A new breed of adventurer is roaming the globe. Armed with a GPS and an eye for a quirky mission, these men and women are seeking out the spots on the earth's surface where lines of latitude and longitude cross. Their aim - to create a picture of the world.
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By Christine Jeavans
BBC News Online
Alaska, 13 June 2000: The spot that Matt Taylor and Scott Kessel were seeking did not look far off the road on the map; surely it would take just an afternoon stroll before they could continue with their holiday.
Matt Taylor bags the first confluence in Alaska
But following the dirt trail into the undergrowth only led them to within one-and-a-half miles of their goal - and that wasn't close enough, not in this high precision game.
They tramped back to the road and tried again, hiking a sweaty four more miles in the humid Alaskan summer. Bushwhacking through the scrub, their GPS readers told them glory was a tantalising tenth of a mile away. That was when they hit the swamp.
The pair pressed on until Taylor was chest-deep in "surprisingly warm waters" and finally, triumphantly, the little machine confirmed that he was at exactly 62°N 150°W. They had bagged the first "confluence point" in Alaska.
These are destinations no tourist would seek out for their beauty: one is on a playing field in rural Brazil, another is under an anthill in Finland and yet another is in the grounds of the Hyundai plant south of Madras, India.
And those are the exotic ones - most points boast little more than a bit of scrubby ground and a tree.
But these confluence seekers are undeterred, for their goal is to photograph every such intersection on the planet, apart from those too far out to sea to be feasible, and post the images on the Degree Confluence project website.
The site is the brainchild of Alex Jarrett, 28, a web programmer from Massachusetts who became intrigued by latitude and longitude when he acquired a GPS in 1996.
"I was living in New Hampshire at the time and I crossed 72°W every day so I got to thinking where is the nearest latitude line and what might be there," he says.
"So a friend and I set off on our bicycles and found the point, took some photos and posted them on a little website that I set up."
No confluences have been visited in these countries.
DR Congo (189)
Soon friends and family got the bug. Then, gradually, people he did not know began e-mailing pictures and descriptions of confluences they had visited, and the project took off.
Seven years later and 2,521 confluences have been visited in 126 countries - leaving 13,625 still to be bagged. Wherever you are, there is a confluence point within 49 miles (79km).
While the confluence hunters are working towards a common goal, there is little doubt that a healthy dose of competition is involved, especially among the elite few whose visits run well into double figures.
The reigning confluence champion is Sicilian Peter Mosselberger, known to the world as Captain Peter. This idiosyncratic merchant seaman has clocked up 89 confluences from Russia to Argentina, Cameroon to Cuba.
His cargo routes have taken him past remote islands in the Atlantic, none more isolated than Ascension Island at 8°S, 14°W, a British territory known chiefly as a refuelling point for planes on their way to the Falklands.
Captain Peter made it to the remote Ascension Island point in his cargo ship
"There is nobody there, no-one visits this place. You can only get there by Royal Air Force. I am really proud of this one," he says.
However, he fears the project may never be completed because of the difficulty of reaching many of the points.
"I did try one in Nigeria which was the absolute craziest idea of my life," he says, describing how he turned tail when he saw an "idol fence" indicating a live sacrifice was required to go further.
Bagging in battle
Some confluence hunters do find a way, even in the midst of a war. The first of Iraq's 40 points was visited recently by US Army medics, although this provoked a backlash in some quarters.
British confluence seeker Gordon Spence, 44, has also been on military ground in his hunt for a point, this time on a high security munitions dump in deepest Cumbria.
One World: Which of these pictures is England, and which Honduras? Roll over to find out, or see below
Maps did not show the base itself, but after getting written permission from the camp commander to enter, Spence was escorted to the right area.
"When I got there I was given a little metal tag to wear - in case anything happened, I presume. "
Spence's personal goal is to visit every confluence in the UK. He has almost completed England and has four left to cover in Wales, making him Britain's top confluencer.
With most confluence points in Europe and North America already visited, confluence hunters are having to set their sights further afield if they want to be the first to get a mention on the Degree Confluence project website.
But, with 1,700 points in Antarctica alone, not to mention 185 in Mongolia and 340 scattered across the Indonesian archipelago, Alex Jarrett doubts his unique picture of the world will be completed "any time soon".
(The left hand image is Honduras 14N 87W, the right hand one is Somerset, UK 51N 3W)
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
There are around 2,000 people on Ascension Island. In addition to refuelling the RAF it is primarily a major relay base for the Americans. The BBC have a number of very large relay stations for Africa and South America, and it is used by the European Space Agency. The wildlife is varied including endangered green turtle and several species of bird unique to Ascension. (Additionally, Ascension is not a British Overseas Territory, it is a dependency of Saint Helena which is a British Overseas Territory.)
This is trainspotter meets world traveller meets art: trying to create an accurate and accidental picture of the world using latitude and longitude. I wish I had thought of that. I have friends I can visit in some of the as yet unattended confluences. I think I shall visit them!
Barbara Karayi, UK
OK, so this idea does sound a bit anorakky, but to me the idea of travel is to go somewhere to see what it's like, not to go somewhere beacuase I know what it's like. To go to places based on a mathematically abstract idea instead of a place's geophysical features introduces a random element that does sound interesting. Well, up to a point. But it should produce a better overall picture of the world than any selection based on human choice. The only thing is that countries close to the equator lose out as intersections are further apart.
This has to be the most magnificently futile project I've have ever heard of. I thoroughly aplaud it and wish I had been aware of it earlier. Being able to claim a "confluence first" has instantly entered my top 5 thing to do before my demise.
Rob Ridley, US
This is very cool! If only I had come to know about this before. I'm a navigator in the merchant navy and have been to so many places crossing the oceans and cutting the lat and the long in the right places all the time. I have got lots of pictures at sea (randomly taken) but I would be lying if i said they were precisely taken at the crossings (the lat and long)! Anyway keep up the good work and whenever I'm out at sea again I'll do my part!
In an age which might later be referred to as the final days of exploration in terms of places yet to be explored, i find this a refreshing idea. What the heck, we can all be explorers for a short while at least and at least it provides some pub talk fodder if nothing else useful. Keep up the strange work.
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