It happened when the director of the CoosBay-North Bend Promotions Committee called me and said she was looking for people interested in making a week-long trip from Eureka, California to Coos Bay, Oregon on a boat like the one Captain Cook sailed in 1768.
At first I thought, "This would be fun to ride on a tall sailing ship". But, then she explained it would NOT BE JUST A RIDE! ... they were looking for crew members to operate the ship just as it was in the 18th century!
The application states:
"You are signing on board as Endeavour Personnel on Owner's business. During your time on Endeavour you will help with the operation and navigation of the ship. This will include ship maintenance, standing watches, handling the ship's sails both aloft and on deck, performing galley and cleaning duties. Also, you'll receive formal instruction on sailing Endeavour and on the history of her crew.
THIS IS NOT A CRUISE
Experience as a crew member of an ocean going sailing vessel or significant Naval or Merchant Marine training would be an advantage. You should not suffer from chronic seasickness or fear of heights, and must be able to go aloft (130 feet) in all weather conditions."
The application also asks if you can swim 50 meters fully clothed! (I like to swim, but have never done it with clothes on, so I left that blank.) Apparently, the reason for this question is because in order to climb aloft it's necessary to swing your body out over the ocean at the side of the ship. And in bold print, it says "If you're over 50-years old, a current medical certificate is required stating you're physically fit to undertake the voyage" (Yes, I was over 50.)
Recreating the 18th-century Endeavour was completed in 1993 and the new ship was launched in Fremantle the following year. All of the 20th-century requirements of engines, modern galley, mess, locker space, heads & showers are confined to the bottom of the ship which was the "cargo hold" for Captain Cook. Above that, everything is exactly the same as the original ship that sailed in 1768. The engines are used only for safety and to help keep the program on schedule when the winds aren't blowing in the proper direction. But the accommodations are pure 18th-century. There would be no private rooms for simple crew members like me.
A guy named Cliff Chambers was the only other person from Coos Bay making application for the trip. I'd never met Cliff so I gave him a call and we got together to make plans for getting to Eureka. It was his opinion that all this talk about climbing the mast, etc., was just a lot of "hype" ... they wouldn't really expect people like us to do that (Something told me he didn't know what he was talking about.)
My wife and daughter came with us to meet the ship in Eureka so they could bring the car back to CoosBay. And, on the way down, the thought strikes me ... could Cliff and I be trying to prove something about mid-life like Billy Crystal and those characters in "City Slickers"?
Sunday -DAY ONE
Everyone was a bit apprehensive, I think. There were about 30 of us rookies ... college students, a hospital janitor, a doctor and his wife, even an old guy who wanted to sail a tall ship before he died. And, there were a lot of Australian accents everywhere. We wondered if we'd be talking that way too when this is all over.
At the Sunday orientation before setting sail, we were divided into three "watch" groups ... the foremast, the mainmast, and the mizzenmast (the one I was assigned to). These names have nothing to do with where we were worked on board the ship, they just identified each group of about 12 of us who would be on deck at various times 24-hours a day. Usually the duty lasts 4-hours, with 8-hours off for doing ship maintenance ... and finding some time to get a little sleep.
We were also issued uniforms and told that the experience we signed on for was going to be 18th-century work ... everything from cleaning the galley and toilets to climbing the 130-foot mainmast to tend the sails. (I looked at Cliff with a scowl!)
Instructions were also given on where to go to THROW UP!
Sleeping accommodations involved using 18th-century hammocks in the lower mess deck. Correct knot tying was emphasized because the hammocks need to be stowed each morning. If they aren't hung properly again before you go to sleep at night, they'll fall down ... with YOU in them! (This has happened many times to crew members on previous voyages.)
Climbing into the hammock is an interesting experience. It's so tight that you feel a little like you're the inside of a banana. And the hammocks are strung up so closely that, as the ship rolls, people encased in them bump into each other trying to get to sleep. It's a good way to get to know your shipmates, I guess.
Tomorrow we SAIL ...
MONDAY - DAY TWO
It's early morning and the 1st officer is yelling at everyone: "Wake up mates! It's a beautiful day. Get up ... stow those hammocks, you have 10-minutes." My group is very tired after working so late with little sleep. But, there's excitement in the air because this is the day we sail!
We're also informed that, while at the helm, we're never to touch a certain button because it will send a signal by satellite to Australia indicating the Endeavour is sinking!
First, safety routines need to be explained ... fire drills, and man-overboard exercises. To launch the life rafts, we're told it takes FOUR very strong people ... or two very SCARED people! And, should the ship founder, we're told that life jackets will be issued equipped with an electric light ... the light being activated by salt water for our "reading pleasure" if a nighttime rescue is necessary. (Apparently, this is some form of Australian humor.)
A permanent crew member mixes gunpowder and newspaper, stuffs it into one of the mounted howitzers, lights a match and yells "FIRE IN THE CANNON!" ... a warning to everyone to expect a blast as we depart.
WHAM! (Next time I'll hold my ears. It's louder than I thought.)
It's now about 5pm, and the tide is finally high enough for us to leave the harbor in Eureka.
By nightfall, we're in the open sea, and the pitching of the ship fore-and-aft takes its first toll. Linda, one of the new crew members from Los Angeles, suddenly gets very sick. For the next three days her skin will be white-as-snow, and everywhere she goes she'll carry a green bucket which has a "happy face" painted inside the bottom of it. I feel sorry for her.
Our first day in the 18-century ends.
4 more days to go.
More people join Linda in carrying little green buckets painted with happy faces. Classes begin on setting the sails. There are 22 of them and it takes a lot of people pulling the lines to get things done.
When the leader yells "TWO-SIX", we dig our feet into the deck grunting "HEAVE" as every bit of muscle we can muster-up is applied to pulling a halyard or brace line. At the same time other people are "easing" on certain lines. The amount of teamwork and people it takes is unbelievable.
1st OFFICER: "We're going to be easing on the PORT clews and bunts, and hauling on the sheets. Haul Away!"