The captain of every vessel must keep a log, a record-book of the ship. Where the vessel travels, the course it takes, notable weather patterns, and other navigational details are carefully recorded today as they were in the 1700s. Encounters with other ships, onboard guests, trips ashore, illness or conflict aboard ship, damages and repairs, deaths, and promotions are also logged. These basic details of sea-going life were one of the ways 18th century visitors to the Pacific Northwest passed on to their fellow mariners the navigational information they observed during their expeditions.
On June 2, 1789, English Captain James Colnett was sailing south from Prince William’s Sound. On that day, he wrote in his journal that “at Noon Lat. Observ’d 59°32’ Mount S Elias N44°W dist from the Shore under it & nearest Shore 8 or 10 Miles N point of the Low land & entrance to a Creek on the W side the Bay … got the main Top Gallant mast fiddled and set the sail Royal and steering sail a breeze sprang up from the westward.” The following day, he noted that “a Canoe with two men came off from the SE end of the Bay some presents were made them, they inform’d us they had got skins”.
This list of numbers and letters might seem difficult to interpret, but it is rich with exact information about the course of the expedition, what the wind conditions required in the way of sails, where they observed fresh water (“a Creek on the W side the Bay”), and an encounter with local people who came out to meet them in a canoe for the purpose of trade. After an expedition, a Captain would have amassed a valuable resource in the form of a log that would be reviewed by his superiors and might be published or interpreted to create charts.