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The Endeavour Journal of Joseph Banks 1768–1771 [Volume Two]

August 1770

August 1770

1. During the Night it Blew as hard as ever; the Day was rainy with less wind but still not moderate enough for our undertakings.

2. Moderate and very rainy; great hopes that the Rain is a presage of approaching moderate weather.

3. In the morn our people were dubious about trying to get out and I beleive delayd it rather too long. At last however they began page 101 and warpd ahead but desisted from their attempts after having ran the ship twice ashore.1

4. Fine calm morn. Began early and warp'd the ship out, after which we saild right out till we came to the turtle reef where our turtlers took one turtle. Myself got some few shells but saw many Beautifull sea insects &c. At night our people who fishd caught abundance of sharks.

5. The Turtlers were again out upon the shoal and took one turtle. At 2 we weighd, resolvd to stand out as well as we could among the shoals, but before night were stoppd by another shoal which lay directly across our way.

6. Blew so fresh that we could not move but lay still all day, not without anxiety least the anchor should not hold.

7. During last night the gale had freshned much and in the morn we found that we had Drove above a League. Fortunately no shoal had in that distance taken us up but one was in sight astern and the ship drove fast towards it, on this another anchor was let go and much cable verd out but even this would not stop her. Our prospect was now more melancholy than ever: the shoal was plainly to be seen and the ship still driving gently down towards it, a sea running at the same time which would make it impossible ever to get off if we should be unfortunate enough to get on. Yards and Topmasts were therefore got down and every thing done which could be thought of to make the ship snug, without any effect: she still drove and the shoal we dreaded came nearer and nearer to us. The sheet anchor our last resource was now thought of and prepard,2 but fortunately for us before we were drove to the making use of that expedient the ship stoppd and held fast, to our great joy. During the time of its blowing yesterday and today we became certain that between us and the open sea was a ledge of rocks or reef just the same as we had seen at the Islands, no very agreable discovery, for should that at any time join in with the main land we must wait for another season when different winds from the

1 This is a passage that reflects Banks's impatience to get away rather than justice to the seamen. Cook's entry (pp. 364–5) reads, ‘Strong breezes and hazy untill 6 oClock in the Am when it Moderated and we unmoord, hove up the anchor and began to warp out, but the Ship tailing up on the sand on the north side of the River, the Tide of Ebb makeing out and a fresh breeze seting in we were obliged to desist and Moor the Ship again just within the barr’.

2 The sheet anchor was the largest of a ship's anchors, generally stowed on the starboard side behind the best bower. Cook says he had both bowers out, a whole cable on the small bower and two cables on the other; even after this the ship kept driving slowly until the yards and topmasts were struck, ‘then she rid fast’.

page 102 present ones prevaild;1 in which case we must infallibly be short of provisions or, if the turtle should fail us, Salt provisions without bread was all we had to trust to.

8. The night Dark as pitch passd over not without much anxiety: whether our anchors held or not we could not tell and maybe might when we least thought of it be upon the very brink of destruction. Day light however releivd us shewd us that the anchors had held and also brought us rather more moderate weather, so that towards evening we venturd to get up Yards and top masts.

9. Night and morning still more moderate so that one anchor was got up and we had great hopes of sailing on the next morn.

10. Fine weather so the anchor was got up and we saild down to leward, convincd that we could not get out the way we had tried before and hoping there might be a passage that way: in these hopes we were much encouraged by the sight of some high Islands2 where we hopd the shoals would end. By 12 we were among these and fancied that the grand or outer reef ended on one of them so were all in high spirits, but about dinner time the people at the mast head saw as they thought Land all round us, on which we immediately came to an anchor resolvd to go ashore and from the hills examine whether it was so or not.

The point we went upon3 was sandy and very Barren so it afforded very few plants or any thing else worth our observation. The Sand itself indeed with which the whole countrey in a manner was coverd was infinitely fine and white, but till a glass house4 was built here that would turn to no account. We had the satisfaction however to see that what was taken for land round us provd only a number of Islands: to one very high one about 5 leagues from the

1 This is Banks's summary of what must have been a considerable discussion amongst the officers about this time. It was plain that the reef had closed in, and that quite independently of the gale the ship was in a very difficult position. Cook is quite frank about his own perplexity: ‘After having well View'd our situation from the mast head I saw that we were surrounded on every side with Shoals and no such thing as a passage to Sea but through the winding channels between them, dangerous to the highest degree in so much that I was quite at a loss which way to steer when the weather would permit us to get under sail; for to beat back to the Se the way we came as the Master would have had me done would be an endless peice of work, as the winds blow now constantly strong from that quarter without hardly any intermission—on the other hand if we do not find a passage to the north[war]d we shall have to come [back] at last’.— pp. 369–70.

2 The Islands of Direction, now called South Direction, North Direction, and Lizard.

3 Cape Flattery. Cook (p. 371): ‘We now judged our selves to be clear of all danger having as we thought a clear open sea before us, but this we soon found otherwise and occasiond my calling the headland above mentioned Cape Flattery… .’

4 i.e. a building for the manufacture of glass, not a greenhouse; cf. the names the Glass Houses and Glass House Bay conferred further south.

page 103 Land the Captain resolvd to go in the Boat tomorrow in order to see whether the grand reef had realy left us or not.

11. As propos'd yesterday the Captn went today to the Island,1 which provd 5 leagues off from the ship, I went with him. In going out we passd over 2 very large shoals on which we saw great plenty of Turtle but we had too much wind to strike any. The Island itself was high; we ascended the hill and when we were at the top saw plainly the Grand Reef still extending itself Paralel with the shore at about the distance of 3 leagues from us or 8 from the main; through it were several channels exactly similar to those we had seen in the Islands. Through one of these we determind to [go] which seemd most easy: to ascertain however the Practicability of it We resolvd to stay upon the Island all night and at day break in the morn send the boat to sound one of them, which was acordingly done. We slept under the shade of a Bush that grew on the Beach very comfortably.

12. Great Part of yesterday and all this morn till the Boat returnd I employd in searching the Island. On it I found some few plants which I had not before seen;2 the Island itself was small and Barren; on it was however one small tract of woodland which abounded very much with large Lizzards some of which I took.3 Distant as this Isle was from the main, the Indians had been here in their poor embarkations, sure sign that some part of the year must have very setled fine weather; we saw 7 or 8 frames of their huts and vast piles of shells the fish of which had I suppose been their food. All the houses were built upon the tops of Eminences exposd intirely to the Se, contrary to those of the main which are commonly placd under the shelter of some bushes or hill side to break off the wind. The officer who went in the Boat returnd with an account that the sea broke vastly high upon the reef and the swell was so great in the opening that he could not go into it to sound. This was sufficient to assure us of a safe passage out, so we got into the boat to return to the ship in high spirits, thinking our danger now at an end as we had a passage open for us to the main Sea. In our return

1 Lizard Island.

2 One of these was Blepharocarya involucrigera F. Muell., collected on Lizard Island, named and renamed by Solander, unaccounted for by Bentbam, but not published until 1878.

3 No specimens of these lizards have been traced, nor has any description been found. No subsequent visitor to the island appears to have mentioned them and a collection made there in 1901 by A. E. Finckh (Johnston, Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W., 26, p. 214) contained only three very small lizards, three skinks and one gecko. It has been suggested that the island may have been inhabited by the monitor Varanus semirex Kinghorn, at present restricted to Coquet Island.

page 104 we went ashore upon a low Island where we shot many birds; on it was an Eagles nest1 the young ones of which we killd, and another built on the ground by I know not what bird, of a most enormous magnitude — it was in circumference 26 feet and in hight 2 feet 8 built of sticks; the only Bird I have seen in this countrey capable of building such a nest seems to be the Pelecan.2 The Indians have been here likewise and livd upon turtle, as we could plainly see by the heaps of Callipashes3 which were pild up in several parts of the Island. Our Master who had been sent to leward to examine that Passage went ashore upon a low Island where he slept. Here he saw vast plenty of turtle shells, and so great plenty had the Indians had when there that they had hung up the finns with the meat left on them in trees, where the sun had dryd them so well that our seamen eat them heartily. He saw also two spots clear of grass which had lately been dug up; they were about 7 feet long and shapd like a grave, for which indeed he took them.

13. Ship stood out for the opening we had seen in the reef and about 2 O'Clock passd it.4 It was about ½ a mile wide. As soon as the ship was well without it we had no ground with 100 fathm of Line so became in an instant quite easy, being once more in the main Ocean and consequently freed from all our fears of shoals &c.

14. For the first time these three months we were this day out of sight of Land to our no small satisfaction: that very Ocean which had formerly been look'd upon with terror by (maybe) all of us was now the Assylum we had long wishd for and at last found. Satisfaction was clearly painted in every mans face: the day was fine and the trade wind brisk before which we steerd to the Northward; the well grown waves which followd the ship, sure sign of no land being in our neighbourhood, were contemplated with the greatest satisfaction, notwithstanding we plainly felt the effect of the blows they gave to our crazy ship, increasing her leaks considerably so that she made now 9 inches water every hour. This however was lookd upon as a light evil in comparison to those we had so lately made our escape from.

15. Fine weather and moderate trade. The Captn fearfull of going too far from the Land, least he should miss an opportunity of

1 There are three species of Sea-eagles in Australia.

2 This was probably the nest of an osprey, Pandion haliaetus; see Mathews, Birds of Australia, V (1915-16), pp. 296–7.

3 Calipash, the upper shell or carapace of the turtle.

4 This opening through the reef is now called Cook's Passage. It is in latitude 14° 31′ S.

page 105 examining whether or not the passage which is layd down in some charts between New Holland and New Guinea realy existed or not,1 steerd the ship west right in for the land; about 12, O'Clock it was seen from the Mast head and about one the Reef laying without it in just the same manner as when we left it. He stood on however resolving to stand off at night after having taken a nearer view, but just at night fall found himself in a manner embayd in the reef so that it was a moot Point whether or not he could weather it on either tack; we stood however to the Northward and at dark it was concluded that she would go clear of every thing we could see. The night however was not the most agreable: all the dangers we had escapd were little in comparison of being thrown upon this reef if that should be our lot. A Reef such a one as I now speak of is a thing scarcely known in Europe or indeed any where but in these seas: it is a wall of Coral rock rising almost perpendicularly out of the unfathomable ocean, always overflown at high water commonly 7 or 8 feet, and generaly bare at low water; the large waves of the vast ocean meeting with so sudden a resistance make here a most terrible surf Breaking mountain high, especialy when as in our case the general trade wind blows directly upon it.
16. At three O'Clock this morn it dropd calm on a sudden which did not at all better our situation: we judgd ourselves not more than 4 or 5 1’gs from the reef, maybe much less, and the swell of the sea which drove right in upon it carried the ship towards it fast. We tried the lead often in hopes to find ground that we might anchor but in vain; before 5 the roaring of the Surf was plainly heard and as day broke the vast foaming billows were plainly enough to be seen scarce a mile from us and towards which we found the ship carried by the waves surprizingly fast, so that by 6 o'Clock we were within a Cables lengh of them, driving on as fast as ever and still no ground with 100 fathm of line. Every method had been taken since we first saw our danger to get the boats out in hopes that they might tow us off but it was not yet acomplishd; the Pinnace had had a Plank strippd off her for repair and the longboat under the Booms was lashd and fastned so well from our supposd security that she was not yet got out.2 Two large Oars or sweeps were got

1 The charts referred to here are probably those in de Brosses's Histoire des Navigations aux Terres Australes, to which Cook refers more than once, and Dalrymple's ‘Chart of the South Pacifick Ocean’. I have discussed these maps, and the question as it presented itself to Cook, at some length in my Introduction to Cook I, pp. clvii-xiv.

2 We get the impression from this and the next reference to the long boat that the sailors were unconscionably slow, and perhaps inefficient, about their business. No sailor seems to have thought so; indeed Cook, in one of the versions of his journal, says the boat was ‘hoisted out very expeditiously’. The carpenter also was making a quick job of repairing the pinnace. The psychological point is that we are now reading a layman's journal: Banks had nothing to do on board the ship at this juncture but to wait and look on, and he may be excused for feeling that time passed very fast and that the actions of men were very slow. It was just when the ship was nearest the reef that Green the astronomer, assisted by Forwood the gunner, was taking observations; Green's remark on the situation (having remarked first that the observations were good) was merely that ‘We were about a 100 Yards from a Reef where we expected the Ship to strike every minute it being Calm and no soundings the swell heaving us right on’. —Cook, p. 378 n. So does professional habit conduce to fortitude.

page 106 out at the stern ports to pull the ships head round the other way in hopes that might delay till the boats were out. All this while we were approaching and came I beleive before this could be effected within 40 yards of the breaker; the same sea that washd the side of the ship rose in a breaker enormously high the very next time it did rise, so between us and it was only a dismal valley the breadth of one wave; even now the lead was hove 3 or 4 lines fastned together but no ground could be felt with above 150 fathm. Now was our case truly desperate, no man I beleive but who gave himself intirely over, a speedy death was all we had to hope for and that from the vastness of the Breakers which must quickly dash the ship all to peices was scarce to be doubted. Other hopes we had none: the boats were in the ship and must be dashd in peices with her and the nearest dry land was 8 or 10 Leagues distant. We did not however cease our endeavours to get out the long boat which was by this time almost accomplishd. At this critical juncture, at this I must say terrible moment, when all asistance seemd too little to save even our miserable lives, a small air of wind sprang up, so small that at any other time in a calm we should not have observd it. We however plainly saw that it instantly checkd our progress; every sail was therefore put in a proper direction to catch it and we just obse[r]vd the ship to move in a slaunting direction off from the breakers. This at least gave us time and redoubling our efforts we at last got out the long boat and manning her sent her a head. The ship still movd a little off but in less than 10 minutes our little Breeze died away into as flat a calm as ever. Now was our anziety again renewd: innumerable small peices of paper &c were thrown over the ships side to find whither the bo& agrave;ts realy movd her ahead or not and so little did she move that it remaind almost every other time a matter of dispute. Our little freindly Breeze now visited us again and lasted about as long as before, thrusting us possibly 100 yards farther from the breakers: we were still however in the very jaws of destruction. A small opening had been seen in the reef about a furlong from us, its breadth was scarce the lengh page 107 of the ship, into this however it was resolvd to push her if posible. Within was no surf, therefore we might save our lives: the doubt was only whether we could get the ship so far: our little breeze however a third time visited us and pushd us almost there. The fear of Death is Bitter: the prospect we now had before us of saving our lives tho at the expence of every thing we had made my heart set much lighter on its throne, and I suppose there were none but what felt the same sensations. At lengh we arrivd off the mouth of the wishd for opening and found to our surprize what had with the little breeze been the real cause of our Escape, a thing that we had not before dreamt of. The tide of flood it was that had hurried us so unacountably fast towards the reef, in the near neighbourhood of which we arrivd just at high water, consequently its ceasing to drive us any farther gave us the opportunity we had of getting off. Now however the tide of Ebb made strong and gushd out of our little opening like a mill stream, so that it was impossible to get in; of this stream however we took the advantage as much as possible and it Carried us out near a quarter of a mile from the reef. We well knew that we were to take all the advantage possible of the Ebb so continued towing with all our. might and with all our boats, the Pinnace being now repaird, till we had gott an offing of 1½ or 2 miles. By this time the tide began to turn and our suspence began again: as we had gaind so little while the ebb was in our favour we had some reason to imagine that the flood would hurry us back upon the reef in spite of our utmost endeavours. It was still as calm as ever so no likely hood of any wind today; indeed had wind sprung up we could only have searchd for another opening, for we were so embayd by the reef that with the general trade wind it was impossible to get out. Another opning was however seen ahead and the Ist Lieutenant went away in the small boat to examine it. In the mean time we strugled hard with the flood, sometimes gaining a little then holding only our own and at others loosing a little, so that our situation was almost as bad as ever, as the flood had not yet come to its strengh. At 2 however the Lieutenant arrivd with news that the opening was very narrow: in it was good anchorage and a passage quite in free from shoals. The ships head was immediately put towards it and with the tide she towd fast so that by three we enterd and were hurried in by a stream almost like a mill race, which kept us from even a fear of the sides tho it was not above 1/4 of mile in breadth.1 By 4 we came to an anchor happy once more to encounter those shoals which

1 Cook called this passage Providential Channel.

page 108 but two days before we thought ourselves supreamly happy to have escap'd from. How little do men know what is for their real advantage: two days [ago?] our utmost wishes were crownd by getting without the reef and today we were made again happy by getting within it.

17. As we were now safe at an anchor it was resolvd to send the boats upon the nearest shoal to search for shell fish, turtle or whatever else they could get. They accordingly went and Dr Solander and myself accompanied them in my small boat. In our way we met with two water snakes, one 5 the other 6 feet long; we took them both; they much resembled Land snakes only their tails were flatted sideways, I suppose for the convenience of swimming, and were not venomous.1 The shoal we went upon was the very reef we had so near been lost upon yesterday,2 now no longer terrible to us; it afforded little provision for the ship, no turtle, only 300 lb of Great cockles, some were however of an immense size. We had in the way of curiosity much better success, meeting with many curious fish and mollusca besides Corals of many species, all alive, among which was the Tubipora musica.3 I have often lamented that we had not time to make proper observations upon this curious tribe of animals but we were so intirely taken up with the more conspicuous links of the chain of creation as fish, Plants, Birds &c &c. that it was impossible.4

18. Weighd and stood along shore with a gentle breeze, the main still 7 or 8 Leagues-from us. In the even many shoals were ahead; we were however fortunate enough to find our way through them and at night anchord under an Island.5 The tide here ran immensely

1 There can be no doubt that these two snakes are the same two that Solander called Boa pelagica (p. 129); This name was subsequently used by Hermann, who received details of the specimens from the British Museum. Hermann ascribes the name to Gray, but so far as can be ascertained Gray's use of it must have been in manuscript only, and presumably borrowed from Solander. Hermann's publication in 1804 fulfils the requirements of the Rules of Zoological Nomenclature, but the name Boa pelagica was not used subsequently and has hitherto not been associated with any recognized species of sea-snake. Although the type specimens are lost, the details of them recorded by Solander in his Ms make it seem likely that they belonged to some species of Aipysurus, perhaps the one named A. duboisi by Bavay in 1869.

2 Cook refers to this shoal (p. 381) as a ‘low small Sandy Isle’, and implies that it was different from the reef, to which he sent the boats; he adds that ‘Mr Banks landed upon it and shott several small birds, call'd Nodies’. It is impossible to identify, and (to reconcile Banks with Cook) must have been part of the whole reef system.

3 This name still remains the same.

4 Cf. p. 20, n. 1 above.

5 One of those Cook called Forbes's Isles, after the Hon. John Forbes, one of the commissioners of longitude. The only geographical names Banks mentions in his running heads between coming within the reef again and his general ‘Account of … New Holland’ (p. 111 below) are Temple Bay, Cape Grenvile, Newcastle Bay, Endeavour's Streights, and Booby Isle. Cook, however, as we see from his journal and chart, bestowed them freely and conscientiously, and his journal at this stage is much fuller than Banks's.

page 109 strong which we lookd upon as a good omen: so strong a stream must in all probability have an outlet by which we could get out either on the South or North side of New Guinea. The smoothness of the water however plainly indicated that the reef continued between us and the Ocean.

19. Weighd anchor and steerd as yesterday with a fresh trade wind. All morn were much entangled with Shoals, but so much do great dangers swallow up lesser ones that these once so much dreaded shoals were now look[ed] at with much less concern than formerly. At noon we passd along a large shoal on which the boats which were ahead saw many turtle but it blew to[o] fresh to catch them. We were now tolerably near the main, which appeard low and barren and often interspersd with large patches of the very white sand spoke of before. On a small Island which we passd very near to were 5 natives, 2 of whoom carried their Lances in their hands; they came down upon a point and lookd at the ship for a little while and then retird.1

20. Steering along shore as usual among many shoals, Luffing up for some and bearing away for others. We are now pretty well experiencd in their appearances so as seldom to be deceivd and easily to know asunder a bottom colourd by white sand from a coral rock, the former of which, tho generaly in 12 or 14 fathom water, some time ago gave us much trouble. The reef was still supposd to be without us from the smoothness of our water. The mainland appeard very low and sandy and had many fires upon it, more than we had usualy observd. We passd during the day many low sandy Islands every one of which stood upon a large shoal;2 we have constantly found the best passage to lie near the main, and the farther from that you go near the reef the more numerous are the shoals. In the evening we observd the shoals to decrease in number but we still were in smooth water.

21. Running along shore with charming moderate weather, as indeed we have had ever since our second entering the reef. We observd both last night and this morn that the main lookd very narrow, so we began to look out for the Passage we expected to find between new Holland and New Guinea. At noon one was seen very narrow but appearing to widen: we resolv'd to try it so stood

1 Cook (p. 384) mentions seeing ‘many hutts or habitations of the Natives’ upon this island, ‘only a small spot of sand with some trees on it’ but no natives themselves. It was the southernmost of the Boydong Cays. The low barren shore Banks notes was that of Shelburne Bay.

2 The Cairncross and other islets, off Newcastle Bay.

page 110 in. In passing through, for it was not more than a mile in lengh before it widned very much, we saw 10 Indians standing on a hill; 9 were armd with lances as we had been usd to see them, the tenth had a bow and arrows; 2 had also large ornaments of mother of Pearl shell hung round their necks.1 After the ship had passd by 3 followd her, one of whoom was the bow man. We soon came abreast, from whence we concluded we might have a much better view than from our mast head, so the anchor was dropd and we prepard ourselves to go ashore to examine whether the place we stood into was a bay or a passage; for as we saild right before the trade wind we might find dificulty in getting out should it prove to be the former. The 3 Indians plac'd themselves upon the beach opposite to us as if resolvd either to oppose or assist our landing; when however we came about Musquet shot from them they all walkd leisurely away. The hill we were upon was by much the most barren we had been upon; it however gave us the satisfaction of seeing a streight, at least as far as we could see, without any obstruction.2In the Even a strong tide made us almost certain.

22. In the morn 3 or 4 women appeard upon the beach gathering shellfish: we lookd with our glasses and to us they appeard as they always did more naked than our mother Eve. The Ebb ran out so strong that we could not weigh till near noon. We had the Wind variable from N to W, the first time since we got the trade. Before we had proceeded far we met with a shoal which made us come to an anchor.3

23. In the morn calm: at nine however a small breeze sprang up on which we weighd and saild through a channel which had been found during the calm. At noon we were abreast of an Island which was white with the Dung of Birds; as we had little wind the

1 From the description given it seems unlikely that these ‘Indians’ were Australian aborigines, who did not use the bow and arrow or have mother of pearl shell ornaments of this kind. They must have been Melancsians.

2 Cook says (p. 387), ‘I did not doubt but what there was a passage’. They were on Possession Island, and it is curious how casually Banks records what was one of the great moments of the voyage. Cook again (pp. 387–8): ‘I now once more hoisted English Coulers and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took posession of the whole Eastern Coast [of New Holland] … by the name of New South Wales, together with all the Bays, Harbours Rivers and Islands situate upon the said coast, after which we fired three Volleys of small Arms which were Answerd by the like number from the Ship’—and, we learn from other journals, there was suitable cheering. But the significant thing is not so much the incorporation of New South Wales within the possessions of King George III as the safe completion of the most hazardous piece of navigation of the voyage, and the discovery of Endeavour Strait, a double achievement which might well be cheered.

3 The ship seems to have been upon the Rothsay Banks, the edge of which is the northern limit of Endeavour Strait.

page break
Pl. III. Banksia serrata Red Honeysuckle Botany Bay

Pl. III. Banksia serrata Red Honeysuckle
Botany Bay

page break page 111 ship was brought too we went ashore upon it and shot bobies1 till our ammunition was quite expended. I myself Botanizd and found some plants which I had not before seen. After we came on board the winds were variable and soon after calm and very hot. Water still continued very Shoal but the swell, which ran larger than any we had met with within the reef, gave us great hopes.

24. Swell continued and in the morn the Best bower cable was broke in weighing by it. The whole day was spent in fruitless attempts to recover the anchor tho there was no more than 8 fathm water.

25. This morn by the first sweep the anchor was recoverd and we soon got under sail and lost sight of land with only 9 fathm water. At dinner met shoals which made us anchor again;2 in the eve however found a passage out and saild clear enough of them.

26. Fine weather and clear fresh trade. Stood to the W and deepned our water from 13 to 27. At night many Egg birds coming from the W.

1 Hence the name Cook gave, Booby Island. It is likely that this was the Brown Booby (cf. 18 May 1770) since this is the only species Solander records (p. 23) from Australia, and it is the commonest species found here; two others do, however, occur in the area. The island now carries a light, as the landmark for the western entrance to Endeavour Strait, difficult to make from that direction.

2 The Cook Shoal.