22 July 2010

Project update and more FitzRoy

I've been on sabbatical so am just playing catch-up with my Beagle Project colleagues. Supporters are long overdue a project update and as soon as I have caught up with my Beagle Project fellow directors I'll be posting a while-I've-been-away catch up.

Many thanks to Karen James who has taken up my blogging slack. As readers will know she is being been brain drained home to the US which will in future benefit from her bright scientific lights. We aren't losing her to the Project but Britain generally and its science in particular will be the poorer for her taking her Maine chance.

More on Captain FitzRoy. According to Geekzone the NZ National Institute of Water and Atmospherics has just installed a whopping supercomputer to help with weather forecasting the IBM has been called FitzRoy because:

The supercomputer is called FitzRoy after Robert FitzRoy, a 19th century scientist, surveyor and hydrographer. He captained the Beagle on Charles Darwin’s famous 1831 voyage. He founded the forerunner to the UK Met Office (1854), was the second Governor of NZ from 1843 where he, among other things, insisted that the New Zealand Company pay Maori a realistic price for the land they claimed to have purchased. He was also the first person to do ‘data assimilation’ and produce a ‘weather forecast’.

21 July 2010

Good for Roger R and his

blog Charles Darwin's Beagle Diary.

Roger not only publishes Charles Darwin's diary entries during the Beagle Voyage for our improvement and amusement, he has started adding Captain FitzRoy's journal entries for which this sailor and FitzRoy fan says hurrah.

FitzRoy got Darwin safely around the watery globe in small ship and reading his journals reveals a scientist of no mean ability himself. One of the results I would like from the Beagle Project is that the ship helps enhance the reputation of Captain FitzRoy: he is all too often known as the moody, mentally unstable man who opposed Darwin's theory and eventually killed himself.

That may be so, but as anyone familiar with his story knows, he was a great seaman and his contribution to meteorology alone should assure his place in the history books. A Beagle Project page appreciating FitzRoy is long overdue.

17 July 2010

Spain's museum of human evolution

has a replica HMS Beagle, according to this article in the Irish Times.

The museum's website is here.

We are working flat out to see that the country that gave the world HMS Beagle and all the discoveries that flowed from her decks and crew has a sailing replica of this great ship too. We know times are tight, but if you have £5 million to spare there is little better you could do to help lighten the nationally austere mood than by helping us build and launch a sailing replica of the ship that changed the world.

16 July 2010

'Creation' out on DVD in the US

'Creation' was the film industry's nod to Darwin's 200th anniversary in 2009. As the blurb says:

From director Jon Amiel (The Singing Detective, Entrapment) and writer John Collee (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) comes CREATION. A psychological, heart-wrenching love story starring Paul Bettany (A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) as Charles Darwin, the film is based on “Annie’s Box,” (Guardian review here) a biography penned by Darwin’s great-great-grandson Randal Keynes using personal letters and diaries of the Darwin family. We take a unique and inside look at Darwin, his family and his love for his deeply religious wife, played by Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Requiem for a Dream), as, torn between faith and science, Darwin struggles to finish his legendary book “On the Origin of Species,” which goes on to become the foundation for evolutionary biology.

The film didn't get great distribution in the UK but failed to secure distribution at all in the USA so this is your chance to buy the DVD or download and see 'note perfect' Paul Bettany acting an anguished Darwin. The rather clumsy title refers to the 'creation' of the Origin of Species. If Bettany is half as good as his sub-Darwin performance as the physician and naturalist Steven Maturin character in Master and Commander, the film will be worth it for his performance alone.

Here's what BBC Radio 5 Live's bequiffed film critic Mark Kermode has to say on the matter:

If you've seen it, let us know what you think.

14 July 2010

Quiz: but which other boat did Darwin sail on?

Wiki answers helpfully tells you that Darwin sailed on the Beagle (can anyone have studied science or history at school and emerge not knowing that? Probably, I sometimes think Eeyorishly.) Having done what few mariners have achieved and circumnavigated the globe, Darwin only went to sea twice again in his life.

Where and why? Answers in comments, please.

13 July 2010

Spectator's Susan Hill recommends The Voyage of The Beagle

for summer reading.

The Spectator is a British conservative political magazine and is often a very good read, even if some of its columnists do occasionally get some intelligent designery and antievolution comment through its otherwise rational editorial net.

So good to see writer and Spectator blogger Susan Hill banging the drum for more people to read one of the greats of exploration and science: The Voyage of the Beagle.

Not everyone wants escapism in summer but escape, yes – in 1831 Charles Darwin escaped by sea and wrote a journal about it, The Voyage of the Beagle. If you expect it to be dry as dust scientific prose, you will be astonished at how vivid and fresh it is.. Darwin writes with life and colour. His encounters with all manner of wild life, much of which he promptly kills and preserves in the most non-PC manner, are extraordinary and the people he meets are written about in the same manner – as species under his microscope. This is a great classic true-adventure story.

10 July 2010

Another blow to British Maritime Heritage.

For the last few years, visitors to Whitby would see a town centre graced by the square rigger Grand Turk, a sailing replica of the 20-gun Royal Navy frigate HMS Blandford.

It certainly added something to the town, especially a town which gave so much to maritime exploration: visiting kids would demand that their parents pay to take them on the 'pirate ship' and they would spend a half hour or so marvelling at the masts and rigging, looking along the cannon and making loud broadside noises and shouting 'arrrrr'! (Right: Grand Turk entering Whitby Harbour and firing a cannon salute. The cannon actually blew up when firing this salute.)

Whitby is the maritime home of one James Cook and of many other less celebrated mariners. Cook insisted on Whitby-built ships for his circumnavigations and in the days of sail it was said that Whitby sailors were so zealous and hard working that every ship wanted one aboard. For a small town we have a lot to sailing history to brag about.

Yet the Australians built a the replica of Cook's Endeavour (left seen entering Whitby Harbour). It spent many happy weeks berthed here in Cook's maritime home but eventually, despite lukewarm efforts to keep it in Whitby it is now wowing the crowds and doing fine work in Sydney.

The Grand Turk was its replacement. Turk was a ship without a purpose: built as a film set, its work and income suffered with the introduction of CGI and she became uneconomic. Whitby was happy to offer her a cheap berth since the town was sorely missing a tall ship. She was put up for sale. Again, half-hearted efforts were made to keep her here but one March night, with little fanfare, Grand Turk slipped her Whitby moorings and set sail for her new berth in the bosom of the enemy she was built to fight: France. She will live in St. Malo, Brittany where she will do corporate hospitality, charter and film work.

Australia built and now run the replica Endeavour. France now runs Grand Turk. Another chance to use a sailing ship to inspire and educate a generation of children has slipped through our clumsy and uncaring British fingers.

Our young people need hands that can haul ropes as well as hands that hold games consoles. That's why we need a new Beagle gracing the ports of the UK.

Richard Keynes

I can't really add anything to Richard Carter's excellent obit of the man and Karen's comments on the wonder that was Richard Keynes' study*. So I'll add an anecdote.

In a previous life I was skipper of a sail training boat in Northern Ireland (a 56' Ohlund aluminium ketch that sailed like a witch for anyone interested in the details).

One of the few books in my cramped skipper's cabin was Richard Keynes' Fossils, Finches and Fuegians, his superb account of Darwin's voyage of the Beagle and its consequences. If you haven't read it, do try to track down a copy.

After a hard day trying to get a bunch of often arsy teenagers to love sailing in the boisterous Irish sea and fixing the boat as it fell apart around me, reading Darwin's cramped and seasick privations on the Beagle put my relatively comfortable seagoing life into perspective.

Until a certain lanky, charming Northern Irish lad (let's call him Eamon) came aboard and while off watch picked up Fossils, Finches and Fuegians and started reading. And didn't stop. 14, he had shown no interest in either science or history but something about Richard Keynes' book grabbed his tripes.

For the next two days has was all but useless as a crew member as his nose could not be removed from the book. He was utterly absorbed, and kept finding me to read extracts. He brought it into the cockpit to read when he was on watch (well he tried to...), he read it while walking around the boat. While on a lively passage from Campbelltown in Scotland to Belfast the boat fell off a wave and Eamon measured his length on the saloon floor with a crash, the book pressed between his stunned face and the heaving deck.

At the end of the voyage he gave me the book back, saying he'd try and buy one because he wanted to finish it. Well, I couldn't let such an obvious seed go unwatered, so I told him to wait a few days and emailed Randal Keynes, one of Richard's sons.

He told me that his father would be delighted to help and a few days later I was able to post Eamon my copy of Fossils, Finches and Fuegians inscribed to Eamon by the author along with a wonderful personal letter encouraging Eamon in his interest in the voyage and science generally.

I later met Richard Keynes along with my Beagle Project colleagues and he was every bit as much of a gentleman as his prompt and personal reply to my request suggested. His work on Darwin's notes and correspondence mean that those of us with an interest in Darwin's work can go right to the source.

We, those of us who value Darwin and his work, owe him a great debt. The world was better for his being and is lessened by his passing. One of the great shames of Darwin year in 2009 was that despite several requests HarperCollins declined to reprint Fossils, Finches and Fuegians. A great pity since no biology class and lab in this country should be without a copy. Who knows how many more Eamons might meet Richard Keynes' great grandfather through its pages, and fall in love with science or want to step aboard a boat and explore the great inner space of our oceans.

* Karen despite her protestations, behaved perfectly well in Richard Keynes' study. I, on the other hand, did just gaze around at the first edition books and original prints like a slack-jawed imbecile.

8 July 2010

Beagle Project Blog hiatus (duh)

As I'm sure many of you have noticed, over the last year or so The Beagle Project Blog has gone from a once-a-day blog to a once-a-week blog to a once-a-month blog. I'd like to think that all blogging hiatuses (hiati?) are planned out in advance but the truth is that sometimes they just happen: life gets in the way, enthusiasm ebbs, twitter scratches the writing itch.

So, at the risk of putting the hart before the corse here, I'm going to make it official: the Beagle Project Blog is on recess until October, when we will be leaping back onto the blogging scene with new energy, a new website, a TAM London presentation, a space shuttle launch and a Darwin and the Adventure reprise in Chile.

In the meantime, follow my tweets, or if you are overwhelmed by my tweet frequency, just my Beagle tweets, and if there's any really big news, we'll break the silence and post. <---shameless ploy to stop you from removing us from your RSS readers