‘Endeavour’, a real survivor!

‘Endeavour’, following her restoration, 2006

The East Coast cockle bawley, ‘Endeavour’ is a real survivor! She’s been sunk twice, been to war, rescued flood victims, survived a hurricane and can still touch over 10 knots under full sail! This article by Finlay Marshall, on behalf of the Endeavour Trust, summarises her history. It was first published in the OGA Newsletter ‘Gaffers Log’ soon after her restoration in 2006.

Newly restored in 2006, the 1924 designed Endeavour was first launched at Leigh on Sea in Essex. Back then she was a radical departure from the traditional craft, being the first to be fitted with an engine as well as her gaff rig.

Built by the Cole and Wiggins yard in Leigh she was fitted with a Lister diesel motor to enable her to reach the cockling grounds without waiting for favourable winds or tacking around the Estuary. On launch day the new vessel slid down the ways into Leigh creek and sank like a stone! The yard had forgotten to seal the stern gland. Re-floated and re-launched she joined the cockle fleet and went to work without further mishaps.

During World War 2 ‘Endeavour’ helped supplement rations and kept fishing as the crew had reserved occupations and were not required to fight. By May 1940 the German army had outflanked the allied armies in France and the British Expeditionary Force was driven back towards the beaches at Dunkirk. The War Office, backed by Winston Churchill, developed Operation Dynamo as a means of evacuating as many troops as possible and on 30 May 1940, ‘Endeavour’ received a short order from Thames Naval Control Office requisitioning the boat: ‘for employment on Admiralty Service.’

With five other Leigh boats: ‘Renown’, ‘Resolute’, ‘Letitia’, ‘Reliance’ and ‘Defender’, ‘Endeavour’ was placed under Navy orders and sent to Southend Pier where naval ratings were due to take over. The fishermen refused to give up their boats, but agreed to sail for Sheerness under Admiralty orders. At that stage the skippers had no idea what they were about to do.

They joined the fleet of little ships assembled there from the Thames and east coast of England which sailed to Dunkirk to rescue the troops. After rescuing many men from the outer harbour, ‘Endeavour’ was ordered home on 6 June. By that time her engine was out of action and she was under tow back to Sheerness. Astern ‘Renown’, also suffering from engine failure, formedpart of the tow. As the boats yawed across the Channel, ‘Renown’ struck a mine and blew up killing all aboard.

At Sheerness ‘Endeavour’ was tied up but a few hours later a corvette rammed her, crushing ribs and seriously damaging the boat. The Admiralty paid for her repairs and she returned to Leigh and the fishing grounds.

In 1948 she was sold to Joe Deal who had crewed aboard her for many years and he used her in the highly profitable white weed harvesting before returning to shrimping. In 1953 massive floods hit the Thames Estuary and the east coast. Canvey Island was underwater with hundreds trapped in their homes. ‘Endeavour’ and other cockle boats helped with rescue families by ferrying them to safety.

By the 1970s ‘Endeavour’ had been fitted with a wheel-house and wheel steering and her sails had been long discarded. She was sold out of Leigh and spent her final years fishing from Queenborough, Kent before being laid up further up the Medway. The 1987 hurricane almost ended the old boat’s life when she sank yet again only to be saved as the Navy tried out the then new idea of flotation bags.

It was not be until 2001 that the idea of rescuing and restoring a ‘little ship’ was mooted. ‘Resolute’ was known to be lying near Chatham but inspections deemed her too far gone to save. ‘Endeavour’ lay nearby in a better state and she was bought through the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships for £1. Shortly after the Endeavour Trust was set up to bring her home to be restored and used for educational purposes and to serve as a reminder of the historic cockling industry of Leigh on Sea.

On the 41st anniversary of her Dunkirk epic the boat arrived by low-loader back in Leigh. Volunteers began removing rotten timbers and the wheelhouse and it became clear a major project was under way beyond the skills of Trust members so she was moved by lorry to a barn at Great Totham, near Maldon, where shipbuilder Brian Kennell and Shaun White took on the task of rebuilding her to original specification. As many original timbers as possible have been incorporated and ‘Endeavour’ has 25% of them within the hull. Trust members who helped out learned to plug screw holes and caulking along with painting the hull inside and out.

Her centreboard, removed long ago to increase hold space was replaced. Original timbers were also replaced or doubled with oak from local woods. In April 2005 she was re-christened at Leigh and began brief trials before her return to Dunkirk to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Operation Dynamo. She sailed for Ramsgate on  24May 2005 with the north-westerly wind gusting force 6-7 and rising. Skipper Paul Gilson, an experienced trawler owner by trade, was not happy with the weather but there were 200 people watching, including television crews, so she slipped down Leigh creek under engine to Bell Wharf to collect the wreaths to be laid off Dunkirk and to show her off to the people who raised the money to save her. At 1pm ‘Endeavour’ cast off from Bell Wharf and headed for the sea.
“Hoist them,” said the captain, “and we’ll give them a show!”

Six hours later the boat entered Ramsgate Harbour. With main and two headsails set she had exceeded ten knots! The five man passage crew were soaked but elated after one of the most thrilling sails of their lives. Other, bigger, ‘little ships were amazed that we had attempted the trip but, with a bone in her teeth ‘Endeavour’ showed what a 1920s boat could do.

‘Endeavour’ is 36ft long, with a beam of 11ft 6ins and a draft of 3ft 6ins. She displaces 11.78 tons and is powered by a Lister Petter 40hp engine. She is of carvel construction using pitch pine and oak.

First published OGA Gaffers Log, December 2006, by Finlay Marshall on behalf of the Endeavour Trust