Over the weekend, I worked on a chapter in the second book in my nautical trilogy In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss: SAILING THE SOUTH PACIFIC.  This chapter is titled  New Zealand Adventure. While writing a section called “Following in the Wake of Ancient Explorers,” I came across a statistic related to my hero, Captain James Cook.  That he “discovered” more of the earth’s surface than any other explorer is indisputable. Cook’s three epic voyages, though, are said to be the equivalent of sailing from the earth to the moon. Could that be true?   I fact checked the statement. Yes, indeed. The distance from the earth to the moon is 238,857 miles (384,403 km) but since the orbit is elliptical, this distance at the closest point is only 225,622 miles.

From my book (to be published in 2012):

“Ambition leads me not only further than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it is possible for a man to go,” said James Cook on January 30, 1774…His maps were so accurate that some are still used in our paper charts that we have on board Pacific Bliss.

“Cook’s Voyage of Discovery on the HMS Endeavor was launched in order to observe the transit of Venus, when the disc of Venus would pass over the face of the sun. Based on the length of time it took to do this, astronomers could calculate the distance between the earth and the sun, which it was thought would help to gauge the size and scale of the universe. Tahiti was perfectly positioned in the Southern Ocean to observe the Transit. When given command of the Endeavor in 1768, Cook was not even a lieutenant, let alone a captain. But Cook was an astronomer who was also known for his superb navigational skills, an ideal balance of seaman and scientist. The Transit observations proved disappointing, so Cook used his remaining time to survey Tahiti.”

“Cook was an amazing man! No wonder he is my hero.

“Sailing from Tahiti, Cook opened a sealed packet of orders from the British Admiralty: he was to sail to 40° south in search of the great Southern Continent. His men’s hands were freezing as Cook pushed on to 40° without sighting land, so he headed north and west to the coastline charted by Tasman over a hundred years earlier.

“Cook sighted land on October 1769. Although skeptical that this was the Great Southern Continent, Cook made a thorough survey of what turned out to be the two islands of New Zealand, which he claimed for King George III.  By the time he departed, he had established a life-long friendship with the local Maori, dashed the hope of a southern continent, and charted 2,400 miles (3860 km) of coastline—all this in less than three months of sailing.”

At the New Zealand Maritime Museum’s Store in Auckland, I purchased a few books about my hero. You may be interested in these: Captain’s Log, New Zealand’s Maritime History, by Gavin McLean; The Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific, as Told by Selections of His Own Journals, Edited by A. Grenfell Price; and Captain James Cook by Richard Hough.

Cook’s First Voyage of Discovery 1768-1771

Image source:  Clip Art from Florida Educational Technology Clearing House