January 4, 2013
The news that an Australian billionaire plans to recreate the Titanic got me thinking about replica ships. I’m probably priced out of anything but steerage on the Titanic II. But I once took a trip on a replica ship that was more rewarding than any luxury voyage could possibly be.
The Endeavour is a replica of the ship used by Capt. James Cook on his great voyage of discovery to New Zealand and Australia in 1768-71. Cook was the first European to visit the east coast of Australia and Botany Bay, where Sydney is today. To commemorate Cook’s voyage, the Australian National Maritime Museum built a replica of his ship and sailed it around the world in the 1990s.
Avid amateur sailors could pay a hefty fee to come aboard as crew members for a week or two as the ship traveled the globe. At the time, I was working as a newspaper reporter in North Carolina. As the Endeavour worked its way up the East Coast, I was offered the chance to crew the ship for free with the understanding that I’d write a story about the experience. (It was so long ago that there’s no copy of my story on the Internet!)
It was an amazing experience. For a week, I slept in a hammock and stood duty four hours on, four hours off. That’s right — we never got more than four hours of sleep or leisure at a time. Under the direction of a skeleton crew of professional sailors, we climbed the rigging at all hours and in all weather, furled and unfurled sails, scrubbed the decks and tied all manner of unusual knots.
But perhaps the most lasting benefit I gained was a love of the historical novels of Patrick O’Brian, which are set in the British Royal Navy of the same era. All my fellow crew members were big O’Brian fans, and after my week aboard, I read the first book in the series and was hooked. I’ve read all 20 of the books, which are known as the Aubrey-Maturin series after the two main characters. They served as the basis for the Russell Crowe movie “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” In fact, I just spent most of my free time over the last couple of months reading all 20 of the books again for the third time.
I’ll watch with interest the Titanic II story as it unfolds. But I’ll always cherish the sailing trip I took in a much humbler vessel.