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Sailing Ship in Sydney

Sailing aboard a 19th Century square rigger;  the working barque James Craig

This article is reproduced with Dennis' permission, unaltered from the copy in the newsletter

[Dennis Nicholls; Shuttleworth 1960/62]

[Dennis Nicholls; Shuttleworth 1960/62]

I always intended to take part in the detailed restoration of the square rigger James Craig, a 1,000 ton barque of the 19th Century, but due to living elsewhere in Australasia I didn't become part of the Sydney Heritage Fleet, as a volunteer, until the James Craig had been back sailing for a year or so. I'm now one of the climbing crew aboard, and, as I'm slightly older than the Delai Lama, that's a very lucky thing to be.

When young, I, and my fellow classmates in a Cardiff sea school in 1950, thought that a crew of young Welsh sailors would be required for either of two sailing vessels laid up in Penarth after a Cape Horn voyage in 1949 (the square riggers Pamir and Passat, both large cargo vessels built in the early 20th Century) but, alas, the vessels were returned to their pre-war owners and we missed out.  It then took me more than 50 years to become a member of the crew aboard a large square rigger.   And what an exhilarating thing that is.

The sailing vessel James Craig is the most sailed of the restored working barques of her vintage; those built in the second half of the 19th Century, and when under way with sails set and a 'bone in her mouth' she's a sight to behold.  Just take a look at an image of her under sail and you'll know what I mean:

More images at:

Heritage notes on the James Craig:


[I almost met Alan Villiers in Sydney in 1964; after meeting his brother in a bar.  How I now wish I had.]

[I did meet some of the crew of the Pamir from that 1949 voyage, when we took them for a day sail.]

As it says on that webpage, in the way of describing why she is so special: 'There are only four operational barques from the 19th Century still capable of sailing - the Star of India in San Diego, California, (1863), Elissa in Galveston, Texas, (1877), Belem in France (1896) and James Craig in Sydney (1874).  Of these, James Craig is the only one in the Southern Hemisphere, and is the only one in the world which regularly carries members of the general public to sea. Though her days of sailing around Cape Horn are probably over, she has 23 roundings to her credit. She is a true restoration, not a replica. Other Australian tall ships are either replicas such as Bounty and bark Endeavour ['bark' is the naval version of 'barque'] ships built (last) century such as Our Svanen and One and All, static museum exhibits such as Polly Woodside in Melbourne, or abandoned unsavageable wrecks, such as Santiago in Adelaide... James Craig is a representative of the great sailing vessels from a bygone age ... In 2003 she was awarded the World Ships Trust Medal for authentic restoration. She joins a select band of restored ships throughout the world, including the Mary Rose (UK 1510), Vasa (Sweden 1627), USS Constitution (USA 1797), Great Britain (UK 1843) and Cutty Sark (UK 1869), which have received this honour.'

[Editor – I have placed a number of asides as appendices or notes, below, in an attempt to reduce the length of the article,  And then numbered them; leaving numbers between paragraphs in the text indicating where the asides came to mind.  The asides may be left as appendices or as notes, perhaps in smaller text, or placed back  in the text, or discarded as required. – D]


1.  Hopefully when the Cutty Sark (built in 1869) is fully restored, after that disastrous fire, she will become capable of being sailed again in the open ocean.  If so, to regain her historic speed, her modern means of propulsion, her screw(s), would be require to be withdrawn into her hull when not in use.  The exposed screws of the James Craig, although feathered, do cut a few knots off her speed through the water when under sail power only.

2.  The Polly Woodside, in Melbourne, is a similar sized vessel to the James Craig, and just nine years younger.  Although she looks good as a static display, she isn't seaworthy. Unfortunately, as there are many maritime volunteers in Melbourne eager to begin the restoration of the Polly to seaworthiness, there are a number of obstacles in the way of getting her down to the mouth of the River Yarra, where volunteers have control of a number of old naval wharves and ship repair facilities.  Obstacles mainly in the form  of low bridges that have been built since she last went upriver – apart from getting her out of that old flooded dry dock that she's in and seeing if she is still afloat.  We sailed the James Craig down to Port Phillip Bay and the River Yarra in 2006 and put on a lot of day sails in the Bay for Melbournites, in an effort to encourage sponsors to assist in raising the $5 million required to get the Polly down to those facilities at the old naval base in William Town - but sufficient sponsors have not as yet stepped forward with the funding. This is doubly unfortunate; as the Victorian Government had some millions of dollars set aside to assist the volunteers in getting her down river, but had to spend the money to cover a shortfall in funds for the Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne a few years ago.]

3.  In passing, I was disappointed when visiting Cardiff Bay that the refurbished docks didn't have many heritage vessels - in fact only one was on permanent display, an old light vessel which is being cared for by volunteers.  There was no sailing vessel to represent the era of sail, when the docks were built in the 19th Century.  (Come on Cardiff, there are a number of likely wrecks of 19th Century sailing vessels around the world any one of which is worthy of restoration.)  Those with the skills to restore, and the health to become volunteers in restoration work, will soon be gone, and then it will become a much harder task to carry out restoration work using old technology.  Cardiff deserves better than empty docks to welcome visitors, and the lack of sail training on square riggers for its youth.  There is a wreck of a late 19th Century cargo carrying square rigger, possibly similar in condition to the wreck of the James Craig in 1972, admittedly a long way away from Britain, which may be suitable for restoration; see : or  and   Cardiff could also make a bid for the Polly Woodside (that may stimulate Melbournites to sit up and take notice!) but getting the Polly out of the River Yarra and into a fit state to make it to Wales may be a more expensive option than Cardiff restoring the Stanley Harbour wreck, the Lady Elizabetth, and towing her for almost the length of the Atlantic up to Cardiff docks.

4.  And for those interested in detailed specifications of the restored James Craig, the dimensions (found on the webpage: ) are that she is rigged as a 3-masted Barque, as she was when launched as the Clan Macleod in 1874, with, as motor power is now required by maritime authorities, two 400hp MTU diesel marine engines (and ZF Marine model IRM 350 gearboxes with a reduction ratio 6:1). She is approximately 1500 tonnes loaded displacement (the '646 tonnes net', refered to, is her registered volume; which, having been a measure based originally on the largest barrel available at the time, a 'tun' - approximately 252 gallons or 954 litres - perhaps it should be '646 tuns' net). She is 54.7 metres in length at the waterline and 70 metres overall, from jib boom to mizzen boom (the mizzen boom projects out slightly over the stern). Her beam is 9.5 metres and her draught 3.5 metres, with the depth of the hold being 5.5 metres. (There was only one hold running the length of the vessel, from a collision bulkhead to the stern - and going beneath the aft accommodation - which is why, being mostly just one hold, so many sailing vessel of the time sunk so quickly when holed) The masthead height is 33.0 metres above the deck. 35.0 metres above the waterline (the world looks good from up there, and the yards provide a great ride in heavy seas).  The sail area is 1100 square metres when fully rigged. The length of the standing rigging is around five kilometres with some 100 lines of running rigging.' (We add 1.6 kilometres of rope lights - one land mile of lights - to her rigging when preparing for New Years Eve harbour celebrations each year.)

With five kilometres (perhaps that should be five thousand fathoms) of standing rigging and some 100 lines (not 'ropes') of running rigging, it takes a while to 'learn the ropes'.  The position of each line has to be well memorised along with the correct belaying pin, so that the gear can be efficiently handled when at sea, particularly at night as no lights are allowed on deck, (except the navigation lights) and for rapid response in heavy weather when it's usually 'all hands on deck' at critical moments.  The sleepy off watch crew, appearing from below, have to become immediately alert when coming on deck, so line and sail handling have to be well learnt by deck crew.

5.      When it comes to linear measure I believe the world should stick to just one system of measure, and as ships and aircraft, in their navigation, use the 'nautical mile', based on the 360 degree circle (a nautical mile being a minute of arc on the earth's surface) then all linear measure should be based on the 'International Nautical Mile' (an agreed average size of a nautical mile - 1852 m or about 6076 feet). To stay with the 'metric system' it would then just be a matter of dividing that international unit into 1,000 parts, and it just so happens that the old maritime measure of a 'fathom' is close to a 1,000th part of a nautical mile (1,000 fathoms currently = 6,000 feet, just 76 feet, or around 1.25%, short ). So why not adopt the International Nautical Mile and its multiples and divisions of 1,000? The divisions starting with the 'new fathom' - authorities are welcome to use 'fathomme' if they wish - and going down to a 'millifathom' as a thousandth of a fathom.  (For the multiples I would prefer to stick with the term 'nautical mile' rather than use the term 'kilofathom')  The world could then do away with the 'metre' and the confusion of other linear measuring systems. [And although I still like the practical aspects of the yard, foot and inch, I would be prepared to go along with using millifathoms in everyday measuring – for the sake of international agreement.)

Knots, lashings, whippings and, if you're keen, fancy rope work, using the many types of rope and small line, are learned a little more casually.  Though some rope bending (knots) are essential to learn for some of the many tests of training – such as the bending of a heaving line onto a mooring line, or the bending of a stopper onto a piece of running rigging under strain before it's made fast.

The barque was launched on the 18th February, 1874 by Bartram Haswell & Co. Sunderland, England, as the Clan Macleod, her ownership starting with Thomas Dunlop (Scotland) 1874-1887 (Clan Macleod).  Then she was owned by Sir Roderick Cameron (Scotland) 1887-1900 (Clan Macleod) and the name change coming with ownership by JJ Craig, Auckland 1900-1911, being renamed "James Craig" on 14 December 1905.  This was followed by the British New Guinea Development Company 1911-1918 and Henry Jones IXL 1918-1925.  Ownership, before becoming a wreck, ending with the Catamaran Coal Mining Co (Recherche Bay, Tas) 1925-1930s, and being scuttled in Recherche Bay in the early 1930s.

6.  The 'ship's bell' up for'ard has the name 'Clan Macleod' engraved on it, and was handed back to the James Craig restoration people by someone who had 'souvernired' it when the vessel was a wreck.  The current ships wheel aboard the James Craig comes from a sister vessel, under the JJ Craig company, the Jessie Craig; as the original ship's wheel was 'souvenired' from the wreck of the James Craig by fishermen in Recherche Bay where she was a wreck for many decades; and probably adorns some bar on the 'Apple Isle' – and though there was talk about its current whereabouts, the original wheel didn't turn up while the James Craig was visiting Hobart in 2005 !

Again from the website: 'Discovered' by a member of the Heritage Fleet, who was looking for a suitable wreck of a square rigger for restoration by Fleet volunteers, she was raised in 1972 by a combination of, very enthusiastic, Heritage Fleet and Tasmanian volunteers, being refloated at 5 am, 24th October, 1972.  'The sad rusty hulk was later towed to Hobart starting at 7 am on the 26th May 1973 by the tug Sirius Cove, arriving at Powder Wharf,   Hobart where she stayed (sank once) from 1973-1981.  Then', says the instigator of the salvage, 'after much work by volunteers in Hobart, came the long tow to Sydney harbour in January 1981, ready for full restoration by (Heritage Fleet) volunteers with funding provided by sponsors (mostly from one sponsor, with a family firm connection to shipping in the past) and the general public. It took the (Heritage Fleet) volunteers, using a donated pontoon 'dry dock', from 1981 to 2000 to restore the old vessel up to sailing standard. A magnificent effort by an army of volunteers over the years (I don't know if anybody counted the total hours) which included the establishment of heavy duty work shops manned by a bevy of grey headed old, very skilled, volunteers. The pontoon and work shops are now being utilised to restore a large 80 odd year old steam (triple expansion) vessel'.

'Once back in Sydney in 1981, restoration began in earnest. In 1995, the Sydney Maritime Museum, determined that the restoration of the James Craig must not fail, established a separate James Craig Restoration Division to oversee the project's completion. In 2000 she was recommissioned, and has been sailing regularly since then. ... She is now sailing regularly, and is the only 19th century barque in the world that can give members of the general public the experience of sailing on such a ship on the open ocean.'

She certainly does spend considerable time each year on the open ocean. The day sails, two or three a month in summer and two a month in winter, see her sailing out of the Sydney Heads and then either to the north east or south east to catch the wind, and later sailing back to the Heads at the end of the day.  If the wind and conditions are right she sails up the length of harbour to her home berth in the inner harbour; at Darling Harbour.  In so doing she provides a magnificent addition to the harbour scene.  There she berths at a wharf next to the National Maritime Museum, close to exhibits of the Museum, including the replica of Captain Cook's bark Endeavour.

Her winter day sails see her among the whale watching vessels, out of Sydney, as the 7,000 or so Hump Backed Whales of Australia's East Coast cruise close to the shore, during June to August, on their way north to their calving grounds in the Barrier Reef.  She is also out there for the return migration of the Hump Backs in September and October, when the whales, breeching frequently, return south with their calves and riding the 3 knot East Australia Current – the same current that brought 'Nimo' (in the cartoon film) down from the Barrier Reef to Sydney harbour – down to about the border between NSW and Victoria, where that warm current swings away to the east.  This riding of the current is energy saving for the young calves as the whales head for the Antarctica and their feeding grounds.

Krill, the main food of the Hump Backs, is still there in the southern waters, but unfortunately the huge, and increasing, amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the turbulent southern seas in greater amounts than in warmer waters, so the resulting acidity is interfering with shell formation on all shell fish great and small.  The quantity of krill is falling, so although a ban on killing the great whales is currently allowing their numbers to increase, it seems that the world community is intent on committing Hump Backs to death from starvation.

The James Craig is also out there for the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race each Boxing Day, often mixing it with the maxi yachts which are the first out of the harbour each race - and the huge crowd of motorised spectator vessels surrounding them on the water, and the squadron of helicopters (I have counted 13 above us at one time) in the air overhead – as she times her arrival at the Heads just right to provide her passengers for the day with a truly impressive vista of the start of one of the premier yacht races of the world.  Christmas week is then rounded off with the James Craig, lit overall with 1,6 kilometres of 'rope lights', as she leads (from behind a smaller tall ship representing the original residents of Sydney harbour, with her Aboriginal complement aboard) other Heritage Fleet vessels and many working harbour vessels, on New Years Eve.  All are lit overall on a harbour parade around the outer and inner harbour, before the James Craig peels off and takes up her position between the Opera House and the 'Harbour Bridge' for the traditional fireworks display.  This constitutes a 'front seat' for the Harbour Bridge part of the (almost) harbour long display.

During the rest of the year she also provides Sydney Siders, when alongside, with an attractive venue for functions, and on any day of the week harbour cruises, day or night with up to 150 passengers aboard, around that spectacular harbour.  [Harbour with a small 'h' as the correct name for the harbour of Sydney is 'Port Jackson'.]

Her open ocean sailing goes further than just day sails, as the volunteer crew require more ocean sailing under training conditions that exclude the carrying of the 80 day sail passengers.  Out in whatever the ocean has to offer on two or three day training sails, or longer voyages visiting ports up and down the NSW coast and even to Hobart in Tasmania and to Melbourne in Victoria.

With her one hold configuration, 19th Century style (although a modern engine room takes up much of the after end of the original hold) the Australian Maritime Safety Authority only provides her with permission to sail out to a distance of 30 nautical miles from a safe haven.  There was though some dispensation provided, in 2005, for the traversing of Bass Strait to get to Hobart – provided that the forecast for sea conditions were favourable for the crossing.  They weren't favourable on the day, so the vessel remained in the harbour of Two Fold Bay at Eden, an old whaling station town on the south coast of NSW that she was visiting, for some extra hours of harbour safety.  This delay allowed the vessel to avoid a 90 knot wind, reported by a large, and damaged, passenger vessel, which happened to arrive in Bass Strait at the same day as the storm.

I was lucky enough to be aboard on the longer voyages to and from Melbourne and the return voyage from Hobart, and for a number of day sails out of those ports.  I have also been on a number of voyages to NSW ports as well as the essential training voyages out in the open ocean.

While in Port Phillip, close to the mouth of the Yarra River leading down from the Port of Melbourne (where she had been tied up for the first time in over 80 years) the James Craig became the start vessel (a cannon was provided, and set on the fo'csul) for a 'harbour race' between the six maxi yachts competing in a 'round the world' race (the 2006 Volvo Round the World race) and became the centrepiece in an arc of spectator vessels.  The yachts had held a similar 'harbour race' in South Africa on the way out from Britain – part of the whole race format – and were to hold another in Rio on the return leg to Britain.  This involvement with modern sailing 'Cape Horners' allowed us to see how they approach such inherently dangerous conditions; information gleaned at barbecues and other social event discussions with their crews.  Satellite imagery and weather and ice reports each hour while at sea, allow the yachts to find 'gates' through bad conditions and so avoid meeting extreme circumstances.  With speeds through the water in excess of 40 knots, one of the yachts had, in open ocean on the outward journey, covered an equivalent distance of Sydney to Hobart within 24 hours, it was necessary for the yachts to be aware of impending conditions wherever they were on the open ocean – even a minor collision at those speeds would have been dangerous.  [Oddly, when one of the large yachts took part in the next Sydney to Hobart race, she lost her mast on the first night out!]

The best day of sailing so far for the restored James Craig was on the return leg from Melbourne to Sydney, where a 40 knot wind on the quarter (the wind gusts bringing the wind readings to almost a full storm on the Beaufort scale) just as we rounded the corner into the Tasman Sea, saw us sailing as fast as the vessel's been able - with feathered twin screws - since her recommissioning.  Not the speed that the maxi yachts are capable of, but a respectable speed through the water for a cargo carrying vessel of the 19th Century.

It was a magic time surfing down large seas just before sunset, with the last of the sun making the sea turquoise and the spin drift, flying past on both sides, multicoloured.  She had hardly any roll and glided (surfed) down the seas full tilt.  It was then possible to see exactly what such square rigged vessels were designed for in the open ocean.

During restoration there was much debate as to whether she should be a stationary 'museum exhibit' or a full working vessel capable of sailing in the open ocean. The final decision was for a seaworthy vessel capable of sailing as she did in her working days - for which I'm very thankful.

Unfortunately, though, at that stage of the restoration it would have needed a major refit of the hull to put in watertight bulkheads and so divide up the hold - and keep her afloat after any holing in a collision.  So in the end she is a compromise, retaining 19th Century features as far as possible, but, with motors, and modern safety and navigation provisions, which allow her to fulfil modern regulations to sail in the open ocean - but to stay within 30 nautical miles of a safe haven.  If internal bulkheads were fitted to divide up her hold she would again be fit for sailing around Cape Horn, her hull and rig certainly have the strength required for such heavy seas, but perhaps her value as a working model of a 19th Century cargo sailing vessel is too precious to be subjected to such a test.

The James Craig was crewed, in her cargo days, by a Master, his wife, and 16 crew including 3 apprentices. But on mostly long sea legs, such a small crew had ample time to set all sails, then, much later, hand them all in (furl them) when coming into their destination port. But on day sails, which are equivalent, in sail handling terms, to an ocean leg all in one day, it requires more than twice that number in the crew to handle everything in the time available and to look after some 80 passengers. On longer voyages there are just over 60 aboard, including just 12 being passengers.  The passengers having to sleep in the 'tweendecks' in replica migrant's accommodation - similar to cattle crates, but with bunks - and to gain a berth they have to bid against one another on the Web.  Passengers are also invited to join the watches and be trained along with the volunteer crew (so the long legs also become training voyages).

8.   The master's cabin has a '19th Century' ensuite (non operational in its modern reconstruction) as the first master, on the vessel's maiden voyage, had his wife aboard and she was pregnant at the time of departure.  One of the grandsons of the boy baby born aboard on the vessel's first voyage, to South America via the Horn in 1874, is among the volunteer crew aboard today.  The baby born aboard, when he grew up, became a master mariner himself as did his son, and part of the original vessel's name at launch, 'Macleod', is still used as a middle name for the eldest boy born to the family in each generation to this day.

9.  Others who were children aboard the vessel in its cargo carrying days were still alive, in Britain, when the James Craig was being restored, so were able to contribute information about the vessel which was useful for the marine architects and others involved in the work of restoration.

The vessel's rigging, and other external parts, were based on information gleaned from an enlarged 1890's glass plate photograph taken in New York Harbour by a very keen, and very unusual, amateur woman photographer.  A print copy of that photograph graces a bulkhead in the master's cabin.

Where do we all sleep?  Some are in the original officers quarters and 'Idlers' (the non watch keepers - bosun, sail maker, carpenter, steward) accommodation aft, the 12 working passengers are housed in the 'migrants accommodation, built from timber slats and set in the 'tweendecks, the on deck restored (steel) deck house (deck crew accommodation on the original vessel) is usually occupied by the cooks and stewards, and the large balance of volunteer crew sleep in hammocks and stretcher beds in the 'tweendecks.  All is very 'cosy' in there, boys and girls together, individuals located according to the three sea watches ('morning', 'afternoon', and the old 'dog watches' combined into a '4 to 8 watch') but there are large fans, set in the restored deck housing, to keep up a flow of fresh air through all the below decks accommodation.

Toilet and showering facilities are modern and set handily in the 'tweendecks, as is the modern galley and dining tables.  The main hatch is battened down at sea, and it is essential that most of the 'tweendecks are kept calm and quiet during the night, and most of the day (apart from giggles as swinging hammocks occasionally bump together, and the odd discordant snore reverberates off the deck head) as crew and passengers catch up on much needed sleep.  Although in rough weather there is the occasional heavy thump as one of the crew fall out of their hammock, usually due to them trying to avoid the dripping of cold seawater onto their face, while half asleep, which can happen at the start of a storm before the deck timbers expand and become watertight.  It can also happen because the occupant of the hammock has drawn the hammock ropes too tight so as to raise their hammock up high to reduce the swing and to be able to lie in a straighter position; it's then all too easy to roll out.  I prefer a low slung hammock, and enjoy the swing even if it means being banana shape while asleep – it beats falling out; or the alternative to be flung out of one of the stretcher camp beds in a heavy roll and ending up rolling along the 'tween decking until meeting something hard.  There is, though, now a hammock design that crew may use to make their own straight hammock – the roping and top edge of the 'straight' hammock are curved but the sleeping part beneath remains level, so the sleeper doesn't form a banana shape when asleep, it's then, when the hammock is made fast, just a matter of sliding in from one end into your own private world.

Body harnesses worn on watch, a must under modern health and safety regulations, are hung next to the modern galley down below, at the bottom of the modern companion ladder going up to the deck, and those involved in changing watch have to be as silent as possible when buckling up and unbuckling – as do the 'fire and flood' checking watch keepers as they wend their way, in potentially jangling harness on the half hour, through all accommodation (squeezing past hammocks) and making it into the lower hold via the 'tweendecks.  (As plastics improve more of the metal parts of the harness are replaced, and so harnesses become lighter, safer, and less noisy.  But as with most volunteers the camaraderie is high, so friction at sea is rare.)

Health and safety regulations become ever more strict by the year, so that climbers now have to 'double clip', onto the standing rigging, when ascending the ratlines and then (as previously) clip onto safety lines at the back of each yard when deploying out along the yards to hand the sails.  Exhilarating as the work is aloft, double clipping does slow ascent, to the annoyance of many old hands.  Climbing systems will no doubt change, as the years go by, and speeding up to the royals (the highest square sails) will again become possible.

The higher square sails of the two stacks, the main mast and the fore, are light weather sails so the royals and t'gallants are furled as the wind increases in strength – as are the coursers, the two large lower sails on each stack.  That leaves the upper and lower tops'ls still set for heavy weather.  The fore and aft sails on the third mast, the mizzen, are there for balance (and a few other purposes in the days of having no motors) so the spanker and the mizzen topmast sail are also furled in heavy weather - the fores'ls, the foremast staysail the inner and outer jibs and the flying jib, made fast along the jib boom, are also reduced in number.

That's how the vessel's rig was set, just four tops'ls and two jibs, when surfing down those seas in the 40 knotter on the way back from Melbourne.

Thinking back on that good sail, where the following seas were well above the quarter deck and threatened to 'poop' the lot, helmsman, officer of the watch, captains runner, and others on the quarter deck (hence the term 'poop deck' for the quarter deck)  but our forward motion, down the long seas kept the quarter deck safe.

I have, though, experienced seas that would have topped the main mast of the James Craig – in the wintery North Atlantic on my first voyage.  In that winter storm the lifeboats on the weather side, of a much larger vessel than the James Craig, were smashed against their davits on the boat deck and the deck cargo of timber, from Oregon and Washington, held with good sized chains, was left leaning out over the lee side; the chains stretched and the links squeezed to their limit.  The wartime built steamship was strong and held together, but we estimated that at least one sea, which topped way, way, above the foremast, was some 130 feet from trough to the top of the surf breaking high above the foredeck.  The foredeck was definitely out of bounds in that storm, but in moving about outside on any deck it required good timing to get down and inside a heavy metal storm door, into the accommodation at main deck level, and so avoid being punched by a sea out of a gap between the deck cargo of timber and a bulkhead, way out overboard, like a shot from a cannon.  [That steamship was then in dock for repairs lasting 9 months.]

The main mast of the James Craig is 100 feet, so with some 7 feet of freeboard its truck would, in that storm, have been under more than 20 feet of seawater!  Opened deck sailing vessels of the period would have had netting rigged along the lee side (crew climb aloft up the weather side ratlines) to strain the watch on deck out of any heavy wash – but I wouldn't have liked being under more than a 100 feet of wild and turbulent seawater in very cold conditions if the whole vessel became 'pooped'.  A sailing vessel with storm sails set would also be in danger of being 'knocked down' in such weather – that is onto her beam ends; hopefully righting as the running gear gave way and the sails emptied of wind.

The seas around Cape Horn are capable of such large surf, and the Volvo Around The World yachtsmen passed on reports to us of surf in the Southern Ocean being measured (from aircraft or satellites) at around 130 feet.

Researchers tell us that the 'Antarctic Vortex', the system of winds that surround the continent of Antarctica, is increasing in ferocity as climate change advances (which may be why the Southern Ocean is absorbing so much CO2; leading to a fall in the quantity of krill and other shell fish there).

It seems that the 18th Century start of the Industrial Revolution seeded a breeze and our 21st Century world community is about to harvest a 'whirlwind'.

All such things are discussed in depth aboard the James Craig.  With volunteers and passengers coming from all walks of life, conversation at table, on deck, and aloft is rich and varied.  This makes for an interesting life as many topics, deep and shallow, are covered when conditions allow.

Although it's no good trying to converse on life the universe and everything when the wind is screaming through the rig, and crew, hard put to shout against the wind, are battling the elements trying to master rope and sail.

When beating to windward, usually in the open ocean, timing is of the essence.   Working to tack or wear ship (yachties call it 'gybing', not wearing, when bringing the wind around the stern of a small vessel) the crew have to brace around, in turn, the square rigged stacks of the fore and main masts, and the fore and aft sails of the mizzen mast, at the right moments (brining the yards around in unison) - the fors'ls of the jib boom also being sheeting around at a precise moment in the overall manoeuvre.  Tacking is a little harder in the James Craig's modern configuration, with her feathered screws acting as moderate brakes, so wearing ship is practiced a little more often than tacking.

Many see a sailing ship on the open ocean as a metaphor for life, wherein we (humanity) 'tack' back and forth between too much certainty and too much doubt.  Yet, for all of us trying to live without certainty, in that liminal and fertile place between certainty and doubt, it is appropriate to take action and not being paralysed by hesitation, which is the essence of both proceeding under sail and living a worthwhile and productive life.  But that's enough philosophy - something which is sometimes discussed aboard, along with all the arts, sciences, and much else, as some volunteers are from universities and research establishments in addition to those from a broader spread of livelihoods; including those in retirement and semiretirement in their many guises.

Yet it can be said that modern thinking brings us more uncertainty - but also more freedom - as researchers bring into question some of our accepted (cherished) fundamentals of life and the world around us.  The constants of physics, unquestioned by science until recently, are now themselves being questioned.  Where do such laws of nature (including the constants of physics and mathematics) come from?  And are they really constant?  Do they come from within our universe or from without?  Astro physicists would find that last question illogical, but theologians, who may feel a little more certain about the origin of everything, wouldn't perhaps see the need to raise it in the first place.  Our prized human constant of free will is also being questioned.  Hard nosed bio-neuro-determinists would claim that we have no free will; theologians again would press for the opposite view.  Whereas biological systems researchers would admit that free will is something which may emerge from complexity.

To have more certainty, and less freedom, would place us all back in the thinking of the 19th and 20th centuries, when an excess of certainty led to some extreme forms of social and political control.

Those aboard enjoy exercising the old sailing technology, such as heaving on ropes to work the sails and the yards – the James Craig is about the size that such square riggers reached before the larger wind ships, being constructed at the turn of the 20th Century, required sailing rig technology to advance and supply better purchase, on lines, through the development and use of iron hand winches – but though experiencing 19th Century technology most aboard would prefer 21st Century thinking and the freedom of mind that it brings.

Such musings can occur when on lookout on the focsul at night, under a starry dome and a faint dark ocean, with perhaps lightening flashing in a distant storm, a shooting star, or dolphins leaving streaks of phosphorescent glow as they play under the bow – after a day of stimulating discussion.

Though reading some of the letters to home written by crew of the James Craig in the early 20th Century, and preserved by people in New Zealand, the crew's thoughts at that time may have been concerned with more of the everyday world - perhaps coloured by their stricter Christian upbringing.

Many duties aboard preclude too much thinking. For example while at the helm, the reality of being under sail, with perhaps 'a star to steer her by', occupies your thoughts.  As there is a need, when sailing 'full and by', for the helmsman (or woman) to keep an eye on the highest square sail set in the mainmast stack (each higher sail in the stacks, on the masts carrying squares, are set a little more closely to the wind; in a corkscrew fashion) so that you can bring her off the wind just a little as that topmost sail begins to luff (spill its wind) well before those lower in the stack.  That way the most energy may be gained from lighter winds on such wind ships.  [The navigator's 'yoeman', in the chart room – down below in what was the vessel's food store, next to the sail locker aft – may also view the track of the vessel through the water on a screen, part of modern satellite navigation, so lack of concentration by a helmsman becomes obvious; and the record remains there for some hours before passing off screen.]

The romance of it all isn't lost on those aboard, when conditions are quiet with just enough wind to make good headway.  We volunteers are all (and probably most passengers as well) enthused by the idea of keeping such a romantic vessel of the past alive and functioning – and in the process helping it to pay its own way.

Even the young are included in this; when in the series of, mainly weekend, 'sleepovers' for groups of school aged children – scout, school, and other groups – when alongside, the youngsters experience a night aboard a 133 year old vessel, and undertake some handling of the rigging and other 'duties' followed by sleeping in hammocks (well as much as their excitement allows) until they are roused to wash the decks and afterwards sit down to a hearty breakfast.  Maritime regulations prevent us from taking children younger than 12 years of age out to sea.

Health and safety wasn't high on the agenda in the 19th Century, when loss of life at sea was seen as acceptable – for passengers and crew of any age! Most crew lost in storms were swept off the jib boom, but death and injury occurred in many ways on such vessels.  And still those Industries that rely on people being at sea, or on any open water, suffer the heaviest loss of life of any industry - even in the 21st Century.  When it comes to danger from storms, it is now possible to download images of the ocean surface so that navigators can 'con' a vessel through quieter patches of water to avoid storms, giant waves, and any wayward ice.  Besides the loss of crew, and others aboard, many wind ships just vanished out in the open ocean – and not just in the Bermuda Triangle – as so called 'rogue waves' took them by surprise.  Satellite imagery has now shown that such large waves are in a pattern all over an area of ocean in any storm fierce enough to raise them, so avoiding large waves was previously just a matter of luck.  Those with the luck survived as their vessel was 'knocked down' but managed to right itself again.  Being holing in any way, or any breaching of the hatches, led to rapid flooding of the hold – and if cargo wasn't well made fast, or loaded correctly, any movement would hamper the vessel in righting itself (as happened to the large square rigger Pamir, when she rapidly sank in a storm off the Azores in 1957, with the loss of all but six of her crew; mainly cadets under training.)

The James Craig has no cadets but has taken up the sail training of midshipmen (boys and girls) from the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.  A weeks training alongside, for each group, and then a weekend sail up the coast and to an anchorage overnight, in a location where they can carry out an exercise ashore, before sailing back down to Sydney.  The volunteer crew meanwhile, enjoying a quiet barbecue aboard, as we tend to do when at anchor; after the exercise of lifting one of the heavy Admiralty Anchors over the side with the aid of the giant block and tackle of a 'fish burton'.  On longer voyages a 'Sods Opera' is staged while at anchor after a long sailing leg, where the imagination and surprising talents of the crew are exercised – often after a swim over the side for those with no apparent fear of sharks (they, the sharks, tend to come into harbours and rivers to feed in the early morning and in the evening).  The main hatch cover, where the such 'Operas' are performed while at anchor, finds another use while at sea on a sail training run, as those suffering from mal de mare tend to stretch out in their suffering in an apparent imitation of a seal colony!

Income generated from the frequent sailing, plus harbour cruises and functions held aboard (including such events as marriage ceremonies and receptions, various dinners, organised parties and presentations) and the fees raised from visitors coming aboard for a guided tour when alongside, allows the vessel to break even with her running costs and upkeep.  (Happily the spread of sponsorship, during the long years of restoration, covered all original restoration costs, so there is no debt from that period to be repaid.)

Much of the vessel's maintenance is carried out by the volunteer crew, when she is alongside – and a static museum exhibit.  That entails never ending jobs of repair, reconditioning, and replacement, requiring many skills.  Running gear and sail repairs often occur while at sea on the longer voyages.  So, apart from annual slipping (dry docking for hull cleaning and painting) the maintenance costs are kept to a minimum.  This financial situation is very sound, and a slightly unusual position for such a vessel to be in, as square riggers are costly to maintain – and even more costly to maintain when carrying out a full sailing schedule, where wear and tear on sails and gear can lead such vessels to accrue a very heavy financial burden.

This very happy situation is, again, very lucky for me, as I enjoy the open ocean and being aloft to hand the sails – may be not 'enjoy' in extreme conditions, but in most that the James Craig faces in her present day guise of a working museum square rigger.  The testing times, though, are what bind the crew together – and most of the volunteers, boys and girls, and including those still in the workforce and those who have outgrown it, would be there for a testing trip around the Horn; and that includes me.

Dennis the Sail



Ship's dog, Rusty.

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