In early August 1914, just days after Europe descended into the chaos of World War I, the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Otranto (wiki) set sail from Tilbury Docks, through the Channel, for Sao Vicente in the Cape Verde Islands. After a brief stop, she sailed on to the port of Pernambuco in Brasil. The weather was fine most of the way, apart from some heavy rains just South of Sao Vicente.
How do I know this? Why, I’m the Captain of HMS Otranto. Or at least, I have his logbook.
My inner history geek was delighted today at the launch of the new Zooniverse project I saw a sneak preview of at Science Online London last month. Old Weather is a collaboration between the Zooniverse team at the University of Oxford and the UK Met Office, and forms part of a wider effort to gather historical weather data.
Every 4 hours without fail, the Royal Navy seamen recorded the weather conditions in the ship’s log. These thousands of books are a treasure trove of information about the climate at sea. Volunteers are invited to help digitise this information by transcribing the logs of over 200 Royal Navy vessels.
The ship’s logs also contain records of other noteworthy events at sea – meeting another ship, calling at a port, a sailor failing ill, or more importantly given the era, enemy encounters. Online sailors can also record events like these.
This project is so much fun. The logs looks great, and in just a few hours I’ve become fascinated by everything boat-, history- and WWI-related. As with the other Zooniverse projects, the interface looks neat and fun with excellent visualisations of the data.
The Otranto is about to reach Pernambuco in Brasil. I can’t wait to see where it will go next, and what it will encounter on the way. Come join me Cadets!