With the sound of a 1987 Grange Hermitage smashing against its hull, the Endeavour replica — one of the most authentic seagoing replicas ever built — was launched before tens of thousands of people at Fremantle Harbour at 5.23pm on December 9, 1993.
Its launch time was seven minutes ahead of schedule, because of a falling tide.
But the early launch belied the tumult that surrounded its creation and nearly led to it being sunk before it was finished.
“It was a very difficult time,” project manager and winning America’s Cup crewman John Longley said this week. “It was touch and go for a while — we were short of cash and the ship might never have been finished.
“The great irony is that, at one stage, it was nearly bought by a Japanese company.”
The replica of the ship sailed by British explorer James Cook on his 1768-71 voyage to Australia is now owned by the Australian Maritime Museum and spends most of its time operating out of Sydney Harbour.
But there is a push for it to be back in Fremantle in 2020 as part of Australia’s celebrations for the 250th anniversary of Cook’s journey and landing at Botany Bay in Sydney.
Construction of the 33.3m, 397-tonne replica began in Fremantle in 1988.
A year earlier, Perth businessman Alan Bond poured funds into the project as a Bicentennial gift to the nation. But then, having given nearly $10 million to the project, Bond went bust.
Without more money, the project could not be completed. Staff took pay cuts — some worked for free — and management sought additional funding.
Initially, Japanese company Yoshiya Corporation came to the rescue and donated $650,000 until Iraq invaded Kuwait and sent property stock tumbling in oil-dependent Japan.
Then Scotsman Sir Arthur Weller formed a charitable foundation with a $100,000 donation, to which the Federal Government contributed $1.75 million. Food mogul Gary Weston, a Cook enthusiast, donated $1.25 million.
Advertising guru John Singleton gave a personal gift of $1 million and the NSW Government put in $750,000.
Public donations totalled $2 million, income from people visiting the ship while under construction raised $2 million and the sale of merchandise raised $500,000.
Initially scheduled to take two years and $13.5 million to complete, the ship took six years and nearly $17 million to finish.
Like Capt. Cook’s original ship, the replica sailed around the world after its launch, visiting ports where thousands of people turned out to see and board it.
The replica originally was intended to be a floating centrepiece for the Australian Maritime Museum.
Bond employed Longley to manage the Endeavour’s construction and the pair decided to toss out the idea of a static museum piece in favour of a real, seagoing sailing ship.
By doing that, the Endeavour could fund itself by taking on paying passengers who could help maintain the ship while at sea. More income is generated through the Endeavour’s open days while in port.
“After all the financial problems — the collapse of Bond Corporation and the Japanese economy — we still owed $750,000 to the Commonwealth Bank on the day we launched the ship,” Longley said. “But the fact we could take passengers up and down the east coast meant we repaid the debt fairly quickly.”
Longley said the replica’s planning and construction had been an extraordinary experience and the end result was a testament to the skill and teamwork of WA tradesman and others from around the world who came to work on the project.
“At one stage, I had the very difficult task of telling the workers that we had to cut their numbers to save money,” Longley said. “A couple of days later, the workers came to me with a plan to reduce costs.
“Some were prepared to work for nothing for 10 weeks, others were happy to work at half pay. It was a tremendous response and a reflection of the commitment and passion they had.”
Longley will be speaking about the Endeavour project at 1pm on December 9 at Notre Dame University’s Tannock Hall in Fremantle.