in 1595;
  5. Sebastian Vizca�no in 1602-1603;
  6. Gamelli Carreri in 1696.

cabrillo.gif (23807 bytes)Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a Portuguese explorer, commanded two ships and ventured as far north as Monterey Bay, describing it, but never landing there. Sir Francis Drake, the famous English explorer and raider who circumnavigated the globe, passed by California, stopping just north of San Francisco (Drake's Bay or Bodega Bay) for minor repairs before heading to sea again. Two Spanish explorers, Francisco Gali and Sebastian Rodriguez Cerme�o, briefly made landings even further north, possibly as far as Cape Mendocino, but it wasn't until the expedition mounted by Sebastian Vizca�no that any lasting impact on California was made.

The following paragraphs have been condensed from Gary Breschini's excellent summary of early California History. They provide an interesting account of the trials and tribulations of sea-going exploration in those days. The complete text can be found in Tutorials in Monterey County History and Prehistory, provided by the Monterey County Historical Society.

Sebastian Vizca�no left Mexico City on March 7, 1602, and sailed [from Acapulco] on May 5, 1602 with four vessels, described as two ships (the San Diego and Santo Tom�s), a frigate (the Tres Reyes), and a long boat. They reached Cape San Lucas on June 8, where they were forced to abandon the long boat. The remaining three vessels battled up the outer coast of Lower California, frequently short on water and separated, until they finally reached San Diego on November 10--a voyage of six months and five days! San Diego was chosen as the name of the port both for the flagship and for the feast of San Diego de Alcal� on November 12. They left San Diego on November 20, landed on Santa Catalina Island, passed through the Santa Barbara Channel and rounded Point Concepcion, which they named for the vigil or feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 7 or 8). A favorable wind on December 13 carried them along the shore below the Santa Lucia Mountains, which they saw only when the fog lifted on the 14th. The fleet sailed past Carmel Bay and on December 16, rounded Punta de los Pinos (Point Pinos) and entered the harbor...They named the harbor after the viceroy of Mexico, Don Gasp�r de Z��iga y Acevedo, Count of Monte Rey, who had dispatched the expedition. They were the first known European explorers to reach Monterey.

They went ashore the following day, and pitched the church tent under the shade of an oak whose branches touched the tidewater, 20 paces from springs of good water in a ravine. (This ravine was located about where the tunnel leading from Monterey to Cannery Row emerges.) Most of the sailors were suffering from scurvy. Many were seriously ill, and 16 had already died! In the shadow of this historic tree, the first recorded mass north of San Diego was celebrated by Father Andr�s de la Asunci�n.

The morning of December 17 was foggy, but the fog cleared as mass ended. After mass it was decided to send one of the vessels back to carry the sick and to report the expedition's progress. Later that day the party set up camp on the shore, and remained in the area until January 3, 1603. The party worked on the ships, and...On December 29, the San Tom�s, carrying the sick, as well as news of the expedition, was dispatched for Acapulco. The voyage was one of great suffering; 25 men died on the way, or soon after arrival. Only nine survived.

After the San Tom�s departed, attention was turned to readying the remaining two vessels for the voyage north. The cold weather hampered their efforts. It was reported that on Christmas Day the mountains near the port were covered with snow, and New Year's morning found the water holes frozen to the depth of a palm. By Friday, January 3, 1603, most of the chores were completed, and Vizca�no, Father Andr�s, and ten arquebusiers were able to explore inland to the southeast. About three leagues (a league averages perhaps 2.6 to 3.0 miles) away they discovered another port, with a copious river descending from snow-covered mountains. These are Carmel Bay and the Carmel River. They spotted elk, but were unable to kill any.

They encountered no people, but saw a village about a league away. When they investigated they found it deserted, and speculated the inhabitants had taken refuge in the interior to escape the cold. It is generally thought this was the village of Tucutnut, about a league from where Carmel Mission was subsequently located. This is the only village mentioned. The Monterey, New Monterey, and Pacific Grove areas apparently were uninhabited in January of 1603. Vizca�no, however, reported that the land was thickly populated with numberless Indians, and that a great many came several times to their camp at Monterey. He comments that they indicated by signs that there were many settlements inland.

At midnight on January 3, 1603, the remaining two ships sailed north from Monterey. On January 7 the vessels were separated off Drake's Bay, and did not meet again. Vizca�no on the San Diego pushed north, sighting Cape Mendocino on January 12. The next day a gale forced the ship to hove to near the cape. By January 19 they had passed north of Cape Mendocino, but as only six men are able to work it was decided to return to La Paz. They arrived at Mazatlan on February 7, where a remedy for scurvy was found, thus limiting the loss of life. The vessel reached Acapulco on March 21. The Tres Reyes did not fare nearly as well. That vessel was driven by the gale which struck the San Diego to an anchorage behind a cliff near Cape Mendocino. On January 19, they pushed perhaps as far north as the Oregon border. There, because of sickness and because they had reached the limit of their instructions, they turned for home. The Tres Reyes arrived at Acapulco on February 23 with only five survivors!

Little useful information was left by the explorers. They described the Indians as gentle and peaceable, docile, generous, and friendly, but not very adept at making themselves understood. (This latter comment probably applies more to the Spanish, as the Indians were undoubtedly adept at some form of sign language.) Their common foods are described as shell or other fish, acorns, and a nut larger than a chestnut (buckeye). Also described are seeds in abundance and variety, the flesh of game such as deer, bear, etc. For clothing they used the skins of sea lions and elk, they made fishing lines and nets, and used the bow-and-arrow. The party returned from the Carmel area at nightfall without having seen a single person. The main body had traveled some three leagues from camp, and the scouts four leagues. They sailed at midnight that night, never to return.

Vizca�no accomplished little in the way of new exploration. Except for the Monterey Bay, he discovered no more than Cabrillo 60 years earlier. He did, however, chart the coast with such accuracy that his maps were used until about 1790. Vizca�no returned with a glowing description of the port of Monterey...

Interest in Alta California moved inland soon thereafter with the establishment of the California missions in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In 1848, the end of the Mexican-American War brought Alta California (and New Mexico and Texas) under U.S. control and in 1850, California was granted statehood. Of course, the discovery of gold on the American River near Sacramento in 1848 completely transformed California, but that's another story.

scruzbrdwlk.gif (18842 bytes)The development of coastal cities like San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego offer fascinating tales of ocean exploration and development. The story of the Chinese and the sardine industry in Monterey is a good example of the kinds of cultural integration and boom-and-bust patterns that characterize much of California's history. The development of the surf culture in southern California and the boardwalk culture in Santa Cruz are rich with tales of people and the sea.

Next time you visit one of these places, take a few moments to look around you. Observe the landscape and the ocean that surrounds it. Check out some of the historical sites and envision what it would have been like 200-300 years ago. You will begin to gain an appreciation for the ways in which the ocean shapes our history, our culture and our future.

And finally, consider these words from Senator Daniel Webster while speaking to Congress: "What can we ever hope to do with the western coast, a coast of three thousand miles, rockbound, cheerless, uninviting, and not a harbor on it? What use have we for such a country?"

What use, indeed?

Local California Chronology Part 1: The Chumash

Local California Chronology Part 2: The First European Contact

Local California Chronology Part 3: The Spanish Incursion

Local California Chronology Part 4: The U.S. Invasion

The Monterey County Historical Society

John Steinbeck's Pacific Grove

The California Home Page

National Park Service Cabrillo National Monument

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

Blackbeard the Pirate

bbeard2t.jpg (2321 bytes)Between the years of 1717 and 1718, one man's name drew terror on the seas more than any other: Blackbeard. An imposing 6 feet, 5 inches and 220 pounds, with a long black braided beard tied in ribbons and smoldering, smoking ropes stuffed in his three-corned hat for effect, the man known as Blackbeard the Pirate struck fear in all he encountered. Though he rarely killed, the sight of his fleet of 25 ships and perhaps more than 2500 men was cause for concern in any reasonable merchant seaman. More times than not, Blackbeard gained his bounty through intimidation, the sailors he looted having no desire to risk their lives for a handful of riches. Perhaps because of his overpowering success, perhaps because he was finally brought down by a Virginian, the legend of Blackbeard entertains and fascinates us to this very day.

Like many pirates, Blackbeard took to the seas as an outcast of society. Aboard ship, he could be among fellow outcasts--friends, if you can call them that--and escape the trappings of a world far more complicated than the simple life at sea. Here, men could concern themselves with keeping the ship fit and fast, they could amuse themselves with camaraderie and song and drink and they could bond in one overriding purpose: to get rich. What could be simpler?

Blackbeard was born as Edward Thatch (aka Teach) in London or Bristol sometime before 1690. Little is known of his early life. It is generally assumed that he started his career as a privateer, a sort of government-sanctioned at-sea rebel, employed by Queen Anne in her war with the French, Spanish or any other enemy of the crown. When Queen Anne's War ended perhaps before then, Thatch pursued pirating, where he joined with Benjamin Hornigold, another privateer-turned-pirate.

Early accounts place Blackbeard at popular pirate rendezvous spots such as Providence, the Delaware Capes and St. Vincent, near Barbados. It was in St. Vincent that the French ship La Concorde with a cargo of slave was captured by Hornigold and Thatch. For his role in capturing the ship, Thatch was given her command and thereafter he named her Queen Anne's Revenge. Hornigold retired shortly afterwards, taking advantage of the King's pardon of all pirate crimes in 1717.

bbeardsflag.gif (5345 bytes)Blackbeard heavily fortified his ship and his image. At least 36 cannons and 250 men were placed on board the Revenge. In November 1717, he may have engaged a British man-o-war to a draw, a battle for which he is famous but for which there is no evidence having occurred. Yet a few months later, he certainly did make his presence felt, capturing the Adventure, an eighty ton sloop, and the Protestant Caesar, a large merchant vessel. Interestingly, Blackbeard had engaged The Protestant Caesar earlier, "which provoked the pirate into searching out and burning the vessel so that her captain�might not brag when he went to New England that he had beat a Pirate�."

In the succeeding months, Blackbeard plundered small ships in the Caribbean, but by May of 1717, he arrived off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina, with a fleet of four ships and possibly as many as 400 men. Upon arrival, he sent a dispatch to the governor demanding a ransom: a chest of medicine to cure syphilis. In the meantime, he and his men plundered local ships for a couple thousand dollars worth of gold and silver. A chest of medicine was soon delivered (a tincture of mercury, most likely) and  Blackbeard sailed north to Beaufort, North Carolina.

In Beaufort, it appears that Blackbeard intentionally grounded the Revenge on a sandbar. A report written by one of the captured captains suggest that he did this "to secure what Moneys and Effects he had got for himself and such other of them as he had most Value for." Whatever his reasons, Blackbeard trimmed his fleet considerably: "Thatch having taken what Number of Men he thought fit along with him, he set sail from Topsail-Inlet [near Beaufort] in the small Spanish Sloop [one he captured off Havana], about eight Guns mounted, forty White Men, and sixty Negroes, and left the Revenge belonging to Bonnet there..." [from the QAR Project]

By this time, Blackbeard had plundered at least 25 ships and amassed a fair amount of loot. Whether pleased with his success or wanting to rest a bit, he arrived in the town of Bath, the early seat of government in North Carolina, with much fewer men and a much smaller armada. In Bath, which is near Okracoke, it is reported that he took the King's pardon and took a 16-year old wife, his 14th wife, according to legend. For six months he rested, until the lure of the sea (and possibly a dwindling bank account) called him back to action.

Blackbeard revived his piratical campaigns along the Carolina and Virginia coasts. Showing some skills as a politician, he shared his booty with North Carolina's Governor Charles Eden, who is also reported to have performed Blackbeard's latest nuptials. This kept him in business for a while and he managed to capture a few ships with small prizes.

However, as the colonies developed and trade became increasingly important, the local citizens grew tired of pirate ships on their coasts. The North Carolinians called upon Virginia Governor Alexander Spotswood for help, who had pledged to bring an end to piracy. In November 1718, Spotswood dispatched English Navy Lieutenant Robert Maynard with two small sloops, which headed immediately for Okracoke.

On the evening of November 21, 1718, Maynard stole into Okracoke and found Blackbeard's vessel, the Spanish sloop Adventure [a name he had given her], at anchor in the channel. At daybreak, Maynard sent out two small vessels to draw out his enemy. Blackbeard fired upon the vessels and the larger ships engaged. One sloop soon grounded on a sandbar, but the Ranger, under Maynard's personal command, bore the brunt of Blackbeard's attack.

The Ranger was swept with cannon fire, for the British had only small arms with which to press the attack. Cleverly, Maynard ordered all his men below to escape the murderous fire. Seeing an apparently helpless vessel, Blackbeard brought the Adventure alongside and personally led the charge onto the deck of the British sloop. He soon met Maynard face to face, but as Blackbeard charged, the commander grazed his skull with a pistol. Charging up from his hiding place below, a Royal marine dealt the pirate a terrible neck wound with his saber. [The Original Blackbeard Website]

blackbeardhead.gif (7747 bytes)�Blood gushing from the neck wound and from Maynard�s early pistol shot, Blackbeard was struck again and then again, five times in all,� historian David Stick writes in The Outer Banks of North Carolina. �He was hacked and slit and cut by sword thrusts until his body was covered with gashes. Yet he still stood his ground � and his men with him. He stepped back to cock a pistol, half raised it, then slumped forward and crumpled to the deck. The rest of the pirates, observing the death of their leader, jumped overboard into the shallow water � then quickly surrendered.�

A later examination revealed that the pirate had suffered over thirty major wounds. In a grisly gesture, Maynard severed Blackbeard's head from his body and hung the disfigured visage upon the bowsprit. The body was flung overboard and is said to have swum three times around the Ranger before it sank.[The Original Blackbeard Website]

In all, 18 men died in Blackbeard's last battle. But in death, the ghost often rises to far greater heights than in life, and such seems to be the case with Blackbeard. Several legends have been attributed to him.

Before waging battle on a passing ship, he lit slow-burning cannon wicks beneath his broad-brimmed hat. Smoke billowed around his wizened visage, obscuring fierce features. But captains quickly learned to recognize and fear the long, black beard. He dressed all in black, too: a floor-length cape, tall boots, and, of course, a black hat.

Potential victims weren�t the only people who cowered from Blackbeard. His crew often feared for their lives. One night the pirate captain led some of his sailors below deck and locked them in a hold. �Come,� he reportedly said. �Let us make a hell of our own and try how long we can bear it.� Closing the hatches, Blackbeard lit pots full of sulphur and waited for choking fumes to fill the close, dark space. The sailors soon cried for fresh air. Triumphantly, their captain threw open the hatches. By lasting the longest, Blackbeard had beaten his men.

Another time, according to legend, Teach invited two of his top underlings into his cabin to drink. After several draughts of rum � the pirate�s favorite beverage � he blew out the lantern. One crewman crept away in the dark. The other heard a pistol cock.

Blackbeard shot his first mate in the knee cap, leaving the man with a permanent limp. �When other crew members asked the captain why he would intentionally injure a friend,� Hugh F. Rankin writes in Pirates of North Carolina, �Blackbeard explained that if he didn�t shoot one or two of them now and then, they�d forget who he was.�

cannon c-2.jpg (12377 bytes)Whatever the legends, Blackbeard's ghost has risen once again. On November 21 1996, almost 278 years to the day after Blackbeard's death,  Mike Daniel, Director of Operations for Intersal, Inc. discovered an eighteenth century shipwreck, what he believed to be the remains of Blackbeard's first ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge. Using historical research provided by Intersal�s president, Phil Masters, Daniel sought for and finally located the wreck in 23 feet of water off the coast of Beaufort, North Carolina

By comparing nautical charts made in the 1700s with modern-day digital charts, geologists have determined that the sandy bottom of the Beaufort coast has changed considerably (as expected.) Recent hurricanes may have uncovered the wreck, which may explain why it wasn't found earlier. In any case, a considerable number of artifacts found aboard the wreck support the idea that the ship is, indeed, the Revenge.

On June 28, 1999, a news release from the University of North Carolina reports that a radiocarbon study of wood taken from the wreck indicates an age consistent with the Queen Anne's Revenge. The wood dates back to about 1630, when the Revenge is believed to have been built.

The results are totally consistent with when Queen Anne's Revenge was built," said Christopher Martens, William B. Aycock professor of marine science at UNC. "Does this without a doubt prove that it's the Queen Anne's Revenge? No, but the state's underwater archaeologists are finding so many physical pieces of evidence that, taken in their entirety, we're building a strong scientific case that this likely was Blackbeard's ship.[From the Hill]

The importance of this discovery and others like it lies in the information they can shed on the life and culture of Blackbeard and his men. And they help to dispel some of the myths that fiction writers and Hollywood have built for these men. Recent shipwrecks and analyses of journals and historical accounts reveal a much different picture of the pirate that once thought. In fact, these data suggest that Blackbeard, who commanded by intimidation, may have been an exception rather than the rule.

For example, the wreck of another pirate, the Whyday, Sam Bellamy's ship, was recently discovered near Provincetown, a former pirate haunt on Cape Cod. What these artifacts reveal is a democratic sharing of the loot, at least on this pirate ship. African gold treasures found on the ship appear to have been cut into pieces so that they could be evenly divided among the men. While speculative, these kind of data help historians to discover the true nature of these men.

Another example of a kinder, gentler pirate is provided by Captain Charles Johnson, whose book A General History of Pirates is considered the authoritative account of pirates (though even his accounts have been accused of exaggeration). He reports the following Code of Conduct for pirates:

The keeping of boys appears to have been common on pirate ships, especially by ship's officers. (Blackbeard kept a black boy as his personal servant.) This tradition and numerous historical accounts have generated much speculation about the sexual preferences of pirates. Indeed, B.R. Burg, a Professor of History at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, has put a great deal of research into this subject, published in his book,   Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition

Burg suggests that homosexuality may have been common among pirates. Homosexual men may have felt outcast from society or may have been aware of homosexual practices aboard ships and, thus, chosen a pirate's life because of the freedom it afforded. Whatever the reasons, it did not appear to concern the pirates to any unusual degree. Burg writes:

Those who signed aboard vessels destined for the Caribbean or the eastern seas, whatever their reasons or sexual preferences, found themselves in situations where the only manner of fulfillment was with members of the same sex. Homosexuals may have congratulated themselves on having blundered into good fortune.Those with no preference could easily adapt. Heterosexuals had a choice between sodomy or abstinence, but their choice was influenced not only by having grown to adolescence or adulthood in a society that did not rigorously condemn homosexual conduct but also by the fact that many of the men aboard were homosexuals; those in positions of authority by virtue of their long seafaring experience were surely aware of the sexual situation aboard ship when they took employment. [Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition, 1983]

While Burg may overexaggerate the incidence of homosexuality among pirates, what his book does offer is a provocative look at the lifestyle of these men that challenges not only our notions of pirates but our interpretations of the history of people. Considering that latter century history books (up until a few decades ago) have largely ignored indigenous cultures (including Native Americans and South Pacific Islanders, among others), non-Christian religious practices (except for a few Eastern religions), treatment of minorities (including women, African Americans and even the Irish) and human sexuality (especially homosexuality), it's not surprising that much of modern history is being rewritten as the importance of these people and these activities receives more objective attention.

Much remains to be learned about the pirates. That they were great seaman with a vast knowledge of navigation and currents is unquestionable. And as archaeologists and cultural anthropologists sift through the artifacts of their culture, perhaps some day we'll know just what kind of oceanographers the pirates really were.

National Geographic's Pirates!

Quest for a Pirate

Provincetown Home Page

NY Times Article: Archaeologists Revise Portrait of Buccaneers as Monsters

Treasures of the Pirate Ship Whyday (WID-ah), Sam Bellamy's Pirate Ship

Beej's Pirate Image Archive

Offical Home Page of the Wreck of the Queen Anne's Revenge: Blackbeard's Ship
The best source of accurate information on Blackbeard and his ship

Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge Educational Project

The Voyages of Captain James Cook

cook_portrait.jpg (3562 bytes)Captain James Cook may well be the founder of modern oceanography. His list of accomplishments are staggering, the range of his voyages, most impressive. Not only was he a master seaman, skilled navigator, accomplished cartographer, eloquent writer, fine artist, respected diplomat and clever dietician (another example of oceanography's far-reaching subject areas), he was a brave leader and careful scientist. (I wouldn't mind those credits..!)  Perhaps more than any other explorer or oceanographer in history, Cook laid the foundations for our scientific understanding of the seas.

Only a little is known of Cook's developmental years. He was born in the Yorkshire Village of Marton on October 27, 1728, to parents of modest means. They soon moved to Ayton and, as was common in those days, James was apprenticed (i.e. indentured) to a store-keeper, for whom he worked for about year and a half. But ever an ambitious lad, and undoubtedly influenced by the salty pub-side tales of sailors from a nearby harbor, he soon ran away to Whitby, a small port some thirteen miles from Ayton, and offered his services to the mate of a coal fleet. Charmed by his enthusiasm, he was hired aboard and thus began his career as a man of the sea, a sailor.

Cook worked his way up the ranks and apparently studied astronomy, mathematics and map-making on his own. During the Seven Years war between England and France, Cook was sent to the St. Lawrence Seaway aboard the king's ship, Mercury, where he endeavored to map the waterway in between battles with the French in Quebec and the occasional Indian. Having already earned his Master's (Captain's) Certificate and having demonstrated his skills at cartography, he was the Captain of choice for the Queen's mission to show the British flag on a voyage to Tahiti with members of the Royal Society, who were to observe the transit of Venus across the sun (as good a reason for a voyage as any, I guess!).

endeavor.jpg (5901 bytes)Between 1766 and 1771, Cook commanded his first voyage aboard the Endeavour. During this voyage, he insisted on strict health and dietary regimens, especially the eating of Vitamin C-rich foods, which prevented scurvy, a terrifying problem on long voyages of that time. Cook found and charted previously unknown territories, including New Zealand and Australia, landing in and naming Botany Bay, in honor of the plants found there. He mapped the Great Barrier Reef and numerous islands, made careful observations of plants and animals and developed friendly relations with the indigenous peoples. And his efforts must have pleased the members of the Royal Society, as their observations confirmed Edmund Halley's calculations of planetary orbits. Cook returned home (an around-the-world journey) to great honors in 1771 and was soon rewarded command of two other ships, the Resolution and the Admiralty.

On his second voyage, carried out between 1772 and 1775, Cook continued his mapping of the South Pacific, adding Tonga, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Fiji, the New Hebrides and New Caledonia, among others. He also came close to Antarctica, sailing as far south as 71� in the Antarctic Ocean. The simple and unassuming detail of his scientific observations are exemplified in his descriptions of icebergs, which he refers to as "ice mountains." Here's an excerpt from his log, taken from the highly informative and personal web account of Cook's voyages provided by Michael Dickinson, a relative of Cook's, living in Sydney, Australia:

On the 30th, at four o'clock in the morning, we perceived the clouds over the horizon to the south to be of an unusual snow-white brightness, which we knew announced our approach to field ice. Soon after it was seen from the topmast-head, and at eight o'clock we were close to its edge. It extended east and west far beyond the reach of our sight. Ninety-seven ice hills were distinctly seen within the field, besides those on the outside - many of them very large, and looking like a ridge of mountains rising one above another till they were lost in the clouds; the outer or northern edge of this immense field was composed of loose or broken ice close packed together so that it was not possible for anything to enter it. This was about a mile broad, within which was solid ice in one continued compact body. It was rather low and flat (except the hills) but seemed to increase in height as you traced it to the south, in which direction it extended beyond our sight. Such mountains of ice as these, I think, were never seen in the Greenland seas, at least not that I ever heard or read of, so that we cannot draw a comparison between the ice here and there.

Having circumnavigated Antarctica (but never landing on the continent), Cook returned home in 1775.

HMResolutiont.jpg (2564 bytes)In 1776, not wanting to let grass grow under his feet, Cook was given command of Resolution and another ship, the Discovery. His mission was to search for a passage from the Atlantic Ocean through North America to the Pacific Ocean, the so-called "Northwest Passage". He spent the first year in the South Pacific (warming up for his voyage to the Arctic!), then headed northwards where he stumbled upon Hawaii in 1778. Though I've seen no record of it, he probably had some idea that Hawaii existed, having spent quite a bit of time among their South Pacific relatives. However it happened, his encounter with the Hawaiians, for all its charm, would be his and their fatal undoing.

After spending some time in Hawaii, Cook ventured north, exploring the coast of Oregon and sailing northwards along the Pacific Northwest to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. While he never found the Northwest Passage (because it doesn't exist!), he succeeded in mapping the region and adding to scientific knowledge of the plants and animals, currents, geological formations and sea floor. After finding it impossible to push any further through the Bering Straight, he returned to Hawaii for the winter. On the morning of February 14, 1779, in the aftermath of a dispute over stolen property, exacerbated by chieftain rivalries, Cook was killed by the Hawaiians.

According to the eyewitness account published on Michael Dickinson's site, Cook ran along the shore when things got out of hand. He had signaled for his boats to retrieve him and his men, but the signal was mistaken as a command to retreat. Ironically, the man who sailed around the globe, charted a good deal of the Pacific and made tremendous contributions to cultural and scientific knowledge, could not swim. He stood in knee-deep water, waiting for a boat to carry him away:

Captain Cook was now the only Man on the Rock, he was seen walking down towards the Pinnace, holding his left hand against the Back of his head to guard it from the Stones & carrying his Musket under the other Arm. An Indian came running behind him, stopping once or twice as he advanced, as if he was afraid that he should turn round, then taking him unaware he sprung to him, knocked him on the back of his head with a large Club taken out of a fence, & instantly fled with the greatest precipitation; the blow made Captain Cook stagger two or three paces, he then fell on his hand & one knee & dropped his Musket, as he was rising another Indian came running to him & before he could recover himself from the Fall drew out an iron Dagger he concealed under his feathered Cloak & stuck it with all his force into the back of his Neck, which made Capt. Cook tumble into the Water in a kind of a bite by the side of the rock where the water is about knee deep; here he was followed by a crowd of people who endeavored to keep him under water, but struggling very strong with them he got his head up & looking towards the Pinnace [a small cutter] which was not above a boat hook's Length from him waved his hands to them for Assistance, which it seems it was not in their Power to give.

The Indians got him under water again but he disengaged himself & got his head up once more & not being able to swim he endeavored to scramble on the Rock, when a fellow gave him a blow on the head with a large Club and he was seen alive no more. They now kept him under water, one man sat on his Shoulders & beat his head with a stone while others beat him with Clubs & Stones, they then hauled him up dead on the Rocks where they stuck him with their Daggers, dashed his head against the rock & beat him with Clubs & Stones, taking a Savage pleasure in using every barbarity to the dead body; as soon as one had stuck him another would take the Instrument out of his Body and give him another Stab.

Cook's body was divided among various chieftains as part of their ritual victory celebration, but after much haggling and negotiation, parts of Cook's body were returned. That they belonged to Cook appears certain:

...we had no doubt concerning the Identity of any of the parts contained in the bundle, every one must be perfectly satisfied as to that of the hands, for we all knew the right by a large Scar on it separating for about an inch the Thumb from the fore-finger...[On Sunday, February 21st]...Between four and five o'clock in the afternoon the Colors of both Ships were hoisted half staff up and the yards crossed, and at ten minutes before six the Remains of Captain Cook were committed to the deep under a discharge of 10 Guns.

Thus ended the life of a man who some consider to be the greatest explorer of all time, for he charted more of our planet than any other human previously or since. A few books deal with Cook's scientific and cultural studies and I have listed them below. I highly recommend the web accounts of his life, especially the first link, Captain James Cook: The Great Oceans Great Explorer. This web page provides many excerpts from his journals and a wonderful timeline of his first voyage, which clearly defines the dangers faced by Cook and his crew on their voyage around the world.

You might also want to check out the HMS Endeavor Foundation web site. This ship, a replica of Cook's first, made a passage through California, Oregon and Washington in Summer 1999.

Finally, while the story of Captain James Cook evokes mystery and excitement, perhaps the most important theme brought home by his voyages is the nature of scientific progress. Cook's voluminous writings and drawings offer a wealth of observational data for oceanographers, astronomers, geologists, botanists, zoologists, cultural anthropologists, historians and many others. This body of knowledge stimulated additional scientific investigations and provided a foundation for subsequent studies.

In the true nature of science, Cook's work represents the first step in gaining an understanding of the oceans and her processes.

Cool Links

Captain Cook Voyages of Discovery - cool interactive maps

Captain James Cook: The Great Oceans Great Explorer
A relative of Cook provides fascinating details of Cook's voyages

An eyewitness account of the events surrounding Cook's death

Michael Winthrop's Page on Captain Cook
Family tree and other interesting assortments

The HMS Endeavor Replica Foundation

Captain Cook Study Unit

Cook's first voyage: Voyage of the Endeavor

Captain Cook in Hawaii

Excerpts from Cook's Log

Charles Darwin and the HMS Beagle

darwin.jpg (21170 bytes)Charles Darwin was a man who found himself at the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on how you look at it. While he suffered seasickness and intestinal parasites (Chagas' disease) that would weaken his health for the rest of his life, he certainly considered his voyage as the most important thing that ever happened to him.

The voyage of the HMS Beagle and Darwin's collections, observations and publications related to its five-year journey have perhaps affected human thinking in ways that no other scientific discoveries have. His Origin of Species and Descent of Man placed humans right smack in the middle of the animal world, at the top, perhaps, but there unmistakably. Not only did his ideas clash with theological and scientific thinking at the time, they made people uncomfortable. The thought that humans could be derived from primates didn't (and still doesn't) sit well with many people. (We can't be animals, can we?)

In the years since Darwin's seminal publications, scientists have mounted a considerable body of evidence to support the theory of evolution.  Nonetheless, if you have any doubts as to your thinking about the evidence for evolution, I would encourage you to examine some of the creationist/evolutionist web sites (on both sides of the issue) and determine for yourself.

What you should be able to distinguish within these debates is the difference between evolution itself (a gradual change in species with time) and the mechanisms of evolution (natural selection, kin selection, group selection, etc.). These are two different lines of scientific inquiry. That evolution has occurred on our planet would be very difficult to argue against, based on a considerable amount of fossil, zoological and molecular evidence. How evolution occurs (whether it occurs by some rational process or divine intervention) is where most of the debate is focused. Scientists believe that many different mechanisms of evolution occur rather than a single mechanism (i.e. survival of the fittest). And because people perceive this area of evolutionary research as the weakest (in terms of scientific evidence), that is where they usually attack.

I mention this controversy here to acknowledge its importance and to make you more comfortable thinking about evolution. We will study a little evolution when we examine marine organisms, including whales. However, this section here concerns itself with a man and a voyage and how the time he spent at sea fashioned his thinking.

Darwin, like many students, finished a BA at Cambridge at the age of 22, but really didn't know what to do with himself after that. Originally, he wanted to be a doctor like his father but the sight of blood made him squeamish so he abandoned that idea. It's interesting to note that even before Darwin left for sea there were signs that he had a weak stomach. He thought about becoming a country pastor because he would allow him to spend time outdoors studying natural history, something he loved to do. His favorite botany professor, John Henslow, was a pastor and so Darwin made plans to pursue a life in the clergy.

His heart really wasn't in it but he had a summer to think about it so he went on vacation. When he returned home, he found two letters waiting for him: one, an offer to work as a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle, and the other, a letter from Professor Henslow encouraging him to do so. However, like many young men and women still living at home, Darwin had to consider what his father. Dr. Robert Darwin, might think about such an expedition. Darwin wrote back to Henslow:

As far as my own mind is concerned, I should, I think, certainly most gladly have accepted the opportunity, which you so kindly have offered me. But my Father, although he does not decidedly refuse me, gives such strong advice against going..that I should not be comfortable, if I did not follow it.

Darwin confessed his dilemma to Uncle Josiah, who recommended that he make a list of his father's objections and then answer them one by one. Darwin's list of his father's objections is classic:

  1. disreputable to my character as a Clergyman hereafter
  2. a wild scheme
  3. that they must have offered it to many others before me, the place of Naturalist
  4. from its not being accepted there must be some serious objection to the vessel or expedition
  5. that I should never settle down to a steady life hereafter
  6. that my accommodations would be most uncomfortable
  7. that you should consider it as again changing my profession
  8. that it would be a useless undertaking

Sound familiar? My dad once suggested that I pursue a career as a doctor or a lawyer rather than as an oceanographer so I can relate.

However the debate between Darwin and his father transpired, it's pretty clear who eventually won. Darwin was soon signed on as ship's naturalist. What's interesting is that two other naturalists had declined the position before it was offered to Darwin and the position was unpaid. In addition, Dr. Darwin had to put up 30 pounds a year for Charles' food and pay to equip him for the voyage, which probably didn't make the doctor any happier. But dad came through in the end.

beaglesm.jpg (6895 bytes)The primary mission of the Beagle was to map the coastline of southern South America and take oceanographic measurements (currents, bathymetry, etc) as well. Darwin's job as ship's naturalist was to observe everything, write it all down and collect as many specimens as possible. It was his job to record the weather, geological features, plants, animals, fossils, rocks, minerals, indigenous people and anything else that he saw. Specimens had to be packed and labeled very carefully. In preparing for the voyage, Darwin made a list of things that he would need, including 12 new shirts and other clothing; slippers; light walking shoes; a folding, portable dissecting microscope; a geological compass; a case of pistols and a rifle; a Spanish-English dictionary; a book on taxidermy; reading material (Humboldt and Milton); his favorite geology text, Lyell's Principles of Geology; a Bible; a pair of binoculars; a magnifying glass; and jars of "Spirit" (probably alcohol) for preserving specimens. (I wonder what his dad thought of that list...Thanks, Dad!)

Like any expedition, there were space limitations. The Beagle was not an exceptionally large vessel by any means. Measuring only ninety feet in length, she carried a crew of 74 people, "including the Captain, three officers, the crew, a doctor, an artist, and the naturalist. Darwin shared the poop cabin (at the back of the ship) with two officers. Their space was so cramped that Darwin had to remove a drawer each night so that he would have room for his feet."

David Likely tells the story of how the ship's Captain Robert Fitzroy almost refused to let Darwin sail because his nose did not appear to be that of a man with character. Darwin had to get testimonials that he was suitable for dining at the Captain's dinner table. Apparently, Darwin and the Captain, a fundamentalist Christian, didn't always see eye to eye (Darwin was once banned from the dinner table for several days), which has led some to speculate that this relationship even further hardened Darwin against religion.

After more than two months delay (the ship was to leave October 24, 1831), the ship attempted a departure on December 10 but ran into bad weather. Finally, on December 27 at 2:00 pm, Darwin and the Beagle left Plymouth harbor on what was to become most revolutionary oceanographic expedition of our time.

Immediately upon sailing, Darwin's enthusiasm for the voyage was severely dampened by sea-sickness. He writes:

"...the misery I endured from sea sickness is far beyond what I ever guessed at. The real misery only begins when you are so exhausted that a little exertion makes a feeling faintness come on -- I found that nothing but lying in my hammock did any good.

Three and a half weeks later, on January 16 1832, they reached the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of south Africa. It was here that Darwin's innate ability to observe in great detail and think "large" began to assert itself. In St. Jago, he correctly surmised the African origins of dust that created the hazy atmosphere of the islands, he wrote about "reckless destruction" of the forests and offered the following observations on octopus:

I was much interested by watching the habits of an Octopus, or cuttle-fish. By means of their long arms and suckers, they could drag their bodies into very narrow crevices; and, when thus fixed, it required great force to remove them. These animals escape detection by a very extraordinary, chameleon-like power of changing their color. They appear to vary their tints according to the nature of the ground over which they pass. These changes were affected in such a manner that clouds, varying in tint were continually passing over the body. Any part, being subjected to a slight shock, became almost black.

While not the first to observe cephalopod chromatophores, the detail with which he describes them belies his fascination with nature. Indeed, the enthusiasm with which he carried out his observations and collections can be found in his diary entries upon exploring South America:

I have been wandering by myself in the Brazilian forest: amongst the multitude it is hard to say what set of objects is most striking; the general luxuriance of the vegetation bears the victory, the elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage, all tend to this end...To a person fond of Natural History such a day brings with it pleasure more acute than he ever may again experience" [Barlow 1933: 39-40]. And the next day, "I can only add rapture s to the former raptures" [Barlow 1933: 40].[Journal of Syms Covington, Darwin's assistant]

Overtaken with such "treasures", Darwin felt that he needed an assistant. He got permission to hire Syms Covington, the ship's "fiddler and boy to the poop cabin" [where the officers lived], who helped with the time-consuming task of cataloguing and shipping Darwin's specimens. Covington kept his own journal [Journal of Syms Covington] which offers interesting reading about Darwin and his relationship with others on board.

Many excellent accounts of Darwin's work and his own publications (Origin of Species, The Voyage of the Beagle, Descent of Man) can be found on the WWW and elsewhere and it's not my intention to summarize them here. Rather, I would like to mention a couple of his major contributions to oceanography and use it as an example of the brilliant means by which Darwin synthesized his observations.

Among Darwin's many marine biological observations, Darwin had an opportunity to study coral fringing reefs, barrier reefs and atolls in 1836 while in the Indian Ocean. Fringing reefs are coral reefs that encircle an island and atolls are "rings" of coral with a lagoon in the middle. Darwin was intrigued by the formation of atolls and their resemblance to fringing reefs surrounding volcanic islands. An avid student of geology (he was engrossed by Lyell's Princinple of Geology), Darwin postulated that atolls represent a latter stage of volcanic island development where the island sinks into the ocean over time. As the island sinks, the corals continue to grow around the fringe of the island until the island disappears leaving only the corals, a "perfect atoll", as he calls it. In his treatise on the theory of atoll formation published in Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin writes:

atollformation.gif (5524 bytes)Now as the island sinks down, either a few feet at a time or quite insensibly, we may safely infer from what is known of the conditions favorable to the growth of coral, that the living masses, bathed by the surf on the margin of the reef, will soon regain the surface. The water however, will encroach little by little on the shore, the island becoming lower and smaller, and the space between the inner edge of the reef and the beach proportionally broader...We can now at once see why encircling barrier-reefs stand so far from the shores which they front. We can also perceive, that a line drawn perpendicularly down from the outer edge of the new reef, to the foundation of solid rock beneath the old fringing-reef, will exceed by as many feet as there have been feet of subsidence, that small limit of depth at which the effective corals can live: -- the little architects having built up their great wall-like mass, as the whole sank down, upon a basis formed of other corals and their consolidated fragments...As the barrier-reef slowly sinks down, the corals will go on vigorously growing upwards; but as the islands sinks, the water will gain inch by inch on the shore -- the separate mountains first forming separate islands within one great reef -- and finally, the last and highest pinnacle disappearing. The instant this takes place, a perfect atoll is formed...

Many decades later (I'm looking for the original reference), geologists took cores of an atoll and confirmed their volcanic origins, just as Darwin described. In addition, Darwin's classification scheme of tropical corals reefs--fringing reefs, barrier reefs and atolls--is still used today.

One additional and little known synthesis provided by Darwin concerns the theory of plate tectonics. While in South America, Darwin had a chance to explore the Andes and hike in the mountains. His observations of sea shells at some elevation in the Andes intrigued him and he postulated vast tectonic movements that would remain in obscurity for at least a century. In The Voyage of the Beagle, he writes: 

The Beagle anchored late at night in the bay of Valparaiso, the chief seaport of Chile. When morning came, everything appeared delightful. After Tierra del Fuego, the climate felt quite delicious -- the atmosphere so dry, and the heavens so clear and blue with the sun shining brightly, that all nature seemed sparkling with life.

My object in coming here was to see the great beds of shells, which stand some yards above the level of the sea, and are burnt for lime. The proofs of the elevation of this whole line of coast are unequivocal: at the height of a few hundred feet old-looking shells are numerous, and I found some at 1300 feet. These shells either lie loose on the surface, or are embedded in a reddish-black vegetable mould. I was much surprised to find under the microscope that this vegetable mould is really marine mud, full of minute particles of organic bodies.

We spent the day on the summit, and I never enjoyed one more thoroughly. Chile, bounded by the Andes and the Pacific, was seen as in a map. The pleasure from the scenery, in itself beautiful, was heightened by the many reflections which arose from the mere view of the Campana range with its lesser parallel ones, and of the broad valley of Quillota directly intersecting them. Who can avoid wondering at the force which has upheaved these mountains, and even more so at the countless ages which it must have required to have broken through, removed, and levelled whole masses of them? It is well in this case to call to mind the vast shingle and sedimentary beds of Patagonia, which, if heaped on the Cordillera, would increase its height by so many thousand feet. When in that country, I wondered how any mountain-chain could have supplied such masses, and not have been utterly obliterated. We must not now reverse the wonder, and doubt whether all-powerful time can grind down mountains -- even the gigantic Cordillera -- into-gravel and mud. [Chapter 12, Central Chile, Voyage of the Beagle Online]

atollst.gif (11331 bytes)The theory of plate tectonic of which Darwin had the first inklings and the theory of atoll formation, which stands bascially in the same form today as that which Darwin proposed, illustrates Darwin's ability to take bits and pieces of information and put them together in some sort of rational explanation. His vast knowledge of the science of the times, including the work of Lyell, Lamarck, Malthus, Humboldt and other scientists likely represents a deep desire to understand the world around him. His interests in theology may have come from such an interest, to understand the nature of the Universe and all that was in it. Using the tools of science and a talent for observation, Darwin provided a vast storehouse of natural history observations, which alone would have been worthy of fame. But not content with mere observations, Darwin spent the next twenty years pondering and discussing what he had found. And the result of those ponderments and discussions were three publications that provide the cornerstone for evolutionary theory today.

Professor George P. Landow in the Department of English and Art History at Brown University summarizes what he considers to be the major impacts of Darwin's work on nineteenth-century thinking:

  1. That biological types or species do not have a fixed, static existence but exist in permanent states of change and flux;
  2. that all life, biologically considered, takes the form of a struggle to exist -- more exactly, to exist and produce the greatest number of offspring;
  3. that this struggle for existence culls out those organisms less well adapted to any particular ecology and allows those better adapted to flourish -- a process called Natural Selection;
  4. that natural selection, development, and evolution requires enormously long periods of time, so long, in fact, that the everyday experience of human beings provides them with no ability to interpret such histories;
  5. that the genetic variations ultimately producing increased survivability are random and not caused (as religious thinkers would have it) by God or (as Lammarck would have it) by the organism's own striving for perfection.[http://landow.stg.brown.edu/victorian/darwin/darwin1.html]

As Landow puts it: "The effect of all these points was to move man away from the center of creation and imply that he could hardly be its crowning glory."

While Darwin probably would not consider himself an oceanographer, it was, after all, the sea that allowed him to carry out his set of observations that would revolutionize nineteenth-century thinking. And it was a most interesting and fortuitous set of islands, the Galapagos Islands, that provided an ideal natural laboratory in which theories of natural selection could be tested. He circumnavigated the globe, seasick most of the way, and brought home a treasure chest on natural observations. On that basis, I submit to you that Darwin was an oceanographer!

On October 2, 1836, Darwin left the Beagle after a voyage of five years, thankful to be home and yet to reap the rewards of his labors. In 1859, he published Origin of Species and the rest is history, as they say.

Note on HMS Beagle figure: The illustration above is a detail from a watercolor of H.M.S. Beagle in the Murray Narrows, a passage in the straits around Tierra del Fuego. In fact, it's in Darwin Channel, named by Captain FitzRoy in honor of Charles Darwin. The painting is by Conrad Martens, ship's artist.

Note on atoll image: This chain of coral-fringed islands forms the Leeward Island chain within the French Society Islands. At bottom right are the islands of Tahaa and Raiatea. They are old, eroded volcanoes, fringed by a coral reef. Northward along the chain, the original central volcanoes are older and more heavily eroded. On Bora Bora (center), the reef is prominently developed and the island significantly eroded. The northernmost island, Tupai, is merely an atoll, having lost any relic of the volcano around which the reef originally grew, except for the shallow floor of the lagoon, showing up in turquoise.

Cool links

Charles Darwin and the Beagle: Selected Essays
Great overview of Darwin's voyage by David Likely

Darwin and Evolution Overview, Brown University

Charles Darwin's texts online: Voyage of the Beagle, Origin of Species, the Descent of Man

Origin of Species Online

Voyage of the Beagle Online

Voyage of the Beagle

Journal of Syms Covington, Darwin's assistant

From Primordial Soup to the Prebiotic Beach, an interview with Stanley Miller, UC San Diego

Tutorial on the Voyage of the Beagle

The BioZone: Evolution

The Creation/Evolution Controversy
A sane and salient treatment that should reconcile both sides

Sea Vents: Where Life Began

Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands

Bikini Atoll: site of nuclear testing in the 40s and 50s and the home of the bikini

The Challenger Expedition

wyvillethomson.jpg (2680 bytes)johnmuray.jpg (2684 bytes)johnbuchanan.jpg (2879 bytes)
Sir Charles Wyville Thomson, Sir John Murray and John Buchanan:
Chief naturalist, assistant naturalist and chemist aboard the HMS Challenger

The Challenger Expedition claims the title of the world's first totally scientific oceanographic expedition By the time the HMS Challenger left the dock on December 21, 1872 (why do these British voyages always start around Christmas time?), the world was experiencing an intellectual and technological revolution of sorts. Except for the poles, few places remained to be conquered by man. And in a time when knowledge began to be equated with power, the British government was amenable to schemes for acquiring knowledge.

With a rising tide of intellectual fervor behind him, Sir Charles Wyville Thomson, a natural history professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and his Canadian-born student, John Murray (later, Sir John Murray) hatched a scheme to explore the oceans in the grandest oceanographic mission ever conceived. They called their proposal "oceanography" and pleaded their case before the Royal Navy and the Royal Society to send a ship around the world for one purpose: to study the oceans.

With the agreement that a portion of any profits from the trip would go to the government, Thomson and Murray secured a ship from the Royal Navy. The Challenger Society for Marine Science provides this best description of the HMS Challenger:

The vessel was a three-masted square-rigged wooden ship of 2300 tons displacement and some 200 feet [226 feet] overall. She was essentially a sailing ship though possessing an engine of 1200 horsepower. It was planned that the ship would be under sail for most of the cruise, using the engine primarily for maneuvering when conducting scientific observations and deploying heavy gear. All but two of the ship's 17 guns had been removed to make way for purpose-built scientific laboratories and workrooms designed specifically for biological, chemical and physical work. Storage space for all the trawls and dredges was also necessary, together with space for the anticipated sample collection.

challengermap.gif (20545 bytes)I've found nothing of the previous history of this ship, which is too bad, because all ships have interesting histories (Cousteau's Calypso was a converted mine sweeper). Nonetheless, she was well outfitted for a grand three and a half-year voyage that would take her across 68, 890 nautical miles of ocean (as the crow flies but I bet it was longer than that in terms of water under her bow) from the drift ice of the North Atlantic to south of the Antarctic Circle and around the world.

The expedition's mission, by and large, was quite simple: to gather detailed and consistent observations of various oceanographic phenomena across as much of the ocean as possible. The sampling plan devised by Thomson and Murray resembles the sampling plan of modern day oceanographic expeditions; an assortment of physical, chemical, geological and biological measurements stretched over the day(s) at regular intervals across the sea. Samples that weren't analyzed on board were stored for laboratory analysis at the end of the expedition, a task that required the labors of more than 100 scientists.

Over the course of their voyage, the ship "stopped" and collected data and samples at 362 stations "at intervals as nearly uniform as possible". This systematic sampling plan belies one of the fundamental limitations of oceanographic research: gathering data over huge expanses that is representative of the ocean as a whole. Apparently, Thomson and Murray felt that an orderly sampling regime was best suited for their purposes. Whether they appreciated the complexity of the ocean environment and the difficulty of obtaining representative samples, I don't know. Their journals may shed light on this.

Nonetheless, here is the regimen they performed as best as possible at each of the 362 stations they visited:

buchananwatersamplert.jpg (1667 bytes)The equipment available to them for performing these measurements was typical for the times (but not state-of-the-art, according to the historian at Scripps Institution of Oceanography) and, in some cases, not much different than what modern day oceanographers use. (Are you getting the perception that oceanography hasn't changed much in 125+ years?) Water samples were procured using a device called a Buchanan water sampler, invented (apparently) by the chemist on the expedition, John Buchanan, a rather disagreeable fellow (according to reports). Like modern day water sampling devices, the Buchanan sampler was attached to a line in an open position and triggered with a metal (usually brass) messenger that tripped the sampling bottle closed. The sampler could then be hauled on board where portions of the water could be analyzed for temperature (and perhaps other shipboard analyses) or preserved for laboratory analyses.

chglassspnget.jpg (1322 bytes)Biological samples were obtained in a similar fashion: tying a device to a wire and towing it through the water or along the bottom. One of the many remarkable achievements of the Challenger Expedition was their discovery of marine organisms at the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean. Until that time, many oceanographers felt that there could not possibly be enough food for anything to live in the far reaches of the sea bottom. The data collected aboard Challenger proved otherwise. One of the more interesting finds was a deep-sea glass sponge, a beautiful animal, as shown in the figure at right. Nowadays, oceanographers realize that a rain of organic particles from the surface nourishes such animals, as well as the occasional large carcass, such as a dead whale or lost sailor, which provide food to bottom-dwelling scavengers.

challdinost.jpg (1981 bytes)Plankton samples also proved to be a rich source of new discoveries. Many of the microscopic forms had not been seen previously and the extent of their habitat, from the surface of the sea to the deepest depths, was unexpected. The illustrations of these organisms are still widely used today and are of such detail and artistic quality that even non-planktologists marvel at their beauty. The dinoflagellates shown at left are just one of the hundreds of examples. In total, Challenger scientists catalogued 4,717 new species, a staggering achievement. The next closest achievement in terms of finding new species has to be the late 1970s discovery of hundreds of new species of animals living on deep-sea hydrothermal vents and possibly, more recent explorations of the abyssopelagic environments with ROVs and submersibles. But even combined, these accomplishments don't nearly match the sheer numbers of new organisms brought to our attention by the Challenger.

challnger1t.jpg (6005 bytes)One of the more intriguing methods used by Challenger that thankfully is not necessary today was their method for determining the depth of the bottom. To accomplish the many tasks of towing nets, dredging the bottom, collecting water samples and determining depth, the ship need a substantial amount of cable and lines. One report I saw mentioned 144 miles of hemp rope for sounding and 12.5 miles of piano wire on board  for sampling (Duxbury reports this figure also). To determine the depth of the bottom (a process called sounding), a weight (over 100 pounds worth) was attached to the rope and lowered over the bottom. The line was marked in intervals and the depth of the bottom determined. The deepest depth recorded by the Expedition was located in the Marianas Trench, a place now known as the Challenger Deep. At this location, the scientists measured a depth of 26, 850 feet!

William Broad in his recent publication, The Universe Below (1997), recalls the words of another naturalist on board, Henry Mosely, who describes the evolution of feeling about this type of work.

At first, when the dredge came up, every man and boy who could possibly slip away, crowded 'round it, to see what had been fished up...Gradually, as the novelty of the thing wore off, the crowd became smaller and smaller, until at last only the scientific staff, and perhaps one or two other officers besides the one on duty, awaited the arrival of the net on the dredging bridge.

Such is the glamour of shipboard work! Indeed, many times the dredge or sounding rope would be lowered at 9 in the morning and not retrieved until 5 in the afternoon. Imagine being on watch making sure nothing happens to it. The hours do get long and tedious sometimes. But it's the possibility of discovering something that no one has seen before or no one has known before that makes you want to get up in the morning and do it all over again.

Listing the highlights and accomplishments of the Challenger Expedition are sort of like trying to list Michael Jordan's achievements in one sentence. Where do you start? The work of the 100+ scientists involved in the project occupied 50 volumes--29,500 pages--each volume as "thick as a family Bible", an accomplishment that took 23 years to complete.

That volume of knowledge notwithstanding, there are key discoveries reported by the expedition that deserve our attention. As reported by the Environmental News Network Daily News web site (I guess they're just catching up!), the major findings of the Challenger Expedition include:

The Challenger Society provides these accolades:

At its completion, The Report discussed with full detail of text and illustrations the currents, temperatures, depths and constituents of the oceans, the topography of the sea bottom, the geology and biology of its covering and the animal life of the abyssal waters. The Challenger cruise had lain the cornerstone of scientific oceanography and begun its introduction to the wider scientific and lay community...The findings of the cruise were correctly described by John Murray in 1895 as "the greatest advance in the knowledge of our planet since the celebrated discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries".

A prodigious number of observations laid the foundations for much of the oceanography to come. In one sense, the Challenger Expedition marked the arrival of oceanography as a science. Exploration and map-making would no longer take the primary role in ocean science. A new ocean science, encompassing physical, chemical, geological and biological studies was born.

Obviously, there's lots more to tell. A few of these web sites provide interesting stories, images and details of the expedition, though none of them are very complete. Most oceanography textbooks (like Garrison and Duxbury) devote a page or two of text and figures to the Challenger expedition, although the best stories are found elsewhere (i.e. Broad's The Universe Below and Idyll's Abyss). A couple other accounts of the Expedition are available through online bookstores, though I have not read them. If you see something interesting about the Challenger Expedition and think it should be included here (like the story of Huxley's Bathybius), send it along. There's always room for more in The Remarkable Ocean World!

Environmental News Network

Fame and Fortune: The pay of scientists and sailors on the Challenger

The Voyage of the Challenger, great summary, awesome images

Cyberhiker: The birth of oceanography

Challenger Society for Marine Science, nice description of HMS Challenger

Notable Oceanographic Expeditions, Summaries of Notable Oceanographers

Maritime History

Exploration of the Pacific Ocean (nicely done)

Zegraham Deep-Sea Voyages: Visit the Titanic in a submersible, serious!

Historical Oceanography, Timelines

History of Marine Biology

Adventures of Fritdjof Nansen

NOVA Chronology of Deep Sea Exploration

NOVA: Into the Abyss

Benjamin Franklin and the Gulf Stream

At this point in our story, I have some bad news: Benjamin Franklin did not discover the Gulf Stream. In the early 1500s, shortly after Columbus acquainted the European world with the existence of American,  Ponce de Leon spent a good deal of time off the coast of Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth. While he never found the Fountain, he did "discover" Florida and he did take notice of the Florida Current and probably the Gulf Stream.

Now any south Florida schoolboy or schoolgirl knows that if you stand on the beach and look out towards the horizon, you can see what looks like the ripples of a river chugging along headed north about a mile or so offshore (at least in Palm Beach, where the Gulf Stream makes its closest approach to land). So the fact that Ponce noticed, an accomplished sailor, isn't much of a discovery, but hey, at least he noticed.

Was he the first? Truth be told, the Seminole Indians, who lived in Florida long before any European arrived, probably were aware of the Gulf Stream. They probably even had a name for it. If I get a chance, I plan to look into it.

What Ben Franklin did do was help publish one of the early maps of the Gulf Stream and he also spent a good deal of time making temperature measurements of the Gulf Stream. For that, he deserves some credit but I think this is another case where the legend exceeds the man.

The following account comes from NASA:

franklin_cut_sm3.gif (29779 bytes)From 10 August 1753 through 31 January 1774, Benjamin Franklin held the post of deputy postmaster general of North America (Van Doren, 1938). During this time, the American postal ships could make the journey from England to the colonies days, if not weeks, faster than the English merchant ships. The English postal authorities were so amazed that they wrote to Franklin for possible reasons (Cohn, 1998; Richardson, 1980). Franklin consulted his cousin, Timothy Folger, a whaling ship captain from Nantucket, for an answer. Captain Folger told Franklin about the Gulf Stream and created a chart (similar to the one shown below) illustrating its affect on ships (Van Doren). In fact, at this time, most of the American and Spanish ship captains were well aware of the Gulf Stream. They knew to sail in the Gulf Stream while travelling to England and to stay out of it when returning to the colonies. Franklin had Folger's chart printed and presented this information to the British postal authorities. Unfortunately, this new information was ignored by the British (Cohn; Richardson).

Franklin, however, became intrigued by the idea of a "stream" existing in a large body of water such as the Atlantic ocean. Therefore, in 1775 during his return voyage from England to the colonies, Franklin took temperature measurements of the ocean water from two to four times per day (Van Doren). He knew that these measurements would mark the location of the Gulf Stream, because the Gulf Stream carries warm water from the south to the north. Therefore, the Gulf Stream is warmer than the surrounding waters.

In 1776, the American Congress appointed three commissioners to travel to France in order to gain French support in the American Revolution. Franklin was, of course, chosen as one of the commissioners. On 26 October, Franklin left Philadelphia on board the Reprisal. "The indomitable old man, who was almost certain to be hanged for high treason if the Reprisal should be captured, noted the temperature of air and water every day, again studying the Gulf Stream" (Van Doren).

Franklin did not return to America until 1785. On this trip, he again took daily measurements of the water temperature and notes concerning the currents, water color and gulf weed content. He also wrote Maritime Observations on this trip. This work included his notes on the Gulf Stream's causes and uses as well as a multitude of other information about sailing the oceans. (Van Doren). [Oceanography History: Ben Franklin and the Gulf Stream]

So the truth of the matter is that Timothy Folger, the Nantucket whaler, drew the map and Franklin embellished it and published it. Who gets credit? Franklin, mostly, although recent historical accounts now mention Folger's name along with Franklin's. The better part of Franklin's contribution, in my opinion, is the work that Franklin did subsequent to Folger's map. On at least two voyages across the Atlantic, Franklin played oceanographer and published those findings in a set of notes called Maritime Observations. As soon as I get hold of those notes, I'll fill in a few more details here.

Enough of the legends. Let's get down to the interesting part of the story, the part between Ponce de Leon's first observations and Folger's map.

Midshipman Pamela Phillips, of the U.S. Naval Academy (unless she has graduated) and Richard Gasparovic, with the Applied Physics Laboratory of John Hopkins University, have created the most informative and detailed history of the Gulf Stream that I have ever seen. (I admit, though, I haven't looked exhaustively.) On their web site, they supply a very nice series of timelines of this history that I've taken the liberty to duplicate below. Their web site also provides an excellent summary of the general characteristics of the Gulf Stream and though we will study this topic in greater detail later, it wouldn't be a bad idea to check it out and take a peek.

Here, in a series of four figures, are their timelines:

 1500GulfStream.gif (6782 bytes)
1600GulfStream.gif (7412 bytes)
1700GulfStream.gif (12155 bytes)
1900GulfStream.gif (35162 bytes)
Timeline of the Gulf Stream copied without permission from Midshipman Pamela Phillips, of the U.S. Naval Academy (unless she has graduated) and Richard Gasparovic, with the Applied Physics Laboratory of John Hopkins University, who didn't leave their e-mail address on their site. If you see this and know them, please drop me a line. I would like to ask their permission to use it as an educational reference. [For more, go to http://fermi.jhuapl.edu/student/phillips/index.htm]

Isn't that a wonderful way to read history? I thought so and that's why I wanted to bring it to you here. One quick note: there seems to be a disparity between the account of Folger's map and Franklin's date of publication of the map. I'll check it out.

There is also one thing missing on this map, an event that occurred near my home town in Florida when I was a young man. Again, I'm afraid my research on this subject isn't quite up to snuff but bear with me. Sometime in the late 60s (as memory serves me), my parents took me to the docks at Riviera Beach Florida (right next to the Florida Power and Light Electrical Station smokestacks) to see the launch of a submersible called (you guessed it) the Ben Franklin. I remember being there that day and I remember they were having some kind of a problem because it took a while longer than it was supposed to (and I was an impatient kid). But they finally got it on board a ship and headed out towards the Gulf Stream where they drifted for several days and taking data and making observations. For me it was just fascinating, like a space voyage. At that time I had already made up my mind that I was going to be an oceanographer and seeing these aquanauts ready their vessel and launch out to see was a trip!

What they found and how far they went, I don't recall and haven't been able to find any reference material on this voyage, but I will. The point is that you never know how something will affect your life and that you should take advantage of any opportunity to pursue your dreams while it exists. Because my parents were kind enough to take me to see this incredible vessel, I can now give you my personal insights into the history of research on the Gulf Stream.

And that is the end of that story, for now.

Ben Franklin: An Enlightened American

Ben Franklin: A Documentary History

Ben Franklin Institute of Global Education

Benjamin Franklin: Glimpses of the man

Quotes and sayings by Ben Franklin

Oceanography History: Ben Franklin and the Gulf Stream 1785

Gulf Stream Journal and Publication Reference from Midshipman Phillip's site:
The Gulf Stream

1. Pillsbury, John Elliott, "The Gulf Stream, Methods of the Investigation and Results of the Research," Appendix No. 10, Report for 1890, United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1981.

2. MacLeish, William H., The Gulf Stream, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1989.

3. De Vorsey, Louis, "Pioneer Charting of the Gulf Stream: The Contributions of Benjamin Franklin and Wiliam Gerard De Brahm," Imago Mundi, vol. 28, pp. 105-120 (1976).

4. Schlee, Susan, The Edge of an Unfamiliar World - A History of Oceanography, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.,New York, 1973.

5. Wilkerson, J. C., M. Bratnick, and G. L. Athey, "Aircraft Observations of a Cyclonic Eddy South of the Gulf Stream," Naval Oceanographic Office Report IR No. 69-41, April 1969.

6. Wilkerson, J. C., "Positioning the Gulf Stream with Airborne Radiation Thermometer Data," Naval Oceanographic Office Report IR No. 68-33, May 1968.

7. Gaskell, T. F., The Gulf Stream, Cassell &Co. Ltd., 1972.

8. Porter, D. L., A. R. Robinson, S. M. Glenn, and E. B. Dobson, "The Synthetic Geoid and the Estimation of Mesoscale Absolute Topography from Altimeter Data," Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest, vol. 10, pp. 369-379 (1989).

9. Warren, Bruce A., and Carl Wunsch (eds.), Evolution of Physicsl Oceanography, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1981.

10. Stommel, Henry, The Gulf Stream, University of California Press, second edition, 1966.

11. Richardson, Philip L., "Benjamin Franklin and Timothy Folger's First Printed Chart of the Gulf Stream," Science, vol. 207, pp. 643-645 (1980).

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