The world's biggest wooden ship sails into Sydney today

The SV Tenacious. Source: supplied

The barque Tenacious is remarkable on so many fronts. Built 16 years ago in Southampton, England, she is the largest timber vessel to be built in the UK in the last century.

Even more incredibly, the 65-metre three-masted tall ship was built entirely 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 to be aboard.

On Wednesday, July 27, at around 10am, Tenacious will sail into Sydney Heads on her maiden voyage to Australia from England, spending the next nine months sailing along the east coast to give nearly 2000 people the chance to experience how life must have been when Captain Cook first visited these shores. The crew aboard will have just spent 32 days sailing nearly 2000 nautical miles southwest from Fiji.

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

The tall ship will moor at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour around 11am and remain in port until August 7, sailing to Melbourne, and later, to Adelaide and Hobart. She returns to Sydney over the Christmas-New Year period.

Bringing the 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 and 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.

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 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 of 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.

His proudest moment, Cator says, came with a young, Victorian man who spent nearly three weeks aboard Lord Nelson during her earlier visit.

It gave the man the confidence to emerge from the wheelchair he’d been confined to since a traffic accident.

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.

Harry 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.

Details on the Jubilee Sailing Trust are available here.

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

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