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Captain’s Log: The Mile

Third Officer Tim researching information for the noon announcement.

We are currently a few hours west of the Azores and we have had a smooth, calm crossing — certainly amazing given the usual behaviour of the North Atlantic. The six sea days have been routine, but 3rd Officer Tim took the opportunity to spice up the noon reports with educational material, trivia and hockey playoff updates … oh, perhaps that came from me, eh!

Here is Tim researching material on “The Mile.” This particular subject was very well received by our guests, and certainly created a buzz around the ship. Below is the background material Tim dug up on the subject, which was used to extract the relevant points for the noon report.

“The Mile”

The mile, used as a measurement for distance, was first used by the Romans and denoted a distance of 1,000 paces or 5,000 Roman feet. A thousand paces translated to Latin is mille passus. Rome was a civilization that grew from a small agricultural community founded on the Italian Peninsula circa the 9th century B.C., to a massive empire which was the base for many measurements and words describing our current technology.

The mile has always been used as a measurement for distance, but it equals a big difference per mile. The range is between 1 and 10 Kilometers. Currently we are using two miles and they both have a different founding.

The statute mile goes back to the 13th century and originates from a statute of the English Parliament used for taxation of land for which a countrywide standard would be required to prevent regional arguments about length and area. In the late 1500s, accurate ground mapping was becoming commonly available, such as Saxton’s Maps of the English Counties. Therefore, a standard mile became more important than before, hence the Parliamentary statute. A statute mile is 5,280 feet or 1,760 yards. The reason for these rather irregular numbers is because a mile is made up of eight furlongs. A furlong is the length generally that a furrow was plowed before the horses were turned. Furlong can be translated to “furrow long.”

In turn, a furlong is 10 chains. The surveyor chain, used until laser rangefinders took over, equals 22 yards, and a yard is three feet, making up 5,280 feet. Twenty-two yards also is the length of a cricket pitch, a game originating in England. In modern times, the international statute mile is by international agreement defined to be precisely 1,760 international yards and is therefore 1,609.344 meters. The international statute mile is the same as the English Parliamentary Statute of 1592, which is eight furlongs, 80 chains, or 5,280 feet.

The nautical mile was originally defined as one minute of arc along a meridian, or in some instances any great circle of the Earth, although this distance varies depending on the Latitude of the meridian where it is used. On average a nautical mile is 6,076 feet or 1.15 international statute mile. In the United States, the nautical mile was defined in the 19th century as 6,080.2 feet which equals 1,853.25meters, whereas in Britain the
Admiralty, a nautical mile was defined as 6,080 feet which equals 1,853,18 meters and was approximately one minute of latitude in the latitudes of the southern United Kingdom. Other nations had different definitions of the nautical mile, but it is now internationally defined to be exactly 1,852 meters.

The nautical mile is almost universally used for navigation in aviation, maritime and nautical roles because of its relationship with degrees and minutes of latitude, and the ability to use the latitude scale of a map for measuring distance.

Until the moment we all started using the internationally agreed-upon standard miles, many countries had their own miles. Some examples are:

  • The Dutch mile or Hollandic mile which equals nearly the 19th part of a degree or 5.8 kilometers. Later on the Dutch mile or Netherlandic mile was another name for one kilometer when The Netherlands changed over to the Dutch metric system in the early 19th century.
  • The German mile was reckoned to be the 15th part of a degree, which equals exactly four nautical miles.
  • The Polish mile equals the Hollandic mile.

In addition, we also have the:

  • Data mile, also called radar mile, which is used in radar-related subjects and equals 6,000 feet or 1,828.8 meters.
  • Metric mile, which is used in sports such as track and speed skating to denote a distance of 1,500 meters.

Next to the mile, I mentioned the league — used by Christopher Columbus and recorded in his logbook. A league is also a unit of distance and could be explained as the distance a person or horse can walk in one hour. This measurement was very common in Europe and Latin America, although it’s no longer an official unit in any nation.

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