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Sunday, August 2, 1998 Published at 06:37 GMT 07:37 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Retracing Captain Cook's final voyage

Vancouver did not even exist as a proper settlement in Cook's day

A British expedition is retracing Captain James Cook's final voyage along the Pacific coast of North America.

Kevin Goulding, Mark Carter and Emma Pryke have spent months examining the explorer's 18th century journals and will spend the next six weeks following his 1,000 mile trail in two inflatable boats.

The reason for the trip is part historical, part ecological and part anthropological.

BBC correspondent Ian Gunn met the trio shortly before they set off on Saturday night from the Canadian port of Vancouver.

The team hope to cover 100 miles a day in two rigid inflatables powered by outboard motors, something which was not available to Cook when he explored the wild west coast of Canada and Alaska, then part of imperial Russia.

Unspoilt wilderness

The idea is to see how much has changed in terms of landscape, environment and ethnicity.

In Cook's day, Indian tribes vastly outnumbered white settlers on the wild Pacific coast.

But things changed massively in the 19th century with the onset of the great Yukon gold rush.

Capt Cook kept detailed notes of his explorations and the expedition team hope it will make comparisons easier to make.

Cook's party travelled up the Canadian coast as far as Juneau in 1778. They broke off and travelled across to Hawaii where the explorer met his death at the hands of hostile natives in 1779.

Whale watching

When they reach Alaska, the trio plan to study the whales in the Bering Sea. Whale watching has become a booming tourist industry and there are suspicions the people flocking to Alaska's icy waters might be scaring away the whales.

The expedition will look for scientific evidence of this claim.

Whereas Capt Cook's chronicled his voyage in a journal using an ink-dipped quill, the modern day explorers will immediately type up their notes and post them on a special Internet site.

How much the rugged coast has changed should be clear when the team returns to Vancouver - named after Cook crewman George Vancouver - in early September.

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