Happy Birthday, Captain Cook

Perhaps of all the great explorers and navigators, Captain James Cook is our favorite … our hero. He was courageous, innovative, a good leader and an outstanding seaman. We've read several books about him and the more we read, the more we're impressed by his accomplishments and voyages. Considering a good portion of the globe had yet to be explored or charted and he had little in the way of instrumentation available, including no accurate longitude measurements for much of his career, he did a pretty remarkable job. While traveling through the South Pacific, New Zealand and now in Australia, we find traces of Captain Cook everywhere. In Tahiti, we saw the spot where Cook recorded the Transit of Venus in 1769, the main purported purpose for his first voyage. The real purpose was to find the legendary terra australis incognita. And then, of course, there are the Cook Islands, a whole island nation named after the famous captain.

In New Zealand, we visited Ship Cove near Picton where a huge monument has been erected in his honor. He anchored there five different times during the 1770s. We anchored not far away in Resolution Bay, named after his ship. We hiked the Queen Charlotte Track and supposed that Cook's men had probably wandered in this area too, over two centuries ago. The sometimes treacherous Cook Strait separates New Zealand's North and South islands and we've crossed it four times without incident although many ships have come to grief there. Mount Cook (aka Aoraki) is New Zealand's highest mountain. Wild boars that still roam in the wild New Zealand bush were let loose by Captain Cook on one of his visits to provide meat for stranded sailors. They're referred to as Captain Cookers. Cook actually made the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand. We followed in his footsteps in 2011...a bit easier with charts, a GPS and some cruising guides.

Across the D'Entrecasteaux Channel from us, is Adventure Bay on Bruny Island. Named after one of his ships on his second voyage, Cook's landing place is duly noted in the bay. He charted and named a good portion of the east Australian coast and etched into history over 100 place names on his first voyage alone that are still in use today. He's also credited with discovering New Caledonia and Norfolk Island. Talk about leaving your mark.

He made three major voyages in all. His first voyage was a west-about circumnavigation lasting three years. His second voyage, of three years duration also, was the first east-about circumnavigation ever recorded. He was also the first to venture into what is now known as the Antarctic Circle where he discovered that sea water does not freeze at 32F and icebergs are made of fresh water. He never realized he was within 75 miles from the shores of Antarctica. His last voyage ended in his death in the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawaii), where he was killed during a skirmish with the locals.

Lesser known facts about Cook include the fact that in his younger years, he perfected his cartography skills by making detailed maps of Newfoundland and the entrance to the St. Lawrence River during the Seven Year's War in his early days with the Royal Navy. He was also instrumental in overcoming scurvy, the “plague of the sea” by requiring his men to eat sauerkraut and drink ascorbic acid in the form of vinegar. None of Cook's crew members ever died from the disease while Magellan lost 80% of his crew when he crossed the Pacific in 1520.

So, Happy 284th Birthday, Captain Cook. We'll raise a glass to you tonight.

More about Captain Cook? the Crew Recommends:

Captain James Cook by Richard Hough - a well-written, easy-to-read biography

Blue Latitudes...Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz – a humorous and poignant travel journal following in the path of Captain Cook