The world's biggest wooden ship is back in Sydney

The SV Tenacious. Source: supplied

The barque Tenacious, the largest timber vessel to be built in the UK in the last century, sailed back into Sydney Harbour today.

The 65-metre three-masted tall ship was built by 1500 volunteers over four years for the UK-Australian charity the Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST) to give people with disabilities a taste of life on the high seas.

The ship is crewed by 49 people – nine professionals and the remainder evenly split between people with disabilities and able-bodied crew. They all pay $250 daily to be aboard.

The Tenacious has made her maiden voyage to Australia from England, spending nine months sailing along the east coast to give nearly 2000 people the chance to experience life on a tall ship.

She’s currently moored at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour and the museum is hosting several open days either side of Christmas for people to inspect SV Tenacious up close. Details are here.

There are also opportunities to go day sailing on the ship on December 23 and December 28 (if you’re looking for a special Christmas present) as well as during March.

There are also berths still available for the 11-day January 2-12 voyage from Sydney to Melbourne next year, which also plans to swing by Tasmania, and other trips in February and March.

The details are available here.

Bringing the SV Tenacious to Australia is the brainchild of JST Australia’s chairman, Melbourne businessman Harry Cator, from DMP Asset Management.

Cator’s grandmother lived with a disability and his family has been involved with the Trust since 1978. He felt it was time to bring the vessel down under so Australians can experience the adventure, freedom and excitement too.

The Tenacious is 65 metres (213.25 feet) long, including bowsprit, with the three masts rising up to 47m above deck. When fully rigged, she carries 1200m2 (13,100 sq ft) of canvas across 18 sails.

At 586 tonnes, she is the largest working wooden boat in the world, built from 200-year-old Siberian larch trees.

The Jubilee Sailing Trust has a sister tall ship, the 568 tonnes Lord Nelson, launched in 1986, which visited Australia in 2012 as part of the RAN’s centenary.

The SV Tenacious in Antarctica. Source: supplied

Together, they cost around $4 million a year to operate – a little over $10,000 a day.

Cator says the $250 daily crew fee JST charges – it’s the same regardless of physical ability – is just 65% of the actual cost.

The Tenacious will spend summer sailing around Australia. Source: supplied

The shortfall is made up through fundraising and corporate support to the tune of around $1.5 million annually.

“This is a charity, but very much a commercial operation,” Cator says.

“It actually costs $400 to be a crewmember, so if someone can afford to pay that, we invite them to do so.”

The summer program involves a range of trips between three and 11 days.

“You don’t have to be a sea dog to participate, only be willing,” Cator says. “Even on coastal trips you stop off at these amazing places.”

And no matter your ability or disability, you contribute to the running of the ship.

“There are so many moving parts, so everyone can participate,” Cator says.

“It’s all manual. It’s big and tall and daring. If those sails need changing at 4am because a storm is about to hit, then you get out there and do it.”

Cator says that the JST works a lot with returned soldiers with physical and mental injuries. The point is to unlock someone’s potential and break down the barriers between different levels of ability.

“It allows people to confront any issues in a very controlled and safe environment that’s also full of adventure,” he says.

The JST has welcomed more than 45,000 people aboard from wheelchair users to people who are blind, have cerebral palsy, are amputees or have hearing impairments.

Growing self-esteem is a key change the JST sees after people have sailed with them.

Cator says he’s keen to engage and educate Australia’s corporate sector about the Trust’s work as well as the simple joys of sailing. Along with nearly two dozen adventure trips, there are single sailing days over summer when people can experience the boat.

The full program is here.

A business can book it out for $10,000 for the day – no more than the operating cost – for 45 staff to taste what it’s like to sail a tall ship.

Yes, you do learn to sail it. There’s a bar too, but you won’t be climbing the mast to unfurl sails if you’ve had a drink.

“This is a very big ship. She doesn’t go out for ‘a spin’,” he says with a grin.

The organisation also launched its Christmas fundraising appeal today.

The Tenacious is equipped to carry 20 people with disabilities as working crew. Source: supplied

* Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story first appeared on BI in July.

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