When I joined the team of Middlesbrough Council's Museums and Galleries Service in October 2002 as Senior Curator of the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum my knowledge of Captain Cook was minimal. However, Cook's story is inspirational and there are not enough hours in the day to take in the massive amount of material and information about the man and his world. One of the main aspects of the story is life at sea during the 18th century. For me to be able to appreciate the hardships experienced by a ship's crew and to try to convey what it must have been like to the museum's visitors today, I felt that I needed to get closer to Cook and his shipmates.
Surprisingly, as a landlubber and world's worst sailor, taking the decision to spend a few days aboard the replica Endeavour on a short voyage was very easy. Knowing my adverse reaction to the slightest swell on a boat my family and friends were amazed. A voyage around exotic Polynesian islands in the Pacific Ocean was out of the question. The next best thing was the short voyage across the North Sea – the very sea upon which Cook learnt his trade and the Endeavour, originally a Whitby-built collier, spent her early working life.
At 1410 on Tuesday 12th August 2003 we left Lowestoft. The following four days were an amazing experience. Twenty first century health and safety, food and navigation and communication aids aside, we lived a little bit of the 18th century. We climbed the rigging; walked out on the yards; hauled on our lines; scrubbed the decks; cleaned the "heads" (toilets!); helped in the galley; stood watches at unearthly hours of the night and morning; slung our hammocks (mine under the 4'6" high marine deck); took a turn at the wheel; and joshed continuously with the fantastic crowd of young, Australian, "permanent" crew who showed us the ropes (literally!). Fortunately we had good sea conditions and I managed to last until Thursday afternoon, when the sea made the ship a bit frisky, before sea sickness struck.
For twelve hours I must confess to having wondered why I was doing this. But on Friday we sailed into Scheveningen, Holland, crowds cheering, our cannons blazing and our officers barking orders. Our watch's last job was to climb the rigging and take in the sail. Looking down from the yard at the crowds of people gazing up gave us all a real sense of achievement. For me it certainly was a voyage of discovery and the experience will perhaps help me to bring the Cook story alive for visitors to the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum. I look forward to celebrating Cook's 275th birthday and welcoming Captain Blake and my "shipmates" to Middlesbrough when Endeavour visits in October.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 18, volume 26, number 4 (2003).
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