Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union

Drifting derelict trajectories in the North Atlantic



In December 1883 the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office, a branch of the Bureau of Navigation of the Navy Department, began to publish monthly Pilot Charts. Earlier, oceanographer M.F. Maury had produced some summary survey charts showing ocean currents, winds, sailing routes, and the locations of whales. The new charts were unique in that they showed updated positions of derelict vessels and other drifting debris. From this series of positions of identified derelicts the first ocean trajectories were obtained. Much of this information has been forgotten during the last 100 years, and good collections of the Pilot Charts are rare. (The only complete collection that I could find is held by the Defense Mapping Agency.) This article is a recompilation and description of these early trajectories and a reminder of the usefulness of the Pilot Charts. It also provides a glimpse of a little known part of maritime history, the last days of wooden sailing vessels.