The legend that is Captain James Cook is well known to many. The 18th-century explorer and navigator led remarkable achievements in mapping of the Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific. His mapping radically shaped western perceptions of the world and inspired many explorers in his wake. Cook’s fabled death in Hawaii continues to be told by Hawaiians with pride and was ever so emblematic of his astounding life and accomplishments. While many discoveries may be attributed to Captain Cook and his gallant crew, on January 17, 1773 Cook and his two ships (Resolution and Adventure) were the first recorded to have ever crossed the Antarctic Circle. Navigating the treacherous seas and ice of the Southern Hemisphere was an enormous task even my contemporary standards. Captain Cook notes in his journal the hardship of traversing the Antarctic Cirle:
“Our ropes were like wires, Sails like board or plates of Metal and Shivers froze fast in the blocks so that it required our utmost effort to get a Top-sail down and up; the cold so intense as hardly to be endured, the whole Sea in a manner covered with ice, a hard gale and a thick fog: under all these unfavourable circumstances it was natural for me to think of returning more to the North, seeing there was no probability of finding land here nor a possibility of getting farther to the South…”
The trip to discover the southern continent and circumnavigate the globe began in July of 1772 in Plymouth, England. Two ships: the Resolution and the Adventure (111 feet and 97 feet respectively in size) were to carry 193 men around the world and test a version of the John Harrison chronometer for longitude determinations (prior to Cook’s journey an accurate and reliable measurement of longitude was almost impossible). Having set sale from England Cook’s ships headed for the Cape of Good Hope (near to what is now Cape Town, South Africa). It took 5 months for Cook and his ships to reach the Antarctic Circle and navigate the dangerous ice as it slowly encroached on the hull of the two ships and jeopardized the mission. Cook had sailed further south than any explorer before him.
A log from Captain James Cook’s journal provides some clues as to the sentiment and challenges of passing through the Antarctic Circle:
Note: Cover image courtesy of Princeton University’s “Strait Through: Magellan to Cook & the Pacific.” Retrieved from http://libweb5.princeton.edu/visual_materials/maps/websites/pacific/cook2/cook2.html