Endeavour left Whitby on the afternoon of Monday 15th June 2004, and tested her engines by motoring towards Runswick for a couple of hours. This exercise went very well and by late afternoon we were steering a course 055. On watch from 8.00 till midnight we sailed beyond a liner and out into the dark. Then, in the words of the Captain, after it was all over, "we shot across the North Sea." Endeavour would make the whole crossing from Whitby to Norway on a single tack.
The wind picked up in the night and Tuesday morning found us beyond sight of everything. This is roughly how we spent the whole day with nothing much to report. It felt so wild and wonderful to be alive, just Endeavour and the sea with no distractions; like going through a door into another world. We set topsails in the morning and handed them in the evening. We watched, steered, cleaned, the Captain gave us a briefing, the First Officer a talk on sailing and we ate very well.
Being on Watch means spending hours watching. If there is nothing but us and the sea then you watch the waves. I also became fascinated by Fulmars an apparently fixed-wing type of seabird that spends its time gliding just above the water. It flies without effort and follows the contours of the waves, whatever they do.
Wednesday found us sailing between oilrigs. A fraction of the vast international business that is the North Sea. Ever since my mate Terry Largue was lost with Piper Alpha I’ve wanted to blank oilrigs. They spot the North Sea like grim little islands and we were shepherded past one rig by its red, business-like tender. A reminder that fishing is no longer the main industry out here. I’ve no idea what the crews of oilrigs made of us as we sailed on by; one day they too will be history.
We were happy. Busy cleaning ship, setting sails, hauling ropes, being briefed, listening to the First Officer and eating three cooked meals a day. By now we were lost in the parallel universe of sailing a replica eighteenth century ship. Already familiar with life being at a strange angle and enjoying the way everything heaved about with a pleasant irregularity. Responding as a team to a language of braces, clews and bunts, beginning to understand what they did and often being able to remember where they were.
Sometimes we find ourselves swinging across the deck held upright by the rope we’re hauling while all around us the sea is suspended above our heads moving beneath our feet and collapsing into itself all at the same time. Below deck we rock in our hammocks, safe and sometimes snoring. Several times in a night a wave catches Endeavour all wrong and she shakes us awake. We swing in our hammocks and dream of sleep, certain that it will arrive one minute before we have to get up.
It takes courage to climb aloft when Endeavour is rolling. Sometimes you have to lock your arms around the shrouds and just enjoy it. There’s lots of thick ropes and strong timbers to hold onto or stand on and everything about the experience can soon become addictive. No sooner are my feet back on the deck than I want to go up again. Most of us feel like this and there’s a general enthusiasm for everything. On this voyage Watches numbered off with Mexican Waves, in Norwegian, Maori and Latin. If you’re keen enough to behave like that at 4 am then you know you’re alive.
After two days and two nights one special moment for our Watch was midnight to 4.00 am on Thursday morning and the first sighting of the most southerly lighthouse in Norway. For the next few hours Endeavour sailed into the light as the sun streaked the clouds perfect pink over a baby blue sky and the Norwegian coastline grew into a constant wave off the port bow.
Coming on deck next morning everything had changed again. No sooner was Endeavour in sight of Norway than we were sailing towards Denmark. Then we wore ship and headed back towards Norway. We did this most of the morning to the annoyance of two frigates and a submarine looking for a torpedo. Then the wind died completely and we motor sailed along the southwest coast of Norway.
On Friday morning Endeavour dropped anchor in a little inlet and everybody spent the rest of the day on maintenance. A few went aloft, or hung from bosun’s chairs, others painted cannons, bitts and the windlass. The pinnace was scrubbed down and polished. A small party even got to travel all the way round Endeavour in the rescue boat and scrub her hull. Later everyone had the chance of a trip in the rescue boat. A voyage round Endeavour anchored off the Norwegian coast. Another reminder of how stunning she is. There had been regular visitors all day. Small boats, many with families, dogs and fishing gear. All of them drawn out for a closer look at a beautiful little tall ship. One boat came alongside and gave us thousands of fresh shrimps.
That evening shrimps were the first course of a superb meal. This was served on the 18th century deck and jugs of wine arrived in generous 18th century fashion. Some hours later a projector appeared and we all sat down to watch an episode of "The Muppets", followed by "Blackbeard The Pirate" in black & white. Sometime during the main feature it occurred to me that watching Bob Hope performing with a green frog puppet on board a replica 18th century sailing ship anchored off the Norwegian coast is as surreal as life can become in less than a week. This simple joy may also be as good as life gets but there was already a sense that Saturday would be even better.
We were due to sail up a fjord with a Russian Tall Ship. The whole crew were awake early and suddenly in the middle of breakfast there were strange faces in the Galley. Two ever-smiling Norwegian TV Reporters who spent the rest of the day onboard filming everything. There was a lot going on. We raised the anchor, with the Capstan, and set sails. As Endeavour crossed the entrance to the fjord there was another little tall ship sailing out to meet us. It was like a dream come to life.
So were the next six hours as two little tall ships sailed up that Norwegian fjord. Imagine a stretch of water as wide as a broad estuary with high, steep banks covered in the most luxurious greens, dotted with brightly painted houses. Far below are two little tall ships. They are sailing. Sometimes they fire their cannons with a pleasing rumble and there is answering cannon fire from the banks of the fjord. Lots of people are watching, everyone is cheering, everyone is smiling and everything is perfect. Of course the sun was shining.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 20, volume 28, number 2 (2005).
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