The way to the Transit of Venus

There are many ways to start a day. You can wake up, take the train and do your daily routine and that can be a great day. Alternatively, you can do what I did today.  After sleeping in a hammock, I woke up to a now-familiar voice, coming from a PA system.  By the time I was fully awake I had a harness on and was ready to climb 20 meters. It was not part of a dream; I spent the morning sailing on HMB Endeavour.  I am Carlos Bacigalupo and I’m the astronomer on the ship.

It was time to climb the rigging and our destiny was the fore mast.  An exciting, yet challenging, climb later I was leaning on the yard arm unfurling a sail, with an unforgettable view of Sydney Harbour. My two team-mates and I could not stop smiling at each other.  Several television helicopters circled us, recording our crossing though the heads for the news.

This adventure is only a small part of an expedition to observe the Transit of Venus on Lord Howe Island, the last time the planet Venus will cross the disk of the Sun for over a hundred years. The next transit will be in the year 2117. To embrace this opportunity we will stream live over the internet this June 6th, 2012.

It is our second day on the ship and we are heading to Lord Howe Island. It is an expedition undertaken in commemoration of Captain James Cook’s original voyage in the ship upon which this vessel is modelled – a voyage to observe the Transit of Venus in Tahiti.  As an astronomer, it is a privilege to be part of such an expedition. Dr. Alex Cook, the historian on the ship, and I are bringing together the two sides of this unique adventure that combines a rare astronomical event with a major historical one.

Learning how to sail a traditional tall ship is an amazing experience.  It is only when you are unfurling the sails from the top of the mast that you become really aware what it means to sail a traditional vessel, and how much skill and work it takes to keep her sailing.

The 18th-century flavour of the trip, and the excitement of observing the Transit of Venus, permeates every moment and I am looking forward to the next chapter.  It will be Dr. Cook sharing his side of this experience tomorrow.  Bye for now, Carlos Bacigalupo

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