Yes! I’ve got my buttocks on the futtocks*. Literally.
I’m standing in the crow’s nest, or in this case, on a small metal plate, 15 metres up the mizzen (aft) mast of the timber sailing ship the Southern Swan. Sydney Harbour is sparkling beneath me, the Opera House glistens in the sun to my left, and the Harbour Bridge frames the view ahead. Sure, the boat is rocking, but only gently, and the thrill of the climb is worth it.
As a schoolgirl in New Zealand in 1976 I climbed the mast of the sail training ship Spirit of Adventure. Scrambling up the ratlines and out onto the yards to unfurl and furl the square rigged sails was exhilarating. So when the Southern Swan launched its mast climb experience this month (after 12 months of negotiations and red tape) I leapt at the chance. Could I still do it after all these years?
The Southern Swan is a barquentine built in Denmark in 1922 and took part in the First Fleet Re-enactment in 1988. Thanks to the efforts of owner/operators Marty Woods and David Warne, she is now Sydney’s only authentic timber tall ship.
Devastated to see the Bounty sold to Hong Kong, the pair purchased the Southern Swan in 2007, determined to keep her for the enjoyment of Australians and visitors to Sydney Harbour. Investing their life savings into the purchase and on-going restoration, their enthusiasm is infectious.
Sword-fighting pirates welcome guests at Campbell’s Cove and a band plays on the two-hour Sydney Harbour cruises, which include a delicious BBQ lunch, brunch or dinner with champagne and beer available. You can sit back and relax or help set the sails. And for just $59 you can climb the mast.
Wearing a harness and clipped on I make my ascent of the ratlines (ladder rungs fastened between mast shrouds). A twinge of nervousness threatens, but I just concentrate on climbing and soon I’m into the rhythm. The topmost rungs are so narrow it’s hard to get a foothold and with my short legs the clamber into the crow’s nest requires reversing bottom-first.
But I’ve done it and the view of Sydney Harbour is my reward. Thank you Southern Swan!
Visit www.sydneytallships.com.au to book.
*Futtocks – timbers of a sailing ship’s frame. Futtock plate – an iron plate across the top of a lower mast to which the dead-eyes of the top-mast rigging and the upper ends of the futtock-shrouds are secured.