Last summer the Endeavour replica came into Inverness for a nine-day visit and I was one of the dozens of guides lucky enough to be on board. Local contacts had been made ahead of time, and Mike Bull, a retired Navy commander, volunteered to put together a collection of guides for her stay here, so I and a friend Alison were inveigled into that particular mixed bag of about a hundred schoolboys and retired professors and housewives, all with an interest in the sea, or in old ships, or in Captain Cook, or other aspects of life and history that the Endeavour replica can represent. We signed up, and were presented with the blue smocks and straw hats we must wear when on duty, and the small but perfectly formed guidebooks to be constantly needed when on board.
The week before she arrived was spent in taxiing Captain Cook himself, played by an actor named Gary Brooking, from primary school to primary school around the area. He had been hired by the Highland Council to come as part of the Highland Festival, and the character to play was chosen specifically because of the coincidental arrival of the ship. I became a useful bo'sun for him, standing in the back and help set up and take down, and to prime the kids in advance on what to do when the Captain came on, that was to leap to their feet when the first child saw him and shouted Captain on Deck! He would sit in his full uniform, including wig, and talk about his voyages while I stood in the back saying Yessir at the right moments, and passing him his sextant or South Sea charts or samples of tools and materials to demonstrate. It was all enormous fun for me and the children all enjoyed it. On the day the Endeavour sailed in under the Kessock Bridge to tie up in Inverness Harbour there was a welcoming party with Captain Cook strolling among the crowds and Prince Andrew visiting too and inspecting the guides all drawn up trying by sheer willpower to keep our straw hats from zooming away in the stiff breeze.
Then the serious work of being a guide started. The week had been divided into watches (Forenoon, Afternoon and Dogs) and all guides given their watch times and positions. The public area of the ship had 18 positions for guides to be, and we started each watch at a different point and moved to the next in line every hour or so, so by the end of the week I had stood in every one so had no need to suffer from lack of variety. On one day instead of staying in one place I guided a school of seven-year-olds all the way through. Their favourite bit was the heads, two toilet seats which are set right up there at the bow and all the kids wanted to be lifted up to see. You had to be a fairly good talker to survive, for if the visitors' slow shuffle through came to a halt because of gridlock further along you had to go into detail about the position you were in, the height so low not because the young officers were hobbits but because of the extra deck fitted on the thwarts, or those are the hammocks rigged for night-time, and that the massive oven for cooking is mounted on stone for safety, and that is the cat-o-nine tails, or the reasons for the Maori things hanging in the Captain's Cabin, and so on. It was an education listening to the other guides. My own interest had been in the voyages and in the development of the English language, so I could talk about sailor jargon still in the language or about careening the ship or transits of Venus or mapping New Zealand or whatever. Other guides were experts on the South Sea islands, or astronomy, or the languages, or the plants, or Joseph Banks, or how to sail a square-rigged ship like this.
Gosh, I became quite an expert on Captain Cook's first exploration by the end of that week, or at least the ship he went on. I knew where the futtock shrouds were, and what the lead looked like, and even where to find the foretop staysail on a good day. On the Wednesday the Provost (i.e. mayor) of Inverness invited us all to a bunfight in the Town House, so after the day's last watch was over most of the guides, and some sailors and the Captain's no 2 (Capt. Chris Blake was away) congregated in the beautiful hall of the building with the Provost, a couple of councillors and area managers who travel on any such carriage of the gravy train, and everybody made tactful speeches at each other.
On the final evening Ali and I drove back to Inverness to wave farewell to the Endeavour. She warped away from the jetty under engine power, turned about and sailed off down the river. All of us guides yelled three cheers and waved our straw hats in the air and she fired her signalling cannon which made most people jump when the forty-foot plume of smoke came out of the barrel as well as the bang. Then we jumped in our cars and headed hotfoot up to the Kessock Bridge, saw all the lay-bys packed with cars, and went on to the tourist centre where there was a little room. We walked back and I took some pictures of her going under the bridge, I think I got one with the smoke of another signal she fired on her way under. Just as on her arrival, she had to remove the topmost of her spars to fit under the 130-foot-high bridge, and a girl stood on her topmost yard with a paintbrush, and painted a yellow stripe as they went beneath.
One of my guide colleagues was asked how he came to be doing this job, and I agreed fully with the sentiments of his answer: "It was a choice between paying a fiver to come on board for an hour, or to come on all week for nothing!"
Alison had one more contact with the Endeavour: she signed up for a later leg of the voyage that took her from the Channel Islands up the east coast of England, and taught her useful skills like how to be seasick when a hundred feet up the mainmast in a gale! Reports on these visits, including a blurry photo of Ali and good ones of Prince Andrew, may be seen on Endeavour's web site:
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1521, volume 21, number 3 (1998).
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