Working HarbourDar Mlodziezy clears the Harbour Bridge inbound on a marvellous day in 1988. GKA.

The Challenge

by Graeme Andrews

Afloat readers may have noted that I generally write only about things of which I have some personal experience but this month is an exception.
During 1988 Sydneysiders and the press and TV enjoyed a one-day wonder when the magnificent Polish sail training ship Dar Mlodziezy entered Port Jackson under full sail and carried that sail up the harbour and inbound under the harbour bridge.
It was a remarkable sight made more memorable by the many hundreds of small craft that comprised a rolling maritime maul. Dar Mlodziezy’s master must have had nerves of steel because almost as soon as his ship passed under the bridge she needed to alter heading into Darling Harbour, get the sails in and go alongside. Dar Mlodziezy had twin screws. A large crew and tugs were able to complete the exercise.
About 83 years earlier an even more amazing exhibition of square-rigged seamanship took place over three days on Port Jackson and it involved another large sail training ship and a debate over ship-handling.
While working on the Sydney Heritage Fleet’s eclectic maritime photograph collection I came upon two images of a large square-rigger under almost full sail on Port Jackson. One of the images had brief notes on the rear which told of a remarkable challenge – one which, possibly, originated in the bar room of one of maritime Sydney’s waterfront watering holes.
The year was 1905.
Sail was still hanging on grimly against the unstoppable influence of steam ships. Steamers ran scheduled services all around the world and sail was gradually becoming irrelevant. Some large sailing vessels were still in use carrying bulk cargoes such as wool and coal. Others were used to carry noxious cargos such as guano and material that did not need fast delivery.
There was one role for sailing ships that was thriving. Many shipping companies maintained sailing ships, almost as working status symbols. Their announced role was to train maritime officers with the understanding that sail experience produced better deck officers for steam ships. Instead of a crew of 20-25 men, the mercantile Cadet Training ship could boast perhaps 70 or 80 more cadets, all in the company uniform and looking very smart, almost naval, indeed.
In an era when uniforms were worn almost everywhere and when status depended upon style and discipline, no-one did it better than the Germans – perhaps even better than did the equally status-conscious British.
Tall Ships on Sydney Harbour
Thus it was that the German mercantile sail training ship Herzogin Sophie Charlotte was one of a number of commercial sailing ships berthed in Sydney. Nearby and not so immaculate in appearance, was the British sailer Arctic Stream.
Arctic Stream was a three masted full-rigged ship built in 1885. She was of 1584 tons gross – a large ship with a working crew of about 25.
Herzogin Sophie Charlotte (HSC)was a four masted full rigged ship of 2,591 tons gross built as Albert Rickmers in 1894. She was 267ft in (hull) length and was broken up in 1928.
By comparison Dar Mlodziezy is a three masted full rigged ship, built in 1981 with a hull length of 91m (298ft) and a displacement tonnage of nearly 3,000 tonnes (note that gross and displacement do not relate in any way).
Further comparison might be of interest. The 1873 restored barque James Craig, operated by the Sydney Heritage Fleet, measures 671 tons gross and is rated as 54.7m (179.5ft) registered length.
Harold A. Underhill in his book Sail Training and Cadet Ships (Brown, Son and Ferguson, 1956) tells the story:
“In 1905 the British ship Arctic Stream, Captain C.C. Dixon, and the training ship Herzogin Sophie Charlotte were both lying alongside in Sydney, and Captain Zander of the latter announced that he would take his ship to sea from right alongside the pier under sail alone and without the aid of tugs.
“Captain Dixon took up this challenge and said he could do anything the training ship could do, in spite of her 80-odd cadets in addition to a small crew of highly trained seamen, and that he too would sail without the aid of tugs, and what was more would race the training ship home …
A young officer is shown with passengers aboard Arctic Stream. Perhaps he was involved in the challenge? SHF Collection.“When Herzogin Sophie Charlotte’s day of sailing arrived, there were plenty to see her off and the ship’s agents, in spite of Captain Zander’s protests, laid on tugs on stand by, ‘just in case’.
“However, Captain Zander was a man of his word. And the agents could do what they liked with their tugs, he certainly didn’t want them.
“Having reduced his moorings to a couple of slip lines, he set all his upper topsails and had the rest of the canvas in stops or hanging in its gear. The slips were let go and as she moved slowly [astern] from the pier with her band playing on the poop, sail after sail was sheeted home until she had almost everything set.
“The courses were left in their gear as she had to make several tacks in the harbour itself; but with that exception, she had every sail set before she passed out through the Heads.
It was a superb piece of seamanship, a sight the world will never see again.
“The Arctic Stream was riding to her anchors in the harbour when the training ship went out and Captain Dixon was not to be outdone for he too was a man of his word; so when he was cleared and ready to sail three days later, he got up his anchors, made sail and left without the aid of a tug.
Dar Mlodziezy reaches up Port Jackson with her escort keeping pace. 1988. GKA.“His departure was less spectacular than that of the training ship for he had only a crew of 24 work-a-day seamen of mixed nationalities – not trained and drilled to work as a team, as had the training ship.
“There could be no question of making sail with the speed of the other vessel but, in his own words, ‘We got away nicely and barged through the Sydney Heads to the open sea.’”
Arctic Sea made the faster passage back to Europe!
As author Underhill said, nothing like that will ever be seen again but for those of us on Port Jackson that great day in 1988, we went close!

[Note: There are other images of HSC available on the web but none of them refers to the challenge and most have the noted dates wrong. The State Library of NSW has a fine pic which probably shows HSC manoeuvring in Athol Bight on her way to sea and it is dated ‘after 1880’. The ship was built in 1894. The image number is B22098.]