gold rush settlers

Distance of the Brooklyn Voyage

by Lorin K. Hansen

I had written somewhere that the Brooklyn voyage was 24,000 miles. A Navy Captain challenged me on that number. He said it was unbelievable, because that was close to the circumference of the earth.

We will never know the exact distance of the Brooklyn voyage. However, someone in the telling and retelling of the story stated that the voyage was about 24,000 miles. And that number has been repeated frequently ever since. In the interest of accuracy, we need to recheck that number. I have now used the web site http://williams.best.vwh.net/gccalc.htm to calculate the distance of the Brooklyn voyage. I used their WGS84 earth model, which accounts for the fact that the earth is not spherical.

The latitudes and longitudes of New York City, Juan Fernandez, Honolulu, and San Francisco are known. Also some of the deaths during the voyage were identified by latitude and longitude. In addition, we are told that they went to 60 degrees south to go around the Horn. The storm off Valparaiso took them well back to the Cape. And between Juan Fernandez and Honolulu they hardly changed their bearing. Finally, I have some maps of voyages by sail in the ocean, so I know how much typical voyages go off great circle arcs to take account of the winds and the currents.

Putting all this together, I approximate their route as going through the following points:

  • New York City 40.47 N. 73.58 W.;
  • 37 N. 50 W.;
  • 19.30 N. 26 W.;
  • 3.16 N. 25 W.;
  • 3 S. 32 W.;
  • 43 S. 47 W.;
  • 60 S. 65 W.;
  • 60 S. 77 W.;
  • 33 S. 77 W.;
  • 40 S. 77 W.;
  • 33 S. 77 W.;
  • Juan Fernandez 33 S. 80 W.;
  • Honolulu 21.19 N. 157.50 W.;
  • 30 N. 150 W.;
  • San Francisco 37.46 N. 122.26 W.;

This calculation neglects small scale maneuvering near ports and tacking to the wind. The total I get is 21, 424 statute miles or 18,630 nautical miles.

This is why I hesitate to use the number 24,000 miles that I hear so often. If I had not put such a large regression in the storm down the coast of South America and had not put such a large “hook” on the trip into San Francisco to account for prevailing currents, the total would come closer to 20,000 miles.

Because of these calculations, in the future, I would like to recommend that we just say the Brooklyn voyage was more than 20,000 miles and forget the 24,000 figure.