All my life I have read about the great sailing adventures of people like Columbus and Magellan but it was not until 18 years ago that I came across the story of John Harrison and his four great Sea Clocks. It was a startling reminder, a revelation really, that all the early voyages of discovery were done aboard ships that were lost at sea. These explorers sailed without the knowledge of their longitude. Indeed it is why Christopher Columbus believed he was in the Pacific when he really was in the Atlantic. Reading Harrison’s story captivated me because he saved lives, changed the world and altered history simply by building a clock.
He changed my life too for on that day 18 years ago I decided to build a replica of Harrison’s 18th Century clock, now called H1, and navigate the Atlantic with it. I’m a retired engineer and while in high school I was an apprentice to my Dad, a tool and die maker. I figured I had the bag of tricks to build this clock quickly. But in fact it has taken years of research including visits to the Library of Congress and the Greenwich Museums. I also had to master modern mechanical design software and invest in a CNC milling machine in order to build my clock within a reasonable period of time. I have now completed a beautiful time machine---eighty pounds of brass and wood, almost three feet across. It’s simultaneously both elegant and homely sporting a set of eight brass balance finials, which look as if they were stolen from the curtain rods in Harrison’s living room.
I am now traveling the country giving lectures and writing articles about my machine. Next year is the 300th anniversary of the passage of the Longitude Act and the creation of the Board of Longitude, the government research agency that started it all. I have the clock; does anyone out there have a tall ship?