Standing abaft the mizzenmast on the sloping deck of the Endeavour replica, looking down Halifax Harbor toward the massive bulk of the moored aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, brought the two miles and two centuries separating these two famous, high-tech vessels into clear perspective.
The original Endeavour was a research vessel and carried, as does the Roosevelt now, the very latest navigational equipment of its era. But there the similarity ends. In 1768 Lieutenant James Cook, RN, set out in Endeavour on a peaceful voyage of scientific study and exploration the likes of which the world had not yet seen. The scientists aboard observed the transit of Venus across the sun and catalogued more than 2,600 new species of plant life, and Cook calculated longitude using the newly refined method of lunar observations. The replica Endeavour was constructed in Fremantle, Australia, and closely follows the lines of the original barque, which means she is about as streamlined as my grandfather’s old cast-iron bathtub. The first Endeavour was, in reality, a converted Yorkshire coal carrier called The Earl of Pembroke. Cook chose this vessel design for a reason: he had served on a similar vessel in earlier days and knew she was a stable and sturdy craft capable of carrying the original crew of 90, the scientists and their equipment, and the considerable supplies required for a three-year voyage in relatively safe, if slow, transport.
There are a few concessions to crew comfort. Air ventilation is greatly improved over the original, and the 50-plus crew definitely eat better than those who voyaged with Cook more than 200 years ago. Water quality is also of a much higher order, with none of the interesting flora and fauna normally incubated by the old-style water casks of the past. But the crew sleep, as did their predecessors, in the traditional Royal Navy-style hammocks (I “Endeavoured” to get my six-foot, 250-pound frame into one and failed miserably).
Most of the woods used in the construction were, of necessity, native Australian, with the exception of Douglas fir timber donated by the Canadian Government and used for masts, spars, and decking. This timber had been in storage since the World War II so it was well seasoned. An Australian hardwood called jarrah replaced the original English elm and oak. Traditional iron fittings are employed, but these have been zinc plated to improve durability.
Sails have been fashioned from Duradon, a non-organic canvas that looks and feels like the flax originals. But all the standing rigging is made of manila hemp in the traditional way, and to the original RN standards of 1768.
Endeavour departed Halifax for Bermuda on October 22 and will stop at Tortola, Barbados, transit the Panama Canal, and visit the Galapagos, Acapulco, and Cabo San Lucas before arriving in San Diego in February.