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The Endeavour Replica - Return to Australia

Five months after leaving the U.K. in November 2004, the Endeavour replica was approaching the east coast of Australia on the final stage of her 12,000-mile voyage to Sydney. But Captain Chris Blake’s original plans to sail into Sydney Harbour had to be altered when Customs officials said that they would have to clear the ship first. There was mutual agreement that this formality could be completed in Botany Bay, a location that would also be convenient for the ship to take on the various civic dignitaries who were to sail on her into Sydney Harbour.

The itinerary was planned down to the minute, with Endeavour arriving at the Heads (the narrow coastal entrance to Sydney Harbour) at noon on Sunday 17 April. There she would be joined by a welcoming fleet of sail with hundreds of private boats joining a number of historic vessels. This spectacular flotilla would sail down the Harbour, and Endeavour would exchange a gun salute with Fort Dennison at 1410hr. Twenty minutes later she was scheduled to pass under the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, arriving at her new home, the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour, at 1500hr.

That was the plan, and at 10am a total of 41 dignitaries and members of the press duly embarked on Endeavour at Botany Bay. Foremost amongst these VIPs was Rod Kemp (Australia’s Minister for Art and Sports), the leading protagonist for recalling the vessel from her European tour. With all the guests safely aboard, Captain Chris Blake fired a cannon as a mark of respect to Cook’s monument on the shore, and then set course to leave the bay.

It was at this point that fate took a hand, and the best-laid plans of Captain Blake went sadly astray. 235 years after Cook first mapped Botany Bay, and in full view of his landing place, Captain Blake found an underwater obstruction and Endeavour ran aground! The Captain tried to placate his guests by telling there was no imminent danger as Endeavour was designed to "take the ground". However, the ground that he was referring to was coastal foreshores and riverbeds of sand and mud, and not a submerged outcrop of rock!

A tug was called to tow the ship free, and when that failed a second tug was summoned. And when they failed, more tugs were called. Eventually there were four tugs trying to prise her free from the grip of the rocks. But the rocks declined to release their prize and Endeavour had to wait for the rising tide to free her. Even then, despite being clear of the obstruction she could not set off for Sydney Harbour until divers from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority had been down to inspect her hull. Although initial reports stated that the damage to the ship’s timbers was just superficial, unofficial accounts relate how lengths of sacrificial planking had been ripped free of the hull and floated away. Eventually the ship was given the all clear to proceed to her final destination.

The majority of the 41 guests who had joined the ship earlier in the day decided to disembark at Botany Bay. The delay meant that the grand welcome into Sydney Harbour had been cancelled. Endeavour was now well behind schedule and it was dusk before she eventually slipped through the Heads and sailed unaccompanied along the Harbour to the Museum where a crowd had patiently waited to celebrate her return.

She arrived to be greeted with the news that the Australian Government had acquired the vessel from the HM Bark Endeavour Foundation, and was gifting it to the Australian National Maritime Museum. The Government had also agreed to provide the museum with an annual sum of AU$746,000 towards the cost of maintaining the vessel in a seaworthy condition so she could continue to be sailed around the Harbour, and further afield.

Now all that remains to be decided is who pays for the repairs!

Cliff Thornton

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 12, volume 28, number 3 (2005).

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