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Mast Transit

An oceangoing anachronism, a replica of Captain Cook's 18th century Endeavour docks in Newport Harbor as part of a global cruise.

April 15, 1999|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's not until you get past all vestiges of the 20th century--the high-rise downtown San Diego skyline, the naval yards and the sound of blaring car alarms set off by the traditional blast from the ship's gun as the ship leaves port--that it really hits you:

You're aboard a replica of the H.M. Bark Endeavour, the square-rigged converted coal carrier on which Lt. James Cook--with 94 crew including scientists--circumnavigated the globe in the late 18th century.

The tall ship arrived in San Diego in early February and will sail into Newport Harbor, its only other stop in Southern California, shortly after 9 a.m. Friday.

Cook's 1768-71 Pacific voyage, one of three, propelled the 40-year-old Royal Navy 1st lieutenant--most often referred to as "captain" because he commanded the ship--into the ranks of Vasco de Gama and Columbus as one of the world's greatest explorers.

Cook was the first to accurately map Australia's eastern coastline; he is considered a major figure in Australian history.

The Endeavour project, affiliated with the Australian National Maritime Museum, was paid for through individual donations and government funding and is operated by the H.M. Bark Endeavour Foundation.

It took six years--and $17 million--to build the replica, which includes planking fastened with wooden nails and blacksmith-forged door handles and candle lanterns.

Commissioned in April 1994, the new Endeavour left Australia on an around-the-world voyage in October 1996.

Sailing first to England via the Cape of Good Hope, it crossed the Atlantic in early 1998. After a 16-port tour of the east coast of North America, it headed to San Diego via Bermuda, Barbados, the Panama Canal and the Galapagos Islands.

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The ship will dock at the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum about 11 a.m. Friday; guided tours of the Endeavour begin Saturday.

"It's a chance to touch history," said museum director Sheli Smith.

There will be no oceangoing tours of the Endeavour during its 10-day stay in Newport Beach, one of 15 ports on a West Coast itinerary that winds up in Vancouver, B.C., in October.

But on one recent morning, about 70 volunteers who helped with the ship's annual refit--sanding, painting and rig and sail repair--went out with the Endeavour's 16-member crew for a short shake-down sail.

Before departing, the volunteers were given instructions in sailing, 18th century style: how to climb the rigging and unfurl and set the sails. Two got to work the helm. Jim Davis of the San Diego Maritime Museum, which hosted the Endeavour's visit to San Diego, was one of them.

"For me, it would be something I wouldn't want to turn down," said Davis, 40, who is first mate on the Star of India, the 135-year-old windjammer moored at the San Diego Maritime Museum and which makes annual day-sails.

"The romance of sailing a tall ship," Davis said, "is always there."

The Endeavour's mast soars 128 feet overhead; its body is about 30 feet wide and 110 feet long (from bowsprit to stern, it measures 143 feet).

Known as a slow but sturdy vessel, the Endeavour is billed by its publicists as "sea kindly and safe even in rough weather."

There was no chance of rough weather on this trip, even though chief officer Geoff Kerr, standing in as captain while Chris Blake was on leave, said the forecast had called for 25-knot winds.

With only a 3- to 4-knot breeze, Kerr lamented, "it's almost a dead calm." (A 4-knot wind, 4.6 mph, is technically considered a moderate breeze.)

Which was a disappointment to experienced sailors wanting to see what the three-masted Endeavour could do on the open sea but a relief for someone whose idea of sailing is on a 700-foot luxury liner complete with happy hour on the promenade deck.

Once out to sea--about two miles beyond Point Loma--the Endeavour seemed even smaller than it is.

Built as a bulk carrier, the ship's hull design is similar to an overturned barrel. Once the engine was cut--the replica has an engine for motoring out of the harbor that was not part of the original design--and the volunteers went about setting the sails, the flat-bowed ship bobbed like a cork: pitching and rolling, pitching and rolling.

Which was about the time a landlubber began praying for the Dramamine to kick in.

"A lot of people get seasick,' acknowledged Anthony Longhurst, 26, of Sydney, the Endeavour's boatswain. Then he grinned: "I've never had the privilege."

As the crew and volunteers went about the business of sailing--and former America's Cup champion Dennis Conner sailed his Stars & Stripes sloop alongside to get a close-up look--a tour below decks seemed in order.

This Endeavour has four decks: the weather deck on top; the after-fall deck, running half the length of the ship from the stern; the lower, or mess, deck; and the hold at the bottom.

Part of a wooden ship's charm is the sound of its creaking and groaning below decks. As the ship's historian and curator, Antonia Macarthur, said of the Endeavour: "She talks a lot while she's under sail."

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