A Sunset Champagne Cruise across Sydney Harbour on Southwinds Yacht
We spent an evening aboard Manly Sailing’s Southwinds Yacht – a family-owned vintage sailing boat offering sunset cruises across Sydney harbour.
Irrespective of whether you’re visiting Sydney for the first time, or you’ve called the city home for years, the beauty of the harbour never fails to inspire a sense of awe – particularly when viewed from a vintage sailing yacht, the sun setting behind the bridge and glass of Laurent Perrier in hand.
As of January 2023, Finn Irvine – the owner of the 1950s Southwinds Yacht – is offering guests the opportunity to hop aboard his heritage boat, and spend an evening suspended in the timeless magic of a champagne-fuelled maritime mission. We were lucky enough to experience it first-hand, and the Thursday night we spent aboard was somehow more magnificent than we could have anticipated.
“I think it’s perhaps because of the number of memories that would have been made on this boat – the trips around the world, the races, the dinners, the parties. It holds some of those, and it makes everything seem more special, more real,” said Irvine, as we topped up our wine glasses in the boat’s timber-lined gully, with the waves of the harbour whipping past the windows.
The evening of our journey aboard Southwinds brought with it the shadow of a mid-summers day – high, cloudless skies and sticky heat that clung to the walls of the city. Below the Opera House though, where the water meets the wood at Man O’War Steps on the northwest corner of the Botanical Gardens, a gentle breeze pushed in across the harbour as we stepped aboard the rib that would carry us to our home for the evening. Southwinds – the handsome vintage yacht – was waiting for us in a quiet pocket of harbour sheltered by the slope of the city.
The perfectly presented crew helped us aboard, and immediately we removed our shoes and settled into the cushioned seating on the top of the 61ft vessel. Sunlight danced on the water, a seaplane flew overhead, and glasses of Laurent Perrier were passed to each passenger as the boat took off across the water.
For the next few hours, as Southwinds cut its way elegantly across the waves, we chatted with the crew and the couples sharing our Thursday evening outing. The three-hour journey would make the perfect special-occasion date night: a unique experience set against Sydney’s stunning harbour, with excellent champagne and the kind of unpretentious hospitality that turns everyone into the best version of themselves.
The perfectly presented crew helped us aboard, and immediately we removed our shoes and settled into the cushioned seating on the top of the 61ft vessel. – Winnie Stubbs
“The cruise and Laurent Perrier partnership comes from my love for curating unique experiences,” explains Irvine, who has been developing Southwinds’ commercial offering since he took the boat on in 2018.
Food-wise, traditionally seafood-heavy canapes are served throughout, with the crew passing round plates of Sydney Rock Oysters, smoked salmon vol-au-vents and juicy prawns at perfectly paced intervals. As the sun dipped behind the bridge, casting a honey glow across the water, desserts from local Freshwater bakery Mrs Jones were served as the team raised the sail and we began the journey back towards the city.
At the time of her launch in the middle of last century, Southwinds was one of the most technically advanced yachts in Sydney harbour. Since then, her technical status may have declined in comparison with modern vessels (the boat came an admirable last place in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race in 1973) but her beauty only becomes more pronounced with age. Having been in the possession of multiple notable owners and sailed around the world a number of times, the teak and pine boat now sits elegantly in Manly Harbour – a distinctly stately boat compared with the modern machines that share its home.
A super yacht passed us as the first stars began to appear in the sky, and the flashy opulence of this new, glass-fronted vessel only served to accentuate Southwinds’ ornate design. Since her initial design by British yacht designer Sir Robert Clark, Southwinds has only seen one major refit, which took place in New Zealand in the 1970s. The result is tastefully timeless, though Irvine admits that the boat required a great deal of work in the transformation from a family-owned party boat (Southwinds was notorious for the parties hosted by a previous owner) to a commercially viable vessel.
“When getting into the marine industry in Sydney I knew that I wanted to create something that I was truly passionate about. Southwinds came across my desk back in early 2018 and I knew she was the right fit for that dream. Although it was a huge challenge, the major refit needed to get Southwinds fit for commercial charters was extremely fulfilling. It’s humbling to have the opportunity to give a vessel with such a rich history and so many memories a new lease of life.” he explains.
It makes sense for Irvine to be working on a boat that he feels an emotional connection to – he moved from England to Australia for love and changed careers for the same reason.
“When I moved to Sydney back in 2016 it was the perfect opportunity to leave the oil industry behind and chase a career for love. I’ve always loved the idea of working in the sailing industry and when the opportunity of Manly Sailing came along I grabbed it with both hands and haven’t looked back,” explains Irvine, whose maritime credentials include Master 24, Yachtmaster, Keelboat instructor, dinghy instructor and powerboat instructor.
Qualifications aside, it’s the passion and warmth of Irvine and his crew that makes them the perfect hosts for an enchanting evening on the harbour. As we stepped back onto the rib that would carry us to shore, we asked the dinghy crew how they’d spent the three hours since delivering us to Southwinds.
“We watched the sunset,” they said, and though it was no doubt beautiful from every angle, we suspect we had the best view in the city.
Guests can join the for a sunset champagne cruise on Thursday evenings throughout summer, with bookings available via the Manly Sailing website. Southwinds is also available for private and corporate charters, with many brands opting to charter the boat for luxury photoshoots.
For more information and to book a cruise with Southwinds visit www.southwinds.com.au, and follow on Instagram @southwindsyacht