The apocalypse has happened - a super-virulent plague has ripped through, leaving only a small percentage of immune survivors. Luckily, for the purposes of this question at least, there is fairly minimal damage to infrastructure.

A group of survivors is in Sydney, looking for a way to get to greener pastures, when they spy the following: the HMS Endeavour - or at least a replica.

How feasible is it that a group of survivors would be able to sail a replica 17-18th century ship out?

My main thought is that it is a large vessel that doesn't rely on electronics or sophisticated machinery in order to sail - though there would be rotting and decay of the natural components.

Specific Concerns:

  • Difficulty of learning how to sail the ship from scratch
  • Level of damage caused years of neglect -- she may not even still be floating
  • Minimum crew size needed


  • Knowledge of modern sailing in at least one or two of the survivors
  • Potential to scavenge needed supplies to repair the ship
  • Nearby library or museum could hold books with useful information
  • Survivors take the time needed to examine the ship and learn it's workings.
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "details aren't really important." - but they are. Reverse-engineer depends on what is left, in terms of books, video etc. Years of neglect would work differently in nuclear winter than in runaway greenhouse. And so on. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Oct 3 '18 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ Why are they embarking on this ship? $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Oct 3 '18 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ edited to add some more details $\endgroup$ – Chromane Oct 3 '18 at 9:34
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You can sail without sophisticated machinery or electronics in a plastic canoe. You just add simple engine with a propeller to go faster. Navigation is waaaay harder. But with library you can teach yourself how to build and use a sextant, clock and compass. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Oct 3 '18 at 9:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ there are several questions here, some are acceptable here some ae not, I suggest you first ask to see what kind of shape your ship will be in before asking anything else. $\endgroup$ – John Oct 3 '18 at 12:55

Sailing is remarkably simple if you understand some basic physical principles. It wouldn't take them long to work out how to get the ship underway and sail with the wind and to a certain extent, across the wind. Sailing upwind and tacking will take longer to work out.

Crew wise, Cook sailed with around 70 men. That would have allowed for the usual 50% casualty rate on voyages as well as some non-essential persons, so you're probably good with about 30-35 people.

Navigation wise you don't stand a chance. It's very rare for people with modern sailing skills to know how to use paper charts with a sextant and clock to navigate, they're almost entirely dependent on modern technology. But that's ok, because if she was left afloat the ship will have rotted away at the waterline. You see wood stored entirely underwater will last for centuries, wood stored completely dry will equally last for centuries, wood stored somewhere it suffers a wet-dry cycle will last a year or two. I'm afraid that given a decade without maintenance, Endeavour will not sail again without major repairs. Chances are, she's sitting on the harbour bottom.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ not mentioning that taking a large ship out of an harbor is an art in itself $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Oct 3 '18 at 9:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch, at least there won't be much traffic to contend with $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Oct 3 '18 at 11:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Separatrix Actually, the upper part of the ship is more likely to last than the under water section. The part under water will be eaten by worms and destroyed by barnacles, etc. The top part will likely be covered with a coating of salt from spray being thrown against it and evaporating, which acts as a preservative. $\endgroup$ – Hosch250 Oct 3 '18 at 12:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Hosch250, since this is a modern replica, I'd assume the hull is treated against shipworms in a more effective manner than the original. Modern build wooden ships don't tend to suffer in the same way. Barnacles themselves don't do damage, they just cause drag, antifouling paint will help with that as well $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Oct 3 '18 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ OK. Well, that's probably good news for these guys :) $\endgroup$ – Hosch250 Oct 3 '18 at 12:46

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.