Wednesday 3 September 2014
It was a windy but bright and sunny day today on the Hawkesbury River, where HMB Endeavour replica is lying at anchor resting up after a very eventful Tuesday night. Just twenty miles north of Sydney, we are surrounded by rocky shorelines and vegetated headlands, with the town of Patonga around the bend and the rail bridge over the river just visible to the north.
Having made our way into Broken Bay past Barrenjoey Lighthouse while taking in sails and furling yesterday afternoon, we dropped anchor in the mouth of the Hawkesbury. Unfortunately, coming to anchor for the night didn’t turn out nearly as relaxing as it sounds! The expected blow accompanying a cold front from the south finally arrived and by the time dinner was over, it was clear that Endeavour’s stream anchor – our ‘small’ anchor, at 700kg – was not enough to hold the ship on the river’s muddy bottom as the wind gusted to 45 knots.
All hands were called on deck at around 8pm to see if we could find a more secure anchorage. A second drop of the stream anchor, with an extra shackle (27 metres) of cable on the bottom, was also unsuccessful and it was clear we could not anchor safely on the stream anchor. While our anchorage is spacious, with the river over a mile wide at some points, in a strong wind the river bank can very quickly become a dangerous lee shore.
Captain John Dikkenberg considered our alternatives. With big swells expected out in the open ocean and strong sou-westerly winds that would push us away from Port Jackson (we are due back in Sydney on Friday), putting to sea was not a good option. Our only option was to try anchoring again but this time with one of the ship’s large bower anchors, which weigh 2.3 tonnes – 2300kg – each.
The ship’s two bower anchors are an impressive sight. They are solid steel with wooden ‘stocks’ (the horizontal part of the anchor to which the cable attaches) and are accurate replicas of the anchors that Cook’s Endeavour carried.
The voyage crew retired below decks and the captain, second mate, engineer and two crew on the helm kept the ship moving around Broken Bay while the first mate oversaw the readying of the port bower anchor.
I wrote in my Day 2 post about the hard work involved in bringing up the anchor in Sydney Harbour on Tuesday morning. Well, that process turned out to be a walk in the park – or a gentle cruise on sheltered waters – compared to readying a bower anchor. The process involved using blocks and tackles to set up a davit from which to swing the anchor, unlashing the anchor from the rail, lowering it into position, readying the cable and returning to the anchorage to drop the anchor just before 3am.
As we worked through the wet, cold night and waited in the wind for the next task, I thought often of how rare it is in the twenty-first century to experience the kind of hard physical work that was required of sailors before mechanisation. We have it easy compared to Cook’s sailors – a hydraulic windlass does some of the heavy anchor work – but in a ship that is such an accurate replica, there are a myriad of tasks that require hard physical work and highly skilled use of blocks and tackles by a team of people to achieve a result.
Many tall ship sailors love their work because it is so far removed from the technology of modern seafaring, but last night was a reminder of just how tough that work can be. It was also a rare opportunity to bring time-honed skills and the strength and teamwork of sailors to bear on a difficult but unavoidable task.
We are certainly lucky that thanks to Endeavour’s powerful twin engines, we were not bearing down on a lee shore under sail and thus had the luxury of time to prepare the anchor safely.
After the eventful night, we had a quiet day at anchor. Some of the officers spoke to the voyage crew on topics such as square rig sailing, navigation, maritime history and the history of the Endeavour replica. The day finished with a bang, quite literally – the carpenter and first mate fired one of the ship’s guns – always an exciting event!
– Suzannah Marshall Macbeth