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.