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The final journey of the “City of Adelaide” 600-tonne Clipper Ship

After a years long journey, the historic Clipper Ship has finished its transition from sea to land, being lifted onto Port Adelaide’s Dock Two.

On Sunday, 16 June, Port Adelaide’s “City of Adelaide” Clipper Ship finally made its way onto land after 160 years upon the water. 

The City of Adelaide clipper set off on its maiden voyage on 6 August 1864. It was called the “City of Adelaide” in honour of its function as the key form of transport for passengers and cargo between London and Adelaide. 

After 23 return journeys, it delivered its final passengers to London in 1887, when steamships superseded it. After being neglected on the River Clyde in Scotland, the City of Adelaide was rescued and transported back to Australia in 2014 by the South Australian volunteer group Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Limited Board (CSCOAL).

Since then, it’s been floating upon a barge in Dock Two under the guardianship of the same volunteers who have advocated for it since the day they decided to save it from ruin.  They’ve funded its maintenance and restoration through various activities, including tours through portions of the ship they’ve set up as a museum. 

Last month, Glam Adelaide shared the history of the “City of Adelaide”, and the response from our readers illustrated the significant interest you all have in this extraordinary piece of maritime history.  

The relocation of the clipper to a land-based site not only secures the vessel’s preservation but also enhances public access. Over the years, the site has become a popular destination, attracting over 150,000 visitors to its daily tours. 

Having discussed the Clipper Ship’s history with Peter Christopher, CSOAL Ship Director, last month, I was keen to congratulate him and obtain his on-the-ground perspective of the big event.  When I rang him, he started off by telling me where he was standing, then moved on to how the event rolled out. 

” I’m sitting here looking up at the ship now. I’ve got visitors coming up to look at it and having to say to them, ‘look 24 hours ago, that ship wasn’t there’ at the same time as they’re looking at something which is the size of a city block, trying to comprehend how that’s possible”

So, was it all smooth sailing (pun intended), or were there some tricky moments?

“Yes, while it was a successful move overall, there were a couple of challenging moments.  First of all, we were moving a 1000-ton load off a barge.  That’s roughly 600 tons a ship and 400 tons of trailers. We started at high tide. So as the tide was dropping and the barge level aligned with the wharf, the trailers had to start rolling off. But, of course, that created a couple of other issues.

First of all, the tide was still dropping, so the barge was continuing to go down. But we also had the trailers coming off the ship, so the barge had a lighter load, so we had to manage that to make sure they corresponded. 

Because we couldn’t control the tide, we also had four enormous pumps on board, pumping in hundreds of gallons of water, in and out of different compartments on the barge, just to ensure that the barge level remained constantly level with the wharf level so that the ship could roll straight off.

We had to do that for nearly an hour. That’s one tricky part that the engineering team handled perfectly well.

The other tricky bit was it had to go between two buildings and turn around. The space between the buildings and the railway bridge that goes across the Port River includes some very, very narrow gaps.  We maybe had about a meter to spare either end, while moving something around three times the length of an Olympic swimming pool, in terms of what we were trying to move around.”

Geez, and I thought moving my sofa into my living room was hard.  Fans of the “Friends” are most likely imagining Ross yelling “Pivot! Pivot!” right about now. 

Back to you, Peter:

“The engineering aspects of that were amazing. I mean, there’s been two or three years in the planning, and the experts have worked it out, you know, very well.” 

“The other things we had yesterday, of course, we were doing everything from crowd control to to feeding hungry troops. It was just simply a mammoth exercise in every respect. But it all went off without a hitch, and the ship is now safely on land.” 

So, what now?  Can we all soon climb aboard the “City of Adelaide”?

“We’re re-establishing our infrastructure, which includes re-connecting the stairs and turning the power back on tomorrow. We should have all the displays back up inside the ship on Wednesday. Possibly by the end of the week, we might even have our tours happening upon the ship again”  

Peter shared his appreciation for the support shown to him and the relocation team by our community, with several hundred people watching on from the other side of the Port River and from the Tom ‘Diver’ Derrick Bridge.   Many hundreds more watched the live posts shared on the CSOAL Facebook page. 

Vincent Rigter, Senior Development Manager at Renewal SA, expressed the importance of this milestone. “The clipper ship’s long-anticipated move onto land at Dock Two represents another significant milestone in the life of this incredible ship with its unique and special relationship with South Australia,” he stated.

The relocation of the City of Adelaide is part of the broader Our Port renewal initiative led by Renewal SA in partnership with the City of Port Adelaide Enfield. This project aims to revitalise Port Adelaide through improvements to infrastructure, heritage buildings, and streetscapes, ultimately boosting tourism and local development.

Damon Nagel, Managing Director of Kite Projects, highlighted the future benefits of the maritime precinct. “The maritime precinct will feature the clipper ship under restoration, offering visitors a unique window into a bygone era of maritime excellence. The precinct promises to be a family-friendly destination, offering hands-on workshops and craft stations to captivating storytelling sessions and guided ship tours,” he stated.

Tours of the City of Adelaide will resume shortly after the relocation. The new setting will continue to educate and fascinate the public, celebrating the rich maritime history that has shaped South Australia.

Before signing off, I wanted to know one more thing from Peter. How did he and his team celebrate? 

“By the time it was all done, we were pretty exhausted. We sat around and just had a coffee and a bottle of bubbly just to cheer our efforts.  But really, I think everybody was so tired by the end!” 

To Peter and your fellow volunteers and technicians who made this possible, the Glam Adelaide team wants you to know we think you’ve done a phenomenal job—not just for the ship but for the community in your efforts to celebrate a vital chapter in establishing our city. May many generations to come benefit from the investment you’ve made in their education and appreciation of those who made our city the great place it is today. Cheers to you!  

For more information and updates on the restoration of this magnificent clipper ship, head to the Clipper Ship City of Adelaide website and the Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Facebook page.

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