20 April 2009

Shiny new Beagle Project video reel (with added me)

I'm this close (imagine me holding my thumb and forefinger about a femtometre apart) to replacing ye olde Splashcast player that currently resides in our sidebar for a far more web2.0-friendly alternative, Embedr, which takes not only YouTube but Vimeo too. So with no ado whatsoever, here's our new Beagle Project video reel.

The fourth video in the playlist is my hour-long lecture "The Voyages of the Beagles", which I was invited to give for the Natural History Museum members' events series. It's 54 minutes, so you'll need popcorn. *blushes, shuffles feet and clicks "publish"*

16 April 2009

Video birthday card to astronaut Mike Barratt

Today Beagle Project collaborator astronaut Mike Barratt is celebrating his 50th birthday aboard the International Space Station. To thank him for all the great work he's done aligning NASA and the Beagle Project we thought we'd record him a birthday message. Mike is a great fan of Captain James Cook and Charles Darwin, so we came to Cook's maritime home of Whitby and the Natural History Museum in London which is a haven of all things Darwin to wish Mike many happy returns:

Birthday in space from Beagle Project on Vimeo.

Drop everything

...and go to 17:40 in this video:

I am going to go hyperventilate now for about 8 hours but when I come back I hope to be able to provide some commentary more astute and articulate than "OMG Squeeeeeeeeee!" which is about all I can muster at the moment.

Keel Overhauled: 175 years ago, a rather ticklish operation

In early 1827, during her first voyage in South America, HMS Beagle, under the command of Captain Pringle Stokes, was beating a hasty retreat from storms in the Strait of Magellan when she struck a submerged rock near Port Desire, damaging a large section of her false keel. In December 1833, during her second voyage under Captain Robert FitzRoy, Beagle was leaving Port Desire when she once again struck a rock. FitzRoy was convinced that it was the same rock. Charged with accurately mapping the South American coast for shipping, the ever-fastidious captain returned to the spot the following month to try to locate the rock, but to no avail. The ship's carpenter, Jonathan May, assured FitzRoy that Beagle must have knocked the top off the rock with her keel.

Being about to pass through the Strait of Magellan, FitzRoy did not want to risk having a damaged hull on his ship. Although Beagle was still watertight, any damage to her copper sheathing would leave her timbers open to attack from the South Pacific's notorious wood-boring worms.

One of the books in Beagle's well-stocked library was the sealer and Antarctic explorer James Weddell's snappily entitled:

A voyage towards the South Pole performed in the years 1822–24. Containing an examination of the Antarctic Sea, to the seventy-fourth degree of latitude; and a visit to Tierra del Fuego, with a particular account of the inhabitants. To which is added, much useful information on the coasting navigation of Cape Horn, and the adjacent lands.
Weddell's book did indeed contain much useful information. In one section about the Santa Cruz River he wrote, "The rise of the tide is so great in this river, being thirty-two feet, that the keel of the largest ship may be examined, by laying her on the ground". FitzRoy decided it was time to inspect Beagle's keel. He made for the Santa Cruz and, 175 years ago today, on 16th April, 1834, Charles Darwin recorded in his Beagle Journal:
16th The Ship was laid on shore; it was found that several feet of her false keel were knocked off, but this is no essential damage; one tide was sufficient to repair her & after noon she floated off & was again moored in safety. Nothing could be more favourable than both the weather & place for this rather ticklish operation. —
The event gave us one of the most iconic images of HMS Beagle: this magnificent engraving based on a sketch by Beagle's newly installed artist in residence, Conrad Martens:
Beagle laid ashore
Beagle laid ashore, River Santa Cruz
To commemorate the event, FitzRoy named the spot at which they beached Beagle Keel Point. He calculated the point's latitude and 'relatively right' longitude to be: 50° 06' 45" S and 4h 33m 34s W respectively. This converts into decimal as 50.1125°S and 68.3917°W, the point indicated by the pin on this clickable Google map:

Google Map of 50.1125S 68.39166667W
The co-ordinates of Keel Point calculated by FitzRoy

FitzRoy's calculations were pretty spot-on. The beach with the jetty to the south west of the pin is still known as Punta Quilla (Keel Point). This modern photograph of the beach clearly shows the same low, crumbling cliffs depicted in Martens' image.

I wonder if the good people of Punta Quilla know how their beach got its name, and whether they will be celebrating its 175th birthday today.


13 April 2009

What should we tweet?

Thanks to everyone* who responded in comments, via twitter and on FriendFeed to my call for suggestions on how we should use our twitter account, @beagleproject.

Podcast 2. There will be a slight delay...

I just couldn't shut historian James Taylor up, but didn't really want to. He talked lots of good stuff about the hinterland (and hintersea) of the Voyage, so I'll probably carve it up into two podcasts. First part will be up for your delectation tomorrow.

12 April 2009

'Leading academic' to Welsh Assembly: fund the Beagle Project

Professor and blogger (a rare breed) Dylan Jones-Evans, Director of Research and Innovation at the University of Wales and visiting chair of entrepreneurship at the Turku School of Economics has publicly prodded the Welsh Assembly to "help secure funding for" The HMS Beagle Project.

From WalesOnline.co.uk:
Professor calls on Welsh Assembly to support NASA Beagle project
Apr 11 2009 byRachael Misstear, Western Mail

A leading academic* has urged the Welsh Assembly Government to help secure funding for the Nasa-backed Beagle project.

The ambitious £5m science project aims to recreate a full-size version of HMS Beagle – the ship that carried Charles Darwin around the world almost 180 years ago.

The Beagle Trust plans to build a replica of the 19th-century vessel in Pembroke Dockyard, and use it to research the effects of plankton on the world’s oceans.

Having secured backing from Nasa, it will be guided to algae blooms across the globe with the help of astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

But Professor Dylan Jones-Evans, who chairs the Welsh Conservatives’ funding commission, said he fears if the majority of funding comes from outside of Wales, the opportunity to lead the project will be missed.

Prof Jones-Evans, director of research and innovation at the University of Wales, added that Wales cannot afford to miss out on the long term investment.

One of the Beagle project’s founder members David Lort-Phillips, a scientist and regeneration expert** from Lawrenny, Pembrokeshire, said some funding had been secured from the British Council under their special Darwin Now programme.

But he added: “It would be a great shame if we could not launch this project as something that has been born and nurtured in Wales."
*Of course I mean absolutely no disrespect to Professor Jones-Evans when I say: is 'leading academic' anything like 'area man'?

**A correction from David Lort-Phillips : “[the] article says I am a scientist but this I am not. I have however worked over 25 years through the Pembrokeshire Enterprise agency (of which I was founder chairman) to support business formation and help the growth of SME’s in this part of Wales."

10 April 2009

Make a Good Friday better....

by getting your ears around our first podcast. It's full of sciency goodness. But sailors do not despair, there is some rich scuttlebutt coming your way in Podcast 2, where the guest will be maritime historian James Taylor. James is a former curator at the National Maritime Museum and author of The Voyage of the Beagle: Darwin's extrordinary adventure aboard FitzRoy's famous survey ship, reviewed here.

We'll be covering (among other things) why did Beagle really go on the 1831-36 voyage and exploring Captain FitzRoy's little known enthusiasm for art.

9 April 2009

Main site down...

The Beagle Project main site and email are offline, apologies if you've gone over there or sent an email. I am on the support-ticket savaging case.

And (after 12 hours swearing at a series unresponsive Techost support ticket screens) we're back.

8 April 2009

A would be curate's egg.

Beagle's egg damaged by Darwin.

No, dogs have not started laying eggs, it is an egg collected from Maldonado in 1833 by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. Unsuprisingly, it is cracked.

Facebookery and Sylvia Earle...

thanks to Frances over at the Beagle Facebook site for reminding us about Sylvia Earle's prizewinning TED talk.

Her deepness says...
“I wish you would use all means at your disposal — films! expeditions! the web! more! — to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”
Watch the film, it's chilling and stirring stuff.

The Australian Museum of Maritime History

is marking Darwin's 200th anniversary with an exhibition Charles Darwin - voyages and ideas that shook the world. Blurb from the Museum website....
In the 200th anniversary year of Charles Darwin's birth and 150 years after the publication of his famous evolutionary theory On the Origin of Species join Charles Darwin aboard HMS Beagle on the voyage of a lifetime. Explore the world of Darwin and his colleagues and see how their work continues on new scientific frontiers.

At the age of 22 Charles Darwin seemed destined to become a clergyman when in 1831 he was given an opportunity to sail to South America on the small survey vessel HMS Beagle. The five year voyage exposed the young Darwin to the stunning nature of the world, triggering ideas that would come to explain the origin of life on earth and shake society to its core. The Beagle voyage proved the seminal event in Charles Darwin's career, setting him on a path to become the most famous naturalist of the modern era.

Darwin's account of the Beagle voyage inspired other naturalists to join survey expeditions exploring the world. Two of these, Joseph Hooker and Thomas Huxley were influenced by their experiences in Australia and went on to become Darwin's staunchest supporters during the evolution debate and pivotal figures in the world of 19th century science.
The exhibition runs from 20th March to 23rd August 2009.

HMS Beagle arrived in Australia with Charles Darwin aboard on 12th January 1836, but has a whole other Australian life unconnected to Charles Darwin. Beagle returned to Australia on her third voyage to survey the west coast, leaving Woolwich in June 1837 and left Australian waters on 6 May 1843, arriving back in England on 30 September that year.

6 April 2009

The first Beagle Project podcast...

is an interview with Dr. Karen James, the BP's director of science. It goes all the way from low earth orbit to the classroom. So whether you want to know what a 170 year old ship has to do with science, why we'll be talking to the International Space Station and why a biology student in a classroom on a Tuesday afternoon should get excited about us, listen in.

It was recorded in the garden of BP director David Lort-Phillips on a lovely spring evening, and you can hear the local birds enthusiastically getting in on the act.

We're going to make podcasts a regular feature of the Beagle Project, so if you've got any ideas for podcasts, any comments, if you want to take part drop us a comment or email. OK. To establish a podcast feed, do we need the podcasts on a discrete blog? I've established a feedburner feed here, but don't want people getting fed whole blogposts when they're just looking for audio. Suggestions/solutions welcome until we go mad and establish The Beagle Channel.

5 April 2009

It's hell being a Beagle Project director...

Karen (director of science) working hard on depleting the world's coffee stocks and the new website while surrounded by laptops and Flip video recorders. All very web 2.0. We are working, honest.

4 April 2009

Resuming our voyage

Living near Whitby in North Yorkshire, the Beagle Project's Peter McGrath is understandably a bit of a Captain Cook groupie. Cook literally learned the ropes in Whitby, going on to become one of the greatest maritime explorers in history.

Two generations before FitzRoy and Darwin embarked on their famous voyage aboard HMS Beagle, Cook set off on his first major voyage around the southern oceans. Like FitzRoy years later, Cook was accompanied by a number of men of science, most notably the botanist and future president of the Royal Society, Joseph Banks.

I was reading about Banks recently and came across this rather magnificent portrait of him by Sir Joshua Reynolds. It was painted shortly after Banks's return from his voyage with Cook, and shows a dashing young man with the world, if not at his feet, then certainly at his left elbow.

In the portrait, Banks's hand rests upon a stack of papers, on the top sheet of which Reynolds has painted a Latin quotation from Horace Book I Ode VII:

Cras ingens iterabimus aequor

Horace's phrase translates into English as:

Tomorrow we shall resume our voyage over the mighty sea.

... I was just thinking, could you ask for a better motto for the Beagle Project?

Welsh science can take sail...

Article in The Western Mail and their Wales Online website.
Another Pembrokeshire-based initiative with links to Charles Darwin is the Beagle Trust project. This aims to build a replica of the HMS Beagle at Milford Haven to celebrate the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth, with the aim of undertaking his epic five-year voyage around the world.

The new Beagle, while being a traditional sailing ship, will have the latest scientific research equipment on board. Its mission will also focus on developing a greater understanding of biodiversity and climate change, providing an international focus for promoting a wider public understanding of science.

The development of the modern version of the Beagle will cost £5m and certainly with the business community going through a recession, there are real challenges for the fundraisers in getting sponsors interested in the project.

Written by Professor Dylan Jones Evans.

Parish notices...

We're in the middle of an HMS Beagle Trust board meeting, expect a newsletter by the end of the weekend.

3 April 2009

In which we meet Glendon Mellow of The Flying Trilobite

Beagle Project co-founder Peter Mc was recently here in Canada drinking maple syrup and wrestling polar bears, as one does, and had the most excellent idea of ringing up....er...contacting on facebook...Toronto artist and Beagle Project supporter Glendon Mellow!

Karen met him first at ScienceOnline09 in North Carolina, but it's not a competition, you know.

Yes, he's way too cool, but wait, there's more!

We've blogged about Glendon (and he's blogged for us) before, but in case you've been spending a year dead for tax reasons, Glendon writes the art-in-awe-of-science blog The Flying Trilobite , which both showcases his surreal paintings and explores the tensions and convergences of art mating with science. Get to know the interesting Mr. Mellow here.

Glendon and his lovely muse Michelle graciously accepted our invite to get together for some traditional St. Patrick's Day thai food, and a most pleasant evening ensued, complete with desserts you set on fire. Here we are with "George" in the background, courtesy of our waiter, who was suprisingly strict, for a waiter.

Glendon is a long time supporter of The Beagle Project. He promotes the Project on his blog, and generously donates a portion of the proceeds from sales of his Darwin Day portrait "Darwin Took Steps" (shown below).

Buy it here.

The rest of his redbubble reproduction shop here.

Gallery here.

Glendon is available freelance for editorial and book illustration, blog and web art, scientific illustration, concept design, tattoo design, (yes, he designed his own!) commissioned paintings and portraits. Contact him at theflyingtrilobite@gmail.com.

Thanks Glendon and Michelle, it was a real pleasure.

1 April 2009

What is the difference between HMS Beagle and RMS Titanic?

Answer: one is worth of £5 million of British public money, they other can be ignored.

HMS Beagle was an astounding success. It twice travelled to the southern hemisphere and once curcumnavigated the globe. Its passenger Charles Darwin revolutionized science, its Captain Robert FitzRoy established long range weather forecasting. This small ship single-boatedly changed world history for the better.

Titanic didn't even complete one voyage before it sank, killing 1500. It was badly designed, built and captained. Now, which ship would you think the British National Lottery's Heritage Lottery Fund would celebrate?

The world changing success that was HMS Beagle?

Or the epic, epic, epic failure, the Everest-sized mountain of stinking fecal failure, the utter collapse of design, engineering, seamanship and leadership that was the Titanic?

Which best exemplifies British maritime heritage, and is worthy of Heritage Lottery Fund money? Today we learn it is the Titanic. We (the HMS Beagle Trust) applied to the HLF some time ago and were told that they didn't fund replicas. We asked for some cash to get this project off the ground.

And yet today we learn that the HLF has dobbed £500,000 into developing the idea of a Titanic museum in Southampton. And if they do a good enough job of developing it, there's another £4.5 million on ice - sorry - to still further grow this monument and myth to all that is worst in British history.

Am I mad? Yes I am. Because part of this cash will go into a walk-on replica of the Titanic (don't do replicas, eh, HLF?). Why not just spend £44.95 on a Revell Titanic model and put in a bathtub of icecubes, it would be as instructive as putting money into this monument to failure, incompetence and death.

Now, we wish to build a seagoing modern HMS Beagle (which, despite the class's reputation egegiously failed to sink despite its Captains sailing it into the most dangerous seas in the world under sail alone). We wish to apply modern science to the work done by Darwin and Fitzroy. We wish to take young scientists aboard and inspire a new generation of scientists and sailors using Darwin and Fitzroy's examples, using modern comunications to spread our work and excitement into classrooms and labs. We wish to celebrate success, bring it bang into the 21st century and give young sailors and scientists from around the world the chance to step aboard a world-changing square rigger, feel the heave of the decks under their feet and the swell of hope and enthusiasm in their hearts.

Robert Ballard's finding the wreck of the Titanic is an event that will stay with me to my dying day. The most amazing acount was on the radio: I was there as he narrated the moments when the ROV worked its way up the debris trail, passing over pairs of shoes (all that was left of the dead), a china doll's face looking up from the seabed (causing heart attacks in the control room, you can guess why) and finally when the rusting steel wall of the Titanic reared out of the mud...it was amazing radio, a great piece of maritime exploration and archaeology.

In design terms Titanic was basically a clipper sailing ship shorn of its masts, bulked up on steroids with three engines, props and a load of coal bunged into her insides, three real and one mock funnel put on top (I've seen the plans of the old Harland and Wolff clippers, she was just that). Design fail.

The rivets they used to fix her together were brittle - too high a level of slag in the iron. The shipyard was strapped for cash at the time, way to save cash? Cut corners on materials. Build fail.

The Titanic's captain ran his ship at high speed into an area where he an accurate report and position of the very iceberg into which he steered. Now, I am a professional yacht skipper, as low on the foodchain as a professional sailor can be. However, I know that in the conditions Titanic faced that night you do not open the taps and crack on, no matter what your Company is trying to prove, you do not drive your ship fast through areas where there are icebergs. Skippering fail.

You do not let your ship leave the dock without enough lifeboats to take every man, woman and child aboard, even if a lot of them are inconveniently poor. Management fail.

You do not approve such a ship to sail with known faults and with a lack of lifeboats. Government fail.

That is the Titanic's fivefold fail (and that's before we get to the film and Celine Dion).

And as such, worthy of £500,000 of Heritage Lottery Fund development money, with another £4.5 million on the way if they exemplify the five fold fail well enough.

We need £5 million to build a new HMS Beagle, strangely the amount HLF is prepared to pledge to commemorate the honking egregious catastrophe that was the Titanic.

How did HMS Beagle succeed? Come Shakespeare, annoint my tongue and with thy golden numbers let me count the ways.

1. Didn't sink in one world circumnavigation (see 2 below), one trip to Australia, and one to South America over a 20 year sailing career. Threefold success.
2. Provided the platform from which Charles Darwin formulated the theory of Natural Selection, revolutionizing biology. Success.
3. Gave Captain Robert FitzRoy the observations and data which led him to become a great maritime meteorologist and found the - and the first - Met Office, saving thousands of sailors' lives worldwide. Success.
4. Charted huge areas of hitherto uncharted coasts and ocean saving thousands of mariners lives over the years. Success.

5. Damn, that little HMS Beagle, the coffin brig, the half tide rock, the 'not a particular ship', she worked. She crossed oceans, clawed off lee shores, sailed into harbours (no engines, sails only), lived through hurricanes, pitched in rough anchorages and survived knockdowns. Epic success.

So the Heritage Lottery Fund you fund? The bust. The design that failed the 500 odd from Southampton who died in that wreck, the other 1000 whose bodies drifted down through that cold two miles of sea and whose tanned shoes are all that remain. Celebrate!

The shoddy build that guaranteed their deaths. Commemorate!

The seamanship from the 'Millionaire's Captain' which drove that ill-found boat into that iceberg. Day skipper exam fail. £5 million public money fireworks!

What are you saying, just what are you damn well saying? Let the Brits design, build and sail your boat and we give you a myth, 1500 dead and a load of decaying rusticles on the Atlantic floor?

Or let the Brits design, build and sail a boat and we will sail it safely round the world which it will change? And you ignore it. Other countries with more paltry maritime histories have rebuilt and celebrated ships which did less.

HLF, which ship ever did more to add to the sum of human knowledge? Damn you in your offices, with your po-faced asservation that you don't find replicas. That Orkney Yawl? You funded that. This walkaboard Titanic failure. You're funding that.

You know where Titanic's wreck is? We know where Beagle remains are.
You have lots of letters? We have Beagle's logs, Darwin and Fitzroy's accounts of the voyage.
You have artefects? So do we (but not looted from graves: graves that the White Star Line and Harland and Wolff sought to distance themselves from. Contrast their evasions to Captain FitzRoy's logged lament for the death of young Musters. Oh, do you not know about that because Leonardo di Caprio did not ham up his death on the silver screen?). Darwin's thousands of specimens, Beagle timbers, microscopes, slides. Oh, and the theory of evolution. And the Met Office. And we have Darwin's words: "The voyage of the Beagle has been the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career."

HMS Beagle - a replica of which could even now be rising from a slipway with your help in this year, the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth - is a monument to success. Every time a biology student learns something new, a biology undergraduate nods in appreciation, a Ph.D. is conferred, a discovery is made, it is a peon to Darwin and to that little ship he sailed on.

Every gritty eyed time a sailor listens to the shipping forecast at 5.45 am, looks at a synoptic chart, makes a decision to sail, to stay in harbour or to reef a sail, it is FitzRoy and the Beagle that echoes down the years and across the waves. A cause for celebration. You said no. The new Beagle was not worth your money.

Yet the old Titanic is. Shame on you HLF. Burn your papers, cram the ashes in your mouths, then spit on your useless desks and smear the results on the doors of Whitehall and the history books of the nation. You celebrate failure.

(Please excuse any typos and slight incoherences in this piece. I am very cross. In fact I am as mad as a wet hen.)