Longitude - Page 6

Longitude - Page 6

The Voyage of HMS Resolution

Captain Cook found the chronometer so accurate that he could work out his position to within about 2 miles - a remarkable achievement at the time. The voyage, Cook's second great journey of discovery, went through the heat of tropics and the cold of the Arctic and Antarctic. Towards the end of the voyage, Cook wrote to the Admiralty - 'The watch has exceeded the expectations of its most zealous advocate, and has been our faithful guide through all the vicissitudes of climate'.

On his way home, having rounded the Cape of Good Hope, Cook was planning to make landfall at the tiny island of St Helena in the South Atlantic. But now, rather than running down a line of latitude, as HMS Centurion had been obliged to 30 years earlier, Cook was so confident in his chronometer that he decided to set a direct course. 'The watch did not deceive us, and we made it accordingly on the 15th May at Day-break, in the direction WNW about 14 leagues distant'.

Joseph Gilbert, who sailed with Cook, described the watch as 'the greatest piece of mechanism the world has yet produced'. Certainly within a relatively few years, the marine chronometer had become indespensible aboard a ship of any size, allowing that vessel to know pretty accurately where she was at any moment. Shpwrecks and loss of life were greatly reduced, thanks to the discovery of longitude.


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