Sailing the Endeavour: Day two

By Aaron Cook 7 November 2013
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Sleeping on the Endeavour is as much of an adventure as a 30 m climb up the mast.

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, thanks to Australian National Maritime Museum.

SLEEPING ON THE ENDEAVOUR is an adventure in itself. On Cook’s original 18th century ship, 60 men squeezed into an area the size of a classroom. Each crew member had 14 inches in which to sling a hammock and the only personal space was a sea chest in which to stow gear.

There were no modern conveniences onboard: the toilet was a hole through a plank hanging off the front of the ship, and showers were nonexistent. The stench down here after months at sea must have been appalling.

On the replica Endeavour we have the luxury of showers and toilets, but sleeping remains a challenge. 40 of the voyage crew sling their hammocks in a confined space. We are packed in like sardines, literally side by side, and someone jokes: “I don’t even get this close to my wife.” We’re up at 4 a.m. for watch duty, to ensure nothing foul befalls the ship. There’s a beautiful crescent moon on the eastern horizon by 5 a.m. with Jupiter alongside.

After breakfast it’s all hands on deck to get the ship off its mooring. A group climbs the foremast to unfurl the fore course sail. A couple more sails are set for speed and in no time we’re cruising through Sydney Heads.

THE ATMOSPHERE ONCE we’re on open water seduces me. In the harbour, the drone of jetboat engines and the calls of yachties are ever present, but here, the only sound is water lapping against wood as the ship rocks back and forth. The autumn sun warms the deck and there’s a cool breeze and enough shade for those who want it. There isn’t an unhappy face in sight.

Aaron Cook up the rigging of the Endeavour

Aaron Cook turns pinkish before a brilliant sunset, as he towers 30 m above deck on a mast on the Endeavour (Photo: Alex Lin)

At 5 p.m. it’s my turn up the rigging — and the way the ship is listing back and forth, it looks pretty hairy up there. I’m heading to the fore topgallant yard, one of the highest points on the ship. I have complete faith in the professional crew and the safety equipment. But I’m scared.

We start up the rigging and I feel more confident than yesterday. We climb 30 m above deck, adjust our safety clips, then shimmy out along a rope that hangs beneath the yard.

The ship is listing about five degrees to either side, which means we’re swinging to and fro about 5 m in total. As I cling to the yard, my muscles shaking from nerves, I realise the stunning view is is well worth the climb. As we tie up the topgallant sail, there’s a reddish-pink sky to the west and the lights of boats on the horizon are starting to twinkle.

Half an hour later my hands are still shaking from the exhilaration, and nothing can wipe the smile off my face. Not even midnight watch duty.

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