Sailing the Endeavour: Day four
Shore leave at Broken Bay provides a glimpse of unique Australian wildlife.
AG writer Aaron Cook steps aboard the Endeavour replica to relive the beginnings of Australia’s colonial era, and learn a bit about sailing an 18th century ship. Tune in for his daily blog.
DURING THEIR VOYAGE UP the Australian coastline, the crew aboard Endeavour recorded encounters with new animals and plants. In his journal, Cook records encounters with dingos, possums, snakes and birds, but the bulk of his attention was reserved for a certain marsupial, never before seen by Europeans: “It was of a light mouse Colour and the full size of a Grey Hound, and shaped in every respect like one,” Cook wrote on 24 June 1770.
The naturalist Joseph Banks learned from an Indigenous tribe that the animal was called a Kanguru. The only thing to be done was to shoot at one. “We saw a good many of them about Endeavour River, but kill’d only 3, which we found very good Eating,” said Cook a few days later.
I don’t know it yet, but today I’ll have my own encounters with the unique Australian wildlife, as we prepare for shore leave on the beaches of Broken Bay.
AS WE ENTER THE bay the water changes from a deep ocean blue to an estuarine green. Large jellyfish, a little smaller than basketballs, amble through the calm waters. We drop anchor and offload an inflatable rescue boat to reach land. Ahead is a beautiful 100 m stretch of golden brown sand. There are surprisingly few people in sight; we’re only 30 km from downtown Sydney but it appears the secret’s not out about Broken Bay.
Here I have my first encounter with a goanna. My inclination is to turn tail and run. Those claws look sharp. But as a pair of large, dark-grey monitor lizards slink past, none of the Australians around me seems concerned. “Their tails taste really good,” says someone behind me. Perhaps not a lot has changed since Cook’s day.
A game of beach cricket starts up, but a few of us decide to walk to the top of a nearby ridge for some exercise. We are rewarded with a unique view: from a rocky outcrop, we can see Endeavour sitting majestically in the bay below.
On the walk, a number of bull ants attach themselves to my socks and bite my ankles. I dance around like madman, condemned to nurse swollen ankles for days to come.
DINNER ON ENDEAVOUR IS usually taken in a modern mess on the bottom deck of the ship, but tonight tables have been set on the 18th century middle deck. A toast of rum prepares us all for the Sods Opera, a Royal Navy tradition. Each watch delivers a hastily prepared performance — there are songs, skits, and a rousing rendition of a Banjo Patterson poem. Entertainment ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous.
To finish the night, Ross Mattson, the master of the ship, erects a sail on deck as a movie screen projection, and humbles us with footage of Endeavour with nearly all of her sails set. Myself and the voyage crew, now experts at this sailing gig, comment proudly on how beautiful the ship looks at full stretch.