James Craig

The James Craig

Originally Clan McLeod, the James Craig was a Clipper-era iron-hulled sailing ship. She foundered as a coal hulk in Recherche Bay, Tasmania, where she lay for four decades until Sydney Heritage Fleet volunteers commenced a salvage program in 1972. In July 2000 she began her long sea trials program, gaining a Class 1C survey status that allows her to carry fare-paying passengers.

Invaluable heritage item

The refurbished James Craig is an object of pride for Australians and a signal to the rest of the world that Australians had both the good sense and good fortune to preserve such a valuable maritime heritage item for the education and enjoyment of all. The entire restoration program cost well over $A13 million (including the value of donated goods and equipment).

On the 12th July 2000, James Craig went to sea under her own sail power, for the first time in more than 75 years. She went out again the next day under leaden skies and a lacklustre breeze. On the weekend of 19 and 20 August she again sailed for harbour trials on both days. The weather was fine and sunny although, once again, the airs were light. On Saturday her crew broke out 12 sails, and on 20 August the ship carried a total of 14 on her three masts.

Nearly a year later, Saturday 7th July 2001, James Craig sailed with her first Sydney-based group of fare-paying visitors, 21 of whom were Naval Officers Club Members or their guests. It was her first commercial sortie under sail. One earlier commercial trip from Newcastle found insufficient wind to make way under sail. Most of the visitors, including retired flag rank officers, joined in willingly hoisting sails and trimming yards.

Naval Officers Club members and their guests join in both trimming the yards (left) and vigorously supervising the work.

With just the upper and lower topsails on each of the fore and main masts, and four triangular staysails, the ship made about four knots without engines in the open ocean outside Sydney Harbour. She was accompanied for a short distance by a topsail schooner. Helicopters clattered imperiously overhead, but they were ignored.

Club members Russ Vasey and Treasurer John Ellis contributed as crew. Russ is a mate. John fielded questions from the visitors about the barque. This important duty allowed the small crew to perform their work unhindered.

It is planned to take James Craig to sea, maybe every Saturday, with up to 100 passengers. Eventually it is planned to undertake three-day cruises with up to 25 paying passengers but, restricted by her survey conditions, she will stay in sheltered waters overnight. Geography and draft means that her passenger-carrying voyages will probably be limited to Newcastle in the north and Jervis Bay in the south.

Outfit data

The refurbished James Craig is fitted with a host of donated equipment, including two 400 HP MTU diesels that each drive three-bladed (fixed pitch), six-foot diameter propellers through ZF gearboxes. Her independent electrical supply is provided by two generators, one 85 kVA, the other 40 kVA. Many companies and individuals, too numerous to mention here, have generously donated cash, time and equipment. Hundreds of volunteers freely gave countless thousands of hours of backbreaking labour since the project first began way back in 1972. Without all this generous assistance James Craig would have remained a mouldering wreck, gradually disappearing from human consciousness and lost to future generations for all time. Instead she will sail again, on the open ocean, with pride, in the new millennium.

Her sail locker includes a full outfit of 21 sails tagged with names such as the four individual headsails, the fore course, upper and lower tops’ls and the t’gallant, the two main stays’ls, the main upper and lower tops’ls and three mizzen stays’ls. They have a grand total area of 1128 square metres. James Craig carries around five kilometres of standing rigging wire rope, and her running rigging totals more than 14 kilometres of synthetic rope.

Deckhouse, cabin deck and safety equipment fit-out

The deckhouse, in which 10 crewmen slept, is fitted out with bunks. The galley, forward of the crew’s quarters, is equipped with a genuine 19th century coal-burning stove. The cabin deck has internal bulkheads and the saloon looks absolutely fine with mahogany and birds-eye maple panelling. An authentic ship’s lantern overhangs the table. Within the saloon, on the aft side of the for’ard bulkhead is a genuine 19th century fireplace and gilt mirror. The quarterdeck furniture includes a teak skylight and companionway leading down to the saloon, the booby hatch (entry to the sail locker) and the steering box.


James Craig, under full sail, off Sydney.

In keeping with modern safety policies, the ship has two 50-man and one 25-man SOLAS liferafts. In addition she carries a 3.4 metre rescue boat powered by a 25 HP outboard and two 19th-century design clinker lifeboats specially built for her in a separate project. There is also a smaller and lighter captain’s gig built late last century.

The ship will also be used as an alongside entertainment venue in her home berth, where she can accommodate up to 275 guests, for school sleepovers and the like. If she proves sufficiently manoeuvrable to permit her use on the harbour, under her own power, she may be scheduled for harbour cruises but she is best suited to the open ocean. Her permanent home is alongside Wharf 7, at Pyrmont, adjacent to the Australian National Maritime Museum.

For those interested in more detailed information, or who wish to receive daily updates on progress, visit the James Craig website at http://www.shf.org.au/JCraig/JCraig.html The website is packed with information and contains virtually all there is to be known about the ship, her voyages, her travails and her cargo. Each day there is a new photograph and an update the “Daily Diary”. There is also a comprehensive photo gallery that contains every photograph that has ever been uploaded to the site. Visit the web site.

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