Endeavour related nautical sayings

Endeavour is back in her home port where she will remain open to the general public as a museum. However there is much scuttlebutt that she will return to the high seas early next year. To keep up with all the latest information on Endeavour, including forthcoming sailing programs visit our website or like our new Endeavour facebook fan page.

The ship has now been open to the public for a month and our guides have been doing a great job in telling visitors about the life on board an 18th century sailing ship. One of my favorite reactions is when people hear some of the origins of modern day sayings and expressions, so many of them derive from ships and this is often a surprise to many people.

I am going to write about a few sayings and their meanings that apply on board Endeavour or are said to have originated from such ships of this era.

The first is to have a ‘square meal’, which we commonly use as a phase as to eat a proper or substantial meal.  It is said to have derived from the British Navy from the 18th century and prior, as serving plates were commonly square and not round.

Square serving plates

The next item is the ‘cat o’ nine tales’ where there are a few said phrases. ‘The cat o’ nine tails,’ is a style of whip that has nine plaited strands. It was used to whip and punish the sailors from the Royal Navy for such punishment as disobedience, mutinous talk or being drunk on duty. The sailor would receive usually twelve lashes, administrated by the boatswain. It was said to have been kept in a red baize bag and the reason it was red is that it wouldn’t show the blood.

Cat O’ Nine tails

So the first phrase is; ‘Letting the cat out of the bag’ which we now use as a phrase for someone having said something they shouldn’t or having revealed a secret. Whereas back then it referred to someone who had done something that would deserve punishment in the form of the ‘cat o’ nine tails’.

The next phrase is ‘Not enough room to swing a cat’ which today is used to describe a small crowded area or a small room. On board a ship it was used as down below there wouldn’t be the room to swing the ‘cat o’ nine tails’ and so the punishment was carried out on deck.

The final one for today is ‘scuttlebutt’ which we use to describe gossip or rumor. A scuttle butt was a cask where the sailors would get drinking water and an area where they would convene and talk and discuss matters out of ear reach.

All of the above sayings are ‘believed’ to have derived from nautical terms, but are not guaranteed. If you have heard a different origin for these expressions we would be keen to hear them. Or if you know of any other relevant expressions please let us know. I will run another blog in the near future with other nautical themed sayings.

All’s well

Day 14 Transit of Venus Sydney to Lord Howe

Night time cannon display

We are making good way but we still have quite a distance to cover before we arrive back into Sydney. The deck is occupied mainly by the on watch as the weather continues to drizzle and remains brisk. Other crew members are down below coming up with their sod’s opera performances for tonight final finale. The realism that is almost all over for the professional crew is starting to hit home, as Amy states that tonight will be her last galley duty and Nat the other day said that she had now stood her last 0000 –0400 watch. It is a sad, sad feeling even though we are all well and truly exhausted and almost craving just a little sense of normality, at least for two weeks while we plan our next crazy ventures.

The mess deck dinner is a slightly tricky one as we are serving under way with a fair roll and list. But it seems that we have got this service down to almost perfection, as the only casualties are the odd pea rolling off the plate. Dinner is as always delicious, with amazing rum and chocolate cheese cake.

Next it is the sod’s performances and well dare I say it there is the slight indication that this has been put together on the 11th hour, either that or that the double pay has gone straight to the sailors heads making them intoxicated and mumble their words to their performances. I would just like to thank the queen on that note for her birthday and the double pay. I enjoyed the foremast parody although I am still a little confused….

After the evening’s entertainment it is time for the cats to be tickled, we have to keep up a constant speed of 5.5 – 6 knots to get us into Sydney in time.

The morning brings the sight of Sydney heads and the Sydney skyline on the horizon, we are almost home. At 0900 it is all hands to hand the sails for the last time and for the watches to go aloft and furl the sails for the last time in what will be a long time.

Helming us home

To think that this will be the last few miles that we will undertake together as the Endeavour crew is pretty emotional, we have travelled a very long way together and I don’t just mean the nautical miles. 18th century sailing is exhausting, dirty, and strenuous, at times has you on the line of your own personal capabilities, but we wouldn’t change a single aspect of this, it just makes you feel you’re alive. The amount of voyage crew that have joined us over the last 13 months just goes to show the spirit of adventure is kept alive and although we are all a lot more softer than those 18th century sailors, we have proven that you don’t need the conveniences of the 21st century to make you happy, just the wind and sails above your head.

This will be my last blog on Endeavour and for once I am struggling for words…. Where every great adventure ends, a new one begins. Thank you for reading the blog over the last 13 months and I hope that it has given you an insight into the highs and lows of the 21st century sailor trying to relive the experience of an 18th century sailor. My only advise is next time round instead of sitting at home reading the blog, you should be helping write the experience on board.

Huzzah to all those involved

Fair winds and following seas.

All’s well.

Fond farewells


Day 13 Transit of Venus Sydney to Lord Howe return


Latitude; 32°53.3’S

Longitude; 153°13.4’E

Distance run in the last 24hrs; 92NM

Average speed; 3.8KN

Weather; Overcast and drizzly, SE x S force 4, temp 16.4°

At 1530 there is an all hands call as it is now time to set sail for the last time and to undertake the rest of journey under canvas. It is a bleak afternoon and the wind hasn’t yet quite kicked in but we aren’t expecting it to until after dark at approx. 2000. Those of the voyage crew who have been unsure of climbing aloft get their ideal opportunity to help unfurl. The sea brings relatively large but slow waves that are in rhythmic sequence making it easy to predict when the roll will come. It is rewarding to see Julie, Karen and Gaye unfurling the Fore course as this is their first time aloft since the up and overs. Other crew are up aloft unfurling the Fore Topsail and main topsail whilst Graham and Natasha keep us on course at the helm. There are some interesting heavy rain clouds on the horizon and one resembles a giant jelly fish, its cumulus cloud top and the heavy rain as its tentacles.

At 1700 the cats are put to sleep and we sail gently and quietly along, waiting patiently for the wind to guide us home.

Tonight we are invited to a special event, an 18th century fireworks display. After the second sitting of dinner is done and the voyage crew have their hammocks strung it is all hands on deck for the spectaculous spectacle. Bosun Drew and a few comrades such as chief officer Dirk, third officer Ant and Bosun’s mate Ed have been very busy but very secretive all day with lots of work being undertaken in the stores, but all is about to become apparent as the cannons are being loaded. Captain Ross makes the announcement that we still have a substantial amount of gunpowder left and so tonight we will be firing some of the cannons. Some of the loads have certain compounds in them to change the colour of the flame. We have some Copper filings which should make the flame green, some aluminium filings that should make the flame white, some lead filings which we are a little unsure what colour it will make the flame and finally a mystery compound.

First fired is the copper load and what an enormous bang and epic flame, it really makes a difference seeing the cannon fired at night in all its glory especially on such a dark, dark night. Next is the lead load, then the aluminium and finally the mystery load. The colour changes don’t seem apparent but whatever was in the mystery load I am sure briefly and very quickly there was a purple colouration, I am not sure what compound would create purple. Regardless of the flames not producing quite the effect we hoped for it was still sensational to see and most defiantly hear!

This morning brings us more bleak weather but it matters not, as we are sailing and Endeavour gets to stretch her canvas once more before having several months rest back at the Australian Maritime Museum. She will undergo a little more ‘make up’ before reopening to the public as a museum on the 23rd June.

All’s well.

Day 12 – Transit of Venus Sydney to Lord Howe and return

Getting ready to go aloft to unfurl the Fore corse

Latitude; 32°05.78’S

Longitude; 154°43.07’E

Distance run in the last 24hrs; 115NM

Average speed; 4.7KN

Weather; Cloudy force 2 with SSE winds, seas are slight, temp 18.7°

We continue to motor along in pleasant conditions then at 1400 maintenance hour is called for all professional crew. Susi and Hugh are keen to get stuck in and help with the maintenance and so they help scrape the tar of the windlass where the tarry anchor cable has been led and made fast. The ship is looking good at the moment and she is just having her ‘make up’ applied as the bosun would say, before she rests back at the museum. This involves much tar, riggers black, oil and scraping. It is the ideal conditions today for the watches to climb aloft and get some aerial views of the ship and the ocean and it is good to see many people confidently climbing aloft, however this probably comes naturally to the foremast who have furled over five sails this morning.

As there are no sails set hands become idle as we discover this morning. There is some graffiti on the quarter deck for the bosun and bosuns mate this morning in the form of a mermaid, a ketch and a sea serpent.

Boyle aloft

The night sky brings an intense darkness before the moon rises, making the stars electrical. Foremast subtly describe that they witnessed four shooting stars and a satellite cruising the orbit last night whilst on watch.

Mainmast were lucky to catch a glimpse of a humpback breaching this morning as we are coming into migration season. Apparently there are reports that many are now being spotted off the NSW coast and so it would be great to get to witness some more encounters.

The plan is to continue motoring until late this afternoon, when we will get some sails set and wait for the wind to increase. The forecast is that the wind will pick up from the East at approximately 2000 and continue to increase throughout the night and tomorrow.

All’s well.

Day 11 Transit of Venus Sydney to Lord Howe and return

Mizzenmast furling bright and early

Latitude; 31°08.47’S

Longitude; 156°37.6’E

Distance run in the last 24hrs; 63NM

Average speed; 2.6KN

Weather; slight cloud coverage but sunny and blue skies, wind SSE force 2-3, temp 18.4°

After the sail setting is complete and lunch is over Captain Ross gives a lecture on the sextant and how to use it, all the crew are completely enthralled and keen to try one out. As we sail along full and by there is a large Albatross following us, every now and then he lands and rests in the ocean and then minutes later will take off again. It is a sure sign for us that the ships speed is decreasing as the wind is starting to decrease. We are trying to make a south west progress but currently we are making north west which is the best we can do with our 18th century rig and with the current wind, which is problematic on our 20th century time scale.

After Captain Ross assesses the forecast over the next few days he looks at our schedule and does a passage plan. The forecast is showing that we should have some good easterly prevailing winds from Sunday evening through until Tuesday but for tonight and tomorrow the wind will stay in the south west quadrant meaning that we are not going to be able to stay on schedule if we remain sailing. The decision is made that we will continue sailing through the night then at sunrise the Mizzenmast will start handing sail.

Learning to use a sextant

It is another beautiful clear night but there is front with thunder and lightning on the horizon which occasionally catches the eye with an infrequent strike.  The mornings brings glorious sunshine and on the deck the Mizzenmast have been busy as they have struck the main topsail, fore topsail and the fore course even before any other hands are up. When I get on deck they are aloft furling the fore topsail and seem to be enjoying themselves as the bantering can be heard down below on deck. Andrew the engineer and Nigel the chef are also on deck pumping some iron by doing their daily pull ups, Andrew is especially happy as he beats his personal best.

The main engines are started at 0805 and the foremast watch have a very busy watch furling after the mizzenmast have struck all the sails, just as well they are all good climbers and good at furling, unfortunately Paul waves his beanie goodbye as it plunges into the ocean. The sun is shining, the weather is beautiful, the ocean is an enticing dark blue and although it is a shame the iron staysails have been started it shouldn’t be for long and it will give us that advantage of then being able to enjoy a sail for the end of the voyage.

All’s well.

P.S. Karen would like to wish her daughter a very Happy 15th Birthday

Mark on bow lookout

The Transit of Venus

Venus in transit

Our arrival to the island was the culmination of over 24 hours of sailing. The initially projected time became possible thanks to the favorable winds. The captain had suggested 2:00 pm arrival time and at 1:53 pm we were crossing the north end of the island. It was soon clear that arriving to the area did not mean an easy transfer to land.

Anchoring was not an option and it was the Marine Park Authority that came to pick Alex and myself up. One at the time, we were transferred to land. Four meter swells made sure that no object would remain dry in the short trip. After an adventurous entry through the break, coordinated from land, we arrived to a media welcome committee.

The preparations for the Transit of Venus happened without inconvenience, no last minute lost objects or major changes. We went to sleep ready for a great day to come. By the morning, the atmosphere was less positive. The 54 knot wind gusts and horizontal rain was threatening to prevent the observations of the highly demanded planet.

With the equipment already assembled, we reached our destination but it was impossible to setup due to the weather. Instead, we set up base camp at green café, only a hundred meters from the observation site.

By the time of the first contact, at 8:40 am Lord Howe Island time, no evidence of the sun could be seen, although conditions were changing. The wind turned southerly, and hope slowly approached the island. At 10:30 am, hope became fact and the first observations became possible by using solar glasses.

We ran to set up the main telescope on a corner where it would be protected from the wind. The great work of the IT team put us online within 5 minutes and we could finally start streaming over the satellite connection. Given the wind and the unstable weather conditions, the telescope needed to be moved constantly and stable live streaming only became possible over short periods.

By 11:30 am, the wind had calmed down. We were finally able to bring the second telescope into the field. More and more locals arrived in hopes of catching a glimpse of the transit.

The now famous Vu Vu Venus, a projecting device built by Sydney Observatory, made its Lord Howe Island debut shortly before midday. By allowing several viewers to observe the transit at the same time, it quickly turned to be the favorite target for our visitors’ cameras.

Vu Vu Venus in action

The observations continued throughout the day with partial cloud cover. A final shower invited us to break camp. By the time our hopes of capturing the last two contacts were gone, a small opening in the clouds allowed us to re-stage our equipment. We were lucky to observe the planet Venus transiting for the last time in our lives.

A clear calm day would have led to better technical measurements, but the adventures of the trip on board the HMB Endeavour replica and the storm in the morning of the transit served as a reminder of the challenges of scientific observations in history.

It has been an honour to be part of this enterprise; my next adventure will begin in a month when my first child will be born. There are plenty sleepless nights ahead, although that is not a big change for an astronomer.  Thanks to all our friends following. Until next time…

Day 10 – Transit of Venus Sydney to Lord Howe & return

Daniel and Phil on the spritsail

Latitude; 31°09.70’S

Longitude; 157°44.34’E

Distance run in the last 24 hrs; 71NM

Average speed; 2.9KN

Weather; Force 3 SSW winds, slight cloud but blue skies, seas confused but slight temp; 18.2°

The ship is once again thriving and under sail, there is laughter and cheers on deck as Mizzen mast mimic their upperyardsman Eddie on a deck round. We are still enduring a force 4-5 and but the seas are continuing to calm and settle. By 2000 the wind eases to a milder force 3 and the sky is alive with the solar system in its full glory. It is a beautiful night and as the moon hasn’t yet risen and so the solar system is clearly visible and sensational. Captain Ross does a talk, to some of the crew about the star constellations and the most reliable stars to use for traditional navigation.

During the night there appears to have been some mischief involving a certain watch and some poor innocent pumpkins. It is noted that between the hours of four and eight the pumpkins had been somewhat vandalised during supposed safety rounds, although I am sure some of the rapscallion’s from mainmast would say the pumpkins had been improved. The suspicions lay with mainmast because they talk far too much about the pumpkins, I have even overheard Supernumerary Sue discuss with Lucy about firing them out of the cannon.

Tampered pumpkins

The morning brings us yet more deceptive weather, as the sky appears to be relatively calm and clear when all of a sudden we pass through as squall, bringing rain and winds gusting 20 knots. But on the whole the weather is much better and more importantly we are sailing. As the winds have eased the captain decides it is time to shake the reef’s out of the sails and extend them to their full size. All hands are called at 1015 to hand the sails in preparation for going aloft and taking the reefing lines off. The wind has eased so much so that we can set a lighter sail the spritsail and the mizzenmast have the task of going out on to the jib boom and on to the spritsail yard to unfurl. Daniel, Graham, Phil and Mike take up the task and seem to enjoy the experience of hanging out on the bow of the ship with the waves crashing below them. The sails are reset and with the full sails the ship increases her speed by an additional 2 knots, huzzah.

All’s well.

Re-setting the sails

Transit of Venus: The Historian’s Blog (4)

For those who have been following this adventure from the beginning, and for those who are still on the ship, this is an account of what happened on Lord Howe Island …

It was a hazardous process getting to land.  The swell was so high that the zodiac that collected us from the ship was nearly overwhelmed coming through the surf into Ned’s beach.  It was only the skill and determination of the Endeavour crew, together with that of the welcome party, that made it possible for us to land.

It had been an extraordinary journey getting to Lord Howe, and events on the island continued that pattern.  We awoke on the morning of 6 June to extreme weather conditions.  Gale-force winds ripped across the island, the clouds opened and rain tumbled down.  There was metre-high surf in the lagoon.  As the Endeavour lurched wildly in the sea on the horizon, it looked for all-the-world as though our observation plans would be a wash-out.  After six days of sailing in often fierce conditions, it seemed we’d chosen the wrong day for Lord Howe.  As Carlos and a team from the National Maritime Museum went to stake out the observation site, I went to the Museum to give a lecture.  We rehearsed some of the many stories of those whose efforts to catch the transit over the centuries had come to nothing.   I tried to convince myself and the audience of the merits of noble failure.  As it turned out, I shouldn’t have bothered.

We were unable to catch the beginning of the transit.  Attempts to raise a marquee nearly resulted in an impromptu hang-gliding excursion.  But as the morning wore on, an opening in the clouds appeared.  Within minutes, Carlos and the I.T. technicians had the telescopes set and the images streaming to the mainland.  It was a miracle of improvised efficiency. 

As the weather cleared a little, groups of residents and tourists began to gather to take part in the observations.  The excitement grew.  The wind was still blowing strong.  Gusts periodically shook the equipment, but the tracking of the telescope remained true, and the footage was saved for posterity.   As the afternoon wore on it became clear that the event had attracted significant media interest across Australia.  A string of satellite calls came in.  By the end of the day, all involved were exhausted but happy.  The nature of our voyage, and the difficulties of the day, made the view of that small black disc on the large orange disc seem so much more precious.  The quest to understand space and the exploration of the Earth seemed fused, as they have been for hundreds of years.

The following day, the 7th of June, we went to the school to have a chat with the kids about the science and history of the transit of Venus.  Their engagement and knowledge were evident in a series of fabulous questions.  The Maritime Museum donated one of the telescopes to the local community.   It was a gesture of thanks for the many ways in which the islanders as a group, from the school children to the governing Authority, had helped to make the event both possible and memorable.  

As the Endeavour sailed over the horizon for Sydney in the morning, we were g

The open-air observatory

rateful to the people and the vessel that had brought us to that place, and to the good fortune that had allowed us to be part of this historic moment.  Flying back to Sydney, I thought of the challenges we’d faced in observing the transit in this remote place in the 21st century.  How much more remarkable, then, were the achievements of those who saw the transit from the Endeavour 243 years ago.

Those of us on the island wish good sailing to those still on the ship.  Thanks to all of you for the memories.

The Lord Howe Island School

Day 9 Sydney to Lord Howe and return

Transit of Venus taken on board HMB Endeavour

Latitude; 31°25.50’S

Longitude; 159°0.33’E

Distance run in the last 24hrs; 86NM

Average speed; 3.8KN

Weather; wind Force 4-5 SE by E, slight cloud, slight seas, Temp; 18°

The weather is exceptionally changeable, with these moments of blue skies and glimpses of the sun hinting that the wind and storm have exhausted and blown themselves out, but changing in a matter of minutes and having these short blasts of heavy rainfall and forceful gusts. At 1300 we have a blue sky moment and once again for about 40 minutes we are able to observe the Transit of Venus and even manage to get some good photograph of the event. It is a strange feeling watching this very small shadow cross a significantly bigger sun, but the minute you  sit back and think about what is actually happening here and the perspective of this phenomena, historically, astronomically, the findings for the future of the event and more importantly for the present. We have endured a tough 24 hours with the storm and we are not over it yet, it has been both physically and mentally exhausting but the one thing that keeps all our heads above water is the comrade Rey between ship mates and the achievement that we have brought the ship here and what we are witnessing.

Although we are bouncing and rolling about in swells close to eight meters we are actually in a relatively safe place in comparison to just slightly further inland and down the coast, the forecast predicts that the waves will reach up to 15 meters, which is colossal.

Wave swell projection

Tonight we motor near and close by to Lord Howe to ride out the tail end of the storm. Although the ship still roll’s uncomfortably most people sleep well and sound due to tiredness.

The morning brings that glimpse of a blue sky and the hope that the sun will shine today. The ship is calming and morale seems positively high. At 0900 we salute Lord Howe with a cannon blast before departing. It is a shame that due to conditions we were unable to step ashore, but the reality is I think we experienced more of an adventure on board during the storm, than what could have been experienced with a few hours ashore in the rain.

The sun is shining the sea swell is down to 2m and the wind is blowing approx. 24 knots, so the call come for us to set some sail and make our journey homeward bound. With certain obligations to get the ship here on a tight time frame and with winds that refused to assist, we look forward to a much better forecast, with fair winds that should allow us to sail home. It is not always about the destination, but the journey of the ride.

All’s well.

Day 8 – Transit of Venus Sydney to Lord Howe and return

Mainmast unfurling and reefing the Main topsail

Latitude; 31°29.63’S

Longitude; 159°18.46’E

Distance run in the last 24hrs; 86NM

Average speed; 3.5Kn

Weather; force 5-6 SE by E, overcast skies with the occasional break in the clouds, moderate to rough seas

By 1300 the chariot for Carlos, Alex and Ashley awaits in the form of a zodiac boat. The Island is surrounded by reef shallows and so there is someone ashore on a VHF radio communicating to the boat handler to ensure they make safe passage and navigation ashore. Just a few meters away from the edge of Ned’s beach there are some large treacherous breaks.

With the Transit of Venus not happening until tomorrow and strong gale winds being forecast during the night and the morning of tomorrow, captain Ross decides that we are safer not anchoring and that we should continue on sailing, but to reef our topsail’s in preparation for some strong winds. So once again an all hands call is put out and the crew clamber aloft to get the sails reefed, I can tell you that the view from aloft is spectacular with this tropical, volcanic scenery, a real buzz for all involved.

The ship has a substantial roll once again which is strenuous to the body and after enduring it for several days your muscles start to let you know about it. At 0330 much to everyone’s disbelief there is an all hands call with wet weather gear and harnesses. Gradually everyone blurry eyed makes their way up on deck. It might seem a bit cruel to get everyone out of their hammocks at an unearthly time, but unfortunately Mother Nature does not keep the time and we have to be prepared at any moment to deal the weather we are dealt. It is not a moment too soon, the winds starts to blow up and it takes many more hands to assist in all aspects of sail handling. It is aloft for the professional crew and those of the voyage crew that are of high climbing calibre to face the adverse weather condition to get the sails furled as quickly as possible.

Stormy times and horizontal rain

The last sail to be dealt with is the Main topsail and it is a team effort to get her down into her lifts with the wind now gusting from 40-50 knots. Furling the main topsail is a job designated just to the professional crew and being one of those up there on that yard, I now fully understand and appreciate the famous sailors tattoo of ‘HOLD FAST’ across the knuckles. Once down from aloft the horizontal rain kicks in with a sting to the face, but onwards with securing all the ships lines and the thought of that first, hot, strong coffee keeps us going. As always when there are strong winds it brings the high seas and right on cue they arrive making it exceptionally hard to travel around the ship.

Fortunately the sea state subsides fairly quickly and although we are still rolling, it is not as bad as earlier on. During the crew meeting below decks, Ant the third officer interrupts as there is a break in the cloud as some blue sky finally shines through and an opportunity to observe the transit of Venus. Most crew jump at this opportunity to get on deck with their solar glasses and see this remarkable, once in a life time phenomena. Although the last few hours have been exceptionally intense with minimal sleep, this occasion marks a mile stone in history and albeit only a brief break in the weather, what more amazing way to witness this account. This crew have sailed this ship over 450NM through gale force winds, storms and sleepless nights to witness an incredible spectacle  just as Cook and his men did over 240 years ago an adventure that all should be proud of, but the adventure isn’t over yet.

All’s well.

Viewing the transit of Venus

HMB Endeavour spies the Transit of Venus

Good afternoon all, I will hope to get a complete blog on line later but I just want to let you know that despite mother Natures awful weather we have been enduring the last few hours, the HMB Endeavour spies the Transit of Venus currently in blue skies (not sure how long for). Not quite on Lord Howe but not far away! here is a photograph taken form on board.


Transit of Venus: The Historian’s Blog (3)

Lord Howe Island at last

We have just had the best 24 hours of the voyage so far.  After days of motoring into the wind and rain, the weather patterns finally aligned yesterday afternoon and we were able to hoist some sail.  It looked at one stage as though we were going to be pushed to arrive in time for the Transit tomorrow.  Instead, after a night of flying at up to seven knots, we woke this morning to the sight of Lord Howe Island, shrouded in mist on the horizon.  The twin peaks of Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird dominated the scene, rising dramatically from the sea, with the rest of the Island forming a saddle between the two.  It looks entirely worthy of its status as a World Heritage site.

The lift in crew morale once we transferred to sail was quite extraordinary.  The ship steadied and sea-sickness faded.  The incessant drizzle that had accompanied our progress ceased and the clouds parted to give us a clear view of the night sky.  A spectacular lunar eclipse dominated the evening as the moon shone silver on the water.  The crew spent the evening wandering on the deck, chatting about the stars, and Carlos shared his wonderful knowledge and enthusiasm with us.  I will disembark to the Island this afternoon, to prepare for the Transit tomorrow, and I can’t imagine a better way to spend my last night on the ship.  I even got some sleep.  And I had a shave this morning.  I did discover that some damp rain gear had left a dye stain on one of my only respectable shirts, but you can’t have everything.

For me, excitement about getting ashore is building.  In the spirit of eighteenth-century voyaging, I can’t wait to explore the island and meet the ‘natives’.  They have a great reputation for hospitality, and this is a place I’ve longed to visit.  To be able to do so in this context, with the once-in-a-lifetime prospect of the Transit of Venus tomorrow, is more than anyone could wish.  The weather remains uncertain, however, so we must hope for good fortune.

I will continue blogging over the course of the Transit, but since I am soon leaving the bark, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my shipmates – particularly the members of Mizzenmast watch.  It’s amazing how quickly you bond with people when you’re gazing at the sky together through the small hours of the morning, or smashing into each other as your hammock sways in a rolling sea.  Thanks to Natalie and Ed, who led our watch and kept us alive despite our idiocy, to Nigel and Fiona who made delicious food every day, and to everyone who keeps this national treasure on the high seas.

The Lunar eclipse of 4 June 2012 – viewed from the deck of HMB Endeavour Replica

The way to the Transit of Venus – Day 6

It is the 6th day on the HMB Endeavour Replica and with two days separating us from the Transit of Venus expectations are growing fast. The weather is hinting at its power, tightening its patterns and reminding us of any object not tightly secured.  Watching the few unattended items drift across the tables is a practical example of the words of Dirk, the 1st officer, about the importance of securing every object.

With a rocking ship as the setting, my first lecture was presented. A brief history of astronomy from the first naïf attempts to marry the skies with our daily lives, to our current understanding of the universe with a focus on the Transit of Venus as part of this learning process.

Despite having a fairly tired audience, everyone was kind enough to try to stay awake and many of them even succeeded. It is my intention to share everything I can about this astronomical event and astronomy in general. Casual conversations about astronomy permeate our free daily hours, all two of them.

Because this is the first sailing experience of this magnitude for many of the crew members, including myself, there is a steep learning curve and great physical strain. As the days go by, emotions shift over an increasingly wide range. Routine starts to settle and people’s core personalities start to emerge. I see this as another part of the value of this trip, it encourages all of us to develop genuine relationships and take care of one another. This also reflects well on the skill of the professional crew and the challenges of working with new members. The more time we spend together, the more respect we gain for their work.

As we approach the final opportunity for our generation to view the Transit, final preparations are commencing. The Australian National Maritime Museum and the Sydney Observatory are holding observation sessions and live streaming to give the public a chance to see this historic event. If you are going to observe it independently, make sure you do it safely. Looking at the sun without protection can be damaging for your eyes. Information about safe viewing, supervised observation sessions and live streaming can be found on either website.

As usual, it will be Dr. Alex Cook updating us on the new developments on this trip next time. I will return on the 5th of June on our arrival at Lord Howe Island. Until then …

Day 6 – Transit of Venus Sydney towards Lord Howe and return

Mainmast huddled together to do the quiz

Latitude; 31°36.16

Longitude; 156°53.13

Distance run in the last 24hrs; 74NM

Average speed; 3kn

Weather; Clouds are clearing slightly, Force 2 NNE winds, temperature; 19°

The afternoon is bleak and grey and we are still motoring along… The ship below decks is very warm and stuffy and above the decks the heavens frequently open up for a down pour, so what do you do on a miserable, motoring Sunday afternoon, a quiz. At 1300 Captain Ross hands out to each of the watches a series of questions with a possible correct 21 answers. Some of the questions are pretty cryptic, for example; ‘from ship to sea, what do you see?’ It keeps all watches entertained including the soggy mainmast watch who are up on deck huddled under the Pinnace for shelter whilst discussing their answers, leaving Nick and Lucy on the helm.

The answers are all submitted by afternoon tea and the winning watch will be declared in the morning. At afternoon tea the Mainmast confess that they did attempt to bribe both Lucy and Nick but to no avail, so feeling uneasy that they won’t win the quiz they try their hand at Uno, but to be honest I think they stand more chance with the quiz…. All of the crew have their fingers and toes crossed that tomorrow will bring the prevailing winds so that we can set sail, the forecast looks promising but could still change.

Looming skies at the change of the 0800 watch

By 2200 the wind has increased to a force 8 with wind speeds exceeding over 40 knots. The sea state is increasing but by no means to reflect the strength of the wind, there is however no doubt that the sea swell will keep increasing throughout the night. It is restless night with not much sleep achieved by anybody, there are many bangs in the night but thankfully none of them are the crew. The sea state has increased and when I give in on trying to sleep at 0530 the ship motion is terrible! The sea swell is not only high but the sea is so confused and so we have a number of wave combinations hitting the ship. On deck it is dreary but not raining and the wind has dramatically decreased to a force 3-4, meaning that in a few hours the seas should also subside.

The morning meeting comes with the announcement of the winning watch for the quiz. And the winner is……………. A draw, both Mizzenmast and mainmast have answered a correct 15/21 and Foremast only one point behind with 14/21 and so there is a decider question ‘As the crow flies how far is Lord Howe from Port Jackson?’ the mizzenmast guess at 370NM and mainmast hover on 410NM but lock in their answer at 500NM. The correct answer is 416NM making Mizzen mast the winning watch. Alex the historian gives a second lecture this morning but down below decks where it is nice and dry. Hopefully the next blog will be brought to you under sail.

All’s well

Nick doing his regular rounds on ships safety equipment

Transit of Venus: The Historian’s Blog (2)

My last blog involved some sentimental reflection on the charms of wind power.  Predictably, almost as soon as it was written, the winds turned hostile.  They have been blowing almost directly from the North East, the direction we need to travel to reach the island in time for the Transit.  We have been relying on diesel engines, discretely buried in the bowels of the ship, to keep us on track.  While this is frustrating for all of us, since we would prefer to sail, we are incredibly lucky to have this technology at our disposal.   It is a luxury to be able to, in a sense, switch nature off.  It is also a reminder of how extraordinarily fragile the voyages of discovery of past eras were – particularly those of astronomical research.  When timing is crucial, you need a great deal of luck.  Years in the planning, years in the execution, expeditions could be ruined by an unfavourable wind that delayed arrival at a key destination, or by a wandering cloud that prevented meaningful observation.  Both of these things happened to expeditions to study the Transit of Venus in the eighteenth century.   While we have been able to take precautions against ill winds, we may yet be thwarted by the skies.  The weather forecast for 6 June on Lord Howe is uncertain, but it looks as though there is a significant chance of overcast conditions.  We all have our fingers crossed.

Despite the lack of wind, and some miserable weather, the voyage has been interesting thus far.  Everyone is tired.  My watch was up at 4am this morning, steering the ship into the wind and sleet.  But I take some pleasure in the discipline and routine.  The professional crew is slowly breaking us in, teaching us how to serve the needs of the vessel (and how to keep our stuff out of the way of others).  I gave a lecture yesterday on Cook’s Transit voyage and the broader history of European exploration in the Pacific.  Carlos gave a lecture today on the astronomical science of the Transit over four centuries.  We are just about to participate in a group quiz on our understanding of tall ships.

Today I went to stand in front of the webcam at the stern of the ship to wave to my wife and kids.  It streams live from midday to one each day, and there was a bit of a queue for camera time.  It seems nostalgia may be setting in early.  This would have worried a ship’s Captain in Cook’s time.  It was regarded as a dangerous and potentially debilitating medical condition.

It’s Sunday today.  I wonder if someone will read us the Articles of War in lieu of a sermon.  We don’t seem to have a chaplain aboard.

I will write again in a couple of days.

Alex Cook (ANU)


The crew discusses Cook’s voyage to observe the Transit of Venus in 1769