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The Endeavour Replica - Building it

Like many other members of the CCSU I have been keenly interested in the Western Australia project to construct a replica of HM Bark Endeavour, arguably the most important vessel in Australia's maritime history.

Perhaps like others, perhaps not, I would have to confess some mixed feelings about this being an extravaganza of alan Bond, another larger than life undertaking by this colourful, world strutting, British born entrepreneur. Nevertheless, the ship construction shed built for the replica project has held a magnetic attraction. A desire to see the vessel under construction, preferably before it got covered up by the planking, has now been fulfilled. This article was begun in the Norfolk Hotel, Fremantle, a short cannon shot from a remarkable shipbuilding activity. Whatever reservations I had, I now confess to a strong commitment to the completion of what is planned to be a great ship. This visit has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of my love affair with Captain James Cook, RN, FRS. Why should this be?

Let me unravel some strands of thought and feelings.

Excellence in mankind's Endeavour, on any scale, I have always found exciting. Make no mistake. The work on this vessel is superb, and I suppose because of its deep historical associations, strangely and strongly moving. I'm well and truly hooked. And so would you be.

A major factor in this State of Excitement (the promo for W. A. on their vehicle number plates) has been the time given by Captain John Lancaster, RAN Retd. His responsible for the Voluntary Guides who look after the constant flow of visitors, and for the photographic record of every aspect of the project. The first half day visit was taken up in talking about the history of the project; the second on a detailed bow to stern description of the processes of design and construction. I am greatly indebted to this immensely knowledgeable man of the sea, and his colleague Mike Lefroy, the project's Education Officer. Mike is a firm friend of Beaglehole's writing.

At the time of writing [24 January 1990] there is a very black cloud over the project. This arises from the financial uncertainties of the Bond Corporation world-wide, and a temporary cessation of cash flow to this project, a wholly owned subsidiary. Ironically, Verna Philpot told me yesterday that the Cook's Log she received the day before reported the commencement of the Whitby project with its look-a-like Endeavour.

How did the building of a museum quality Endeavour replica in Western Australia come to be? The Australian Bicentenary in 1988 and the decision to establish a National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour, an arm of Sydney Harbour, spawned the idea of building an Endeavour replica. A Commonwealth representative approached Alan Bond for the first major contribution to start the ball rolling. Bondy (as he is familiarly known, as well as winning the America Cup) responded by saying he would make the ship a bicentenary gift to the Nation! So far the Bond Corporation has expended some $7,000,000 and an amount of the same dimension is need to complete the job. Where this money will come from is the $7m question. Will the Australian Government provide a dollar for dollar? Will other corporations come in to finish the job? Perhaps by the time this article is printed we will all be the wiser.

To the construction story. Despite beliefs to the contrary, there were no drawings with which to begin the design of the vessel.

The length of the keel, the placement of frame members, and the beam breadth were the dimensions to which the shipwrights in the Fishburn shipyard in Whitby produced repetitively the Whitby cat. Profile of the hull was fitted to a kind of template.

This project is centred on the knowledge and research of David White, Naval Architect (ex RN) who is on contract to the project for three years from his job as Curator at Greenwich Maritime Museum. Without him the ship could not have been built. He and his small staff have now produced some 600 drawings.

The construction is being carried out by a team of shipwrights (now laid off) employed by S.E. Ward and Co under the direction of master boat builder Steve Ward.

As mentioned above, the project plan calls for a museum quality replica. This imposes a demanding high standard on every part of design and construction, and creates unique problems in wood engineering terms. For example, Fishburn had stocks of seasoned oak from which to select ships timbers - the timber from about 200 oak trees was used for each cat. Among this stock were oak trunks with heavy limbs with a configuration which made possible the cutting of appropriately shaped frame members, including those for the apple shaped bow sections. No such oak trees were available in Fremantle,. It was decided to construct from jarrah, locally grown, very hard, very durable (and beautifully grained) which grows straight up without any appreciable branching. So this led to a decision to use the jarrah in laminated form, to be heated, shaped and fitted to tight specification. All through design and construction has been the issue - how to work with modern materials and methods to produce an authentic replica which will have a life of 400 to 500 years (at least double that of the original) and will not create crippling maintenance costs. Quite a challenge, which it appears to this landlubber, is being met beautifully. (How the maintenance will be funded is for the future.)

At the time of writing, the timbers of the frame of the ship have been engineered, and are in place. They produce a feeling akin to awe. Captain Lancaster referred to "an inverted cathedral". (And in a lovely St John's Church in Fremantle the organist drew my attention to the "ship ceiling".) The abiding impression is quite massive strength. The timber frame members rear up from the keel to where the ship's rail will be. And the frames are quite closely spaced. The wale girts the hull from stem to stern. Very solid horizontal deck beams stretch from side to side, attached to the frame by twin half moonshaped lodging knees. All truly imposing. But for the financial hiatus, work would have been proceeding to plank the hull. Below the wale which sits above the water line, planks will be jarrah and above specially selected oregon from the U.S.A. In a sense the hull is three great walls of stout timber-frame members, external and internal planking. When one thinks about the weight of cargo, the height and weight of masts and rigging, competing with wild weather and heavy seas, and the immensity of years of shipbuilding know-how. This surely is one of man's high achievements - one of the sailing vessels by which the mysteries of the planet were unlocked (and its riches plundered).

A little publicised aspect of the project is the requirement to conform to Commonwealth Government regulations regarding auxiliary power which must be fitted to the craft before it is allowed to sail out of harbour! Two powerful engines and associated plant will have to be fitted - below the lower deck out of sight - both when at anchor and when sailing. James Cook could sail around the world without engine power. How the world changes.

Beside the ship shed, the mizen (the chosen spelling) mast stands proudly, with a house flag or project emblem flying. Thought the shortest of the three masts, it still looks quite tall, but that will be different when it is set to the keel. the mast came to the ship shed as a solid baulk of timber, where it was halved, quartered, eighthed, sixteenthed and smoothed to its tapered final form. The wardrobe of 17 sails are being produced in the sail loft from a canvas like synthetic Duradon and are being hand made, except for the main machine sewn seams.

The blacksmith's shop on site with a blacksmith whose armorial signs which hangs outside includes a Danish crown, signifying royal accreditation. Ropes and cordage are being produced from synthetics, except for the cable, a massive hawser, used for anchoring the ship, has been made from a natural fibre, to be draped decoratively along the main deck.

The hull frame members are fabricated by shipwrights in the off-site workshop, and then fitted in the ship shed. on site steam boxes heat the timbers to allow the final shaping to the required configuration.

The next major stage of construction ahead is the fitting of the planks to the hull. Each plank will require to be heated in a steam box for four hours, to achieve the required malleability, and then will have to be fitted to its allotted place within 10 minutes from removal from the box.

When this planking is completed the craft will be ready for launching. to permit this the complete end of the shed facing the water will have to be removed and a slip way built to enable the launching to take place into Fishermans's Harbour. What a day. The ship will be fitted out at a wharf adjacent to the ship shed. This will include the 10 cannon which have been forged and are being turned at a Defence Factory in Melbourne.

The time table for the project has been:

  • October 1988 - laying of the keel
  • October 1990 - the launching
  • October 1991 - sail away to New Zealand
  • 26 Jan. 1992 - sail into Botany Bay on Australia Day.

The crew on the delivery voyage will be young Australians drawn from sail training ships, first to New Zealand and then across the Tasman (will it be blown off course?) to Botany Bay and Sydney Harbour to berth at its resting place at the Australian National Maritime Museum, surely one of its most treasured elements.

A major aspect of this project, complementary to the design and construction work, is that of education. On site in addition to the walkways constructed so that walk to an elevated viewing platform, and then through the sail loft past the blacksmith's shop, voluntary guides show visitors the videos and introduce them to the printed material. Incidentally, negotiations are in hand with Australia Post to borrow display cabinets in which the philatelic display put together by Verna Philpot and Riemer Brouwer may be displayed. However the major educational thrust has gone into two programmes costing about $700,000! There is one for primary schools and one for secondary school students, a total of 1500 altogether.

The primary level programme is a partly animated video dealing with Cook's first voyage in the Endeavour with sets of teaching aid material and a cassette of songs. A set of this has been sent to every primary school in Australia.

That for those in secondary schools is a beauty - a computer program also covering the voyage of the Endeavour requiring students to study the operational situations which are unfolded and decide what they would do as the Commander. Complete the voyage and you get a Master Mariner's certificate. Fail and you go to the bottom of the sea. Every Secondary School in Australia was the recipient of this package. A big question is whether the material has been well used.

For the future...

Watch out for the publication in due course of the three books which are to be published dealing with building of the Endeavour replica. One will be a technical book by David White - I hope this report will whet your appetite for it. we in the Unit know a great deal about the Commander - this project enables us to get to know the ship in a similar way. Another book will be a glossy for the coffee table, and a third will steer a middle course between these two.

And watch out for developments toward the completion of a job so brilliantly begun. The worst scenario I heard was that of selling plastic bags of laminated jarrah chips for the barbie! The Australian nation would never be able to face the world honourably if it were not to see the job finished as it has been tackled to the present.

Robert Martin

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 734, volume 13, number 3 (1990).

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