Thursday, the 7th of January
James Cook and us
It is 0 degrees outside, cold and icy, and I am lying on my bed in a comfortable 22 degrees reading a biography on James Cook, the explorer. It makes me wonder how comfortable this cruise on the Polarstern is compared to what Cook and his crew went through in the old days of seafaring.
Cook fared through these perilous seas for the second time between 1772 – 1775 and discovered many of the Southern Pacific islands and archipelagos. He came within 75 miles of the Antarctic coast and crossed south of 71°S. At present (as of 8th January 2010) we are at 66.38°S and have recently left Polar area behind.
Cook writes, “Ambition drives me not only further than any person before, but as far as it is possible for man to be driven.”
With the Resolution, a coal ship, he had traveled 70,000 miles with 123 men on board. There were 462 tonnes of coal to accomplish such a mission. During that expedition, four men had died due to accidents and one died of Tubercolosis. Such were the pitfalls of seafaring, adventurous, yet treacherous, in every step of the way!
Photo Credit: Ulrich Breitsprecher and Matt Konfist
In the southern ocean, Cook spent 117 days without laying eyes on land. There was slated pork, beef, biscuits, and as a special treat for breakfast in the cold regions, a glass of brandy to warm up the seamen. Cook also brought jam made from carrots as protection against scurvy, additionally cheese and oatmeal. All in all, a seaman during Cooks time took in 4,500 calories a day. During his second journey to the south, rations became so short, even sealions made their way into the menu. The seamen didn't find them so tasty.
For comparison, let's look at today's menu on Polarstern: Peasoup, Filet of Cod, served "Finkenwerder Art", mashed potatoes, rice, fruit, and of course along with it, your choice of tea or coffee.
Photo Credit: Jürgen Gossler
To compare it with Cooks ship, Resolution, Polarstern is 117,91 m long, 25 m wide and 52,21 m tall at it's highest point. The ship has a draft of 11,21 m and weighs 10.878,52 tons. Polarstern is an icebreaker and the steal hull in the bow is as much as 7 cm thick.
During our travel we have a lot of space and security. Double rooms, hot showers, a gym, a sauna, lounges and a number of specialized laboratories make life and work aboard comfortable. Additionally, we have 40 people less than Cook's ship.
For me, one of the clearest differences is that Cook travelled in as yet unknown region. He didn't know what awaited him and had with him only as the latest technological advancement a chronometer, which could keep precised time while at sea. In contrast, we are using the most up-to-date maps and satellite-supported navigation systems.Polarstern can measure not only the seafloor, but also the depth of the sediment layers with it's instruments. Even when the route has hardly been travelled, we know where we are.
For both expeditions however, one thing remains the same. Only nautical knowledge and the experience of both science and crew are able to bring success to the expedition. Cook had it, we will also.
Ulrich Breitsprecher and Matt Konfist