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Book of the Week- 'Cook' by Rob Mundle

by Jeni Bone on 11 Feb 2014
Voyage of the Endeavour SW
Captain James Cook is one of the greatest maritime explorers of all time. Over three remarkable voyages of discovery into the Pacific in the latter part of the 18th century, Cook unravelled the centuries-old mysteries.

He solved queries about existence of Terra Australis Incognita - the great south land. He became the first explorer to circumnavigate New Zealand and establish that it was two main islands and he discovered the Hawaiian Islands for the British Empire.

He left the world an enduring legacy. Rob Mundle, bestselling maritime biographer of Fatal Storm, Bligh and Flinders, introduces us to an unlikely sailor in a teenage Cook who through the combination of hard-won skills as a seafarer, the talents of a self-taught navigator and surveyor, and an exceptional ability to lead and care for his men, climbed the ranks of the Royal Navy to achieve legendary status among all who sailed and mapped the world.

Written with colour, sweep and the authority of Rob's five decades as a competitive sailor, maritime journalist and broadcaster, this extensively researched biography of Cook will put you on the quarterdeck with the great navigator as he painstakingly guides his ship through dangerous, reef-strewn waters. You will also be alongside the captain when his ship is a wave-width away from annihilation - and at the helm at the start of an exciting new voyage.

In addition Mundle explores the voyaging life and travels of James Cookwith the intricacies and challenges of sailing his tall ship the Endeavour.

'What surprised me more than anything else was how close Cook and his man came to totally destroying their boat, about nine weeks after hitting the Endeavour Reef' he says. Cook was looking for a passage between the east coast and New Guinea, following the coastline up when they went aground on the Reef. They spent seven weeks repairing their boat in Endeavour River, which is now known as Cooktown, before heading off again.

'Up past Lizard Island, closing in on the coast, the current carried them in and they were one wave away from being smashed to pieces on the Reef. Banks and Cook would have died, along with all his men. We would all be speaking French now!'

Cook was a man who pursued a teenager's dream that evolved from a chance encounter in a small seafront village on the east coast of England. It was a dream that became a reality and transported him to legendary status among all who mapped the world, on land and sea. Only the fifteenth-century explorers, Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama can stand alongside him as explorers and seafarers of global acclaim.

'Cook was a genius,' says Mundle, who has lived and breathed the great man for over a year. 'He was the first person to circumnavigate the world twice, east to west and then west to east, and explore both the Arctic and Antarctic Circles. His ship was covered in ice and snow, the sails froze over placing tremendous weight on the rig. These are things that most people don't associate with Cook.'

Through the combination of hard-won skills as a seafarer, the talents of a self-taught navigator and surveyor, and an exceptional ability to lead and care for his men, Cook helped change the shape of the world map more than anyone else.

Captain James Cook met his demise in Hawaii, a death which is generally not accurately recorded, says Mundle. 'Cook was viewed as a God to the Hawaiian natives. They associated him with the harvest season, they feted him and fed him, celebrated his arrival. He then left, but when he returned a short time later, they took him to be a sham, thinking he just wanted to take their food. They were struggling because of a dry season. The mob soon became unruly, so Cook told the King to come down to the ship so they could talk away from this hostile atmosphere. Of course, the people thought Cook and his men were trying to kidnap the King, they got more agitated, Cook's men shot two of them, then one of the natives smashed Cook's skull in with a stone axe.'

Cook's body was eventually retrieved, in bits, and he was buried at sea. He was just 51 years old. His wife, Elizabeth lived to 94, but none of their six children produced any heirs to Cook's name.

It was said upon his death: 'His general knowledge was extensive and various... the most determined resolution, he pursued his object with unshaken perseverance... Cool and intrepid among dangers : patient and firm under difficulties and distress... In every situation he stood unrivalled and alone; on him all eyes were turned: he was our leading star, which at its setting left us involved in darkness and despair'.

If you can't find the book in your local marine book store, you can purchase it online by clicking here.

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