"I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected as a crew member for Endeavour's voyage from Bath, Maine to Halifax, Nova Scotia" wrote Collette Sutton, Crew Manager for Endeavour last May in response to my application. At last, confirmation that I would participate in a voyage of discovery aboard a very special ship which I first encountered in Wilmington, North Carolina [see Cook's Log, page 1522, vol. 21 no. 3(1998)]. In the end, all of the voyage crew discovered something of Cook, his ships, and not least, about themselves.
With the trip set for the first week of October, 1998, I had all summer to brush up on Endeavour's rig and sail plan, practice a few knots and review the history of Cook's adventures in the Canadian Maritimes. The crew reported to the ship on the afternoon of Sunday, October 4th, 1998. We were introduced to the permanent crew, given lectures regarding the general routine aboard ship, and reviewed safety procedures. After being assigned to one of the three watches (mizzen watch), the crew boarded and we stowed our belongings including the wet weather gear and safety harness with which we were issued. The wet weather gear, officially called Driza-Bone was more affectionately referred to as "wet-'s-a-bastard" although we at least looked the part when we wore this stuff.
The weather continued to be fair on Monday the 5th. Clear skies and a fresh wind from the North made for a fine autumn day in New England. After stowing our hammocks and eating breakfast, the voyage crew set to work loading provisions and dismantling shore side gear. We also rotated through several training stations where we learned about bracing the yards, keeping a look out, handling and belaying lines, helming the ship and finally, going aloft. Our first foray up the rigging was something that had been on the minds of most of the new voyage crew when we joined the ship. That, and thoughts about the dreaded mal-de-mer, I think, were our main concerns. As I climbed the mainmast shrouds, I remembered the old adage, "one hand for the ship" which in my case became "all available limbs and a safety harness" for the ship. My mind fixed on the task at hand, I completed the ascent up the futtock shrouds which angle outwards as they reach the mast top. With the ship on an even keel at the dock, and a fine view of the surrounding countryside, we rather enjoyed our introduction to working aloft.
Our departure was set for 1400 to coincide with an outgoing tide on the Kennebec River. With the sound of her guns echoing in the city of Bath and a cheer from the well-wishers assembled on the dock, Endeavour cast off and motored up river a short distance before coming about. We then set the fore topsail and course and began to sail towards our first challenge, a bridge whose lifting span was in the habit of occasionally getting stuck! Fortunately for us, the bridge behaved and we had a clear view beyond. By now the diesel engines had been disengaged, and we were sailing smartly downwind with the brisk North wind. Endeavour slid past the bridge without a hitch although we had none too much room to spare on the starboard side. We began to congratulate ourselves on having made such a grand departure for the local townsfolk, but, little did we know just how grand a spectacle we were about to become.
Shortly after passing the bridge, we angled our course away from the main river channel and towards the vicinity of the Maine Maritime Museum in order to make a farewell sail-past. Not long afterwards, despite the benefit of some local knowledge provided by a pilot, I felt a gentle bump, followed by another. Then, several sharp shocks shuddered through the hull and we began losing way quickly. Yes... we were aground! Shades of the Great Barrier Reef. The voyage crew reported to their muster stations and awaited instructions. Permanent crew began hull inspections and we all held our breath. By now, the stern had begun to swing around to port and the wind was pressing the masts over to a precarious angle. I began to contemplate how many voyage crew it would take to heave one of the replica guns over the side. "Standby!", the Captain's order was heard the length of the deck as we awaited our fate. Just then the river bottom began to relinquish her hold on the hull and with a few parting bumps, Endeavour was off, born by the following current and wind. As she was not taking on any significant amount of water, and no evidence of structural damage was noted, the voyage proceeded. Later in the week, a diver confirmed that Endeavour had suffered light damage to her false keel and some of the sacrificial hull sheathing.
We returned to our bracing stations as the ship settled back into the channel. My bracing station at the stern of the ship was the port mizzen topsail brace which provided a clear view all around including the entire deck. What followed was a glorious sail down the Kennebec River, some 12 miles before we reached the ocean. Only once was recourse made to the iron topsails, a brief burst of engine thrust as the current edged us a bit too close to the rocky shore. Otherwise, we braced the yards 'round under instructions from the permanent crew as the Captain navigated the ship down the length of the twisting river. A small escort fleet accompanied us, adding to the lively scene accentuated by the bright autumn colours. A poodle aboard one of our escorts has probably still not forgiven it's owner for being so close to the ship when we fired a farewell salute nearing the mouth of the river!
Late that afternoon, Endeavour stood out into the Atlantic on an Easterly course. The wind, now on the port beam, freshened to over 20 knots. Having now also set the fore t'gallant as well as the main and mizzen topsails, Endeavour began to pull away from the Maine coast. The memory of feeling 400 tonnes of Whitby collier accelerate as she shouldered into building waves is one that I will not soon forget. And so began my once-in-a-lifetime experience. As luck would have it, I found myself on the second dog watch (1800-2000) at sunset. A trick at the wheel by the light of a full moon added to the magic.
During the night, the wind continued to increase up to 25 knots. The ship was now making close to 7 knots with 9 knots seen occasionally. Below, the hammocks swung in unison, waves slapped against the side of the hull and the rigging creaked. Steering Endeavourunder these conditions is not easy. The helm responds very slowly. This, coupled with a rounded hull form below the waterline and the wind acting on the large surface area towards the rear of the ship, can cause large swings in the ships head when sailing in a seaway. In time, we learned to look forward at the bow instead of becoming transfixed by the gyrations of the compass. A reasonably steady course would be the reward for patience and small corrections at the wheel.
Tuesday the 6th and the wind and waves remained unabated as we tried to find our sea legs. The sailing was excellent as I reported on watch at 0400 although the temperature was near freezing. Sunrise was followed by breakfast below in the 20th century galley. Not long after, alas, is when the evil mal-de-mer possessed me. Much of the remainder of this day was spent alternating between hanging over the side and cursing the maker of the seasickness patch that I was wearing. Two other souls were not much better off either and so we lent each other some moral support.
Apart from standing regular watches, voyage crew also attended to cleaning and maintenance duties. One of the maintenance tasks assigned our watch was to remove the gaskets from the fore topsail yard, lubricate them with tallow and refit them. This we did under sail. Despite being somewhat queasy, I managed to remove and refit all the gaskets on the starboard side of the yard. The wind aloft and the sights and sounds of the ship plowing through the waves under a clear sky helped to lift my spirits. The wind remained steady into the evening, so I turned in early as I would be back out on deck at midnight. Surprisingly, I slept quite well in my swaying hammock.
Coming off watch at 0400 on Wednesday the 7th, I managed another two hours of sleep before reporting for the days' routine. On waking, I found the ship's motion much reduced as the wind had eased before dawn. Coming up on deck, I enjoyed a lovely sunrise, the sun's rays colouring the sails. Still under sail I climbed to the main topmast cross-trees to take some photographs before breakfast. The view, some 90 feet above the deck, was great, especially as I was starting to feel like my old self again. Later that same day, I would return to this perch to help furl the main t'gallant sail. The wind veered round and headed us towards the SE early in the morning. Then, towards midday, the wind fell such that we had to clew up sails, square the yards and engage the iron topsails, heading off now on a NE'ly course. I was on galley duty during the lunch period. Afterwards, I congratulated myself for having survived this task without having to dash up on deck to find a bucket.
At supper that evening, I introduced myself to John Beaglehole, grandson of Cook's biographer and we had a pleasant chat. I discovered that he was also sailing this leg as voyage crew for much the same reasons as I was, namely, the length of the leg (383 nautical miles), a destination that had a strong Cook connection and a departure point close to home.
Our last watch this day was the 2000-0000 during which we observed a dramatic moonrise. One of the watch stations was the mizzen top from which we kept a lookout aft, usually for half an hour at a time. It could be cold, but the view of the stars on these clear nights from the darkened ship, more than made up for any discomfort.
We went below just after midnight on Thursday the 8th with the ship still under power and looked forward to six hours of sleep. After a hearty breakfast, we were back up on deck at 0800 and began to brace the yards 'round to the port tack as a fresh breeze had come up from the SW. With the iron topsails silenced, we began our last days' sail.
Three members of the mizzen watch were Canadian Broadcasting Corporation film crew taking footage for a CBC Canadian history project. They had brought some period costumes which some of the permanent crew wore during filming. This included Endeavour's first officer Bob Lamoureux (one of seven Canadians on board) dressing up as Captain Cook for some filming that took place that morning as we closed with the Nova Scotia coast under sail. Later in the morning, Bob gave the voyage crew one of several lectures that we had on the trip. He talked about topsails, tacking and wearing ship as well as sail theory. The lecture was well timed as the Captain intended to wear ship in the early afternoon. After setting the spritsail, main staysail main top staysail, fore course, topsail and t'gallant, main topsail, mizzen course and topsail, we found ourselves making a respectable 5 knots on a Northerly course with the wind on the port quarter.
We wore the ship at 1400 and then continued with maintenance and preparations for our entry into Halifax harbour later that evening. At 1500, we were greeted by a Canadian Forces Sea King helicopter which circled the ship several times. Not long after, a ship was seen on the horizon and in about twenty minutes, HMCS Moncton came steaming up our port side at a suitably safe distance. We had prepared our guns for the engagement and hoisted signal flags warning the Canadian Navy not to make any precipitous moves! Endeavour's gunner was all set to launch a soggy newsprint "cannonball" onto Moncton's deck but our chance slipped by as some Endeavour crew were still working aloft and ship safety procedures forbid the firing of guns with anyone aloft. The second mate, who was in contact with our escort, asked if she might make another pass so that we could fire our salute. Moncton obliged with a hard 360 degree turn to port which brought her even closer. We successfully fired our salute this time, to which Moncton replied with five blasts from her horn, and then she bore away towards the SW to resume her patrol. Welcome to Canada, eh!
During the afternoon, the skies had begun to cloud over for the first time on our trip. With the coast now in clear view and Halifax fast approaching, we began to furl sails as the engines were brought to life once more. The harbour pilot was boarded while our watch was furling the fore t'gallant sail followed by the main topsail. A light rain had begun to fall which made furling the main topsail a strenuous task. As we entered the mouth of the harbour, we had a memorable view of other voyage crew working the fore mast, silhouetted by the mist shrouded lights of Halifax, a port which James Cook had also entered numerous times during the four years that he was based there. We proceeded to our anchorage in the basin and let go the starboard stream anchor. Over the last four days we had sailed 247.5 nautical miles at an average speed of 4.3 knots and motored some 135.5 nautical miles at 6 knots. I was well pleased that we had been able to sail three out of four days under virtually ideal conditions. The anchor watch was posted and as I was not listed, turned in for my last night aboard. I fell asleep to the sound of the rain falling on the canvas main hatch cover above my hammock.
Grey skies and a light drizzle greeted us on the morning of Friday the 9th. Some local media crews came aboard to record our formal arrival as we made preparations to raise the anchor manually using the capstan. This done, Endeavour motored up the basin past Dartmouth on the East side of the harbour before crossing over to Halifax. Firing our guns, we saluted the ships of the Canadian Navy in port before making our final approach to our berth at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. There we were welcomed by government and military dignitaries as well as the Halifax Town Crier and a piper. As Captain Blake attended to the formal reception, we voyage crew were sent aloft one last time to complete the furling of the sails that we had set earlier for our morning parade about the harbour. From my perch at the port end of the fore topsail yard, I caught sight of my wife, Vivian, who had come out from Montreal to greet her "returning sailor". She had seen us off in Bath after spending a night aboard there watch keeping, and now she was on the dock in Halifax, dressed in a black hooded cape to welcome me home.
I learned quite a bit on this voyage and have memories that will last a lifetime. One of the most important lessons had to be the importance of team work. The permanent crew did everything possible to make this trip the special voyage that it was. This close knit family under the command of Captain Blake truly lived up to the challenge carved on the galley bulkhead which is to be excellent to each other. Our mizzen watch Captain o' the top, Todd Vidgen, was no exception. Thanks Endeavour Replica Foundation and family for letting this student of James Cook and celestial navigation experience a part of history. Till we meet again, tight sheets and bon voyage.
View looking aft from the bowsprit. I'm working my way inboard on the spritsail yard after having helped to set this sail. I'd say I'm having the time of my life here even though this perch is considered to be one of the most dangerous, because the lack of height can be deceptive and the proximity of the bow would likely cause serious injury in the event of a fall... keel hauling with propellors comes to mind! Good view of the massive anchors as well as the seat of ease which, fortunately, we voyage crew were not required to become acquainted with.
View of Halifax habrour from the port end of the fore topsail yard with Endeavour at her berth in front of the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. The harbour entrance is in the centre of the picture looking south past the end of the yard. At the left, looking south east, we can see two islands. The nearer and smaller of the two is Georges Island which has a light. the more distant and larger island behind is McNabs Island. Endeavour anchored off the north east side of McNabs Island on the night she arrived in port. The Canadian Navy base is just to the north of where Endeavour is located.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1603, volume 22, number 2 (1999).
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