A December 1998 trip
to Galapagos Islands by ChrisJBrady
Quote: The HM Bark Endeavour's motto is for the crew to "Be Excellent to Each Other." So when we reached the Equator on December 24'th, Christmas Eve, at about 13.15. The day before the Captain was heard to remark that "75% of the psychological work had already been done"!!
It is a very demanding vessel and the importance of total teamwork - within a watch or between members of other watches &/or the permanent crew - engendered by "being excellent to each other" - is paramount. Anything less could even be dangerous.
And so it was that after an immense amount of preparation and some intrepidation that I embarked on what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime on the Endeavour from Panama to Galapagos.
The logistical preparation included making various payments in different currencies for the voyage, negotiating for a tourist visa into and out of Panama, negotiating for a single ticket out of the Galapagos Islands, having numerous vaccinations, and arranging insurance - "what's a tall ship?" one insurance agent asked. And the physical preparation included 6 month's of weight training and learning to swim (the latter not absolutely necessary but I had nearly drowned in a canoe accident in New Zealand some 20 years ago and I still have a real fear of deep water).
However sailing it was not to be. With perverse winds and cross-currents typical of that part of the Pacific we almost motored for the entire nine days. We were on half-watches especially at night and so the opportunities of going aloft and setting and handing the sails was minimal - a huge disappointment to most of us especially the volunteer crew.
The vast expanse of ocean - sometimes as smooth as a millpond - was uncanny. Whilst there was a small amount of wildlife - flying fish, dolphins, birds - frigate birds, a galapagos hawk, a small tern-like bird which hitched a ride in the Great Cabin, etc., the ocean appeared lifeless. It was all calm and relaxing.
But that didn't mean that there was not a lot of fun. And 'Crossing the Line' was perhaps the most memorable experience.
A few days previous to that a meeting had been held in the Great Cabin amongst those who had already 'graduated.' Unfortunately one candidate for exclusion couldn't provide proof and was smartly ejected from the room. Attempts to eavesdrop with a tape recorder let down near an open window was spotted and the window quickly closed.
The anticipation was enhanced when during cleaning stations we accidentally discovered - and smelt - a wicked looking soup of liquidized food leftovers that Robbie the cook had secretly fermented since leaving Panama in a large bucket in the engine room. We were sworn to secrecy about this, and thought that it was actually intended for us during the ceremonies - but this was not quite so. Anyway we told no-one.
And so as the day approached and those to be inducted spread rumors amongst themselves as to what was going to happen - which included forcible shaving, being thrown overboard into the Pacific, having to consume something unmentionable, and other unpleasantnesses - the Captain was heard to remark that "75% of the 'psychological work' had already been done"!!
But on the day at an early morning meeting of 'all hands' he did warn that the ceremonies were only a game, it was supposed to be fun, and that no-one should take it too seriously. Then he explained the rules. There was to be King Neptune and his 'bears.' The 'bears', being gentle creatures, would help to assess our conduct on board in his presence. Then the King would pass judgement on how co-operative and subservient we had been. We thought "no worries."
Later on we crowded round the electronic display by the wheel which marked our longitude and latitude. As the big moment approached - and we had been warned that there might be a big 'bump' - we sailed through the 0 degree mark without as much as a shudder. However, little did we know what was being planned for us in the afternoon!!
All of those to be inducted were suddenly called into the 20'th c. crew mess room by the cook Jo. This was under the pretense of saying something about the Christmas Day meal. Suddenly she dashed for the companionway and as we tried to follow her - the grating at the top was closed trapping us down there.
Some people tried to find an exit through the emergency passages behind the heads, but these were blocked and the intending escapees repelled.
So we waited amidst mounting tension until there was a banging of pots and pans from above and the calling for the first two victims. They disappeared up the companionway and through the grating were they were met with crew disguised in dirty white overalls and with wooden swords clashing on pots and pans.
After a few more victims, it was my turn - along with Jenny Harding (a permanent crew member). We got to the top of the companionway and immediately I had to take my glasses off - thanks for that warning Jo!! Then we were blindfolded. At this stage if we had struggled or tried to get away - as some did - we would also have had our hands tied behind our backs.
Then blindfolded we were led up the stairs from the 18'th c. deck to the weather deck where the homage was to take place.
"Ooh, argh, shave of his hair!!," - clash, clash - "Ooh, argh, cut off his head!!," - clash, clash, clash - "Ooh argh, stick this up his a*se," etc., etc. (Little did people know that I had a small tape recorder running in my pocket the whole time!!)
Jenny got the first treatment, whilst I noticed that the deck was incredibly slippery and I promptly slipped over into something slimy and nasty. Someone picked me up and asked if I was OK - "excellence" in action. Then I was led to and told to stand in a bowl of fermented, liquid, foul smelling, highly organic, cold, 'soup' - and was turned round a few times amidst yet more clashing of pots and pans and "Ooh, arghs".
Then we both were told to kneel in front of King Neptune. Amidst even more "Ooh, arghs" - mops full of fermented evil smelling organic mulch and a mixture of sticky tar and tallow were wiped over our hair and up our T-shirts and down inside our shorts. I got some of the stuff in my mouth and I shall never empty a food refuse bin again without remembering the smell and taste. But luckily I had a Rohan webbing belt on my shorts with my T-shirt tucked well down into it and not much 'gunk' got past that, but some people's backs got covered in tar.
Then we were told to stand and were lead away from King Neptune and the blind-folds were taken off. And what a mess on the deck, it was indescribable!! Then it was T-shirt off time and never mind the cold water - a sea shower from the fire hose was the only way to get the stuff off whatever it was. My T-shirt ended up in the sea, it had been white 30 minutes earlier. Now it was a kind of organic orangey, blackish, yellowish, brownish, greenish colour, and smelt to high heaven of bad food. I hope the fish in the Pacific enjoyed it being 'recycled'!!
There were bits of old food all over the weather deck. Luckily the deck had an old oily tarpaulin over it.
Then it was photography time to take pictures of the next batch of victims. I had left my cameras in plastic bags ready under the lifeboat. And it was all brilliant and relatively harmless fun, and only one person 'lost his cool' when he really believed that they were going to "ooh, argh, shave off his hair"!! (No names but I have the photo!!) The permanent crew got a harder time than the voyage crew (paying crew members).
I saw that King Neptune was an old man wearing a grizzled mask, or rather it was the Captain - I think - who was wearing a mask of an old grizzled man. Either way it was a very effective disguise.
The so-called gentle 'bears' were clearly identifiable as members of the permanent crew, 'idlers' (paying passengers) and voyage crew who had been at the meeting we had tried to eavesdrop on. They had colored stripes on their faces, and they wore filthy white tar-covered overalls. They were waving wooden swords and two filthy tarry/tallowed/old food sodden mops. There was a doctor/surgeon, too, wielding a large wooden comb and a saw with huge wooden teeth. And the Irish guy from Cork really did need to disguise his Irish sounding "Ooh, arghs" better!!
And what of Robbie the cook's fermented and foul smelling brew? He was a victim too, and at the end after he had been 'inducted' he went to get his concoction to baptise the 'bears' with it. Unfortunately as soon as he appeared with the bucket it was grabbed out of his hands and thrown over the side before he could get his own back!! What a waste.
But after everyone had been 'processed' the ceremonies were all rounded off by a huge communal shower under the sea hose.
Sometime later, after all the mess had been cleaned up both on the deck and on us, and yet more T-shirts had met their demise in the sea, we all joined the Captain at the wheel for a celebratory glass of champagne.
Then it was back to work aloft to set square sails. I don't know whether it was the exhilaration of having survived a traditional 'crossing the line ceremony,' or of becoming a little more familiar with working aloft, but the awkwardly long step, from the ratlines to the foot-ropes of the upper topsail yard which was canted away from me, suddenly seemed easier then. I was gradually losing my fear of heights aloft - or was it the champagne?
Some days later when we left the ship we were also given a very handsome certificate of the ceremonies which I will treasure and keep safe for all time. I will also make a copy in miniature to carry around with me. I don't want to have to earn another one!!
Well we arrived at Puerto Ayora the next day and spent a couple of hours anchoring in a suitable place in the harbor. The following five days were spent playing tourist, visiting the giant tortoises at the Charles Darwin Station and on the Devine Ranch, visiting some Lava Tube Tunnels, photographing the marine iguanas and the lava lizards, and watching the pelicans, seals, and frigate birds, and basically exploring the bars and shops.
"Excellence To Each Other"? Yes, indeed. And this is one of the main lessons I brought back with me to the everyday world. We could do with more of that in our society. It does matter - very much - and the Endeavour crew set an excellent example.
London, United Kingdom