This is also the day we get our first experience going aloft. I discover that stepping out over the ocean to start climbing isn't really that bad because it's always done on the "windward" side of the ship, not the "lee" side where the wind could blow you down.
The "shrouds", a spider-web series of ropes supporting the masts, are pretty easy to climb until about 75 feet up where there's something called the "futtock". (Some of us referred to it as "that fucking futtock").
It's part of the shroud that extends outward just under the first platform. To climb over it, you need to hang from the underside supporting the weight of your body against gravity!
In thinking about it now ... I don't think you'd DIE if you fell from the futtock because the lower part of the shroud would keep you from hitting the deck 75-feet below. What would probably happen is that you'd roll down the lower shroud and FALL INTO THE OCEAN ... then you'd die.
After this first experience aloft, cleaning the officer's room was a real pleasure. But, the 1st-mate is very thorough in finding dust by wearing a white glove and sticking his finger into the tiniest cracks. I found out just HOW thorough he was because ... I GOT CAUGHT!
When he discovered a small amount of dust in a skylight I was supposed to have cleaned, he bellowed, "WHO DID THIS?" Everyone in the room seemed anxious to point at me and say, "It was DICK".
Showing me the dust on his glove, he asked "WHAT'S THIS?" And in an effort to bring a little humor into the situation I responded, "It looks like your finger, Sir." Luckily, I didn't get flogged for saying that ... he didn't think it was very funny. (I still think the spot was clean and suspect he carries dirt in his pocket to put on his finger.)
Today a few of us left the ship on a motorized dinghy to get some close-up pictures of St. George's reef.
According to Captain Blake, 150 people died here in a shipwreck a long time ago, prompting the building of what was the most expensive Lighthouse in U.S. history. It's now abandoned, and guarded by angry sea lions.
WEDNESDAY July 7th, 1999
I keep over-correcting the rudder. The ship takes a long time to respond to my movement of the wheel.
The officer on duty wisely concludes we'll never get to CoosBay with me at the helm and takes over. That's OK, my feelings aren’t hurt. I'd rather be on bow-watch anyway watching the phosphorescent waves hit the sides of the ship in the dark.
Sudden change in the wind!
After motoring against a north wind for a long time, suddenly, the winds begin blowing from the South.
Everything gets crazy as people are called on deck. I’m sent aloft with several others and ordered to loosen the gaskets and unfurl the sails. To do this it’s necessary to go up the mast then balance yourself on a single strand of rope and move horizontally along one of the yards which carries the sails. It's a very insecure feeling!
Throwing the top half of my body over the yard and reaching for the gaskets feels like I'm going to be propel over the top and fall onto the deck to a sure death!
The ship is see-sawing again and before reaching down I pause a moment to watch the bow crash into the water a hundred feet below me ... and to ask,
"How did I get myself into this?"
Three whales swam by today. They seemed to be investigating us. Captain Blake said, "Maybe they think the Endeavour is their mum". One of the crew members also caught a shark in his fishing line and brought it aboard. I'm very exhausted today ... hauling sheets, easing clews, bunts and reefs. Also had to scrape tar from the floor of the deck ... and cleaned and scrubbed the sleeping quarters. It's dark now. Very starry night. The Milky Way is super bright over the quiet ocean water, and everyone is philosophizing about the origin of galaxies.
Then ANOTHER change in weather! Panic to re-set the sails! Rain! Slippery deck! Difficult to hear commands. The ship begins heeling to the port side. I'm ordered back aloft to gather up the sails. No opportunity to say, "I don't want to!"They'd be a-talkin' of keel-hauling me if I said that.
Back on deck I'm bumping into people and getting in everyone's way. It's hard work just to stand upright. I can't remember the difference between bunts and clews.
TWO-SIX, HEAVE! TWO-SIX, HEAVE!
BELAY THE ROPES!
I love my hammock! Can't wait to go to sleep. We're
now about 70 miles off shore when my eyes close.
Thursday July 8th, 1999
Strong north winds are back. This time the ship is heeling to the starboard side as we head east for CoosBay. I wonder how far it can lean before it tips over.
The ocean continues to be rough, we’re really “rockin' & rolling” today. Sea water occasionally comes over the side and down the companionway into the sleeping quarters.
Trying to stand or sit requires effort. I'm so tired, and keep thinking about a hot bath and my bed at home.
Friday July 9th, 1999
I'm on the 4am-8am watch again. My last chance to be at the helm. Staying pretty much on course this time. Later, the Captain comes on deck to meet the U.S. Coast Guard who'll guide us into the bay. I'm anxious to get some pictures as we pass under the McCollough Bridge, but the 1st mate orders me to keep on MOPPING the deck.
Finally, we're home. The gunner is again yelling, "FIRE IN THE CANNON!" and we all hold our ears as we greet the bay with a blast. Captain Blake orders the gunner to load one more time saying, "There's a casino ahead (the Mill Casino). It's a symbol of decadence and debauchery, let's fire at 'em!" We hold our ears again, and watch the people on shore JUMP at the sound of the blast.
The trip is over now ... and I realize that, while we were just amateurs, these Australians couldn't have run this vessel WITHOUT US!
There were no floggings or plank-walkings on the voyage (that's because we were a good crew). We came from a lot of different 20th-century backgrounds, but we worked together and for five days we pulled it off ...
WE WERE 18th-CENTURY SAILORS!
My muscles hurt like hell, but it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and almost a mystical experience. I went aloft 4 times, and survived it 4 times ... and in the process, learned something about myself.
Video from the Australian Maritime Museum
Circumnavigating Australia in 2011 ...
About 230 years before my trip, Captain Cook and his crew (aboard the original Endeavour) nearly perished by crashing into the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. To see his hand-written journal Please Click here