short while ago I was wandering along, minding my own business, looking for a car park when I saw a ship. Nothing too surprising about this, I was on a wharf at the time, and the two often go together. I didn’t pay it too much attention at the time either. I was looking for a car park, & it did not offer one. The big masts and lots of ropes captured my attention for a longer span than most things do, but as I had mentioned, I was on a mission. And pretty tired, as it was about 4am. But then, right in front of me, I saw what could only be described as a sign.It said “car park” with an arrow. But it was a night for strange and mysterious signs, because below it was another saying “crew on the Endeavour”. I interpreted the mysterious signs to mean that that the ship was the Endeavour, and that I could get myself a ride on it. And that I needed to turn right to get a park.
I was in.
For those few of you reading this who do not live in the favoured lands, the Endeavour was the ship that Captain Cook discovered & mapped New Zealand, large parts of Australia & half of the Pacific.
Not being one to to rush in, I checked with my boss on Monday whether I could take a week off. The conversation went something like this “David, can I have a week off”.
“Yeah, when?” He is good like that, though I did hit him at 9am & he was probably still half asleep and thought I was asking if he wanted a coffee. That or he was just really glad to get rid of me for a week.
I had picked the sailing from Bristol to Jersey for a number of sound and important reasons. The food in Jersey is good. You can get duty free booze there. It was a week long trip – long enough, but not too long, and it was during a quiet period at work, so I thought I would be able to get the time off without having to quit, which is a little extreme for a short trip. And the weather is generally pretty good in November isn’t it?
So, I had a week sailing from Bristol to Jersey on the replica of an 18th century collier. The question you are all asking now is “What was it like?” (I know only cool people read my website, so I won’t have anyone asking “But why?”)
The Endeavour is operated by a non-profit organisation, which has the education of people as one of its major aims. I learnt a number of things, and probably the best way to describe the experience is to tell you some of the things I learnt:
I am not good at tying knots
I am not good at climbing high things (actually this was something I knew, but had reconfirmed. Again)
I do not learn best while up high things
I am good at hanging on to things
Tying knots while hanging on to things is difficult
With sufficient incentive it can be done
Tall ships involve a lot of high things
And tying things while you are up there
Hammocks are the most comfortable place to sleep in a rolling boat (the hammock stays level like a pendulum when the boat rolls).
Failing a hammock, solid wooden sea chests will do nicely if you are tired enough.
Likewise any mostly horizontal space out of the wind
Tying your own hammock is a powerful incentive to learn a few knots
A touque makes an adequate pillow (for those of you in the favoured lands, it also known as a beanie, but mine came from Canada, so it retains its original name)
The best spot on the boat is the fender lounge – out of the wind, horizontal & nice soft fenders to lean against.
Always coil rope clockwise
No firearms licence is needed to own a cannon
I want a cannon
It is a survey requirement for all Australian ships to have Vegemite (the 2nd mate told me, it must be true, though I was not complaining)
There are a lot of ropes on the boat:
They all have a name, just don’t ask me what they are.
So much for what I learnt. All of life is a learning experience, and we all know how exciting that is most of the time. What did we do? Basically we had three watches of about 12 people, and there was always a watch on duty. One night we got to sleep for a whole seven straight hours! The duty watch did everything from steering the boat to watching that the monkeys steering the boat weren’t about to steer it into something. Other tasks included climbing up the high things to pull sails up or down or generally piss about with them as the captain wished.
The observant among you will have noted that high things have been mentioned a couple of times. They deserve further comment. Every time the sails came up or down, a watch had to go aloft. The photo shows the situation nicely.
Simply climb up the netting on the outside. If you only have to deal with the mainsail (the bottom one), you climbed up to the narrowest point of the netting & stepped across onto the boom. Simple. It was never more than about a 70cm gap between the netting and the boom. Then you could clip yourself onto the safety line. From there you untied all of the ropes holding the sail up, or pulled it up & tied it up. If you were working on the topsail, you simply kept climbing. Yes, up the inverted bit to the fighting top (the flat platform. There you could stand and quiver for a while before climbing up some more to the next boom.
Of course, this occurred while you were at sea, so the boat rolled some while you were up there, just to add to the entertainment. It did not roll suddenly violently, just quietly and sufficiently to make you very aware that you were 20 metres up the mast.
This photo nicely illustrates the disregard for vertical the boat had. This was taken, as you can see, when it was nice and sunny, not when it was blowing its guts out like that night.
This was, without a doubt, the second most scary thing about the trip. On a scale of scary things it rates about a 7, where the realisation that you have just run out of air and you are still 20 meters down is 5, and Wednesday night was about a 9.
On Wednesday night, we were in the middle of the English Channel. And the weather picked up. It turns out it did not pick up as much as the Captain was expecting, but that is nice in hindsight. It got to a force 8, gusting to 9. Also known as a gale, where twigs break off trees. For those of you who are more analytically minded, the wind speeds were 62-74 km/h. Gusting to about 90. The average height of the waves is about 5.5m
During a lot of this time, we were sleeping below decks in our hammocks. Or attempting to. While hammocks ride out a lot of the rolling of the ship, this only works until the ship heels over enough that the side of your hammock hits the ceiling. This is about 45 degrees over. The fact that you can hear things breaking and shifting on the deck (aka your ceiling) does not help the sleeping either.
That was a very long night. A significant part of it was spent reflecting on the fastest way to the survival suits in the event of the damned ship capsizing and the knowledge that given the water temperature out there, the survival time was number in minutes, and not many of them. Second to this thought was reflection on the fact that we had a GPS, engine & radar, so knew if we were about to run into something solid & could do something about it. These little accessories were things that Cook did not have.
The night passed, and we made it alive & unscathed, but damned tired. Travel has got easier.