KAILUA-KONA -- The H.M. Bark Endeavour's visit to this historic resort town is the biggest thing to hit the Big Island in ... well ... in a week. The Iron Man Triathlon was last week, and will be back next year. But Captain Cook's ships only drop anchor here every couple centuries or so.
Thousands of people -- in a community population measured in thousands -- turned out Halloween weekend to welcome the replica sailing ship to Hawaii. After a brief bout with Customs offshore on Friday, Endeavour sailed into Kealakekua Bay at dawn on Saturday morning, the rosy morning light picking out the detail on the sails and lines of her rigging.
A brace of porpoises flanked the wooden ship as she entered the bay, the first marine mammals the crew had seen since leaving Vancouver, British Columbia, on Oct. 10.
"Messengers!" marveled Herb Kane, the Hawaiian artist and historian who specializes in the Golden Age of sailing ships. "That's what they were. The porpoises were there to welcome the ship. It was a stirring, absolutely magical sight. Like a painting come to life and start moving."
Kane was the sparkplug that caused Endeavour to veer off her 'round-the-world course and make a courtesy stop in Hawaii. The Kailua-Kona Chamber of Commerce got into the act as sponsors, shortly followed by Port Allen on Kauai, which had also been a Cook landfall. Honolulu also invited the ship to Aloha Tower.
Cook was aboard the original Endeavour when he first charted Australia and New Zealand, and later ran across Hawaii in ships Discovery and Resolution.
There was some concern that the manner in which Cook died -- beaten to death, along with some Royal Navy marines, in a scrap with Hawaiians -- would cause 220-year-old ill will to surface.
Cook's body was placed in an imu and roasted until the flesh fell off the bones, as ancient Hawaiians thought the bones had power. Kamehameha added Cook's mandible and the long bones of the femur to his own collection, and the rest of Cook's bones were divvied up among chiefs, occasionally brought out for ceremonies. It's likely they were gathered together later and hidden.
Cook's flesh was placed in a wooden box and dropped into Kealakekua Bay.
Kane tells stories like these as if he's describing everyday life, and indeed, it was, in the 18th century. The past comes alive aboard a creation like Endeavour, and for Kane -- who learned to sail in South Kona as a child -- the romance of sailing has never lost its sense of adventure, and history has never lost its sense of wonder.
"Sailing is like riding on the wings of a bird," he said late Saturday, looking out across the dark water to where Endeavour bobbed at pierside. The artful tangle of lines and masts and spars gleamed over the water like Christmas trees in the distance. "Walking the deck of a ship like that gives you just a taste of what it was like for those seafarers."
Ironically, as Endeavour makes its way around the world, it has had better success in smaller communities, where red tape isn't as plentiful. Honolulu was almost skipped because of bureaucratic entanglements, and San Francisco was passed by entirely and literally: the Bark sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and up the Sacramento River to the state capitol.
Towns that host the ship are required to cough up mooring fees and utilities, housing for the crew, insurance and transportation. Kailua-Kona also had to rent a couple of big concrete quays dropped in the bay, to keep the ship from bruising its wooden hull against the cement pier. Guides are also drafted and trained in the local community.
Kailua-Kona did all that and more, and has a surplus of eager volunteers wishing to be guides. Honolulu is still advertising for Endeavour docents.
It's expensive to operate Endeavour. It has a permanent crew of a dozen or so, and the rest are apprentice seamen who pay thousands of dollars to learn 18th-century sailing skills.
The youngest aboard the voyage from Vancouver -- one of the longest legs the ship has attempted -- is Kristen Cooley, 19, of Costa Mesa, Calif.
"Oh! I got into it because my dad is a huge Captain Cook fan, and I'm taking a year off from college, going all the way to Sydney aboard Endeavour," she said. "The time will count toward when I seek my 50-ton captains' license, though.
"If someone had told me a couple of years ago that I'd be aloft in the rigging of an 18-century sailing ship, at night, in a 30-knot gale and pouring rain, hauling in sails, I'd have told them they were nuts. But that's actually my favorite memory. It's exhausting, and the adrenaline pumps through you, and it's a great thrill. Stretches you to your limit! How many people get to do that?"
Chuck and Laura Rose of Honolulu aren't strangers to life on water. They live in a boat in Ala Wai Harbor, got married aboard the Falls of Clyde and spent their honeymoon crewing Endeavour.
"We thought it would be cool!" said Chuck, a motorcycle-parts dealer.
"And it was!" said Laura, who has a job dealing with motocross biking. "We didn't have any private time together, but our hammocks were only 14 inches apart. I could pat Chuck on the head to say goodnight, sweetheart."
Chuck would like to start a kind of Endeavour Alumnus Society. "She's got to keep voyaging," he said. "Ships and sailors rot if they're kept in port. This ship is a living thing. And it was great sailing her to Hawaii. In fact, as soon as the Big Island came up over the horizon, the trades picked up, and she picked up speed. She did 11.3 knots off Hawaii Thursday, the fastest the ship has sailed anywhere in the world."
Roy Kirton, 75, of Mandurah, Australia, a retired materials engineer, has been with Endeavour since she was a gleam in the eye of Australian enthusiasts. "Me wife saw an advert in the paper and said, they're building a bit of a boat, why don't ye get on board? And I said, why not?" said Kirton, who became Volunteer No. 14. "It seemed like a grand thing for the public and for school children."
Financial troubles almost caused the half-built ship "to be chopped up for firewood," said Kirton. "For nine months, we raised money anyway we could and no one took any pay. If it hadn't been for the guides, we might not be here."
Derek Fukuda, 43, saw the recently completed Endeavour being admired in Sydney Harbor in 1994, the sails and masts complementing the lines of the famous opera house. The Pearl City High grad, now an aerospace engineer in Seattle, couldn't get the ship out of his mind, and when he saw an ad in Outside magazine for volunteer crew, he knew he had to be on the transpacific leg. It cost him $2,900, including uniforms.
Though Fukuda had sailed with friends, he was in no measure a seaman. "The first thing they do is let you climb up the ratlines to the mast-top while the ship is at port. If you get vertigo, you don't sail. Everyone has to go up.
"It was a lot of work -- four-hour watches, four-hour maintenance cycles, sleep and eat, do it again. I had sleep deprivation the first week, then I got into the routine. Sundays, you stood watches, but there was no work. And we stopped in mid-Pacific to swim, with a lookout in the fighting-top for shark alerts. And we trailed fish lines at all times and caught mahimahi and ahi. ... We had lots of sashimi. And I gave the cook some poke recipes. And we found Japanese fishing floats with mussels growing on them, so we pried them off and ate them too."
What spoke to Fukuda, the 20th-century engineer, was the immense quiet of the ocean.
"You could hear the waters crashing against the bow, like waves on a beach. It's very soothing, actually. The ship doesn't really creak like they do in the movies. It's too well constructed."
He stood with his hand on the wheel and looked up into the dense jungle of dangling ropes and bough-like spars, once a mystery, now familiar.
"The part I'll always remember is standing watch at night. The only light would come from the candle in the ship's lantern, from the phosphorescence in the whitecaps and the bow-waves, trailing off to darkness behind us, and the sea of stars above us, which illuminated the sails a faint bluish color. The quiet. The far-awayness of everything. The deck rolling like a heartbeat. It doesn't get any better than that."
Ports of call: Kona until Friday; Pier 9 near Aloha Tower, Honolulu, Nov. 8 to 14; Port Allen, Kauai, Nov. 16-21.
TOURING THE ENDEAVOR
Tour hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily on Kona
Admission: $10; children $5; family pass $25
Call: Aloha Tower Marketplace, 566-2338
HM Bark Endeavour, called the finest replica of an 18th-century sailing vessel in the world, is a floating museum, exact in every detail, except for a well-hidden engine. It is built of Australian jarrah wood instead of oak.
ABOUT THE SHIP
Crew: Permanent crew of 18, plus 34 volunteers, who pay to learn the old sailing techniques.
Tours: Self-guided, with locally trained docents on hand in key areas.
Wear old clothes: parts of the ship are oily or tar-covered. Slippers are discouraged, you'll have to leave them behind on the pier and tour the ship barefoot (which is not a problem).
Also: Areas below decks have low overheads, particularly the marine berthing area between the sailors' cabin and the officers quarters. It can also get stuffy.
Souvenirs: Shirts, books and other items are sold, although these are dwindling in number; they'd rather sell them off than declare customs duty when the ship reaches Australia.
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