At 0900 hours this morning we entered Queensland waters, so it was time for shorts, t-shirts and thongs, as Surfers’ Paradise came into view on the port side. One or two brave souls went briefly for the Sunshine State mode of attire, but the southwesterly wind behind us is still fresh and most of the crew stood well wrapped up. But we do have sunshine, a sea abating after the fierce weather of the last 24 hours, and favourable winds to take us to Moreton Bay and the Brisbane River.
The Captain was very complimentary to all the crew at his morning’s briefing, in the aftermath of the Force 7/8 gale, saying that they had proved their seaworthiness in tough conditions. The main challenge during the high winds and mountainous seas was to keep the ship with the wind directly behind it, and riding the waves head-on, so that there was no danger of her slipping sideways into a deep trough of swell. He acknowledged that all the teams of two who had handled the helm in these conditions found it a hard physical experience.
At one point the ship made a speed of 10.6 knots – a ship record – and, said Captain Ross, remarkable for a 500-ton vessel carrying 56 people ‘scudding’ with only a fore course and reefed topsail set. This gave some idea of the conditions we had undergone.
He pointed out that the original Endeavour had been a converted collier from Whitby, England, and the way she had handled in the weather and with over five-metre breaking waves, showed that she was a very safe vessel even when heeling heavily.
All the watches had to handle the gale force conditions, spending most of their entire watch helming and on lookout. Mainmast watch had a lot of spray as 44 knots of wind flew over the deck, and two identical mysterious boats that didn’t show up on the radar, circled the ship. Some bracing of the sails had to be done by the mizzenmast watch in the early hours as they passed Cape Byron, Australia’s eastern-most point. As well as helming, foremast watch were busy re-coiling lines as they blew off their cleats.
This morning, we had originally planned to sail closer to the shore, in the wake of Captain Cook, and see the breakers over the shoals of Point Danger which very nearly caused Cook a disaster. But the wind and sea was too strong to take any risk of following this piece of history. The shoals are still dangerous, with counter currents and strong eddies swirling around them.
Over the past few days, when the weather has been calmer, parties from the watches have also been busy scraping and sanding the paintwork, and fresh coats of paints applied to keep the ship well-maintained. Others have been learning knots, and also preparing for the Big Test on the last day, when the crews will compete against one another on their knowledge of the rigging.
With this wind behind us, we are now a little ahead of schedule, which will allow for any unexpected change in conditions. Hoping to relax a little after the efforts of the past day or so, the crew heard the Captain deny the ‘scuttlebut’ that there would be no ‘happy hour’ of ship cleaning and polishing today. So it was back to the brooms and mops and cleaning materials for each watch as usual. But no grumbling; everyone is united with a strong sense of achievement in coping with the gale.
The ‘Sod’s Opera’, scheduled for the last night of the voyage is putting pressure on the dramatic creativity of the watches, and causing a growing competitive spirit – including a little maritime espionage to discover what rivals intend. Diversionary tactics are now being employed by some, as is a certain amount of snaffling of items from around the ship for props and costumes. That’s show business!
Contributed by ship’s steward, Melanie Snow