Wollongong beach-goers were treated to a majestic sight this afternoon as one of the world’s oldest sailing ships sailed past the city and into Port Kembla Harbour.
With three lofty wooden masts, 21 canvas sails and the perfectly polished timber fittings of days gone by, the 140-year-old James Craig tall ship provides a direct link to Australia’s past.
Normally berthed in Sydney Harbour, it has made a rare journey down the coast for tomorrow's Port Kembla Maritime Community Day.
About 40 lucky passengers enjoyed the calm and sunny voyage, spotting whales before pulling into Port Kembla about 4.30pm.
The ship’s captain John Dikkenberg, formerly from the Illawarra, has been part of the volunteer James Craig crew for seven years and said it was a rare privilege to sail such a vessel in the 21st century.
‘‘It’s the second oldest square-rig sailing ship in the world and it’s only beaten by a ship in America by a few years,’’ he said.
‘‘But it’s the oldest ship in the world that goes to sea regularly, so it’s very important.’’
Mr Dikkenberg said the ship was ‘‘Australia’s largest mobile artifact’’ and played a part in Australia’s trade, industrial and military history over the past 140 years.
The three-masted ‘‘barque’’ was built in England in 1874 and used as a cargo ship for 26 years, before being bought by James Craig of Auckland for use on trans-Tasman trade routes as a cargo carrier.
By 1911 the sailing ship faced competition from steamships, so the James Craig was stripped down to transport coal in New Guinea.
After World War I, an acute shortage of cargo ships gave the James Craig a new lease of life, but by 1932 the ship was abandoned and became beached after a storm.
Volunteers from the Sydney Heritage Fleet began restoring the ship in 1972, however it wasn’t until 2001 that all 21 sails were finally hoisted for the ship to sail on Sydney Harbour.
The James Craig will be open to the public from 10am-2pm tomorrow, along with other displays and activities for Port Kembla Maritime Community Day, at 91 Foreshore Road near the Eastern Breakwater.