Sailing on the Endeavour – November 2019

 As a young lad I loved reading the Hornblower novels and always dreamed of adventures sailing the oceans on tall ships. So when the opportunity came up to join the HMB Endeavour for the four day Picton to Wellington section of the Tuia 250 expedition around New Zealand, I signed up without a second thought. 

The Endeavour was docked next to the Picton Interislander terminal and we met on the wharf at 0730 hrs for a welcome talk and the opportunity to meet some of the other crew. There were 36 of us volunteers (12 women and 24 men) and we were split up into three watches named after the masts; Foremast, Mainmast and Mizzenmast. We carried our gear aboard and after being shown around the ship we started our safety briefing and training. The first challenge was to climb aloft. The first time we were all very nervous. As you take that first swing out onto the rigging your heart is pounding, your legs are shaking and your brain is desperately telling yourself not to look down. The last section you’re actually climbing outwards but you concentrate on overcoming your fear and eventually make it up to the top without mishap. The main mast is 39 metres high and when you get out to the topsail yard arm it‘s totally exhilarating. Of course by the end of the trip we were all running up and down the rigging like pros. 

The HMB Endeavour was launched in 1994 and is a replica of Captain Cook’s vessel in which he circumnavigated New Zealand in 1768. It was built to resemble as close as possible the original ship. Hull length is 33 metres, draught is 3.6 m and displacement is 550 tonnes. The deck below is known as the ‘18th century deck’ which has accommodation for all crew and officers. The 36 voyage crew sleep in one big area and we were shown how to rig up our hammocks ready for our first night. The 16 professional crew and officers have bunks. The deck below that, which on the original ship was the cargo hold, is known as the ‘20th century deck’ which houses the modern facilities including mess room, galley, bathrooms, and engine room. The ship, when not under sail, is powered by two Cat 405 hp diesel engines with feathering props. 

We were introduced to all the sails and ropes. There are multiple sail names such as mizzen course, sprit topsail, fore topgallant plus the multitude of lines used to control the sails and yards such as brails, buntlines, clewlines, braces, etc. Learning them was a challenge and really a matter of practice. If you weren’t sure they said, “just give it a tug and see what moves”. All the ropes are made from natural fibres and the methods to coil and belay them onto different cleats or belay pins are very specific. The first time I secured a rope to a cleat I did the usual lock off on the final turn and was severely told off. “Never lock off a line on a cleat!” Didn’t get a chance to ask why but I guess it’s to make it easier to undo in a hurry. Often we had to just do what we were told without questioning. While orders were often shouted and abrupt there was never any swearing, sarcasm or rudeness – even when you stuffed something up. 

The master was a super mariner and real gentleman named Frank Allica. He advised that the voyage plan was to sail to Tasman Bay and Golden Bay subject to variation due to wind conditions. The Endeavour can’t sail less than 90 degrees into the wind so if you want to go north in a northerly wind you can either give up or start the engines. A luxury Captain Cook never enjoyed. 

With a light northerly breeze we left Picton motoring with both engines at just over half speed up through Queen Charlotte Sound. By the time we rounded Walker Rock off Cape Jackson the northerly had built to 35 knots and the wind was screaming through the rigging. At that stage the captain made the prudent decision to abandon rounding Stephens Island and instead to find an anchorage in Pelorus Sound for the night. We went into Orchard Bay on the leeward side of Forsyth Island where we learned the complex process of lowering the massive anchor and then testing that the ship was holding well. We let out about 100 metres of rope (no chain) in about 20 metres depth of water. Even though we spent the night at anchor there was little rest. Every two hours a couple of the watch crew would be woken up to have a turn on anchor watch. 

Early next morning we learned that the plan was to sail east back towards Kapiti Island then down to Cloudy Bay. That evening I was on watch from 4am to 8am as we sailed south. The night was pitch black except for the stars and the compass light. It was nice to pick out the red lights on the Makara wind turbines on our port side and the leading lights of Tory Channel entrance as we passed it. Helming the ship to a compass bearing under sail doing 7-8 knots in a starlit night, and later glorious sunrise, was living the dream. 

Captain Frank then made the decision to abandon the rendezvous with Cloudy Bay to avoid a long motor into the gale force northerlies back to Wellington. Instead we sailed east over to Palliser Bay to anchor for the night just offshore from the Wharekauhau luxury lodge. The next morning we weighed anchor and set sail for the Wellington Heads where we were joined by the rest of the Tuia 250 fleet including the two waka from Auckland and one from Tahiti, HMNZS Wellington, and the Spirit of New Zealand tall ship. It was wonderful to see the Evans Bay yachts Temptation, Coriander, Airlift and Grenadier join the flotilla as we did our grand entrance around the harbour during which I had a bird’s eye view from up the mast on the topsail yard. 

So was it a good experience? It was no cruise ship. We worked hard, learnt heaps and slept little, but it was certainly one of the highlights of my life and something I’d recommend to anybody who gets the opportunity. 

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