British tall ship, Lord Nelson, has set sail from Williamstown, Victoria, bound for Hobart, Tasmania, after taking part in the week-long Melbourne International Tall Ships Festival.
The unique 55-metre square rigger, which is one of only two ships in the world accessible to disabled and able bodied sailors, took centre stage at the event along with eight other Australian and international tall ships. Tens of thousands of visitors passed through the gates, many of them climbing on board to take a look around Lord Nelson.
Sunshine broke through the cloud as the ship slipped away from the dock this morning to sail in company with the other tall ships to the east of Port Phillip Bay to Capel Sound, where she will anchor overnight before passing through the Heads and out into the Bass Strait at approximately 10am local time tomorrow (Sunday) morning.
During the week Lord Nelson, which is owned and operated by UK charity, the Jubilee Sailing Trust, played host to children from North Altona Primary School, as well as a number of corporate fundraising events and, on Thursday, headed up a stunning parade of sail as all of the ships headed out into Port Phillip Bay for the day.
Australian Paralympic sailor, Michael McClean, who won Gold at the Sydney 2000 games, took the helm to dock Lord Nelson as she came back alongside and was on the dock to wave her off to Tasmania this morning.
Michael, who also climbed the mast during the day sail, has been the festival liaison for Lord Nelson for the duration of the event.
“Having the experience, even on a day sail, just to go out there and climb up to the first platform, was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed helping out. My job was just to do whatever Captain Barbara needed, and hopefully I’ve done that well for everybody,” he said.
Visibly moved as he spoke about ‘Nellie’ and the opportunities the ship offers, Michael explained, “The first thing that comes to my mind is: how does someone think, ‘Let’s build a tall ship that’s accessible to wheelchairs?’ And then to put it into practice as well… I think it’s just a fabulous experience and probably the highlight is the way that the crew that are on board treat people with disabilities. You come on board and you’re just one of the crew and that’s kind of what I like about sailing: you’re just a sailor, there’s no special things done for you, so I think it’s absolutely brilliant.”
Thursday’s parade of sail was the first time that the Australian tall ship, Young Endeavour, and Lord Nelson, both designed by renowned British naval architect, Colin Mudie, had sailed together since 1987, when Young Endeavour departed UK waters for Australia as a gift to the nation from the British Government to commemorate the Australian Bicentenary in 1988.
Lord Nelson has been a hit with the crowds who have come in their droves to visit the ships during their stay in Williamstown.
The Master of Lord Nelson, Captain Barbara Campbell, said, “It’s been manic – there’s been so much to do. I don’t think there’s been a day when I haven’t either given a speech about the Jubilee Sailing Trust, a talk, or a slide presentation. People are genuinely very interested. Someone said they didn’t know that this area had so many people with disabilities who came flocking down to the ships to see them, and especially us. The weekends were really busy, the evenings were crowded, so there’s been a huge amount of interest and it has been a great event.”
There are a number of Tasmanians on board for the voyage from Melbourne to Hobart, among them Matthew Holland from Devonport.
Matthew, who is in the Royal Australian Air Force explains, “My Flight Sergeant asked if I’d be interested in doing it and as soon as I found out it was going to Tasmania I said yes. I thought it would be an awesome opportunity.”
More used to dealing with fast planes in his role as ground crew for the RAAF’s Roulettes aerobatic team, Matthew has a few concerns about setting sail into the unknown on a 55-metre ship.
“I do get seasick but I think I’ve talked myself into it – two days ago I started feeling sick! It’s alright at the moment while we’re alongside, but we’ll see.”
Laughing, he adds, “I wasn’t too happy about the brief we just had about going down the west coast because being a Tassie boy I’ve been to the west coast and I know how rough it is. I’ve been on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry a few times and I’ve always said that’s the smallest boat I want to cross the Bass Strait in, but we’ll see how we go.”
Lord Nelson’s crew brings together people from all walks of life, most of whom have never met each other before and the same is true of the voyage from Melbourne to Hobart where the crew comprises a mix of nationalities.
“I’ve never met anyone on board before,” confirms Matthew. “There’s one other person on board from Sale from the Air Force as well and I met him for the first time today.”
Matthew is one of a number of Australian Defence Force personnel joining Lord Nelson in Melbourne for the voyages to Tasmania and on to Sydney.
Next month Lord Nelson will take part in the Royal Australian Navy International Fleet Review in Sydney. The invitation to the RAN centenary celebrations was the catalyst for Lord Nelson’s two-year circumnavigation, the Norton Rose Fulbright Sail the World Challenge, which aims to promote inclusion and equality in each of the 30 ports of call on the 50,000-mile voyage.