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A review of the first five years

 

The Endeavour Replica - A review of the first five years

The idea for a museum-standard replica of the Endeavour evolved from an Australian federal government's plan to create a National Maritime Museum as a permanent legacy of the Bicentennial celebrations. Maritime historian Bruce Stannard conceived the idea of the replica as a permanent showpiece at the museum in Sydney's Darling Harbour. Stannard, a member of the museum's Council, then set out to raise the necessary $15 million.

This proved to be hard going. He approached TNT chief Sir Peter Abeles, who thought the project was too big for any one Australian company to fund. When Stannard came to Fremantle to cover the 1987 America's Cup defence he told Alan Bond about the Endeavour plan and mentioned Abeles' comment. Bond immediately replied that his company would provide all the money. He also promised to make the ship his gift to the nation.

As originally conceived, the replica was supposed to take between 18 months and two years to construct. Within this time frame the core of the Bond America's Cup team could stay together and work at boat-building.

In October 1987 a Bond executive conference resoundingly approved full financing of the project. Two weeks later the stock market crashed. Undaunted, Bond pressed on with creating a subsidiary called Endeavour Replica. One of his first moves was to appoint John Longley as project manager.

Construction of the new Endeavour began on January 1, 1988, and its keel was laid in October. Throughout the next year progress was made on the hulls, sails and rig while Longley purchased most of the other materials for the ship.

In late 1989 Bond Brewing was placed in receivership. Bond decided to mothball the Endeavour and see what he could do about raising other support. For the next six months Longley's team stopped work on the hull but kept the facility open to the public, and continued working on the spars and sails. Longley tried his hand at seeking corporate donations but, given the economic climate, that was a formidable task.

At an America's Cup meeting in June of 1990 Longley encountered representatives of Yoshiwa Company Ltd, a Japanese firm to which Bond had sold his two 12-metre yachts after the 1987 Cup defence. Longley now tried to interest them in a package of America's Cup expertise. They demurred, but offered to buy the Endeavour.

Yoshiwa foresaw a public relations bonanza through the ship, first as a showpiece at the forthcoming America's Cup in San Diego, then as a key participant in the 1992 Columbus quincentenary in America and Europe. A verbal agreement was struck and funds were quickly provided, allowing the team to fashion the stern and bow, which finally made the replica appear to the layman as a ship rather than a building construction site.

But in October 1990 the invasion of Kuwait buffeted Japan's property market in which Yoshiwa was deeply involved. By year's end the company reluctantly withdrew from the Endeavour project before the sale papers were signed.

The entire Endeavour staff was made redundant. Longley went to Peter Lucas, who by now had long been running Bond Corporation in its founder's stead, and suggested he continue working voluntarily with a core of helpers. After two weeks the Endeavour Replica Company reopened - under the conditions that construction would not recommend nor further debts be incurred. Already the company owed the Bond Corporation almost $10 million on direct loans, about $620,000 to the Japanese, almost $200,000 to the hull's initial subcontractor and another $60,000 to sundry creditors.

Through a half-price sale on souvenir goods in the Endeavour's shop the small creditors were paid and potential bankruptcy claims were avoided. National media coverage was sought, in hopes of raising the last $4.5 million needed.

Stannard found Arthur Weller, chairman of Britain's Maritime Trust, the custodian of the UK's most famous ships. Weller, a Scottish master mariner, married to an Australian and a part-time resident in Australia, also masterminded Great Britain's Bicentennial gift to Australia, the Young Endeavour. Weller offered to create and head a charitable foundation into which the ship could be gifted, so long as Bond Corporation would sign the ship over with no strings attached.

Lucas agreed but pointed out that the firm's creditors would not be satisfied with the arrangement without proof that construction would be completed. Longley contacted John Dawkins, then Minister for Employment and Member for Fremantle, who examined the project and promised to seek federal government help.

The Japanese agreed to convert their equity into a sponsorship for the Foundation, and lease details for the shipbuilding facility were finalised with Bond's Dalhold investments. Two days later Dalhold went into liquidation.

When liquidator John Lord visited the Endeavour he was immediately captivated by it and applied himself to helping save the project. A better lease was negotiated for the building. Even so, eight months elapsed between the withdrawal of the Japanese and the recommencement of construction, after $2.25 million in federal and NSW funds were approved, to be paid in instalments.

The first two tranches of the government financing were provided without incident but the Foundation didn't have quite enough money to reach the seven-eigths completion of the project which was necessary before the last tranche would be sent. The Endeavour team therefore accepted a two-thirds pay cut for six weeks, after which they were back-paid.

With completion of the Endeavour's 18th century aspects now funded, the foundation sought a range of smaller contributions in materials, cash and promotional programs from corporations and the public to make up the last $2 million needed to launch the vessel. These monies will pay for a required 20th century module to be built into the ship, construction of the launching apparatus and installation of the rig.

Earlier this year British tycoon Gary Weston, chairman of British Associated Foods and Australian company George Weston Foods, made a visit to Western Australia and was shown round the ship. As a result he agreed to donate $1.04 million to the project.

Launching is now expected to take place in December.

From information supplied by the Endeavour Foundation

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 940, volume 16, number 3 (1993).

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