For a project, I must re-create a journal of a [made up] 16th century explorer. They were a sailor who sailed to the Pacific Ocean via the Cape Horn route in the 16th century, similar to Willem Schouten. What sorts of things might they document in their journal? The weather? Their food stores? Their route?


Why not read Willem Schouten's own journal translated into English?


Shewing how South from the Straights of Magelan, in Terra Del-fuogo: he found and discouered a newe passage through the great South Sea, and that way sayled round about the world.

Describing what Islands, Countries, People, and strange Aduentures he found in his saide Passage.


a north north east wind and faire whether, and the 29. the Maister and Marc••nt of the Horne came abord the Vni∣tie to agree together about order to be taken vpon the 4. of Iuly, for sharing of our victuales, according to the man∣ner and custome vsed in shippes that sayle long voiages, where they deliuer the saylers their meate and drinke by waight, and measure, to euery man alike and according to his qualitie.

The 4. of Iuly, according to the aforesaid resolution, it was ordred that euery man should haue a can of beere a day, 4. pound of bisket, and halfe a pound of butter (be∣sides sweete suet) a weeke, and fiue cheeses for the whole voiage.

The 8. being vnder 39. degrees and 25. minutes right against the Bassels, our carpenters Mate dyed.

The 9. and 10. with a north and north east winde and a stife gale, the 11. we had a sight of Porto Santo and Ma∣dera, and held our course east.


The 3. in the afternoone, the Horne being made cleane vvas lancht into the water againe, and our master went out to fish, in the euening bringing a great shole of fish with him, in fashion like to a shoemakers cutting knife, and euery man 150 Limonds for his part.


The and 16. our men went continually on land to seeke for water, but found none, euery day bringing good store of birdes and fishes on boord.


There we saw extreame great Sea-Mewes, bigger of bo∣dy then Swannes, their winges being spread abroad, were each of them aboue a fathom long. These birds be∣ing vnaccustomed to see men, came to our ship, and sat thereon, and let our men take and kill them.

And so on. Wind, weather, food, position, hunting, going ashore, people dying...

If you can read German or Latin, you can even read Willem Schouten's originals at archive.org.

More journals and writings of 16th century explorers are available translated into English.


It depends on the explorer. Exploration was done by very different people, and for most of them, exploration was not the principal goal. Some were traders, others pirates. Many expeditions had a military character.

Most ship captains would routinely record daily the state of the weather, the state of the sea and air, the course of the ship, especially all changes in weather and course, astronomical observations whenever any were made, and all events they thought worth mentioning. They would describe the shore/islands/people if they thought that new places had been discovered. Some journals of Columbus, Barentsz and others are available, you may check.

  • Not daily - but every 30 minutes on the bell and turn of the (half-)hour glass.There were numerous tasks to be done each half hour in maintaining a proper log, and the ringing of the bell alerted the various officers on watch to make and record the assorted measurements. – Pieter Geerkens May 4 '18 at 2:10
  • Wind speed and direction; current; ships's speed, heading, leeway (angle between centre-wake to stern and ship mid-line), and sail settings; visual debris on the water; marine and avian life visible; all were critical facts to be recorded assiduously. – Pieter Geerkens May 4 '18 at 2:13
  • Whenever in shallow water the ship would also record soundings (depth and consistency of bottom) frequently, perhaps every 20-30 seconds when over a shoal. The officers would also practice their drawing and water-painting regularly by recording any visual iamge of note, including all harbours and land masses. – Pieter Geerkens May 4 '18 at 2:17
  • From Preface to Cook's Journal: "Besides Cook’s Journals there are other Journals and Logs of the voyage extant. Perhaps it may be necessary to state that a Log is the official document in which the progress of the ship from hour to hour is recorded, with such official notes as the alteration in sail carried, expenditure of provisions and stores, etc. A Journal contains this information in a condensed form, with such observations as the officer keeping it may feel inclined to insert." – Pieter Geerkens May 4 '18 at 2:24
  • 1
    Yep - but not much had changed other than having chronometers (though that was a really big advance).. Most of the science was well established by Columbus' time, thanks to Prince Henry (*the Navigator) of Portugal. Knowledge of magnetic variation might not have been known much before Cook, much as the discovery that "Timid Virgns Make Dull Company" had to wait another 50 years. – Pieter Geerkens May 4 '18 at 2:31

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