Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Punta Arenas, Chile, and a book review of the Story of Cape Horn

Cape Horn The Story of the Cape Horn region, including the Straits of Magellan, from the days of the first discoverers, through the glorious age of sail to the present time... / Felix Riesenberg. Published by Ox Bow Press, Woodbridge, CT, 1995. ISBN 1-881987043. 452p.

Master Mariner Felix Riesenberg (1879-1939) wrote about adventures at sea, merchant ships on the Pacific Ocean, the seafaring life, explorers, missionaries, pirates, women sailors, tall ships, steamers, cannibals and grain ships.

His well-researched and presented Cape Horn is an account of 400 years of circumnavigation, colonization, scientific inquiry and human drama. His story is endowed with detail and rich description:

“Captain Francis Drake… had the most complete charts of the time, and tables of declination of the sun and moon… He carried three books on navigation, one in English another in French; a third, a volume of direction, was that of Magellan’s discovery, presumed to have been the account of Antonio Pigafetta. Compasses, clocks, hour and minute glasses, log lines and lead lines were supplied in abundance. That he used the log chip is fairly certain, and Captain Drake most probably had one of the new kennying glasses, for spying out ships and distant coasts.” ---- p. 62

Says Museum volunteer tour-guide, Ron Ellis, “I loved reading Cape Horn because Felix Riesenberg was so knowledgeable. He sailed there himself a number of times. You get all the history, including Drake and Darwin! In Punta Arenas, a Chilean city along the Strait, there’s a statue of Magellan. If you touch the toe of the statue’s bronze native (reclining at the statue’s base), you shall return. There is a fine maritime museum there well worth a visit.”

The book’s 23 appendices give specifications of ship’s holds, logs written by explorers, and a list of the first fifteen circumnavigators to sail through the Cape, from Magellan in 1521 to Commodore Anson in 1744. Illustrations in black and white include maps and artwork from the period of the 16th century.
Riesenberg’s training as an engineer inspired him to write manuals and handbooks for merchant sailors. He lived at a very exciting time in maritime history, that era when steam, oil and gas overtook sail as the primary means of power. Cape Horn and other works reviewed European adventurers who pursued the quest for new water routes between 1500 and 1750.

Selected titles by Felix Riesenberg:
Living Again: an Autobiography. / Felix Riesenberg. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1937.
The Pacific Ocean. / Felix Riesenberg. New York: Whittlesey House, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1940.
Under Sail, a Boy’s Voyage. / Felix Riesenberg. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1924.

Explanation of Words and Phrases:
The first five entries below were found in Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. Edited by Peter Kemp. Published by Oxford University Press, 1976. 971 p.

Charts : essentially a map of the sea area, showing any coastlines, rocks, positions of buoys, lighthouses and other prominent features. -- p. 154.

Commodore Anson: Lord George Anson (1697-1762), British admiral of the fleet, circumnavigator… was one of the founders of the naval profession.-- p.24.

Darwin, Charles Robert (1809-1882): English naturalist, sailed on the H.M.S. Beagle between 1831 and 1836, in a voyage of discovery for science. -- p. 229.

Francis Drake (1543-1596): he circumnavigated the world for Elizabeth 1st in 1577. -- p. 263.

Log chip, or Log: the name given any device for measuring the speed of a vessel through the water. – p. 492.

Magellan: Fernando Magalhães, a Portuguese explorer for King Charles of Spain, 1519-1522.

Kennying, or kenning : the distance that bounds the range of ordinary vision, especially at sea, hence a marine measure of about 20-21 miles. p. 673, The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Could have been a forerunner to “Spy-glass, or telescope”, as defined on p. 719 in the Oxford Dictionary.

scientific inquiry: (in part) the scientifically based examination of newly found continents and territories. p. 143, The Rand McNally World Atlas of Exploration. / Eric Newby. New York, Rand McNally & Company, 1975.

tables of declination of the sun and moon: the angular distance, a body is north or south of the equator. The sun’s declination ranges between 23˚ 27’ north to 23˚ 27’ south; the moon’s from about 28˚ north (maximum) to a like distance south… p. 72 The Mariner’s Dictionary by Gershom Bradford. New York: Weathervane Books, 1962.

Museum Volunteer: At the Los Angeles Maritime Museum, volunteers answer questions at the front desk, give museum tours, operate the tug ANGELS GATE, use the Morse code, build ship models, and staff The Sea Chest, the museum’s gift shop. Visit the web page at http://www.lamaritimemuseum.org/volunter.htm for more information.

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