June 22 - July 8, 1973

[Canberra - Eclipse Day]

On June 22, 1973 the fully booked Canberra departed from New York City to position itself off the coast of West Africa to intercept one of the longest total solar eclipses of modern times.

On June 30, 1973, 2600 people aboard the Canberra's Voyage to Darkness rendezvoused with eclipse totality in the mid-Atlantic.

This was one of two ships the Pedas-Sigler eclipse cruise organizers sent into the path of totality. Twenty minutes earlier 850 people had witnessed the eclipse aboard the Cunard Adventurer's Caribbean Eclipse Cruise which was positioned in the mid-Atlantic.

[Path of June 30, 1973 eclipse]

On the morning of June 30 as the moon moved in front of the sun, the moon's shadow raced across the earth, causing more than a 100-mile wide path of totality — the condition of total eclipse — which started off the South American coast, moved east across the Atlantic Ocean and the African continent (from Mauritania on the west coast to Kenya on the east) and came to an end somewhere over the Indian Ocean.

The Canberra's decks were renamed "tripod national forest." The New York Times. headline story records the event:

"…A great shout went up from the 2600 people on the upper decks of this ship as the final crescent of sunlight shrank into a brilliant diamond on the edge of the black lunar disk, then vanished. Thousands of instruments from giant one-ton telescopes to small hand-held cameras were aimed at the spectacle."

The Canberra's distinguished lecturers assembled by the Pedas-SiglerVoyage To Darkness organizers included, among others, Neil A. Armstrong, the first man on the moon, and Scott Carpenter, the second American to orbit the earth.

Isaac Asimov, the prolific science writer chronicled his first eclipse experience in his autobiography In Joy Still Felt. In a subsequent letter, he wrote,

"I was on the Canberra en route to the shores of Africa to see a total eclipse of the Sun. The trip there and back included 16 days of lectures and astronomy-related activities. Ted Pedas was Education Director of the cruise and it was owing to his organizational ability and endless hard work that everything went as smoothly as a well-oiled machine. Years later, I still meet people who recall the cruise and the success it was. Never did so many people have so steadily good a time without any of the activities usually associated with a cruise. They were being educated and loving it."

The enviable lecture staff was rivaled by the passengers themselves—teachers, artists, authors, actors, architects, presidents of planetariums, universities and corporations — residents of nearly every state in the United States and of eight foreign countries. Eclipse devotees included Dr. Karl Ziegler '63 Nobel winner and Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, the authoress of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series. Her book, The Bobbsey Twins on The Sun-Moon Cruise was patterned on the Canberra experience.

Supplementing the Science At Sea and Culture At Sea educational programs, was Captain Eric Snowden's impromptu 'Rescue At Sea.' The drama began when the ship's radio officer intercepted an emergency call to rescue a 63-year-old stricken seaman who had suffered a series of heart attacks aboard a freighter. "You may have noticed that we have changed course," the captain told thepassengers over the public address system as the two ships headed for a 2AM rescue rendezvous. The event was reported in The New York Times as follows:

" … Scientists and students aboard this ship returning from a rendezvous with the solar eclipse last Saturday, combined their skills today and improvised a defibrillator for emergency treatment of a stricken seaman removed from an American cargo vessel in the mid-Atlantic. A pickup team of students, astronomers, physicians and electronics specialists from among the eclipse-watchers went to work with the ship's medical department. In improvising the defibrillator, the passenger experts, working in cooperation with the ship's staff, used antenna system, plates from a television camera, tripod, screwdrivers with insulated handles, diodes from the kit of a Florida skywatcher and power determinations from the pocket calculator of a Canadian electronics expert. They also used an oscilloscope from testing equipment brought by scientists from the State University of New York at Albany to provide the ship's surgeon with a continuous display of the patient's heart function."

In its August, 1973 issue, SKY AND TELESCOPE reports that the 45,000 ton Canberra, on which the eclipse buffs had traveled nearly 7300 nautical miles, served as a "floating mini-university for two weeks. From early-morning bird watching to late night star-gazing, some 40 experts lectured on science, culture and the fine arts."

Bay Stewart Leber, editor of the The Honolulu Star Bulletin recorded this thought about the African Eclipse Cruise:

"There would be other eclipses, but, to all of us on Canberra, there will never be a shorter or more glorious 5 minutes and 44 seconds than our rendezvous with the cosmos this morning, June 30, 1973."

As always, wherever eclipse buffs gather, the Canberra lives on, golden and true, with the recounting of the magnificent African Eclipse Cruise adventure which proved to be much more than a predictable solar phenomenon.

[Lecturers and Staff]

View Eclipse '73 Science at Sea Lecturers and Staff


[African Eclipse brochure]
A Unique Invitation from Ted Pedas and Phil Sigler

Dear Eclipse Enthusiast,

On June 30, 1973 passengers aboard a floating scientific hotel will observe and record the longest total solar eclipse for the next 177 years.

Departing from New York City, the luxurious P&O cruise ship, Canberra, will rendezvous at sea with eclipse totality off the coast of Mauritania, West Africa.

The fifteen day adventure aboard the British liner offers AFRICAN ECLIPSE CRUISE—VOYAGE TO DARKNESS voyagers the unique opportunity to become involved in stimulating scientific, cultural and educational experiences, while enjoying social and recreational activities. Land tours at Tenerife in the Canary Islands and at Dakar, Senegal will give passengers the opportunity to explore exotic sites.

Passengers aboard the first Eclipse '72— Voyage to Darkness last July found it most rewarding to share common experiences with adventurers of similar interests. As the eclipse cruise progressed and totality was won, a high spirit of camaraderie engulfed passengers and crew alike. If you would like to participate in and contribute to an even more exciting and memorable sequel then join us on our second Voyage to Darkness as we sail into totality and beyond.

Ted Pedas and Phil S. Sigler

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