The International Writers Magazine: History and Darwin's Endeavour
VOYAGE ON THE ENDEAVOUR
James Skinner is all at sea
men are the heroes, the ships the heroines. The only villain is
the sea, the cruel sea, wrote Nicholas Monserrat in his famous
epic about the Battle of the North Atlantic.
Thousands of ships and seamen were lost during the convoy runs in
WWII in what was probably the worst ever maritime destruction campaign
in history. A quasi documentary, the book describes in detail the
horrors of war at sea, yet reveals the discipline, camaraderie and
respect of those humans praying for survival in a never ending nightmare.
naval conflicts have been no different. The constant disputes in earlier
centuries between European imperial powers such as France, Spain and
Britain, created many illustrious figures scavenging the oceans in pursuit
of wealth. Sir Frances Drake and Horatio Nelson were part of an elite
who excelled in both bravery and carnage and entered the history books
as icons for future schoolchildren to idolise and follow. Yet mans
love affair and passion for the sea has not always been belligerent.
His quest for knowledge beyond the known boundaries led to the discovery
of our modern world. We owe our present welfare to the daring, compassionate,
orderly and above all humane young sailor-scientists of the past who
exchanged a musket for a botanical flask, a sword for a quilt pen and
possessed the driving force within an unbreakable spirit of adventure.
Captain James Cook, master of the Endeavour was one of them.
Having survived as a master mariner during the seven year war between
Britain and France (1756-63), Captain Cook was requested by the Royal
Society in London to take a group of scientists headed by a wealthy
gentleman named Joseph Banks on an expedition to Tahiti. In 1768 he
set sail on a small coal-hauling bark, 368 tons and 98 feet long renamed
HMS Endeavour with a specific request to observe the passage
of the planet Venus across the Sun. Three years later, not only did
he complete the original mission, he went on to chart the east cost
of Australia, New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of
Queens land, a long standing navigational hazard. His navigational skills
and entrepreneur spirit were not his only assets. Thanks to his insistence
on a varied food diet and strict cleanliness aboard ship his crew did
not suffer from scurvy, the dreaded killer of most seamen in the early
centuries. But it was the wealth of scientific knowledge ranging from
plant species to records of aboriginal customs and dialects brought
back by the Endeavour that caused the greatest impact on
their return to Britain. This was the real reason why the three year
long voyage remains today as the reference chapter on discoveries in
most of the worlds history books.
It is not surprising, therefore that in the late 1980s the Australian
Maritime Museum proposed building a replica of the vessel to present
as a commemoration of Cooks achievements for mankind. Despite
initial financial hardships, the ship was eventually built, and to the
exact measurements and characteristics of the original design. Apart
from a 'few' new safety elements such as a diesel engine and computer
navigational equipment, nobody visiting or sailing on her today could
tell the difference. She is a magnificent replica of the 18th century
original vessel. But enough historical jargon, the real joy is actually
venturing on a voyage with the new Captain Cook and his crew, Captain
Chris Blake, Chief Operating Officer of the H.M.Bark Endeavour Foundation,
Master and Commander of Endeavour.
I waited patiently at the docks to board this floating antique,
First Mate George Lemann was ticking off the names on the passenger
list and taking their money as the slow onslaught of local guests
arrived for the voyage. At least this group wont have
to work. Its a sailing, eating and drinking day only!
he said. The norm is that when we go to sea for several days,
the majority of our paying passengers are taught to actually man
the vessel. This is the beauty of it all. We immerse them in the
life aboard exactly as it was in the old days. Not only do they
learn to hoist the sails, scrub the decks, paint the woodwork, grease
and tidy the rigging and repair any damages they also take watches
and navigate this floating beauty across the seven seas. This
particular trip was a sail around the bay of Vigo, but believe me,
it was sufficient to appreciate Georges short dissertation.
must confess, I dont know the first thing about boats. It was
all new to me. My first impression was that I would be constantly in
the way of humans running around doing things. I looked at the other
passengers and am sure they felt the same. There were ninety of us useless
extras hanging about either on deck or down below. Once we left the
dockside, using the diesel of course, the Captain shouted a set of indecipherable
orders. 250 degrees North-by-North West. Hard astern. Steady!
Two big guys, either side of the steering wheel turned it in strict
obedience to the instructions, whilst another fiddled with the engines
speed. The younger crew members began to pull and pull at an endless
number of different size ropes. Nothing seemed to be happening until
suddenly the numerous sails curled up at the top of the masts began
to unravel and slowly flow down towards the deck. The vessel looked
like a huge flower bursting into bloom. The idea is to give her
enough room to set her sails, point her in the direction towards the
open ocean, and with enough wind sail her across and in
view of the whole city. About 5 knots should do it, said George.
If you say so, I thought.
Once on our way, as a sleuth journalist, I thought Id first check
out the ship and have a go at the passengers later! As per the brochure,
in describing the foredeck, the bowsprit extended over the bow keeping
the tension to hold the masts in place. The sailors lavatories,
the quaintly named seats of ease sat either side. In the
old days, there was no toilet paper, so the crew used the end of a rope,
rags and water! You dropped your deposits straight into
the sea. Down in the galley, all food was cooked in a huge iron stove
called a firehearth sitting on stone set in tin to protect the deck.
And when it was bedtime, each sailor had around 14 inches in which to
sling his hammock in the mess deck. By the way, you had to be about
3 feet tall to walk around below deck. The officers and gentlemen had
their own mess and miniscule cabins and shared a so called Great
cabin specially built as a sort of captains conference room
for use during the original scientific missions. Above deck the impression
was like sailing aboard a huge cobweb with crewmembers scrambling up
and down the rigging like spiders. All in all it was very quaint and
exactly as per the original design.
The first passenger to literally bump into me was eight-year-old Manuel,
all dressed up like Peg Leg Pete including a plastic sword.
Hes been waiting for this day for weeks, said his
father, all he does is think, read and dream about ships. His
bedroom is full of pictures and models of every kind you can think of.
Its the day of his life. I took him straight to the captain
who let him take a hand at steering the ship. The kid was
petrified. Then I met Kurt and Gretel, a couple from Germany. They had
actually flown all the way from Munich just to take this short voyage.
We could not do it any other way. I wondered why.
I came across a television crew doing a documentary, a press reporter
whom I knew from the local rag and the usual comedian who kept boasting
about his seafaring knowledge. He owned a small yacht to go fishing
over the weekends. Big deal! But what about the odd paying crew members?
Well, most were youngsters with strong muscles and calluses on their
hands. They came from various parts of the world including Australia
and Britain. One of them told me he turned up in his tuxedo after a
London dinner party just before they departed for Vigo.
A cannon was suddenly fired. I forgot to say that the ship also carried
cannons in order to scare away any intruders. Thats the story
line. It was climb the rigging time. Not for me as I have
a gammy leg, but I watched in amazement as a great number of passengers
ventured up into the crows nest for a better view all round.
Pretty tricky exercise but not as dramatic as the Titanic. There were
no icebergs around. Approaching midday it was mealtime. Casually, we
were informed to go below deck to a buffet lunch. Plenty of salads,
hams and cold chicken sloshed down with wine, beer or soda kept all
of us quiet for a couple of hours. Then the wind died down. We virtually
sat in the middle of the Bay of Vigo not moving an inch. Everyone began
to look at each other. This is the worst thing that can happen
on a voyage, said George. The other is obviously gale force
winds. The engine started up and reluctantly the captain set the
course back to the Vigo docks. It was four oclock in the afternoon.
Curriculum Vitae: The Endeavour is currently based at Whitby,
North Yorkshire, United Kingdom. Information regarding voyages or catering
parties are available on their website www.barkenendeavour.com.au.
Have a nice trip!
© James Skinner. Avril 2004.
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