Farewell to old England forever,
Farewell to my rum culls as well,
Farewell to the well-known Old Bailey
Where I used for to cut such a swell.
Singing too-ral, li-ooral, li-addity,
Singing too-ral, li-ooral, li-ay,
Singing too-ral, li-ooral, li-addity,
And we're bound for Botany Bay.
Endeavour at Darling Harbour
Impression of the rigging
This old song was performed by the mainmast-watch when celebrating the Sod's Opera at the last-but-one day of our voyage. But let me start from the beginning.
Since my younger days I have been interested in maritime literature dealing with navigation and geographic discovery. Reading miscellaneous journals or narratives of the romantic moments I always tried to delve into the living and working conditions of the mariners, captain, mate and the jack-tars on board the ancient sailing ships. Due to such items missing, too often this was not possible. The logs or journals mainly described the geographic character of the discovered places with some scientific reflections about nature and the native people. To make them more readable for the general public later editions were often abridged with navigational matters reproduced only sporadically. As a consequence I decided to get a real experience of classic seafaring, in order to expand my imagination of how 18th century seafaring took place by undertaking some sensible practical exercise. Years passed. Even though I worked as an AB and an officer on general cargo ships for many years (mainly serving ports on the East and West coasts of Africa) my desire never faded away.
I don't know when I heard for the first time about HMB Endeavour being a replica true to the original of Lieutenant Cook's famous ship. Most probably it happened when I was surfing the web. Of course I soon found the web site of the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) and its offers for joining Endeavour as part of the paying crew. It didn't take me long to decided to seize this opportunity. By reading Tony Horwitz's famous book1 I had got a rough idea of what was waiting for me in Endeavour, not a vacation trip but much labour, severe discipline and a lack of sleep. On the other hand there would be comradeship between like-minded friends and unforgettable views of the ship's deck and the sea from the topsail and topgallant yards.
In my letter of application I had to choose between three voyages, one of them being a one-way trip from Darling Harbour to Botany Bay, mooring there on April 29th 2010, the anniversary of James Cook landing there 240 years ago and when he first time set foot on Australian ground. I was aware the symbolism would attract many applicants. But I was lucky and on December 12th 2009 I got the confirmation of my acceptance from Endeavour's shore-manager Paula East. Maybe my membership of the Captain Cook Society was helpful here?
Upon getting the confirmation I used my spare time to get to grips with the technical specifications of HMB Endeavour such as her masts and sails and the standing and running rigging. Fortunately, I had not forgotten my earlier skills of being a Jack Tar, like splicing and using knots or bends. As part of my preparation I also made sure I was continuously at the gym.
On April 22nd the time had come for me to leave home. Bang on time, at one o'clock, I arrived at the counter of China Air at Frankfurt airport ready for check-in. With shock, I was told I did not have an entrance visa for Australia. I had not forgotten it, but had believed an EU citizen was not obliged to have a visa, in the same way we don't when travelling within Europe. Fortunately, modern e-mail communication meant I could get a visa via a next-door travel agency.
The flight was broken by a stopover in Beijing for a few hours. As the airbus approached Sydney airport there was a great opportunity to have a bird's eye view of Botany Bay (or Stingray Harbour as Cook first named the bight), which would be the destination point of my sea voyage. Remembering Cook's famous chart, and despite the runway projecting into the bight, I immediately recognized the familiar shape of Botany Bay.
Arrival was fast and without red tape. Soon I was at my hotel near the central station. The embarkation was scheduled for the next morning, so used the rest of the day for my first exploration of the city. Using a street map I wandered through the streets of Chinatown, walking by the various cafeterias and bars of the Cockle Bay waterfront to Darling Harbour, where Endeavour's silhouette was visible, even from a long distance. Having admired the ship's view sufficiently, I continued on to the Eastern waterfront of Darling Harbour passing the Sydney Aquarium and crossing the city to Harbour Bridge. From there with a coffee-break in front of the Opera House and via the Sydney Cove ferry port I went back to my hotel along the busy and interesting George Street.
The next morning found me on North Wharf just in time for the scheduled embarkation. After a short address of welcome to the voyage crew (and some accompanying family members) we were split into the traditional watches of foremast, mainmast and mizzenmast. Chief mate Ben Willoughby read out our names and assigned us to the watches headed by a topman or upper yardsman. I was assigned to the mainmast watch under topman (or should that be topwoman?) Amy Spets. As both Amy and Ben spoke a kind of "down under" English, unfamiliar to me I often had to check with them to make sure I correctly understood the commands and information.
How do you belay a rope?
Brain and brawn
We were allocated lockers for our personal things and clothes, but no bigger than 30 inches by 20 inches by 20 inches. After stowing our gear we were given the first of several safety briefings, demonstrations and basic exercises. For instance, how to correctly belay a rope on bollards, cleats and pins. They were continued during cast off and as Endeavour motored over to her mooring at Athol Bight.
With the ship secured to a buoy, lunch was called for the first time. Later the mainmast watch continued with basic instructions on line handling and the helm. Even though I was a former sailor I hadn't heard before of brain and brawn. I was told it is the brawns's duty to move the helm and the brain's duty to watch the compass course and give commands to the brawn. At the same time the foremast watch began learning "Up and over", which meant climbing aloft up to the top and coming down the opposite shrouds. Later the main mast watch had to go through these exercises too. I was impressed by the ingenious way you can use one single continuous safety line from the rail, pass the futtock shrouds and continue from top along the topmast shrouds, using a sliding/rolling safety-line-device coupled to the harness and so giving safety even when climbing changed from shroud to futtock shroud. (Recently I watched a TV report about the four-masted Bark Kruzenshtern ex-Padua where the crew was climbing the loft without a chance to secure themselves during climbing, only fastening the harness when in position on the yard.)
At six o'clock, before dinner we were shown where to fasten our hammocks on the 18th century deck. As my place was in the after part of the deck with a deck height of about 4½ feet only, my head was soon covered with countless bumps. Every time I changed watch or all hands were called at night, I forgot the lack of height and my head got reacquainted with the deck beam.
Next morning our watch wasn't on duty but I woke up at six o'clock and was amazed as to how soundly I had slept in a hammock. After breakfast the crew started preparing to put out under sails.
The author ready for climbing the loft
I got busy setting sails on the main yard's starboard side, unfurling the main course. The jackstays criss-cross over the deck, set by the morning watch. By 10:40 am we were away from the mooring buoy and heading out to the open sea, leaving Port Jackson on an easterly course.
On the first day mainmast was on duty during the afternoon watch and the first watch. I took the opportunity to sleep a little before 8 pm, the beginning of the first watch. I was glad to catch a few minutes sleep as my stomach had been grumbling the whole afternoon. Endeavour soon demonstrated the meaning of her Whitby cat construction. She rolled and pitched in combination, moving heavily in a figure of eight. Crossing the deck without using the jackstays was impossible. Soon after leaving the bight we close hauled on the port tack and the heavy swell took its toll. A large number of the voyage crew learned to understand the practical meaning of the term "happy bucket".
During the first watch I heard several times the expression "be aware of the zombies!". Really one had to be very careful not to trip over the living bodies scattered on deck and clinging to their happy buckets. During this watch I was sent to the helm for the first time. I was given the choice between being brain or brawn and decided to be a brawn.
The next day our first turn was the forenoon watch. As I could not see my wristwatch in the dark I left my hammock (getting a new bump) to find some light. Discovering it was only 5:30 am I went back to sleep. The next time I woke up, it was late and I had to hurry up preparing for breakfast. Again I learned hasty movements are inconsistent with a deck of 4½ feet. Coming on deck I could see the sea was calmer and Endeavour's rolling and pitching much gentler. During the forenoon watch little sail handling was done, just trimming the sails here and there. At lunch time I had to go to the pantry for duty, washing plates and cutlery. Despite the calmer sea there were still some people who suffered from seasickness. I had better sea legs so tried the art of standing on deck without any support. Our next watch this day was the last dog watch. Having finished our duty I immediately looked for my hammock, aware how quickly morning watch would come the following day.
Again I woke early and had to leave my hammock to see the time on my wristwatch. Again I was lucky to collect some more bumps. On deck at four o'clock I found the weather wonderful and the air splendid. Sunrise was at 6:20 am. I tried to take some pictures. Happy Hour (the second happy thing on board beside the happy bucket) started as usual and one could see everybody busy with scrubbing the deck or cleaning something. This day the crew tacked the ship not once but twice. All hands are required for this manoeuvre, which is difficult for a square rigged ship of Endeavour's build.
Historical uniforms at the ceremony
Later we furled sails in order to head to Botany Bay against a head wind, forcing us to use the engine for the first time since leaving Port Jackson. So I had a sufficient opportunity to test my skills at the yards with furling the fore topsail as well as furling the fore course and the same time hearing from deck the powerful sound of "two, six, hey", "two, six, hey" as the teams engaged in hauling the ropes.
Later that afternoon when we were four nautical miles off Botany Bay a local pilot boarded Endeavour. Again I was on duty as brawn and astonished when the pilot asked me where to find the rudder angle indicator. I had to advice him to turn and to have a look to the tiller behind, giving an indication of rudder position. Apparently, it was the first time he had piloted a traditional sailing vessel. Sunset saw Endeavour moored near Cook's monument on the shores of Botany Bay, the obelisk marking the place of Lieutenant Cook's first landing in Australia.
This night after the traditional mess dinner, held by Captain Ross Mattson with the supernumeraries, the Sod's Opera was celebrated. Everybody, that means the three watches, the professional crew and the supernumeraries, had to contribute. The mainmast watch performed the old song "Bound for Botany Bay".
I had difficulties with the pronunciation of the refrain so added my own contribution by singing the famous shanty of the old Veermaster of Hamburg. Fortunately, I got the assistance of Dirk Lorenzen, second mate and another German. It seems it wasn't too bad when I later read in the voyage log of HMB Endeavour, "First up on the bill were Mainmast with a robust performance of 'Bound for Botany Bay' and a wonderful German sea shanty sung impromptu by one of our voyage crew and second mate Dirk".
The next, and final, day we were busy with the disembarkation of the voyage crew by means of Endeavour's dinghy. We landed at the same place that Lieutenant Cook stepped onto Australian ground for the first time. Here everything had been prepared to celebrate the "Meeting of Two Cultures" ceremony on the 240th anniversary of the landing of James Cook. Sutherland Shire mayor Lorraine Kelly joined with Kurranulla Aboriginal Corporation's Deanna Schreiber in laying a wreath, while Rodney Fleck, a distant great-nephew of Cook's sister Margaret, and members of the Royal Australian Navy raised the Queen Anne flag. The ceremony was attended by students of several schools, representatives from the US and Canadian consulates, and members of the Sutherland police command. The Thulli Dreaming indigenous dance group performed several traditional dances.
After the ceremony had finished we visited the Kurnell Discovery Centre, the several nearby monuments and got some impressions of the park and the surrounding bush land. The journey ended at Cook's monument, where Captain Ross Mattson presented all voyage crew and supernumeraries with a certificate of watch keeping or sea time.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 16, volume 33, number 3 (2010).
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