As the last of the Bonfire Night [5th November] fireworks died away, there was a shout of "Fire in the hole" and one of the great guns aboard the Endeavour Replica roared out across Whitehaven Harbour on the North West coast of England. The last official function on this marvellous craft in UK waters was about to begin.
We were at dinner on the 18th Century deck with Captain Chris Blake, resplendent in his Cook uniform, and supported by his permanent crew in various forms of dress and undress. Beer and wine flowed freely, the usual "Dry Ship" policy being relaxed for one last time before the serious business of preparing Endeavour for her trip home to Australia recommenced.
Although the food was prepared below in the modern galley, the old cast iron stove was in use to give our beef stew a final warming. It also enveloped us in a warm fug as we ate where Cook’s "People" did over 230 years ago. Music was provided by some of the crew together with a local shanty band. The meal started with a suitable toast to Captain James Cook and finished with three cheers for Captain Blake and the crew. Fittingly, we ended with a hearty round of "Waltzing Matilda" and "The Wild Rover" before sadly returning to the dark quayside and the present day.
Having only recently been aboard Endeavour for passage from St Malo to Fowey, it was sad to see that one or two friends had already jumped ship - George (1st Officer), Ben (Mizzentop watch captain) and Guy (Steward and curator) were gone - but there was excitement and anticipation for the voyage ahead, mixed with real sadness at their imminent departure. I certainly wished I was going with them, at least on the first leg of the voyage to Madeira, but the speed at which the decision to return "Down Under" was made precluded that.
Chris Blake confirmed that the decision to return was both financial and political. He said that some of the Endeavour Trustees had become understandably tired of the strenuous effort involved in keeping the ship afloat and travelling the world and that the Australian Government had now, for the first time, put its hand in its pocket and was underwriting the return home. It was essential, to his mind, that Endeavour be kept sailing, as this was the only way to ensure her long term survival, and he was determined to use all his efforts to this end. He did not know, however, exactly what the Government had in mind.
It is terribly sad that this amazing vessel, widely hailed as the best replica ship afloat, is leaving the UK shores, probably forever. I feel very privileged to have sailed on her and will never forget the experience. I know hundreds and thousands of the people who have seen her will feel the same way and will join me in wishing Endeavour, her Captain and crew, a safe passage home and hope that she can continue to have a long and illustrious career spreading knowledge of Captain Cook, his achievements and those of the officers, crew and supernumeraries that sailed from Plymouth in 1768.
With my fingers crossed, here is my last view of Endeavour, taken on the Friday before departure. I should have got a bit closer, but I had walked quite a distance and my feet had had enough (as anyone who knows the docks at Whitehaven will understand). Not the best of days - no sun and a slight drizzle from time to time. There were not many people there, but the snatches of conversations that I heard made it quite obvious that no one, crew or visitors, wanted her to disappear forever. One man said to me "She has done so much to bring an adventure to young people from all over the world, and has made Australia a better known place’". He was quintessentially English.
I took the photos below on Monday before she sailed. Not a handsome ship but I guess she wasn’t built for looks.
As Endeavour was leaving the UK I had to visit her one more time. So on Friday, 5th I travelled by train (my mistake - it took 8 hours) arriving at Whitehaven about 15:30, and hurriedly took some photos of her in Sugar Tongue (the harbour). There was very little for sale in the souvenir shop and everything was almost "what’s it worth?", including the shop and the white Volvo estate car they had been using since 1997.
Speaking to several of the crew, they were somewhat disappointed at Endeavour’s sudden recall to Sydney; most of them were of the opinion that the decision was political within the Arts Ministry. From Endeavour I made my way to the local newspaper office for copies of their reports when I literally bumped into Captain Chris Blake. It was a great opportunity to have a chat, and I asked about Endeavour’s return to the UK. He said he thought she would be back in about five years. Let’s hope so.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 14, volume 28, number 1 (2005).
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