Maritime treasure the Southern Swan is celebrating her 100th anniversary in January 2022. Part of the Sydney Tall Ships fleet, the historic vessel will spend her birthday month hosting a series of events and cruises on Sydney Harbour.
Ships rarely survive 100 years and even fewer mark the milestone in active service, but the Southern Swan is no ordinary vessel.
Owner Marty Woods bought The Southern Swan in 2007, intent on keeping her in Australian hands after the HMAV Bounty was sold to a Hong Kong-based company. Woods had been master of the HMAV Bounty and didn’t want to see another historic vessel leave Australian shores.
“When the Southern Swan went up for sale, my wife Lisa and I decided to buy her on the spot,” he said. “We hadn’t seen an accountant, we didn’t have a business plan, but we were determined to keep her in Sydney for the benefit of all.
“The Swan was built as a working ship and 100 years later she’s still a working ship. To me that’s awesome and I wanted to be part of that. Aside from all that history, she’s got a soul of her own and looks as pretty as a ship could be.”
The Southern Swan was built at the Frederikssund shipyard in Denmark and launched in 1922. She has sailed the world ever since, with Sydney becoming her permanent home in 1988.
Her current berth is historic Campbell’s Cove in The Rocks, where passengers regularly embark on harbour cruises for a glimpse of history at sea.
She’s an impressive sight, whether she has her sails billowing or furled. Stepping on her deck and hearing about her history from the crew is an unforgettable experience.
The Southern Swan started out sailing Baltic trade routes as a cargo vessel. During World War 2, evidence suggests the ship 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. She spent nine years in the Canadian Navy, sailing extensively with cadets in the late 70’s early 80’s prior to being an exhibition ship at World Expo Vancouver in 1986.
She then sailed to England to join the First Fleet Re-enactment. Seven ships—Søren Larsen, R. Tucker Thompson, Anna Kristina, Amorina, Tradewind, Our 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.
The Fleet was also welcomed by the Indigenous community due to the work of the Fleets organisers, who had discussed the re-enactments significance for all Australians.
“The general feeling from the First Nations elders at the time was ‘if you don’t know your past you can’t plan your future. Relive this part of your story line and we can then all realise the significance of it for all nationalities,” Woods explained.
He was among the volunteers aboard the tall ships in the First Fleet Re-enactment, a passionate advocate for their preservation after spending 15 years sailing with them.
“I’ve seen them change so many people lives,” he explains. “I’ve watched kids become adults and strangers become lifelong friends, all accelerated by the challenges that our tall ships and nature have dealt us during our journeys together.”
While sailing in Sydney Harbour in 2021 isn’t quite as dramatic, it offers a living link to the past aboard a working relic. Passengers have an opportunity to touch, feel and experience real history.
They also have a chance to help the crew set the sails, take the wheel of the ship or wear a safety harness to climb the mast to the crow’s nest for even more spectacular views of the harbour.
Marty is keen for as many guests as possible to join him aboard the Southern Swan in January for her 100th birthday. He admits the restrictions and closed borders of the last 18 months haven’t been an easy time for Sydney Tall Ships.
“We have made the most of a pretty devastating time for tourism,” Woods said. “Next to zero income has posed a huge challenge for us to survive. However, we’ve kept a smile and completed a heap of maintenance that would have been difficult when the ships are operating.
“We are back sailing and are ready to ride the wave of tourists that will soon return.”
The Thirsty Travellers cruised on the Southern Swan earlier this month, read about our adventure here.
To book a cruise aboard the Southern Swan during her birthday month, visit https://www.sydneytallships.com.au/