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Ships of Discovery and Exploration

Ships of Discovery and Exploration

by Lincoln P. Paine

Lincoln P. Paine's SHIPS OF THE WORLD: AN HISTORICAL HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA was honored as one of the best reference books of the year by the New York Public Library, and Library Journal described it as "clearly the most fascinating book of the year." Now, in two equally fascinating new books, Paine focuses on two of the most interesting areas of maritime


Lincoln P. Paine's SHIPS OF THE WORLD: AN HISTORICAL HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA was honored as one of the best reference books of the year by the New York Public Library, and Library Journal described it as "clearly the most fascinating book of the year." Now, in two equally fascinating new books, Paine focuses on two of the most interesting areas of maritime history: WARSHIPS OF THE WORLD TO 1900 and SHIPS OF DISCOVERY AND EXPLORATION.

SHIPS OF DISCOVERY AND EXPLORATION tells the stories of 125 vessels that have played important roles in voyages of geographical exploration and scientific discovery, from early Polynesian double canoes to the most technically sophisticated submersibles. Each ship is described in a vivid short essay that captures its personality as well as its physical characteristics, construction, and history. Drawings, paintings, and photographs show the grandeur and grace of these oceangoing vessels, maps help the reader follow the routes of great seafarers and naval campaigns, and chronologies offer a perspective on underwater archaeology sites, maritime technology, exploration, and disasters at sea.

Editorial Reviews

Lincoln P. Paine, a former editor of Sea History magazine, published Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia, in 1997. This well-researched volume described more than 1000 of the world's famous and not-so-well-known ships, including a number of fictional vessels, and was quickly recognized as a major reference source. Beginning with this tome, Paine has added new material and developed the two titles under consideration here. Both Warships and Ships of Discovery share a common format: an essay devoted to each ship, headed by a table of specifications and significant dates, and followed by one or more bibliographic references. Most—but not all—of the entries also include a photo, drawing or painting of the vessel in question. Two things make these volumes especially valuable. One is the inclusion of several meaty appendices: glossaries of maritime terms, chronologies, maps, a full bibliography, and a good index. The second is the author's writing style. Each essay is lively, fresh and informative, delightful to read. Paine has a knack for blending straightforward data with anecdotes and apt quotations. To anyone with an interest in ships and the sea, these books are fascinating page-turners. And what ships! Warships alone has more than 200 entries and includes numerous important but obscure vessels in addition to the more famous. Besides the expected Constitution, Monitor, and HMS Victory, the reader will find the USS Vesuvius, the world's only "dynamite cruiser," and the turtle-backed coastal defense ram USS Katahdin, which was possibly the most uncomfortable ship ever to put to sea. John Kennedy's PT-109 is alongside Henry Tudor's Mary Rose and the Czar'stwo battleships. Experts might quibble about individual ships chosen or overlooked, and books of this nature can never include all of the illustrations one might desire, but these are minor concerns. Highly recommended to school and public library collections. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2000, Houghton Mifflin/Mariner, 188p, illus, maps, bibliog, index, 23cm, 00-040802, $17.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Raymond L. Puffer, Ph.D.; Historian, Edwards Air Force Base, CA, March 2001 (Vol. 35 No. 2)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Ships of the World Series
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt


Ships of Discovery and Exploration recounts the stories of more than
130 ships that sailed in exploratory voyages in all parts of the
world and for all sorts of reasons. Until the nineteenth century, all
kinds of ships were used for exploration. Only in the mid-1800s were
ships built for specific exploratory assignments, so it is not
possible to speak of the evolution of discovery ships as a distinct
type before about 150 years ago. It is equally difficult to treat the
history of maritime discovery as a continuous process, for until the
European "age of discovery," which started in about the fifteenth
century, exploration was a regional phenomenon in which limited
horizons were gradually expanded. Some of these regions were small,
almost local, but others -- Europe itself, the Indian Ocean and East
Asia, and Oceania -- were vast areas comprising a multiplicity of
heterogeneous networks. Europe's overriding contribution to maritime
discovery was to connect these regions and to create a more or less
unified global network for the transportation of goods, peoples, and
ideas. This development occurred only in the last 500 years, but much
of the groundwork that made it possible was laid over the course of
thousands of years before that.

The focus of maritime exploration prior to the late
eighteenth century had a geographic orientation. By that time, the
outlines of the world's oceans had been well defined and described.
In the Age of Enlightenment, toward the end of the eighteenth
century, the mission of voyages of exploration came to embrace the
study ofethnography, zoology, and botany, and increasingly,
specialists in these fields signed on for long voyages. Advances in
technology -- the need to lay submarine cables, for instance -- and
lines of inquiry related to the economics of fisheries and
environmental and navigational sciences introduced a new dimension
into the work of maritime discovery. This resulted in the
construction of a wide variety of purpose-built vessels designed to
examine the waters of the world beneath the surface in new ways.
For much of the early period of discovery the names of the
vessels used in exploration, if indeed they had names, are unknown.
To tell the story of maritime discovery with reference only to a
handful of specific named ships would be to overlook some of the most
daring and decisive of our forebears' achievements. In recent years,
a number of early voyages of discovery have been re-created in
vessels, and along routes, of greater or lesser authenticity. These
vessels -- Polynesian voyaging canoes, Mesopotamian reed boats, Greek
galleys, Irish curraghs, Arabian dhows -- have drawn attention to
what was possible. Even if the results of some of these modern
voyages are inconclusive, they almost invariably throw new light on
our understanding of the past.

The South Pacific is the locus of one of the oldest and most
sustained efforts of exploration by any maritime people. The islands
of Oceania are divided into three main groups, reflecting both
geographic and ethnographic characteristics. Farthest to the west,
and settled first, are the islands of Melanesia,* which lie within a
broad band between New Guinea and the Fiji Islands. To the east is
Polynesia, a huge triangle whose sides are described by a line drawn
between Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in the east, New Zealand in the
southwest, and Hawaii to the north. Micronesia, north of Melanesia,
spans the Pacific from Palau to Kiribati and embraces the Marshall,
Caroline, and Mariana island groups. Although many specifics remain
unknown, one widely accepted theory is that the distant ancestors of
the islanders encountered by Europeans from the sixteenth century on
originated in the Solomon Islands just east of New Guinea, that the
pattern of settlement was generally from west to east, and that the
process began about 3,500 years ago.
The first push brought these seafaring settlers to the island
groups of Santa Cruz, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Fiji in about 1,500
bce. Within another 500 years -- that is to say, around the time of
Homer, or a little before -- they had settled Samoa and Tonga. The
Society Islands (Tahiti) were colonized by about 500 bce, and within
another 1,000 years Polynesians had spread out to reach Pitcairn
Island and Easter Island to the south and east and Hawaii to the
north. Among the last and largest islands to be reached were those of
New Zealand, between 1,000 and 1,300 years ago. The chronology of the
settlement of Micronesia is less well understood, although it appears
that certain islands were settled from Melanesia and others from
The vessels in which the Polynesians sailed were large double
canoes, probably about 60 or 70 feet (18 to 21 meters) long (though
vessels of 100 feet [31 meters] are not unknown today), capable of
carrying the people, supplies, and material goods necessary for
establishing sustainable communities on uninhabited islands. These
catamarans* had a deck spanning the distance between the two hulls
and they were rigged with V-shaped (or wishbone) sails. As important
as their boatbuilding skills, the Polynesians evolved a sophisticated
set of navigational skills known as wayfinding, which incorporated
many of the elements of navigation used today but without recourse to
mechanical or electronic instruments. Astronomy and latitude sailing
were of particular importance, as was the ability to read and
interpret the patterns of waves and swells, the location of fish and
sea mammals, the flight paths of birds, prevailing and shifting wind
patterns, and other meteorological conditions.
Although the prevailing winds in Polynesia blow from east to
west, there are periodic shifts. It is believed that the Polynesian
explorers took advantage of these changes to sail downwind to the
east on a west wind fully confident that if they did not find new
lands, the wind would shift to the east and allow them to run
downwind back to their point of origin. Thus exploration was for the
most part the product of two-way intentional voyaging; only
occasionally were new islands discovered as a result of accidental
drift voyaging. One such voyage may have brought Melanesian canoes
from Fiji to New Zealand before the arrival of the Polynesian
ancestors of the Maori, who probably arrived from Tahiti in about
1000 ce. But New Zealand lies south of Polynesia, in a high latitude
on the far side of a belt of variable winds across which it is very
difficult to return. This may explain why it was discovered about 500
years later than Easter Island, even though the latter is 3,000 miles
farther from the Solomons, and why the Maoris eventually abandoned
the sea road to the heart of Polynesia. Adverse winds and currents
also help explain why Melanesian and Polynesian contact with northern
Australia was only sporadic and did not result in any apparent
attempt to establish permanent settlements.
As the dating of settlement in individual island groups
suggests, the progress of exploration in Oceania was punctuated by
lulls of considerable duration. By the time Europeans reached the
Pacific, long-distance voyaging within Polynesia seems to have abated
somewhat. In the eighteenth century, there was more voyaging within
central Polynesia than to the extremes, and the English sailors on
Captain James Cook's expedition in HMS Endeavour in the early 1770s
were impressed with the navigational ability of Tupia, a Tahitian who
returned to England with them and who related that some islanders
undertook voyages lasting as long as twenty days.
The motives underlying these extensive migrations are not
known. Population pressures may have played a part, perhaps under
threat of ostracism and exile. The search for raw materials for trade
was probably incidental to exploration itself, although trade between
colonies and homelands, as well as kinship networks, may have
sustained two-way communication between distant islands following
initial settlement.
For the extent and duration of sea voyages, the discovery and
settling of Oceania has no parallel. Prior to the Viking voyages to
Iceland in the eighth century and Greenland and North America in the
tenth century, most maritime exploration occurred along the shores of
continental landmasses, or within relatively dense island groups such
as those of Indonesia, the Ryukyus off Japan, the Aleutian chain in
Alaska, and the Leeward and Windward islands of the Caribbean. There
is also evidence for long-distance waterborne trade between Ecuador
and Mexico on the Pacific coast, in the early centuries of the
Christian era, and more definitively for trade between Sri Lanka and
Indonesia in the Indian Ocean, but how these routes originated is
Ancient records, both written and archaeological, make it
difficult to determine whether the earliest coastal trade routes
resulted from purposeful maritime exploration of the unknown or from
the realization that ships were a more convenient and efficient means
of transportation than land-based caravan routes. Although the
overland route from Mesopotamia to the Indus Valley is shorter than
the sea route, there is evidence of a sea link between the Harappa
states of the Indus Valley and the Sumerian kingdom at the head of
the Persian Gulf as early as 2500 bce. Similarly, Egypt's Queen
Hatshepsut mounted a trade expedition from the head of the Red Sea to
Punt, on the Somali coast, in 1500 bce. What seems to distinguish the
pioneers of these sea routes from their Polynesian contemporaries is
the fact that they were not sailing into the unknown; they sailed in
search of new routes between two known and inhabited destinations.
The ancient Greeks produced a great number of adventure
stories that seem to explain how they opened sea routes to the world
beyond their Aegean. The most famous of these is that of Jason and
the Argonauts, who sailed in the Argo from the Aegean Sea to the
Black Sea and east to Colchis, in present-day Georgia. It is clear
from the nature of the account that Colchis was a known, if remote,
place; what Jason and his crew discovered, if anything, was not a new
place, but a sea route to it. In addition to such legends, there are
the fragmentary accounts of several real voyages of exploration. In
the late seventh century bce, Egypt's pharaoh Necho sent a number of
Phoenician vessels on a circumnavigation of Africa from the Red Sea
to the Mediterranean. According to Herodotus, this voyage took three
years, during which the sailors stopped each fall to plant crops for
the following year. He also tells, in some disbelief, how in the
course of their voyage from east to west, the sailors had the sun on
their right, which could have happened only if they were south of the
Equator. About 300 years later, a Greek named Pytheas sailed out of
the Mediterranean to the British Isles, to a land rich in amber
(Denmark or farther east in the Baltic), and to a mysterious place
called Thule, variously identified as Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, or
Norway. In his journey to the British Isles, anyway, Pytheas was
sailing in the wake of the Phoenicians, who had access to the tin
mines of Cornwall. But in any case, neither Necho's captains nor
Pytheas achieved anything of long-lasting consequence: northern
Europe opened gradually from the south, as the Roman Empire expanded,
and southern Africa would not be rounded again until the fifteenth
century. Yet the possibility that such voyages took place is far from
Of more immediate significance in the ancient world was the
discovery by Mediterranean traders of the seasonal monsoons that
facilitated navigation between Africa, Arabia, and India. This
discovery, credited to the second-century-bce Eudoxus of Cyzicus, in
Asia Minor, was really an intelligence coup; the sailors of the
Indian Ocean had sailed to the rhythms of the monsoons for centuries.
(Eudoxus is reported to have disappeared attempting to round Africa
counterclockwise, from west to east, in an effort to avoid the
Ptolemy VIII's confiscatory customs duties after his first two
For hundreds of years following the extension of Rome's
hegemony over western Europe, such long-distance exploration as took
place was confined to the Indian Ocean and western Pacific. Persian
and Arab traders established direct trade links to China via
Southeast Asia by the seventh century, but these included many ports
of call and the route was spliced together from strands of shorter
The next burst of maritime exploration came from the Baltic --
Europe's northern inland sea -- and was initiated by the
Scandinavians. Vikings began by expanding along the east-west
corridor of the Baltic. They established themselves in northern
Russia, and soon their river-oriented trade networks extended south
to the Black Sea and Byzantium and east to the Caspian. West from the
Baltic, the Vikings conquered along the coasts and rivers of the
British Isles and western Europe as far south as the Mediterranean.
Following in the wake of Irish monks -- St. Brendan is specifically
recognized for this achievement -- who reached Iceland around 790,
the Norse reached Iceland in about 860. From there, in 982, Eirik
(The Red) Thorvaldsson sailed west for Greenland to spend there a
three-year term of exile for murder. A quarter century later, his son
Leif (The Lucky) sailed farther west, to Newfoundland, called
Vinland, where the remains of a Viking encampment have been unearthed
at L'Anse aux Meadows. This settlement did not last long. The outpost
was too remote, the population available to sustain it too small, and
the rewards too few. The abandonment of the Vinland colony prefigured
the contraction of the Viking's Atlantic world. The Greenland
settlements ended regular communication with Iceland in 1347, and
vanished a century later; Iceland's contacts with Europe also entered
a long period of decline.
By this time, traders of the Hanseatic League, centered on
German cities in the Baltic, had superseded the Vikings as the
dominant seafarers in northern Europe, while Mediterranean seafarers
had begun their first forays into the Atlantic. The latter
initiatives were fueled by the profits from trade and the search for
more. Christian Europe first got a taste of the benefits of commerce
with the East when the Crusaders gained a foothold in the Levant, in
the late eleventh century. By the early thirteenth century, Genoese
and Venetian merchants were also active in the Black Sea. The Genoese
established themselves in Trebizond, on the north coast of modern
Turkey, an entrepôt for overland trade with India. Mediterranean
traders were also engaged in an expanding trade with northern Europe.
In the early thirteenth century, Genoese merchants entered the
Atlantic, and by the 1270s their galleys, as well as those of Majorca
and other trading states, regularly plied between Genoa and Bruges,
initiating the first sustained navigation by Mediterranean sailors
between Mediterranean and Atlantic ports.
The westward shift received additional impetus in 1291, when
the Egyptian Mamluks captured Tyre and Acre, the last Christian
trading centers on the eastern Mediterranean coast. The Genoese
devised a number of schemes by which to circumvent the Muslim
middlemen who now controlled the spice trade. One of these was a
voyage in 1291 by the brothers Ugolino and Vadino Vivaldi, who fitted
out two galleys for a voyage to India via Ceuta, a Moroccan port
opposite Gibraltar, the implication being that they would attempt to
circumnavigate Africa, just as Eudoxus had -- and for much the same
reason -- fourteen centuries before. The Vivaldis disappeared without
a trace, but this voyage is regarded as a milestone in the history of
Atlantic exploration. Far from being a quixotic adventure, it was an
effort by practical merchants to overcome a serious commercial
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Genoese seamen
increasingly found themselves sailing under foreign flags --
especially that of Portugal, for which they discovered or helped
settle the Canary Islands (the Islas Fortunatas of antiquity), the
Madeiras, and the Azores. Although most of his energy was directed
toward the exploitation of his holdings in the Azores and Madeira,
Portugal's entrepreneurial Dom Henrique (Prince Henry, 1394-1460)
sent ships down the west coast of Africa in search of slaves and
gold. By 1434, the Portuguese knew the coast as far as Cape Bojador
in Mauritania. Progress southward continued, and the Portuguese
reached the Cape Verde Islands in 1445. Three years later they
erected a fort on the island of Arguim, off the northern Mauretanian
coast, from which they conducted a lucrative trade in slaves, ivory,
and gold.
These voyages, originally made in square-rigged barcas and
barinels, and by the 1430s in small lateen-rigged caravels, helped
foster navigation in the Atlantic. But there is no indication that
Dom Henrique contemplated circumnavigating Africa or finding a
shortcut to the Indies. The credit for that effort goes to his
grandnephew João (John) II, who ruled Portugal from 1481 to 1495,
during which time he fostered a program of maritime exploration to
reach India via a sea route around Africa. To ensure the feasibility
of this, he dispatched two simultaneous expeditions. Pero da Covilhão
went directly east to India, from where he reported on the possible
existence of a sea route to the west around southern Africa. At the
same time, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the aptly named Cape of Storms --
taking a longer view, the King later dubbed it the Cape of Good Hope -
- from west to east, returning to Lisbon in December 1488 after an
absence of more than sixteen months.
All of this exploratory activity attracted any number of
ambitious mariners. The Genoa-born Columbus conceived a bold plan to
establish a direct route to "the land of India and the great island
of Cipango and the realms of the Great Khan . . ." -- that is, Japan
and China. His estimates of the distances involved -- 2,400 miles
(3,860 kilometers) from the Canary Islands to Japan and 3,550 miles
(5,700 kilometers) to China -- were wrong. But with the patronage of
Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Columbus reached the Caribbean on
his first voyage, in 1492-93, and landed in South America and Central
America on his fourth and final voyage, in 1502-4. Although he was
aware that he had discovered a new world, he was reluctant to admit
that he had not found the Orient, and died cherishing the belief that
he had been within ten days' sail of the Ganges River.
At the time of Columbus's first voyage, no one could have
predicted the benefits to be reaped by Spain -- and the world -- as a
result of his gross underestimation of the distances involved. His
object, after all, was the discovery of a route to the Indies, to cut
out the middlemen in the lucrative spice trade. (Had Columbus been
embarked on a voyage to find something unknown, no one would have
backed him; such a scheme by Columbus or any other European of his
time would have been inconceivable.) João II was briefly interested
in Columbus's plan, but declined his proposal when Dias returned from
the Cape of Good Hope. No one can fault the Portuguese king for
sticking with his proven round-Africa campaign, and in the short run,
his strategy won out. In 1497, João's successor, Manoel, named Vasco
da Gama to lead a four-ship expedition, including the 100-ton nao São
Gabriel. Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope to East
Africa, from where, with the help of Muslim pilots, he sailed to
Calicut, on the west coast of India. On the second Portuguese voyage
to India, in 1500, Pero Alvares Cabral landed on the coast of Brazil.
By 1511, the Portuguese were ensconced in the East Indies and had
tapped the source of the spice trade. This they now rerouted directly
to Lisbon, which became the chief entrepôt of western Europe.
The voyages of discovery that followed these Spanish and
Portuguese breakthroughs east and west were breathtaking in their
scope and daring. The most famous voyage of the era was the
circumnavigation initiated by Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese
sailing for the Spanish, and completed after his death in the
Philippines under the leadership of Juan Sebastian de Elcano, sailing
in Victoria. The most important aspect of Magellan's voyage was the
transpacific leg, although he sailed north of most of the islands of
Oceania. European transpacific navigation remained a one-way -- east-
to-west -- enterprise until 1565, when Andrés de Urdaneta, sailing in
the San Pablo, discovered a way east across the Pacific by sailing on
the prevailing westerlies from the Philippines north of Hawaii to
California and south to Mexico. This turned out to be the inaugural
voyage of the so-called Manila Galleon, which for 250 years carried
the riches of the Americas to Asia, and the precious goods of the
Orient to Mexico for transshipment to Spain and Europe.
Magellan had originally sailed to determine whether the Spice
Islands (the Moluccas) were Portuguese or Spanish, according to the
1494 Treaty of Tordesillas. This agreement divided the world into two
hemispheres, one Spanish, the other Portuguese, by means of a north-
south line drawn 370 leagues (about 1,200 miles) west of the Cape
Verde Islands. If other European powers declined to challenge the
Iberian monopoly over extra-European trade, it was not out of respect
for such agreements (Tordesillas remained in force until 1750), but
because of the dominance of Iberian maritime power. This had its
limits, however. One area that was nominally Spanish but over which
Spain exercised no practical control was North America, and it is
here that the fledgling maritime powers of northern Europe first
turned their attention. As they had for the Portuguese and Spanish,
Italian navigators led the way.
The first search for a northern route to the Indies is
credited to John Cabot, a "citizen of Venice" who, sailing in the
Mathew under the auspices of England's Henry VII, reached
Newfoundland in 1497. The French sponsored two expeditions to the
coast of North America in the sixteenth century. Giovanni da
Verrazzano, a Florentine, sailed along the coast from North Carolina
to Newfoundland in 1524, and ten years later Jacques Cartier probed
the St. Lawrence River as far as present-day Montreal in search of a
western route to the Pacific. The voyages resulted in little official
settlement, and for the time being the European presence in this part
of North America was limited to an assortment of European fishermen
who established seasonal camps on the shores of Newfoundland and
traded for furs on the side.
The English search for the Northwest Passage began in earnest
with Martin Frobisher's voyages in the 1570s; Francis Drake also
searched for a western outlet of the Northwest Passage on the Pacific
Coast of North America during his circumnavigation in the Golden Hind
of 1577-80. The effort ended in 1616 when John Bylot returned from
his expedition in Discovery to Lancaster Sound, north of Baffin
Island -- which would later prove to be the gateway to the Northwest
Passage -- and Hudson Bay. These voyages excited some interest, but
they required too great an outlay in men and ships for too little
return, and the English abandoned their efforts for 200 years,
although the sub-Arctic waters of the Davis Strait, between Greenland
and Baffin Island, remained profitable whaling grounds. Exploration
to the south proved more feasible and profitable. The English
established North American colonies that provided an outlet for their
expanding population. These, in turn, created overseas markets for
domestic industry. Sir Walter Raleigh sponsored a succession of
exploratory voyages in the 1570s, but permanent organized settlement
only began with the establishment of colonies at Jamestown, Virginia,
in 1607 and Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1621. The Dutch soon
followed, at New Orange (Albany, New York) in 1624 and New Amsterdam
(New York City) 1625.
Yet the primary source of wealth was still in the East. The
Dutch were the first to break the Iberian trade monopoly in the
Indies. In the sixteenth century, dynastic marriages brought the
Netherlands under Spanish control. This gave Dutch merchants (among
others) access to the trading emporia in Spain and Portugal, which
were united under one crown from 1580 to 1640. The United Provinces
of the Netherlands declared their independence from Spain in 1581,
and Philip II retaliated with an embargo on Dutch shipping. Nothing
daunted, in 1595 the Dutch sent a fleet of five ships directly to the
East Indies; seven years later they founded the United East India
Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) and in 1619 they
established themselves at present-day Djakarta on the island of Java,
in the settlement they called Batavia. Not content to follow the
traditional trade routes of the Indian Ocean as the Portuguese had
done, the VOC pioneered new, more direct routes. As their wealth
grew, so did their need for new markets, and in 1638, the Dutch
governor in Batavia ordered the navigator Abel Tasman to explore the
little-known Terra Australis "for the improvement, and increase of
the [VOC's] general welfare." Tasman's voyages in the Heemskerck and
Limmen brought him to Tasmania, New Zealand, Tonga, and northern
Australia, but they proved unfruitful from a mercantile point of view
and the search was abandoned; the burghers of the VOC had little time
for idle speculation. The English had followed the Dutch to the East,
but the merchant navigators of the East India Company focused on
establishing a presence in familiar territories.
In the eighteenth century, the wealth created by the fortunes
from international trade helped finance a wave of exploratory voyages
animated by a spirit of scientific inquiry. Sailing in the North and
South Atlantic in HMS Paramore between 1698 and 1700, Edmund Halley
made a comprehensive study of magnetic variation, an understanding of
which is crucial to the proper interpretation of compass readings. On
a third voyage he completed a detailed survey of tidal currents in
the English Channel. Safe and efficient navigation was also one of
the primary concerns underlying Captain James Cook's voyage in
Endeavour in 1768, a mission sponsored by the Royal Society. This
learned body was interested in observing the transit of Venus across
the sun, "a phenomenon that must . . . contribute greatly to the
improvement of astronomy, on which navigation so much depends." In
the course of three voyages, Cook and his crews also circumnavigated
Antarctica (although the English never glimpsed the continent),
explored the coast of New Zealand, twice visited Hawaii (where Cook
was killed), and surveyed the coast of the Pacific Northwest and
Alaska in search of the elusive Northwest Passage.
Sailing in 1766, two years before Cook's first voyage, Louis
Antoine de Bougainville added a new dimension to the explorer's work.
In addition to seeking out new lands, which Bougainville found by
sailing through the South Pacific at a higher latitude (that is,
farther south from the Equator) than any of his predecessors, the
French also undertook the study of ethnography, zoology, and botany.
France sustained an active program of exploration in the Pacific that
continued throughout the revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, and in
Australian waters (England colonized the continent in 1787), European
rivalry was often set aside in the interest of scientific cooperation.
The English and French were not the only nations engaged in
voyages of exploration in this period. Russia's eastward expansion
across Siberia had raised the prospect of a Russian seaport open to
the world. Russia's seaports on the White, Baltic, and Black seas
were all of limited use, owing to their peculiar geography. Though
nineteenth-century Russian navigators' efforts were oriented
primarily toward the northeast corner of Asia and Alaska, they also
contributed to the European reconnaissance of Oceania. In the
twentieth century, Russian exploration focused especially on the
Northeast Passage, the Eurasian counterpart to the Northwest Passage.
The English navigator Richard Chancellor had also attempted to find
such a route to the Orient in the 1550s, but it was not until 1878-79
that Adolf Nordenskiöld, a Swede, completed the transit in the Vega.
In the nineteenth century, Americans also began to show an
interest in exploration. The Great United States Exploring Expedition
to the South Seas, led by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes in the USS
Vincennes, was the first such voyage sponsored by the government. The
thousands of specimens collected by expedition scientists between
1838 and 1842 formed the nucleus of the Smithsonian Institution's
collections. There would be others -- to the Dead Sea, the Paraná
River in South America, and the North Pacific, for instance -- but
they were of relatively limited scope in the grand scheme of things.
Animated by the inquisitive spirit of the Enlightenment
though these voyages certainly were, trade, evangelism, the urge to
spread European culture, and above all improved navigation still
played critical roles in European exploration. As world trade grew,
so did the need for accurate charts, and most expeditions were geared
toward compiling data of use to navigation. France established a
Dépôt des Cartes et Plans, a repository for charts and maps, in 1720.
In 1779, Alexander Dalrymple was named hydrographer of the East India
Company, but it was not until 1795 that the Royal Navy, whose
hundreds of ship captains were desperate for accurate charts in their
wide-ranging war against France, made a similar appointment. This
also fell to Dalrymple, who held the post of Hydrographer of the Navy
until 1808. The primary focus of the Admiralty's Hydrographic Office
and its counterparts in other maritime countries was the mapping of
the world's navigable waters, but there were incidental benefits to
these vital yet tedious and unheralded undertakings. It was on one
such expedition, to the southern tip of South America and the
Pacific, that HMS Beagle carried the extraordinary naturalist Charles
Darwin, whose observations in the course of the five-year voyage led
him to formulate his revolutionary theory of evolution.
The Pax Britannica following the Napoleonic Wars signaled a
renewal of the English search for the Northwest Passage. The Scottish
explorer Alexander Mackenzie had searched for one on the overland
trek he made across Canada in the 1790s, and the Lewis and Clark
expedition of 1804-6 demonstrated that there was no watery shortcut
to the Pacific through what became the continental United States.
Inspired by favorable reports brought back by whalers operating to
the west of Greenland, the Royal Navy dispatched an exploratory
expedition to search for the Northwest Passage, in HMS Isabella and
Alexander in 1818. This initiated an almost continuous series of
expeditions that probed ever farther into the Arctic from east to
west. In 1825, Frederick William Beechey sailed in HMS Blossom via
the Bering Strait to see whether there was any possibility of making
the passage from west to east. The search for the Northwest Passage
reached its greatest intensity following the disappearance of Sir
John Franklin's ships, HMS Erebus and Terror, in the 1840s. Over the
course of the next twelve years, more than a dozen ships from Britain
and the United States set out in search of the missing ships, but it
was not until 1859 that the crew of Francis M'Clintock's Fox learned
the grim fate of Franklin and his men. M'Clintock also established
the existence of the Northwest Passage, although it remained
impassable by ship until the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen
pioneered the icy route in Gjøa in 1906.
Whereas exploration in the eighteenth century had been driven
by the desire for economic benefit on the one hand and a spirit of
enlightened curiosity on the other, the polar explorations of the
nineteenth century seem to be somewhat quixotic ventures motivated by
national pride and personal vanity. The economic and political
benefits were almost nonexistent, and the scientific gains slight. In
this respect they anticipated the race to the moon, and it is an odd
coincidence that the first lunar landing and the first transit of the
Northwest Passage by a commercial vessel, the oil tanker Manhattan
(on a voyage of symbolic value only), took place one month apart in
These Arctic excursions had their counterparts in the
Antarctic. The dangers of the Southern Ocean and the ice barrier
around the southern continent were well known, and prior to the
Franklin expedition, the Erebus and Terror had narrowly escaped
shipwreck amid the ice fields of Antarctica. The first confirmed
sighting of Antarctica was made by the American sealer Hero, sailing
from the South Shetland Islands, southeast of Cape Horn, in 1820. In
the wake of the American Robert Peary's claim to have reached the
North Pole in 1909, Amundsen, now sailing in the Fram, and the Royal
Navy's Commander Robert Falcon Scott, in Terra Nova, raced for the
South Pole. Amundsen arrived on December 16, 1911, followed a month
later by Scott and his companions. Unfortunately, the English group
froze to death en route back to their ship. These Antarctic
expeditions were terrestrial, Antarctica being a continent, whereas
the Arctic is a frozen sea, but voyages around the shores of the
continent of Antarctica were in all cases remarkable feats of
seamanship. Of these perhaps the most astonishing was that of the
English explorer Ernest Shackleton following the loss of his ship,
Endurance, after which he and four companions sailed 800 miles in the
22-foot James Caird to seek help at the remote Norwegian whaling
station in the South Shetland Islands.
By now, exploration was entering a new phase of scientific
inquiry oriented toward the oceans themselves. Heretofore exploration
had chiefly involved the gathering of geographic knowledge useful for
trade, navigation, and various aspects of empire building. The ocean
depths themselves had received only cursory investigation. The look
below was prompted by a variety of factors. Foremost was the
development of the telegraph and the need for submarine cables,
starting in the 1860s. This made a knowledge of the ocean deeps
mandatory and led to inquiries into what lay between the surface and
the bottom. In the days before electronics, such elementary tasks as
gauging the depth of the ocean were carried out with sounding leads,
a difficult but not impossible assignment when the depths to be
plumbed exceeded 30,000 feet (9,100 meters), as they did on the
Challenger expedition of 1872-76. Despite the complexity of the
tasks, such expeditions were made in a variety of vessels
requisitioned from other branches of the service: screw sloops, steam
yachts, and gunboats, for instance.
A dramatic shift in the direction of ocean research was
signaled by the launch of the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries
research ship, Albatross, in 1883. The first purpose-built
oceanographic research vessel in the United States and one of the
first in the world, it was designed for studying the health and
potential of the country's commercial fisheries. In the century that
followed, marine science grew to embrace a wide variety of new
disciplines, including physical oceanography (an extension of
hydrographic surveying), chemical and biological oceanography,
submarine geology, and meteorology. Entirely new types and classes of
ship were designed for work in such fields as deep-water search and
rescue and nautical archaeology, oil-field research, environmental
monitoring, and calibrating navigational and guidance systems for the
Navy. The vessels employed include manned submersibles like the Alvin
and Trieste, the floating instrument platform FLIP, Jacques
Cousteau's Calypso, and the deep-sea drilling platform Glomar
Challenger. New technologies have also been employed in the
construction of icebreakers that have opened formerly inaccessible
polar regions to the outside world. Designed for service in northern
Siberia, the Soviet Union's nuclear-powered Arktika was the first
surface ship to reach the North Pole, in 1975 -- sixteen years after
the submarine USS Skate surfaced there through the ice.
While technology has been making it possible to explore the
oceans in all their dimensions, there has been renewed interest in
understanding how mankind first mastered the waters. That there was
long-distance navigation in ancient times is an established fact, but
we can only begin to understand how it happened, or might have
happened, by re-creating our ancestors' voyages in vessels and with
navigational apparatus similar to what they might have used.
Contemporary explorers emulating long-distance Polynesian voyages
have used traditional navigational techniques to find their way in
modern reproductions of voyaging canoes such as Hokule'a and
Hawai'iloa. Thor Heyerdahl retraced the route of the traders who
plied between Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley in antiquity in the
reed raft Tigris, and Tim Severin's Brendan sailed in the wake of the
Irish monks who first settled Iceland. Incredible in themselves,
these voyages animate our understanding of how people surmounted
phenomenal odds to plunge into the unknown to do business on great

Each entry comprises three parts: the vessel's basic specifications,
a narrative history, and a source note. Complete publishing
information for all works cited in the source notes can be found in
the Bibliography.
The basic specifications of the vessel in question include the
following information:
L/B/D:Length, beam, and draft, or depth in hold (dph), given in
feet and meters.
Tons:Usually given in gross registered tons (grt), displacement
(disp.), old measurement (om), or builder's measurement (bm). For
submarines, both surface and submerged tonnages are given.
Hull:Hull material, usually wood, iron, or steel. For submarines,
dd stands for the design -- the maximum depth to which the submarine
can submerge.
Comp.:Complement, including crew and/or passengers, where known.
Arm.:Armament, including the number of guns and caliber or weight
of projectile, in either standard or metric measurement.
carr.: carronade
pdr.: pounder
TT: torpedo tube
Mach.:Machinery, including type of propulsion, horsepower, number
of screws, and speed.
Built:Builder, place, and year of build.
fleet designations
HMS: Her/His Majesty's Ship
RMS: Royal Mail Ship
USS: United States Ship

Copyright © 2000 by Lincoln Paxton Paine

Meet the Author

Lincoln P. Paine, formerly editor of Sea History magazine and director of the Schooners Foundation, is a member of the national advisory board of the American Sail Training Association. He lives by the sea with his wife, Allison, and two daughters, who bare the names of famous ships. He currently lives in Portland, Maine.

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