Playing my part in the International Fleet Review

I suppose I should tell you a little about the reason for the celebrations over this long weekend and just leave my reason for excitement to the end of the story – but I can’t wait! The celebrations are to commemorate the centenary of the establishment of the Royal Australian Navy AND I have had the opportunity to be aboard one of the tall ships taking part in the International Fleet Review. The events this weekend are likely to have attracted more than 1 million visitors to Sydney.

Southern Swan

I couldn’t sleep much on Friday night; must remember to take a spare battery for my camera and I suppose I need to take a hat. There was too much to think about to be able to sleep. Which bus would I get?  How much time do I need to allow for traffic hold ups because I just have to reach Campbell’s Cove before 9am!  Campbell’s Cove is the small bay on the west side of Circular Quay. I arrived in good time and there she was, moving only slightly in the gentle swell and waiting for us to embark.  The Southern Swan is a classic barquentine, typical of ships trading along the Australian coast form the 1840s to the 1930s.  She was the last of an era; built in Denmark as a three masted schooner in 1922 and named Mathilde, she mostly carried timber, wheat, coal and grain around the Baltic Sea and across the North Atlantic to Greenland. In 1986 she went on exhibition at the World Expo in Vancouver and became the first of eleven vessels to sign up for the First Fleet Re-enactment.  She sailed into Sydney on 26 January 1988 and has been based in Sydney ever since.  This vessel has had several owners and changes of name finally becoming the Southern Swan in 2008.

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The time came to actually go aboard and first fleeters and friends received a cheery greeting as we set foot on our own tall ship, which had been chartered by the Arthur Phillip Chapter of the Fellowship of First Fleeters.   In front of us spread out a sparkling harbour.

The Southern Swan moved around the harbour sometimes under sail and at other times with the aid of the iron topsail (engine) because square rig ships are unable to sail effectively against the wind. At one moment we would be beside a warship and our wonderful host for the day would flick her finger across her tablet and tell us about that particular vessel and help us identify the national flag she flew.  Then it was another tall ship or a ferry. Some times we were close to the myriad of private vessels – everything from kayaks to luxury cruisers, even a genuine tinny with an enormous Australian flag proudly flying.  We worried that the flag was so big that the boat would capsize.

flag high

Police boats were on hand to keep yachts and other pleasure craft a safe distance from the circling vessels participating in the official review.

Prince Harry and Governor-General Quentin Bryce were onboard the HMAS Leeuwin as they participated in the International Fleet Review and even though we saw the Leeuwin we weren’t able to see them.  So close but yet so far.

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Overhead we would look up to the buzz of helicopters – sometimes in groups or an individual one trailing a great flag or to the sound of aircraft. Then there was a sudden great roar and there was a jet swooping around the harbour.  I have never heard such a loud noise in all my life, it was mighty!

Cool drinks and food was available and sensibly we all had hats on but food and drink was secondary to the unfolding magic of the day.  Then there was a call for anyone who wanted to climb the 15 metre high mast.  Not me, but there were quite a few takers.

Our host moved around the vessel talking with us and sharing stories about the history of the harbour.  On this voyage I think the passengers were doing most of the story telling, but what do you expect when there were so many eager historians aboard.

eagar spectators
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People found their way to every vantage point around the harbour available!



Naval history 

Australia’s Navy first formed as the Commonwealth Naval Forces on 1 March 1901, as a small coastal defence force. In 1909, in response to increasing international tensions and the recognition that Australia needed to assume full responsibility for its broader maritime defence, the nation embarked on a significant naval expansion program. Its aim was to create a national navy capable of both defending Australia’s maritime interests and contributing to regional defence. By 1913 Australia had a Fleet Unit and was as ready as it could be for war. HMAS Australia enters Sydney Harbour for the first time on 4 October 1913 leading the First Fleet Unit of six other ships.

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The Tall Ships entered into Sydney Harbour on October 3. Young Endeavour and South Passage led a procession of 10 local and six international tall ships, which provided a hint of the grandeur and historical significance of the First Fleet sailing into the harbour in 1788. The Tall Ships formed two lines abreast as they proceeded under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and to the Tall Ship Precinct at Cockle Bay and Darling Harbour.

On 4 October 2013 warships from around the world sailed into Sydney Harbour to mark 100 years since the Royal Australian Navy fleet first entered the waterway. The armada comes from 17 nations including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, India, Singapore and China.

HMAS Sydney I was among the fleet that sailed into the harbour on this day a century ago. Overnight HMAS Sydney IV sailed up the coast from Jervis Bay escorted by more than 20 warships. Dozens of sailors in ceremonial uniforms lined the decks of HMAS Sydney as the guided-missile frigate sailed into the harbour.

The Commander of the Australian Fleet, Rear Admiral Tim Barrett, says the International Fleet Review marks a turning point in the Navy’s history…compare the firepower and capabilities of HMAS Sydney1 and HMAS Sydney IV and learn just what difference a century makes.

“ It’s important to look back but importantly we take those lessons and look forward.”

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As this wonderful day, 5 October 2013, drew to a close people crammed into every vantage point around the harbour or sat enthralled in front of their televisions or computers to see the magnificent fireworks as the story of the navy unfolded in front of a world wide audience.  What a day!


pleasure craft