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    Gold Rush Navigation: 1849 from New York to "New York"
    From: Frank Reed CT
    Date: 2005 Jul 2, 22:57 EDT

    In late summer of 1848, word reached the east coast of the United States
    that gold had been discovered in the hills of Northern California. Vessels of
    all sizes and types were soon sailing for the Pacific. The logbook of one such
    vessel, the ship Sabina, is in the collection of the G.W. Blunt-White Library
    at  Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut, and it is available on the web for
    reading. It's a fascinating story. The journal was apparently written by
    Henry Green who was responsible for the vessel's navigation from New York to San
    Francisco.
    [Both the original scans and a text transcript are online at
    _www.mysticseaport.org/library/initiative/MsList.cfm_
    (http://www.mysticseaport.org/library/initiative/MsList.cfm) .  Although the 
    text loads reliably, the scans and other
    images frequently do  not].
    
    The ship Sabina carried hopeful forty-niners from eastern Long  Island, New
    York. They formed themselves into a corporation which they called  the
    "Southampton and California Mining and Trading Company" and set sail from  Sag Harbor
    in early February 1849. On board were some 83 men, mostly in the  company, but
    also some additional passengers, every one of them hoping to become
    fabulously wealthy in the gold mines of California. Many of the men onboard had
    experience at sea. Sag Harbor was an important whaling port, and no doubt,  some
    had even seen the coast of California on earlier whaling voyages. I have no
    details on the Sabina, but it's clear that this expedition was organized
    hastily, and the vessel leaked excessively and nearly sank.
    
    The  navigation on the Sabina is an interesting example from the transitional
     period when chronometers might still be suspect and "lunars" were still a
    valuable check on their performance. And like the leaky vessel itself, it seems
     that the chronometer aboard the Sabina was barely acceptable. As I've done
    with  a few other logbooks, I've prepared a map showing the Sabina's latitude
    and  longitude throughout the voyage. Longitudes by Lunars are marked in
    yellow. The  map is available here: www.HistoricalAtlas.com/lunars/sabina.gif
    
    The  ocean navigation on the Sabina begins off Montauk, New York, the eastern
    tip of  Long Island where the navigator "takes his departure" on February 8,
    1849. They  travel with the winds and currents east across the Atlantic for
    two weeks, most  of the time spent manning the pumps just trying to stay afloat.
    The navigator  notes on February 17, 1849 near latitude 36N, longitude 42W
    that "I have not had  a chance for a Lunar observation since we left home and am
    not able to say  whether the Chronometer is correct or not." He doesn't get
    his first lunar until  March 1, 1849 and on that date finds the longitude by
    the Moon is 33 29'W while  the chronometer gives 34 00'W. At this point he
    trusts the chronometer longitude  more. Note that on this date in the mid-Atlantic,
    the Moon's elongation from the  Sun would have been about 85 degrees and
    waxing. This again fits with the  pattern that I've seen in many nineteenth
    century logbooks. Lunar distance  sights were taken preferentially, using the Sun as
    the other body, for a couple  of days around First Quarter and Last Quarter.
    The longitude, either by dead  reckoning or balky chronometer, could be
    trusted well enough for the ten or  twelve days between those prefered lunar
    distance periods.
    
    Sailing  steadily southward, on March 8th, the navigator of the Sabina notes
    "An  eclipse of the moon nearly total at 1/2 past 10 in the evening." In an
    earlier  era, the timing of an eclipse might have been useful for navigation,
    but not any  longer. It's mentioned merely as an interesting phenomenon in the
    heavens.  Amongst the company members, gold fever is in full swing. They form
    a debating  society for amusement and the logbook notes:  "The first debate
    came off  this evening. The Question was this: will the Discovery of the gold
    mines in  California prove a blessing or a curse to the United States and the
    world.  Decision - a blessing."
    
    On March 16, 1849, the navigator notices that  there is trouble with the
    chronometer. He takes lunars  for four out of  five days around Last Quarter, and
    the longitude by the Moon is consistently  about three degrees to the west of
    the longitude by chronometer . This is a  serious discrepancy. They also
    "speak" several other ships in this period, and  although there's no mention of it,
    it's likely that they double-checked  longitude in these communications.
    Through the next New Moon, the navigator  carries forward the longitude by lunar
    account, and apparently ignores the  chronometer. [notice in the map on my web
    site that the lunar longitudes are  offset well west of the chronometer
    longitudes here --near the equator in the  Atlantic]
    
    Around First Quarter, the next opportunity for lunars, the  navigator of the
    Sabina again gets lunar longitudes for four out of five days.  The difference
    in longitude is now nearly five degrees. For example, on March  29th, the
    longitude by chronometer is 32 19'W while the longitude by lunar  distance is 37
    14'W. Since the Sabina is short on fresh water, and probably also  because of
    this uncertainty in longitude, the company and crew decide to stop at  the
    Island of St. Catherines (Ilha Santa Catarina) off the coast of southern  Brazil.
    They stay there for two weeks and encounter a half-dozen large vessels  with a
    total of some 600 American men all bound for California...
    
    During  the remainder of the voyage, lunars are taken occasionally. Again as
    was common  practice, for a couple of days around First Quarter and Last
    Quarter. There is  one instance, on June 11, 1849, where a lunar distance
    observation was taken  when the Moon's elongation was around 107 degrees. This is a bit
    unusual, but  there was a good navigational reason for it. The Sabina was
    approaching the  Island of Juan Fernandez (of Alexander Selkirk and Robinson
    Crusoe fame). This  was a popular stop for fresh water and other provisions, but
    if the longitude  were incorrect, a vessel could easily sail west for it when
    it had already  passed the correct longitude (or vice versa as Anson and the
    crew of the  Centurion discovered a little over a hundred years before the
    voyage of the  Sabina). In this case, the lunar longitude proved that the
    chronometer was  behaving on this leg of the voyage.
    
    After Juan Fernandez, the navigation  of the Sabina is relatively uneventful
    though it is interesting to note that the  navigator tends to record the
    longitude in "round numbers". That is, he lists  his longitude (either dead
    reckoning or by chronometer in this stretch) to the  nearest ten minutes or the
    nearest fifteen. For example, in the fourteen day  period beginning on June 27,
    1849, the minutes of the recorded longitude end in  0 or 5 on twelve out of the
    fourteen days. These are probably dead reckoning  longitudes, and of course,
    it's very reasonable practice. The Sabina at this  point is northbound near the
    equator around longitude 110 West. An exact  longitude is not much use in that
    part of the Pacific Ocean. [I should note that  the longitude was also
    recorded this way during other legs of the voyage. In  fact during the first
    eighteen days of the voyage, every single recorded  longitude ends in 0 or 5.]
    
    Through July and early August, the Sabina  sails up to the latitude of San
    Francisco but fully 12 degrees of longitude to  the west (0ver 550 nautical
    miles). Better safe than sorry at this point, I  suppose. Then they head due east
    and begin looking for land. They reach the  coast of California about fifty
    miles north of San Francisco on August 6, 1849.  As they spend the next few days
    coasting down to the city, all references to  longitude are dropped from the
    logbook though the noon latitude is still taken  and recorded. On August 12,
    the Sabina comes to anchor far up inside San  Francisco Bay, almost fifty miles
    from San Francisco itself, near the head of  navigation. Their final
    anchorage is off the modern day city of Pittsburg,  California (named for Pittsburgh,
    Pennsylvania during a "coal rush" fifty years  later). In the 1840s, this
    dusty little frontier town was known optimistically  as "The City of New York on
    the Pacific". And there in "New York" the ocean  voyage of the Sabina ends.
    
    After anchoring off the "City of New York",  the tale of the "Southampton and
    California Mining and Trading Company"  continues in Green's journal, and I
    won't spoil the excitement for you. Just  five days after arriving in
    California, Green writes, "This is my Birth Day 55  years old this day and here I am in
    California and a going into the mines to dig  for gold. Who would have
    thought it but so it is and may our Labors be crowned  with the best of success." If
    you're interested in reading what happens to the  crew and company of the
    Sabina, I recommend reading the rest of the journal on  the Seaport's web site. I
    will add this footnote for the vessel itself: less  than nine months after
    arriving in California, she sets sail one more time... a  skeleton crew sails
    her down from the "City of New York" back to San Franciso so  that she can be
    sold to the highest bidder.
    
    
    -FER
    42.0N 87.7W, or  41.4N 72.1W.
    www.HistoricalAtlas.com/lunars
    
    
    

       
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