A hundred leagues from Manila town,
The San Gregorios helm came down;
Round she went on her heel, and not
A cables length from a galliot
That rocked on the waters, just abreast
Of the galleons course, which was west-sou-west.
Then said the galleons Commandante,
General Pedro Sobriente,
(That was his rank on land and main,
A regular custom of Old Spain:),
My pilot is dead of scurvy; may
I ask the longitude, time, and day?
The first two given and compared,
The thirdthe Commandante stared!
The first of June? I make it second.
Said the stranger, Then youve wrongly reckoned;
I make it first: as you came this way,
You should have lostdye seea day
Lost a day, as you plainly see,
On the hundred and eightieth degree.
Lost a day? Yes, if not rude,
When did you make east longitude?
On the ninth of Mayour patrons day.
On the ninth?you had no ninth of May!
Eighth and tenth was therebut stay
Too latefor the galleon bore away.
Francis Bret Harte, The Lost Galleon (1867)
Zigzagging across the waters of the Pacific Ocean near the 180° meridian, the International Date Line (IDL) is plotted on todays charts and globes to indicate the boundary line between today and tomorrow. Despite its name, however, the precise location of the International Date Line is not fixed by any international law, treaty or agreement.
Although its precise location would seem to be a matter of little concern to most people, it briefly become a serious issue at the end of the 20th century as it would determine which of the numerous islands straddling its course across the Pacific Ocean would be the first to inaugurate the new millennium.