I had something of a Cook pedigree, having been a CCSU member since 1982, but the performance did not match. My conviction that I should voyage on the Endeavour never waivered, but I had done nothing to make it happen. Since climbing through the rib-cage that was the half-gestated ship in Fremantle in 1989, I had not even seen her, other than in the pages of Cook's Log. Rather, we played a planet-wide game of hide-and-seek, as I and she saw the world, but never in concert. At last, she was in Darling Harbour, Sydney, during the Olympics, 2000. I was to be taking in the Games and, along with so many other great activities, the Endeavour was on display. That spurred me to enquire about future voyages. No-one present had the least idea of what the voyage schedule was. Even on the website (www.barkendeavour.com.au) at that time the information extended only to the next four weeks. An email did get a rapid and helpful response from Murray Henstock, the voyage crew co-ordinator. A couple of weeks later came the schedule through to April 2001. My opportunities were few, but I was taking a couple of weeks off over the new year. Sure enough, there was a trip from just outside Melbourne through to Western Victoria in the week prior to Christmas. I was to be in
Melbourne for family reunions over the festive period, so the logistics were perfect. Plans continued to fall into place: there was room for me. With the blessing of my family, all was in place. I was to sail on the Endeavour. The short time between application and trip meant that I got the joining instructions 2 days before the voyage began, and the day before I left Canberra. That was fortuitous, as there were requirements I had not thought of, especially the need for your own sleeping bag. It was clear I was to be in for a demanding, exciting and original week. How bad was my sea-sickness? Well, I joined the Air Force and not the Navy, for very good reasons. I reasoned that air turbulence and aerobatics did not last very long, but evil sea states could last longer than a lifetime, or could feel that way. Could I swim 50 metres fully clothed? Hadn't tried recently, but was game. Head for heights? Yep, just don't look down. A quick trip to the Pharmacy for anti-nausea medication, a new pair of sunglasses and plenty of film, and I was set. Melbourne generally does not get its true summer heat until January, but this was an exception. December 17, 2000 was a stinker. But while most of the city sweltered in 40° C temperatures, at Mornington (East shore of Port Phillip Bay, near the landing site of Matthew Flinders), 50 km south, there was a sea breeze tempering conditions to merely hot. One of the pleasures of the Victoria summer is that the weather is not a constant, with fronts often coming through, cooling while whipping up the seas. Bass Strait, between Victoria and Tasmania, is a notoriously fickle stretch of water. My biggest concern was meeting a howling sou-wester, one the like of which devastated the Sydney-Hobart yacht race in 1998. The heat was intense on board, too. Within a couple of minutes I had volunteered my medical services to a gent who had collapsed on the quarterdeck; fears of a heart attack were quickly dispelled. He was dehydrated.
It turned out that there was a full 24 hours from reporting until sailing, giving plenty of time for the pre-departure training. That was even more important when a few people were virtually shanghai'd. One voyage crew was a Mornington yacht club member who was recruited on the next morning, with three hours till departure. Those late sign-ons were desperately sought by Endeavour because the paying customers were light on. Rather than the capacity 56 voyage crew (who work for the privilege of paying $150 Australian a day (a steal at around 55 pounds or US$80) rather than the $300 Australian or so for the supplementary crew, who are passengers) and 4 supplementary crew, there was in the end 18 voyage crew. That was bad for the coffers at the Endeavour Foundation, but a boon for me. It meant that we got for more one-on-one attention, and got to do so much more of the practical things.
Without going into great details about the Endeavourreplica, there have of necessity been numerous compromises to meet the modern maritime safety requirements, and to ensure that she can be where she needs to be when she is required. The voyage schedule waits for no ship, or for favourable winds. If there is to be a cannon salute at 1400 hours, off a certain point, than that is where it must be. The three decks comprise the upper deck, the "18th century" which is as true to the conditions of Cook's time as possible, and then the "20th century" which is as foreign to a seaman of the 18th century as a fighter aircraft. Here there be modern ship's toilets, showers, well appointed galley (no dishwasher: that was the voyage crew's job), lockers, and some recreational pursuits, such as board games. Aft is the engine room, then fridge and freezer. Refrigeration certainly separates us from our forbears. Another thing that was definitely different was that the Endeavour is a dry ship, except by the captain's forbearance and some slipping into the food. There was rather a lot of sherry in the trifle…yum. Further, smoking is not permitted on board. Great opportunity to quit. You are either too busy or too sick to smoke anyway. Toilets resemble modern flush ones, but require a three step process. And don't forget to close the valve at the end, or there can be a most unpleasant cleaning job when the system back fills and overflows.
While our ablutions take place in the 20th century, our sleeping is in the 18th century. We slept on hammocks, strung up as the sailors did all those years ago. My knot tying was sorely tested, and this is vital: poorly executed, and down comes the hammock, human contents and all. One voyage crew, who shall remain nameless but should have known better, as it was her fourth trip, did come gracefully down. Fortunately for her it was the feet end, and it was a slow giving way. But the look on her face was priceless. I have never been one to sleep on my back, thus the hammock proved to be a challenge until I discovered that you can sleep very well on your side. I was surprised to find that I woke feeling better rested that most times on my own bed, with none of the usual stiffness in my prematurely ageing bones. With everyone sleeping in a very confined area, there is bound to be at least one snorer who disturbs the rest of the rest. So ear plugs are a must.
Some of the modern compromises were a zodiac rescue boat. This sits in the waist of the ship while under way, and is to the seaward side in the water while in port. There is radar, depth gauge, wind gauge, GPS, and of course the engine. A ship's engineer is one position in the current crew that would be unfamiliar to Cook.
In port that first day, we had to share the ship with hoards of people looking her over. Some 1800 people paid to be shown over in three days at Mornington. So we got away with the Mate, 2nd mate and victualling officer to go over last minute arrangements, introductions and safety briefs. It was all pretty laid back. The 3rd cricket test between Australia and the West Indies was underway and proved to be distracting for some of the permanent and voyage crew. We made our way back in time for dinner, and then shown over the ship, what to do for the gangway watch overnight and emergency escape routes. We then got our uniform (a smock, 2 tee-shirts and a baseball cap, A$80) and wet weather and safety gear. Up with the hammocks, and a chance to talk with co-voyagers, or just reflect on what was in store. There was certainly apprehension on my part, as apart from dingy sailing as a teenager, I had done no sailing at all. The ocean was entirely foreign to me.
Next day was preparations for departure and more training for our role. We got to know our Watch officers. Over the next few days they were our mentors, the leaders of our two watches. They taught, cajoled, sympathised, threatened, steered and praised us, individually and as a group. It was very enjoyable for me, who has been a military officer for too many years, always the one directing, being out the front, to be just one of the team, following orders and having to fuse with the rest of the group. Good to being using my muscles rather than my brain.
We had the chance to climb the rigging while safely in port. This of course was the activity that played on everyone's mind the most. What would we be permitted to do? What would we let ourselves do? Just how dangerous would it be?
We climbed to the forward fighting top - the platform about half way up the masts. Most of the climbing was, to my surprise, unrestrained. It was only near the platform, when the path became an overhang rather than a simple step climb, that we clipped onto a rope with our harness. I clung onto the rigging ferociously, sustaining the first of many bruises. Some experience at indoor rockclimbing would be very helpful to prepare for the climbs into the rigging
The voyage crew were split into two watches, starboard and port. With a full complement, this is usually three. I was part of starboard watch, under the tutelage of Dominic. Dom has a degree in Environmental Ecology. He joined in the UK three years ago and is still going strong. My watch of eight consisted of a great cross section including two 17 year old girls, friends. Kate had spent the last two Christmases aboard: in the Galapagos Islands and New Zealand, with her family. This time she journeyed alone, except that at the last she brought her friend Claire along. Joe, at age 80 (yes, eighty) being the oldest crew member ever, had a long yachting background and still has his own yacht at Mornington. While he did not venture aloft, he more than held his own on the deck.
One watch was on duty throughout the day. At night, from 2000 to 0800, watches split the night. Starboard watch would take the first half, port the second. Then the next day, starboard was on from 0800 to 1200, then port 1200 to 1600, with starboard again through to 2000, whence port would take the first half of the next night. Each watch was split in two also, so that at night during my watch's period, four people would be on for three hours, and then the other four for three also. The worst time by far was the 0200 to 0500. Generally there was sail handling to be done requiring a whole watch at the 0500 changeover, which delayed the return to bed for a recovery hour or so. Watch consisted of taking the wheel and performing lookout, and being available for anything else that may crop up. Any sail handling that did not require all hands on deck was performed by the watch team.
Taking the wheel was a pleasant time for me. First time was potentially stressful, going through 'the Rip' at the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. Capt Blake was beside me (and not beside himself, fortunately) giving orders to while I had to immediately respond. At other times the steering was to a heading or to an angle away from the wind. It was always a challenge to keep the ship as close to the direction required.
Usually two were forward to keep a watch. There were two so that each could keep the other awake, as this was very much the relax time while on watch.
Immediately following breakfast, the permanent crew would meet, followed by a meeting of the voyage crew with the captain and mate. The plans for the next day were laid out together with progress of the last 24 hours. Thereafter was cleaning duty, mops, buckets, scrubbing, washing with an inspection by the mate. Everyone was in getting dirty, making light of a chore. Morning tea, and then a lecture. We had one on ropes and sail handling, another on anchors and anchoring, and a third of extracts from a 19th century merchant seaman on the seagoing life. After lunch there was a quiet period, if there was no sail work, followed by some general maintenance work; I mainly was sanding down the boards on the mizzen fighting top in preparation for oiling. Further quiet time preceded dinner. The hammocks came out at 1830, and had to be away before 0800. Usually those who had the worst of the night watches were in their hammock soon after 2000. The physicality of the work meant that any chance for a rest, reflect and a snooze were gratefully received.
We were fortunate indeed to have a variety of weather conditions in our short time. This meant that there were many sail changes. The most profound and sudden of the changes occurred after four days, when we had been through the process a number of times and had begun to 'know the ropes'. Our teams had meshed, and we could almost predict what was required of us. As one who had failed scouts because of knots, I felt a little intimidated, but the demands were simple: mainly involving belaying ropes onto their pins. Most of our work involved being the engines pulling the ropes that moved the yards or raised and lowered the sails. Sometimes, especially in strong winds, a wearing of the ship - when the ship is turned around the wind, would have all hands working non-stop for 20 minutes. A substantial resetting of the sails may take an hour, and leave you pretty whacked. But in a satisfied way.
One person from each watch was assisted to help the cook (Caroline) and Cook's assistant (Ben) with each meal. This ended up being mainly performing washing up duties.
Captain Blake. Very aloof to begin with, he was not particularly approachable, even for matters directly to do with sailing of the vessel. That broke down the further we went, and he began to engage in conversation. It is clear that he knows Endeavour intimately; it is his life. He is the front man, and must deal with the media, something he finds difficult. He is not naturally effusive, or outgoing. He is enormously reassuring, however. I had total confidence in all he did.
Danny. A Shipwright who worked on the building of the Endeavour. Dauntingly strong, he could do the work of five others in sail handling. He has been part of the crew on and off since the beginning. He took a year off to return to Perth to work on the building of the replica of the Duyfken, the ship that in 1616 sailed from Batavia to the Gulf of Carpentaria to be the first accepted visit of Europeans to Australia.
Caroline. Wife of Danny, and as long associated with the project. The first aider as well, she takes all seriously and very capably. She has been spending time with paramedics to improve her medical skills.
Steve. Ship's mate. From the NSW central coast. He has had a few voyages with the Endeavour, but tries to keep close to home. He did a marvellous job as he was really in charge of us voyage crew: he gave the directions to Dom and Chris, who then run the watches.
The voyage crew. Ten male, eight female, 17 to 80. Most from Melbourne, with 2 from Canberra and one from Portland. Roxanne was being paid for the privilege as she is a reporter for the local Portland newspaper. Father and daughter; two young friends. Two from the local yacht club. Two had voyaged before, one for an extended period. Most really had no great affinity for Cook, just being aware of his story in relation to Australia, but rather they were fond of the sea and adventure, or just looking for something different.
We had everything the sky could think of: heat, rain, dead calm, on shore and off shore winds, gales from two directions; 5 metre swells coming out of the southern ocean where a 978mBar depression sat. No one wind condition lasted more than six hours. So we had lots of work on the sails. We sailed through the heads of Port Phillip Bay, past the 12 Apostles - a magnificent natural rock formation carved by the pounding waves direct from Antarctica, gave cannon salutes to two towns, and anchored overnight.
Coming up on deck after the first night underway to commence my watch at 0500 I discovered that we had been under motor all night, with wind almost absent. It would be a glorious day, and the sun was already over the horizon, with not a hint of cloud to be seen. There was a slight nip in the air after the relieving cool change that had passed through the previous evening. In anticipation of increasing wind, at the very least a sea breeze, it had been decided to set some sail and cut the engine. Most of all, the foremast top gallant was to be set. Four of the voyage crew were to go aloft. In this case, not just to the fighting top, but as far again. I would never get a better opportunity to climb all the way, and I charged into it. Not that I had any idea what I would be doing once I got up to the top.
After reaching the fighting top, you un-clipped again, and continued climbing un-restrained. The footholds became narrower and the rope ladder less firm, and it was not hard to have the thought press in that one false move and it could mean death. Once up on the teeth, a few small wooden struts which allowed you to then move out onto the footropes that run along the yardarm, there was a chance to appreciate just where you were. One of our number decided suddenly that she didn't much like it, and proceeded to be ill. Not a good place to be when you just want to lay down and ignore everything. All ship movements are exaggerated high on the mast. A 20 degree roll moves you a metre, perhaps, on the deck, and 30 metres up you will move five metres or more. Best thing to do is concentrate on the work at hand, as the view, while spectacular, is vertiginous. We undid the gasket coils and the knots tying the sail to the arm, and let the sail hang. Other ropes, controlled from the deck, would unfurl the sail fully. Feet on the footrope, belly curled over the yard, so that you are almost horizontal, working as did the sailors of the Endeavour (with the addition of a safety harness) over thirty metres above the ocean is a memorable and very satisfying event. I returned to the deck feeling extremely pleased to have achieved. There were few other opportunities to go to the T'Gallant, and in 30 knots of a howling northerly I was not really interested. Let some others share the experience.
That experience was gained, with interest, on Thursday afternoon. We had already had a 40 knot northerly slam into us completely unannounced late in the morning, requiring an intense period of work to bring the ship around and furl much of the sail. After lunch this work continued as the wind shifted t the west. The forward T'Gallant had to be put to bed. My watch were not on duty, so I was not considered for the trip aloft. Going up in 25 knot winds was bad enough, although the wind does push you into the rigging. Lesson one is that without exception you must climb on the windward side. While up in the sails and ropes we got another gale, 40 knots plus from the west. It was energising enough on the deck, besides at the top of the mast.
It is said that the second worst thing about seasickness is soon after the nausea starts, when you just want to curl up in a corner and die. The worst thing about seasickness is several hours later when you realise that you aren't going to die at all but must endure. There were three things guaranteed for the voyage: someone would steer the wrong way (Yes!), we would see dolphins (Yes!) and someone would be seasick (Yes!). In fact five of eighteen were, to the stage of vomiting. I had no idea how I would respond, so came prepared with "Quells" and "Avomine". I only felt very mild queasiness at the worst and by 48 hours was absolutely at home. Everyone who got sick were fine by 72 hours. In fact my biggest problem was to get my land legs back. I felt very unsteady for several days.
If you expect to travel on the Endeavour and loose weight from the physical work, forget it. The food was plentiful, nutritious and inventive. The Spicy fish soup was magnificent, even if it was not suited to the temperature at the time.
The wind was right on our nose approaching Portland (First permanent white settlement in Victoria, 1834), and with gusts up to 30 knots, we even had to take down all sails, diminishing our grandeur. A crowd of around 200 were there to greet us. It seems the local Aboriginal community had been asked by the Endeavour Foundation for permission to stay in Portland. This was a first for the town, and the Aboriginals were very appreciative. They conducted a "smoking ceremony" for all the ships' company, a high honour, whereby the smoke from a campfire and chanting would drive all evil spirits from the body, leaving only good spirits.
Australia is in the long and difficult process of reconciliation between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. Prime Minister Howard has refused a formal apology on behalf of the government and people of Australia to the wrongs done to the Aboriginals over the generations. Many people have said sorry in their own way, however. Captain Blake elected to apologise in the name of James Cook for the consequences of his voyage and the colonisation of Australia. I cannot say that the words spoken were uplifting; Capt Blake is no great orator, but I feel that the motives were right. Cook was a man of his times, but ahead in many ways we consider enlightened. I think he would be sympathetic to the Aborigine's plight if he were living today. I was pleased to witness this event.
We anchored on the last night, having sailed into Portland Bay, in some 12 metres about 10 nautical miles from port. By the time all was settled it was too late to take advantage. Next morning all were roused at 0630, the zodiac put over the side, and swimming the order of the day. It was all grey and bleak, and it had rained steadily overnight. It made the ocean appear a steely grey, and not particularly inviting, but just about everyone had a quick dip, with lookouts aplenty. The lookouts? Just for sharks. White pointers have been known to take humans mistaking them for seals. The risk is tiny, but it does play on Australians' minds, as each attack gets front page coverage.
Kate turned 17 on Wednesday. She thought it unlikely that she would have her 18th birthday on board. Captain Blake passed on presents from her family, and Caroline produced a cake.
The mood of some of the crew was a little bleak when it came to the future of the Endeavour. This was particularly so with Captain Blake, who as the CEO of the Endeavour Foundation, feels the financial viability of the Endeavour to be on his shoulders. He is the man responsible not just to have the ship seaworthy, but to have it paying its way into the future - including a substantial refit in a years' time in Fremantle. But the number of voyage crew since returning to Australia was worryingly low. It wasn't just my voyage that was substantially undermanned. How much was bluster, I do not know, but it was put forward that the Endeavour may fairly soon end up as a static display at the Maritime Museum in Sydney if things do not improve. There are a number of factors in this precarious situation: poor publicity in recent times, a lack of forward planning in the ship's schedule, returning to places that have already milked most of the people who would have gone out of their way to spend time and money on board. But if you want to be sure to not miss out on this incredible experience, the time to sign up is now. Five days is not enough, even though we got a whole lot more packed into our five days. To get a good experience you should be looking at 10 days. Being sick for 2 out of 10 days is much better than 2 out of 5. Would I do it again? On my own, probably not, as I have too many other things I want to do with my time. With my wife and/or daughters - I can't wait. My girls are only 10 and 8 so there is a little while to wait. So I need to be sure that the Endeavour will still be sailing in 5 years from now. Please help her and yourselves, by sailing.
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