In Endeavour’s wake: course toward Madeira.

While Endeavour is sailing towards Madeira, where she did her first stop for more supplies, we take advantage of this easy navigation time to present the Vessel, the crew and the Captain with his double missions.

Let’s sit in the deck and observe our main characters

His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour

Australian Endeavour replica vessel

As you can see, she uses square sails on three masts, measures 106 feet long and 29 feet wide (32.3×8.83 m) and weighs 368 tons. During her overall life, the vessel will have three names and three souls: commerce, exploration and military use.
She was born in 1764, designed to carry coal, as the Earl of Pembroke; after some years she was bought, just some before leaving Plymouth, by the Royal Navy and renamed His Majesty’s Bark the Endeavour, and refitted for Cook’s expedition: its flat bottom is well suited for sailing along coasts in shallow waters and allows the boat to be beached for the loading and unloading of cargo and for basic repairs (and we will see this will be an essential trait!).
At the end of the Voyage, after some years of commercial use (with the new name of Lord Sandwich), in 1775 she will be hired for British troop transport during the American War of Independence. She will be sacrificed and scuttled, in August 1778, near Rhode Island with other 19 surplus ships to obstruct the bay to prevent French fleet from attacking the British settlement. Her wreck is still under the sea.

New world exploration frontiers: Nasa Space Shuttle Endeavour ready to dock at International Space Station. Picture taken on September 2010 (just 242 years after our Vessel reaches Cape Finister) during Endeavour’s STS 130 mission.

Curious? Relics, including six cannons and an anchor, are displayed at maritime museums worldwide. An Australian replica of Endeavour was launched in 1994 and is now berthed alongside the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney Harbour. The vessel is depicted on the New Zealand fifty-cent coin  and finally the US space shuttle Endeavour has been named after the ship 


Captain James Cook.

James was born on 7 November 1728 in the village of Marton in Yorkshire (you can find his name in the parish church of St Cuthbert’s register, where he was baptized on 14 November). In his youth he worked on a farm before winning an apprenticeship with a merchant sailing company, at age 17: he then sailed in the waters of North and Baltic Seas, where he spent the next ten years. He was being groomed to become a captain, but in 1755, he quit his merchant sailing career and enlisted in the British Royal Navy as a common seaman: he was 26, really older than most new recruits, yet it didn’t take long for the Navy to recognize his talent. He was promoted to ship’s master in only two years, and later became one of the first men in British naval history to rise through the enlisted ranks and take command of his own vessel.

For some years his first recognised talent was in the art of cartography: the maps he produced were so accurate that they were still in use up to the 20th century. This is the main reason why he won the command of his first round-the-world voyage. In an age where Satellite GPS was not even a mirage, he could be trusted to navigate in uncharted territory and bring home precise maps of the lands he discovered. We are encountering him, right now, just after his promotion to Lieutenant, at the beginning of his Explorer career, at the age of 40.

Curiosity. What about sailors’ notorious love affairs? Cook married Elizabeth Batts on 21 December 1762 and they had 6 children. Unfortunately Cook has no known direct descendants since all his recorded children either pre-deceased him or died without any son (no spoiler on his death at this stage).

Interesting, but… Which were his orders? The mission of the journey

From a scientific viewpoint, worldwide observations of the 1761 transit of Venus across the face of the Sun had been a failure. Astronomers, hopeful in using the data to calculate the distance from Earth to the Sun and between the planets, urged the scientific community to take advantage of the next transit, which would occur on June 3 in 1769.

Consider what secrets would be unlocked with this essential piece of information and the effect it might have on astronomy and navigation. The choice to lead the expedition down to the South Seas to take an observation from there fell on brilliant Cook. The chosen target was Tahiti, in the South Pacific Ocean. So the Endeavour is now sailing towards the island.

That’s all? Secret Military Agenda

In the 18th century, the Pacific Ocean was still virtually uncharted. Ever since Magellan made the first European crossing in 1520 there had been rumours of a large southern continent called Terra Australis Nondum Cognita (the ‘Southern land not yet known’). French, Dutch and English sailors had hunted in vain for this mythical land. The expedition would be given a secret mission to find the southern continent before Britain’s rivals could lay claim to it.

Just a spoiler: during his second circumnavigation of the globe in the early 1770s Cook came extraordinarily close to sighting Antarctica before pack ice forced him to turn back.

Meanwhile we are sitting here in the Vessel’s deck, with a cup of tea, chatting and taking confidence with the main characters of the voyage, Endeavour is sailing a few miles of Cape Finister (Cook is now writing “At 6 a.m. Cape Finister bore South by West 1/2 West, distance 10 or 11 leagues. Loosed all the Reefs out of the Topsails, and got Topgallant Yards across. Wind Westerly, Calm; at noon, Island of Cyserga (Sisarga), East-South-East 3 leagues.”). It is September the 4th, 1768. A little more than 600 miles (965 km) in 10 days.

In an even more archaic human exploration age than the 18th century, Cape Finister was named from latin ‘Finis Terrae’, that is ‘the end of the Land’: the name reports the Ancient Roman idea that the Cape was the westernmost end of the known Earth. Actually the Cape is not even the westernmost point of the Iberian Peninsula, being Cabo da Roca in Portugal about 16.5 kilometres further west and thus the westernmost point of continental Europe (even in Spain Cabo Touriñán is farther west). Note: in the above map, ‘Cabo Fisterra’ is the Galician term that stands for Spanish ‘Finisterre’.




A note. Cape Finister is the final destination for many pilgrims on the ‘Camino de Santiago’, the pilgrimage to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It is a recent tradition for pilgrims to burn their clothes or boots at the end of their journey at Cape Finisterre.

Curious about the rest of the crew? Stay tuned for the next Episode…


(Credits: James Cook’s journal and World Wide Web, especially Wikipedia and

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