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    Re: Paper by Bill and Merri Carter
    From: Frank Reed
    Date: 2010 Nov 22, 19:17 -0800

    Richard, starting with your PS, you wrote:
    "P.S. Sorry if this paper has been discussed before but I didn't find mention of it while searching the list archives."

    Even if it had been discussed before (and I don't recall it), you shouldn't let that stop you. NavList discussions tend to be rather ephemeral, and memories fade, too. True, we have a huge archive, and that's good for reference, but as members and visitors come and go, there's nothing wrong with re-visiting old territory.

    Of the paper:
    "This paper examines the evidence to support the view that the inability of seamen to determine accurate longitude at sea in sailing ships was a major factor in the loss of ships and crews that was effectively solved by the introduction of the marine chronometer. It concludes that this was not the case and that a more compelling factor for the safety of ships was the introduction of mechanical propulsion systems."

    Accurate determination of longitude made voyages significantly more efficient, and there's ample evidence for that. As for making them safer, well, the catch with all improvements in safety and efficiency is that they can also lead to greater risk-taking. Insurance premiums are probably the single biggest factor in the reduction of risk.

    There's a good story about the value of a chronometer that I haven't seen on NavList that I can recall. Back around 1815, John Jacob Astor was making his money in the tea trade with China. He would soon invest his money in Manhattan property and become America's first billionaire (adjusted to modern dollars). But at that time, the master of one of his tea clippers suggested that they should buy a chronometer to make their voyages safer and, above all, faster and more profitable. Chronometers were a great luxury on American vessels at that time, though they were becoming common on British vessels. When Astor saw the charge for $600 (a huge expense back then) on the accounts before the voyage, he drew a line through it and told the captain that he should buy the chronometer himself since the navigational equipment properly belonged to the captain, not the vessel. His captain, considered one of the best in the US, promptly quit and went to work for another shipping company. In the following months, this captain in command of his new vessel raced a clipper from Astor's fleet to China and back. Naturally, Astor lost the race (else it wouldn't be much of a story!), and when his cargo of tea arrived in New York, the price had been severely depressed by the earlier arrival of the other clipper. Astor supposedly lost some $40,000 on the deal --a true fortune. Famously, Astor with his Dutch accent later met his former captain on the street and asked "vat vas de cost of dat chronometer?" When told, he said it would have saved him many times as much if he had agreed to make that purchase. Supposedly, this was about as close as Astor ever came to admitting a bad decision.

    -FER
    PS: This Astor's great-grandson, John Jacob Astor IV, was lost on the Titanic. Engines save lives? :)


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