The chronometer was the most important instrument on board. Without the chronometer, shipwreck was a real possibility. It was the only means of determining the ship’s longitude. For many centuries sailors had been getting wrecked because they didn’t know where they were, with only Sun, Moon and stars to guide them. The problem came to a climax in 1707 when four British warships were wrecked on the west coast of England with the loss of about 2000 men, one of the worst maritime disasters in history. The British government were so enlivened by this event that they offered a huge prize for anyone who could solve the problem of longitude at sea. An amateur clock-maker named John Harrison won the prize but he had to fight to actually collect the prize money, and then only got part of it. Dava Sobel’s book Longitude, tells the story.
John M. Reagan