On a cloudy, gray Saturday in early December, Charley and I met up with our fellow Skyscrapers at Mystic Seaport. The Seaport has a planetarium. Of particular interest to our group was a special exhibition housed in the R.J. Schaefer Building entitled “Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude”. From September 19, 2015 to March 28, 2016, visitors can view rare artifacts and artwork on loan from the National Maritime Museum in London. http://www.mysticseaport.org/longitude
Now, being new to this group, and possibly the only member who is not an astronomer, engineer, mathematician or scientist, I have a lot to learn about the skies. I’d really never thought very much about the dangers incumbent in the inability to determine a ship’s location when at sea. In figuring out the east-west position (longitude), ships gained the ability to navigate the waters, lessening the chance of being lost at sea. But how to calculate longitude on a moving vessel in the middle of open ocean waters was a conundrum that took centuries to solve.
There were many untried ideas. The 1714 Longitude Act offered a large sum of money to solve the problem. Even then, it took another half a century for the Board of Longitude to hold sea trials to test the most promising ideas: John Harrison’s H4 timekeeper and Tobias Mayer’s lunar tables. A marine chair for observing Jupiter’s moons was subsequently deemed ineffective. This special exhibit displays art work, rare timekeepers and instruments to tell the story of the quest for longitude. This is complemented by a special planetarium program following Captain James Cook’s voyage in which he and his crew tested the longitude solutions in the Pacific Ocean.
There are always special programs and exhibits at the Mystic Seaport. One of the newest, “Voyaging in the Wake of the Whalers” is housed in the Stallman Building. It explores America’s whaling legacy and shows “…the richer and deeper stories of the peoples, places, ships and whales that impacted and were impacted by whaling since the Morgan’s construction 1841″ to its 38th voyage in 2014. For more details on this exhibit and the historic 38th Voyage of the recently restored Charles W. Morgan:
I’ve hardly touched upon the amazing opportunities for learning and the hands-on experiences offered by this living history site. Hopefully, if people are interested, the links provided will help to give a better feel for Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport. Oh, and a side trip to Olde Mystic Village is highly suggested. I’ll write about the small New England villages I love to visit some time in the future. It’s certainly worth a share.