Ironically it is on another replica of the Endeavour - the one moored off Castlegate Quay at Stockton on Tees - that I first discover that there is to be a British tour of the Australian Endeavour Replica. My instinct is to leap at the opportunity to be a part of this historic event, and when a friend of mine, who is a Sign Language interpreter, encourages me and says that she will accompany me if I want to go, that clinches it. Having an interpreter there (I have been Deaf from birth and use British Sign Language) will immediately deal with any problems I might otherwise have in communicating with the crew and means I have no excuses for not taking part.
My work as Deaf Arts Officer for Shape London means I am in touch from time to time with the BBC, who make a television programme for Deaf and hard of hearing people called See Hear. After a conversation with Michelle Jones from See Hear in which I mention my forthcoming trip on the Endeavour I am delighted that she is interested in making a feature on the trip and wants to put it in the context of my lifelong interest in Captain Cook. So, on a very windy Friday I am up in Yorkshire in front of a camera and crew presenting an item on the early life of Captain Cook. The day is spent rushing around from location to location - the Memorial Museum in Whitby, the monument on Easby Moor, Aireyholme Farm - and then rushing again back to London to get ready for the first leg of the tour from Greenwich to Great Yarmouth. (The programme was transmitted by the BBC on Sunday 18 May and repeated on Tuesday 20 May.)
We arrive in Greenwich in good time - Ros Hunt, my interpreter friend, Ruth Cook, another Cook fanatic who insists that her late husband is the Captain’s descendant from the wrong side of the blanket, and I. We are met by the See Hear crew and I am introduced to Julie Plummer, who is charged with looking after the four supernumeraries on this leg, in front of the camera.
Julie takes us to our quarters and issues us with our kit. My cabin is the 6 feet by 6 feet space which was occupied by Joseph Banks, opening into the Great Cabin. Mine is the only cabin with a fixed bed on the entire ship. Given that Mr Banks was 6 feet 4 inches tall he usually slept in a cot slung in the Great Cabin along with Daniel Solander, leaving his pets to sleep in his own cabin. I begin to see why! Ros is in Dr Solander’s cabin and Ruth in Sydney Parkinson’s, more or less next door to the Captain’s cabin. These two have swing cots, one step up from the crew’s hammocks slung in the mess deck just below us.
The Mess Deck
Hammocks for the crew
My first duty is to take the wheel, a mammoth construction needing two people to handle it. I feel the blast of the cannon as we leave the cheering crowd on time, at 4.00pm. We film a few more links for the See Hear programme as we pass through the Thames Barrier and under the QE2 Bridge at Dartmouth. They disembark at Graves- end, and we say goodbye.
I now feel able to relax and get into the routine. The first impression is that all the ceilings are very low! Getting about means banged heads, but we quickly learn. Negotiating our way to the galley, we are given our first meal on board. Fortunately it was not sauerkraut and salt beef but some rather nice beef and vegetables followed by apple pie. I am grateful that authenticity is not the rule in all things.
Our first evening we spend in the Great Cabin with Chris Blake, the Captain, and John Longley, Chief Executive of the Endeavour Foundation. We discuss the Endeavour’s trip to Gisborne, New Zealand, the problem of prejudice against the Maoris, and the fact that the Endeavour Foundation insisted that they should receive equal treatment. In recognition of this the Maoris gave two artefacts, which now hang in pride of place in the cabin. I identity with the Maoris as a Deaf person - I know so well how petty prejudice precedes painful discrimination.
We take to our beds trusting the four-hourly watches and the taking in of the sails to the crew. The Endeavour will use her engines to reach our anchorage in the Thames Estuary, just off Southend, for my first night afloat.
I have slept fitfully and keeping warm has been a struggle. Ros wakes me at 6.30am for a 7.00am breakfast. It is freezing cold on deck. The Captain exclaims “Blue sky, grey sea, cold air - must be England!”
At 10.00am the whole ship is hosed down and scrubbed clean. Quite right - Cook was scrupulous about cleanliness.
Ruth’s first watch is after lunch. During her stint the weather takes a turn for the worse and the sea starts to get choppy. I estimate from my Picture guide that this is a Force 5. Ruth begins to feel rather unwell and returns to her cabin. At about 4.00pm I too begin to feel queasy. Not long after- wards I say goodbye to lunch! Fortunately a short nap seems to cure me and I am able to eat supper. I have crossed the seasickness barrier and am not troubled further.
Engines are now switched off, sails unfurled, and we are ready to sail. Lying in bed I feel like I am riding on the back of a drunken elephant dancing on hot coals!
Ruth is still sea sick and in her cabin. The rest of us are well wrapped up against the bracing sea air. The navigator explains that the strong winds have taken us 17 miles south of where we were 24 hours ago. We are still in the Thames Estuary and are now closer to Holland than Great Yarmouth!
Spit and polish time arrives again, a ritual which includes a good going over for the brass and the copper stove in the Great Cabin. I opt out of this exercise, preferring to spend some time taking photographs.
After lunch I join in with the rope work, making ocean plaits and mats. I have the honour of finishing the mat, the making of which was demonstrated to the Queen on her March visit to the Endeavour.
The supper menu reads ‘non-English steak’ which stimulates much speculation! Ruth has managed to overcome her seasickness and is now ready for a good meal. A Belgian engineer shows us photographs of a small-scale model of the Endeavour which he has made, with a careful explanation of how he did it. I retire to my cabin with a good book.
I have my first on-board shower - a real luxury. The sun is out this morning and everyone is busy - sanding, painting, varnishing and caulking the deck - all this essential in the ongoing battle against the elements which, left to themselves, would soon reduce the ship to a heap. I spent some time surveying the coastal communities of eastern England.
This morning the supernumeraries get a treat - a trip on the life raft (another very popular concession to the twentieth century). My camera is whirring as we sail around the Endeavour in full sail - a magnificent, majestic, awe-inspiring sight.
We fire off a cannon for a yacht club in Lowestoft. Several boats come out to look us over. We have arrived in Yarmouth a day early. The town and the beach both seem deserted.
We are treated to a special high tea with the Captain and the officers in the Great Cabin. The Captain jokes about Prince Philip lamenting the lack of cucumber sandwiches on his visit to the Endeavour - “no cucumber sandwiches - just like the Empire, failing apart”. This time they lay on cucumber sandwiches.
We drop anchor, just off Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier, and settle down for a peaceful night.
We spend most of the morning unravelling the anchor cable which has snagged in the propeller as the tide swung the ship round in the night. Some of the crew have to put on their wet suits and brave the murky water to free the anchor which then has to be hauled in by muscle power. Watching the crew heaving against the capstan, on top of which stands the navigator singing a sea-shanty is quite a sight! I help Julie set up the “museum” in the cabins ready for tourists to come on board. The Endeavour is now restored to her eighteenth century glory.
We finally make our way, under sail, into the harbour. Boats and yachts are milling around us now, along with the Yarmouth lifeboat. There is a band of men in eighteenth century costume on the pier. They fire their cannons and the Endeavour thunders her reply. Thousands of people are gathered on the banks as we sail up the river, all cheering. The boats moored in the river hoot and toot. We wave and wave, caught up in the great swell of such an enthusiastic welcome. This is such an emotional occasion. I admit to a few tears as we slide gracefully to our mooring right opposite the Town Hall, where there is a brass band playing a musical welcome.
This is an unforgettable end to an unforgettable experience. My respect for Cook and his achievements on the Endeavour’s original voyage of discovery was already great. It is now immense!
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1406, volume 20, number 3 (1997).
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