Voyage Stories: Sailing Townsville to Cairns

Meet Brian Grinter, a member of the Townsville to Cairns voyage crew. We asked Brian about his experience onboard HMB Endeavour. 

Brian Grinter voyage crew Townsville to Cairns

Brian Grinter, Townsville to Cairns voyage crew member

Which leg did you sail on?
Townsville – Cairns

What made you want to join the crew?
As a child I’d had an interest in the early explorers, and especially Cook and his voyage to Australia. Growing up that interest faded a little, however when the replica HMB Endeavour was launched and the museum started to undertake voyages it rekindled my interest in the early explorers and I was determined to one day take part in a voyage – it sounded like the adventure of a life time. Unfortunately the timing wasn’t always the best – it seemed that each time a new voyage was announced I was either changing job, buying a house or something else came up! A few years ago now, I saw the Peter Weir film “Master and Commander – The Far Side of the World” starring Russell Crowe and that was when I became really interested in the world of 18th century sailing – I soon found myself reading the works of Patrick O’Brian and others. Once I learnt that Endeavour would be undertaking a circumnavigation of Australia in 2011-2012 I was determined to be a part of this, and to experience life on an 18th century sailing ship.

What was your first impression of Endeavour?
I’d previously seen Endeavour docked at the Australian National Maritime Museum a few years ago so I had a rough idea what I was in for, however in Townsville the first thing that struck me was the size – at only 33m in length she’s not very big. In fact on arrival at Cairns a local asked me if it was a scale replica of Endeavour! Second thing was all the rigging – how was I ever going to remember all those lines?!

The voyage crew are split into different watches. Which watch were you on?
I was on the Foremast Watch (best watch!) – our Topman was Kyle “Bouncy” Jones and Upper Yardsman was Lucy Heffernan.

What did a usual day onboard Endeavour involve?
Once onboard Endeavour you quickly settle into the daily sea routine. Endeavour has three watches and each day you would work two four hour watches – four hours on and eight hours off. The watches are staggered so you’re not on the same watch every day. Typically the day would see you up at 0715 to stow hammocks. Breakfast is done in two sittings and then the professional crew would have their crew meeting followed by a general meeting of all crew. First duty of the morning was “happy hour” – each watch is assigned a cleaning station and is responsible for cleaning that section of the ship, be it the lower deck, 20th century deck or gentlemen’s accommodation. Once that was completed it was morning tea or “smoko” and the Captain Ross would give a lecture on different aspects of 18th century sailing, such as sail layouts, sailing with the wing or celestial navigation with the sextant. Lunch was again done in two sitting then during the afternoon we might be called to assist with maintenance – one of the tasks we had was to help repainting some of the railings. After more sail work it was dinner and then setting up hammocks. While on watch, you would be assisting in sailing the ship and this included standing lookout, helming the ship, doing the safety rounds and finally hauling lines and furling sails. 

As voyage crew, you slept in hammocks – how was that?!
Sleeping in hammocks was interesting – each member of the voyage crew was responsible for setting up their own hammocks so the first thing I’d always do is double check my knots. I didn’t want to be remembered as the guy who fell out! (no-one did). Once we were shown how to get in it was actually pretty easy, grab a beam and swing your legs up and over the hammock, then lower yourself in. Its actually close to impossible to fall out and they were pretty comfortable to sleep in – I didn’t mind them at all. As all voyage crew sleep together on the 18th Century deck, you did have the occasional person bump you in the middle of the night as they passed on their way to watch, but it wasn’t too bad. The snoring? Well that’s another story!

What was the most interesting thing you saw at sea?
There were so many interesting things on the voyage – its hard to pick a standout. The voyage was my first time visit to far north Queensland so I enjoyed travelling through the region – areas such as Hinchinbrook Island are untouched so we were seeing the region as Cook would have seen it over 200 years ago. Moon rise over the ocean was pretty spectacular – always a highlight for the crew on that watch. There wasn’t a lot of sea life on our particular leg, we’d hoped to see a whale – alas that wasn’t to be although we did several dolphins (and a crab!)

How would you fair sailing in the time of James Cook?
Life onboard the replica Endeavour closely follows that from the time of Cook, however we did have a few modern conveniences such as 20th century galley and showers facilities so you’re not roughing it too much. Being away from home for 3 years would have been a lot harder and today when going aloft you also have modern safety gear such as harnesses – back then there was none of that! I’d like to think that I would have been able to handle the life – although it was nice to have a beer, soft bed and long shower when I arrived in Cairns!

What was the best thing about your experience onboard Endeavour? And what was the worst thing?
Best thing? I expected that the sail and rope work, and going aloft would be the highlight of the voyage, and I wasn’t disappointed there. However, I was also surprised how quickly the voyage crew in each watch bonded together. At the start of the voyage you are allocated a watch with a dozen strangers – you then eat, work and live together as a team and at the end of the voyage many friendships have formed. The worst thing? It was all over too soon. Oh that and the snoring!

What’s your advice for anyone considering being part of the voyage crew?
Read the Voyage Crew Manual that is sent to you before your leg. Everything you needed to know is in there – what to pack, what to expect when you’re on board. I think I only had one question that I had to call the museum to ask. I took a diary and camera with me – so much happens every day so I wrote up a journal every night. Even looking back through it now I’m reminded of all the fun things that happened that I’d forgotten already – it really is the adventure of a lifetime!

Would you do it again?

We would like to thank Brian for being part of the HMB Endeavour Circumnavigation and hope to see him onboard again in the future!

2 thoughts on “Voyage Stories: Sailing Townsville to Cairns

  1. Hi Brian, Thanks for the great report. As I shared the Townsvilel leg with you (Mizzen watch Super) I can only agree with everything you’ve shared with all the readers. Your motivation and experiences were reflected in most of the voyage crew that I chatted with on those wonderful few days. Let’s hope we can all do it again one day soon.

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