Cheers to the 100th birthday of the Southern Swan

Sydney delivered a stunning summer evening for the Southern Swan to celebrate its 100th birthday this week.

Ships rarely survive 100 years and even fewer mark the milestone in active service, so it was a moving moment when the Sydney Harbour Tall Ship set sail from Campbell Cove on January 10. And The Thirsty Travellers were lucky enough to be invited aboard for the special event.

The Southern Swan was built at the Frederikssund shipyard in Denmark and launched on January 10, 1922.

In the 1950s, she carried malted grain for the Tuborg Beer Company, now part of Carlsberg. When the brewer heard the Danish ship was marking 100 years, it was eager to join the celebrations as the official beer sponsor.

Carlsberg Brand Manager Alison Barry said: “I love that this beautiful Danish Tall Ship now sails Sydney Harbour, past the Sydney Opera House, which was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon,.

“I am thrilled that guests at the cocktail party celebrated this milestone birthday by toasting the occasion with Danish beer and that the Carlsberg flag was flying on ship on the night.”

The Southern Swan’s owner Marty Woods added: “Coincidence, hard work and tenacity brought these three iconic Danish things together. An Opera House, a beautiful tall ship and Carlsberg beer. Thank you Carlsberg for your support, 70 years after this eco-friendly ship carried your product to the delight of many a Dane.” 

Woods expertly steered the ship as it crested the waves during its birthday celebration, regaling attendees with tales of the oldest member of his fleet, simultaneously keeping the vessel on course with gentle adjustments to the wheel with his foot.

“It’s quite amazing that she’s 100 and still working, with so many that want to help her out,” he said. “She’s a magnet drawing people in, grabbing their hearts and keeping those love affairs strong for decades … a century!

“It’s a special moment to be under sail on one of the world’s greatest harbours, passing the world iconic Sydney Opera House, lubricated by world-class Carlsberg beer, with likeminded friends and family on one of the prettiest ships that have plied these waters and on her actual birth/launching day.” 

Captain James Parberry (above, left), who is currently writing a book about the fascinating history of the Southern Swan, read out emails from around the world wishing the ship a happy birthday.

Former owners Margaret and Doug Havers summed up the special place the ship holds in so many hearts when they wrote: “A thousand hands have held your rigging, furled your sails, polished the binnacle, painted your woodwork, oiled your decks. The happiness you have shared is unquantifiable. Long may you continue.”

Among the special guests on board was Jonathan King (above), the man who conceived the iconic First Fleet Re-enactment in 1975 and spent 13 years preparing to bring it to life.

The Southern Swan – then called the Svanen – was the first vessel to join the famed re-enactment, which included seven ships—Søren Larsen (also now part of the Sydney Tall Ships fleet), R. Tucker Thompson, Anna Kristina, Amorina, Tradewind and Bounty. They sailed from Portsmouth in May 1987 and followed the route of the original First Fleet, sailing for Australia via Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town, and Mauritius.

King’s passion for tall ships was evident as he reminisced about the incredible journey as he stood on the deck of the vessel where the dream to stage the First Fleet Re-enactment first became a reality. King re-mortgaged his house to secure the Southern Swan for the voyage and told guests he never regretted the decision for a moment.

Woods was a volunteer aboard the First Fleet Re-Enactment. He went on to buy 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.

However, Woods noted that “no one can own an icon, you can only be the custodian for a particular time”.

“We’re honoured to have that privilege,” he said. “Yes, we sign the papers and pay the bills and that’s how she owns us. 

“Her birthday celebration this week was a wonderful opportunity for so many that have been touched or have touched this extraordinary ship to come together like her sole being reunited. A bit surreal, I guess, having so many like-minded people together.” 

The Southern Swan regularly embarks on harbour cruises, offering locals and visitors 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.

Woods is keen for as many guests as possible to join him aboard the Southern Swan in January for her 100th birthday. To book a cruise aboard the Southern Swan during her birthday month, visit

Watch a video from the event below:

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