Twilight cruising with Sydney Tall Ships

Stepping back in time aboard a historic tall ship is a glorious way to experience Sydney Harbour at dusk.

The Thirsty Travellers originally booked a cruise with Sydney Tall Ships for VIVID Sydney, but our adventure was cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdown. We skipped the option of a refund and chose to pay a little extra and enjoy a sunset dinner cruise instead.

The weather reports leading up to our cruise were miserable and 50km per hour winds were whipping Sydney on the morning of our booking, but they dropped just in time for us to board the Southern Swan at Campbell’s Cove in The Rocks.

It was still too windy to have the ship in full sail, so our ship didn’t look quite as magnificent as it does in the above photo, but it was still a stunning sight as it pulled up to the jetty.

Originally named Our Svanen, the Southern Swan is a three-masted barquentine built in Denmark in 1922 – she’s celebrating her 100th birthday in January next year!

The Southern Swan started out sailing Baltic trade routes as a cargo vessel. During World War 2, evidence suggests the vessel may have assisted in saving 400 Jews, delivering them to neutral Sweden.

In the 1950s, the Svanen carried malted grain for the Tuborg Beer Company. In 1986, the ship journeyed to Vancouver to appear at the World Expo, then sailed to England to join the First Fleet Re-enactment. Seven ships—Søren LarsenR. Tucker ThompsonAnna KristinaAmorinaTradewindOur Svanen, and Bounty—sailed from Portsmouth in May 1987. They followed the route of the original First Fleet, sailing for Australia via Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, and Mauritius. However, the initial funding ran out when the ships reached Rio de Janeiro, and the captains were considering abandoning the voyage until a radiothon on Macquarie Radio Network raised $900,000 and further corporate sponsorships were secured. 

The ships entered Sydney Heads at 9.30am on Australia Day 1988, with their arrival at Farm Cove coinciding with a speech by Prince Charles on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. An estimated 3000 vessels were on Sydney Harbour to welcome the fleet.

Our friends Marty and Lisa Woods bought the Southern Swan in 2007 after a replica of The Bounty that had been used in the 1984 film The Bounty and then become a tourist attraction in Darling Harbour was sold to a ferry corporation in Hong Kong. When the Swan went on the market that same year, they decided the only hope of keeping it in Aussie hands would be to purchase, restore and operate the ship themselves.

Fourteen years later, we finally stepped aboard and it was an incredible feeling to walk on the deck of a ship filled with so much history.

We sipped drinks and nibbled delicious barbecued chorizo slices as we passed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and watched the gorgeous scenery glide past.

There was also a chance to help the crew set the sails, plus the opportunity to don a harness to climb the mast to the crow’s nest of the ship. Unfortunately, we had to pass on the later as we’d been sipping wine, which isn’t allowed when clambering up the ropes.

The Southern Swan cruised as far as Cockatoo Island, then headed towards Fort Denison, past Admiralty House, giving us a great view of the Sydney Opera House and its famous seal in residence, Benny.

Along the way, the crew shared interesting commentary about the maritime history of the harbour and the ship itself, then served us a tasty dinner of chicken with potato and bean salads.

We reluctantly disembarked two hours later and made our way home through the vibrant night life of The Rocks, which has been enhanced recently by the NSW Government’s Alfresco Restart initiative. Tables spill out from the restaurants onto the streets and laneways, filled with patrons enjoying their new freedom.

Cruising aboard the Sydney Tall Ships is definitely an experience to add to your bucket list. We’re planning to return for a whale watching adventure or perhaps book another evening cruise to see the sunset, as it was a little obstructed by clouds during our adventure. However, the weather didn’t obstruct our fun – we loved sailing on the Southern Swan.

A Sydney Harbour twilight dinner cruise aboard the Southern Swan is priced at $109 per adult during summer. Click here for more information.

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