Belfast Tall Ship Festival – Newsletter no. 1

February 11th, 2015 by Guy

This is the full version with links to more info from our first monthly newsletter for businesses keen to keep an eye on the Festival, what’s on and what’s new, and opportunities to get involved.

New Ships confirmed for Belfast

New Ships confirmed for Belfast Tall Ships Festival

Latest ships sign up

39 Tall Ships are now signed up to come to Belfast this July, with more confirming daily. 10 of these are the big square riggers, 3 of the REALLY big variety! Many will be open to the public, and some used for public and private events.

Most of the ships that are being used for groups, corporate hospitality or ticketed events can be found on our website here. On the whole these tend to be the bigger ships, particularly the square triggers. Those are the archetypal Tall Ships most people will recognise – tall-masted ships, with graceful lines and square (well, rectangular) sails.

The organisers of the Race itself – which is the reason the ships are visiting – is Sail Training International (STI) and they keep a tally on their website of all the latest ships signed up. For a full list you can visit the site here. Press submit on the default selection of Tall Ships Races 2015, and the ships listed with a YES in the first column are coming to Belfast. We’ll tend to have a far prettier and more user-friendly list on our website here though so stick with us and we’ll keep you up to date! Some of the biggest ships to sign up so far include Statsraad Lehmkuhl, Sorlandet and Cristian Radich – all from Norway. Up to 80 ships are expected come July, we’ll keep you informed of the latest and most interesting sign ups monthly.

Festival Highlights

Fireworks at Belfast

Belfast Harbour Fireworks

On Saturday 4th July, a spectacular fireworks display will light up Belfast Harbour and the entire festival. That same day an aerobatic display will give festival goers another reason to crane their necks skywards.

Timings are still provisional but a start about 10.30pm is most likely to get the best dark sky that fireworks so love! The display will be a solid 20 minutes – that’s a long time in the world of fireworks, it’s set to be quite a display reflected in the waters of Belfast Harbour. For the best seat in the house you can book your own tall ship with us for a harbour cruise and prime position to watch the display. Individual members of the public can also buy Tall Ships event tickets for a night to remember on board one of the stars of the show.

Over the weekend there will be an aerobatic display by stunt planes. We don’t have full details of this yet but if 2009 is anything to go by, this will be worth seeing. Last time round one of our personal highlights was seeing a plane shoot through underneath one of the iconic Harland and Woolf cranes at top speed. Stay in touch for more details.

The ‘Parade of Sail’ takes place on the final day. This traditional choreographed spectacle involves all the ships leaving in unison forming an impressive parade of ships, sails being hoisted and heading out towards the start line for their race start. If you dream of the crack of sails over your head and want to experience the magical feeling of being in the fleet proper, you can get involved here too. We can organise for your party to be on board one of the ships, you’ll be fed and watered of course, and will be dropped at a convenient harbour in Belfast Lough before the ship casts off for good for its race. Tickets for members of the public are available too.

There are lots more highlights and things not to miss throughout the festival and we intend to focus on these further in subsequent newsletters. Make sure you are signed up!

Join the Party

It’s great to see the ships from the Festival site but even better to get on them. There will be many ‘open ships’ but you can go one step better and enjoy some hospitality on board, a BBQ with the fireworks, get out and sail in the Lough. Tickets and group bookings are selling now. Here we point you in the right direction:

We’ve created event packages for companies wishing to entertain staff and clients at the great event and we have also confirmed a number of ships who will hold similar events for members of the public who can buy tickets for themselves, friends and family. We can create anything for groups according to your needs so just talk to us about your requirements, but as a starter we fully recommend the packages below. Click the links for full info:

– A Tall Ships fireworks evening

– Tall Ship quayside BBQ lunch event

– Tall Ship sailing with lunch

– The grand Parade of Sail event

For individual tickets, check out our Gift Experiences page.

Where the Race Goes

Tall Ships Races

Tall Ships Race Map

Why are they coming? Apart from the big party they know Belfast will throw, the ships are here on serious business. On the 5th of July they will form a parade of sail, mustering together before racing all the way to Norway.

This is an international fleet with an international crew and this year, a distinctly northern feel. Scandinavia is the destination with Norway and Denmark, in that order, being the focus. As you’ll see on the map (yellow lines) the race takes a different format between Aalesund and Kristiansand. This is the ‘Cruise in Company’ – a non-competitive section where the fleet cruise together in a regatta to their next port. Here are the dates:

Ports and Race Dates

Belfast, UK – Thurs 2 to Sun 5 July

Race One

Aelsund, Norway – Weds 15 to Sat 18 July


Kristiansand, Norway – Sat 25 to Tues 28 July

Race Two

Aalborg, Denmark – Sat 1 to Tues 4 August

Of course, as Belfast is the start of the race, it’s also the start of the party and all the ships and crew will be fighting fit, excited, looking their best and ready to enjoy the hospitality of their first port!

Independence Day

Does your company have any US connections? Or just need an excuse for a party theme?! The Saturday – July 4th – is going to be a big day. Expected to be the busiest day at the Festival, there are certain to be a few celebrations connected to our American cousins’ big day.

If you’d like to theme your party on a tall ship for the day, why not get creative! We can supply American themed menus – how about hot dogs, ribs, smores even! Talk to us and we’ll talk to the ships, and our great caterers Posh Nosh about what we can do. Maybe some good old U-S-A style entertainment too… line dance anyone?

New Website Launch

New Website Launch!

New Tall Ships Website Live Soon!

Just launched between Belfast City Council and Visit Belfast – this will be where you will find more news about the Festival. We will collect the best of it though and add it to our newsletter to you if you sign up. We do also have our own pages on the new site too though and we’ll keep them updated also.

Finally a good old countdown…

Our good friends at Sea Monster Marketing have a live countdown to Belfast going on – here’s what it says… right… now! (As of 11.02.15)

New Website Launch

By Guy Wimpory (

Tower Bridge’s New Glass Walkways Cruise and Tour Experience

January 13th, 2015 by Guy
SB Will Opening Tower Bridge

Sailing Barge Will Opens Tower Bridge for guests!

When the new glass floors opened in Tower Bridge’s famous twin walkways in November and December 2014 we knew we had to create an event which gave everyone the chance to really experience the iconic bridge anew and with an added special twist. Our Thames Sailing Barges have been opening Tower Bridge with passengers onboard for more than 25 years, giving them a very special experience – that feeling of having this famous landmark salute them as it raises it’s bascules to let our tall masts (and beaming guests) through.

So we’ve been behind this special and little known regular happening at Tower Bridge for a long time, and know what a great thing it is to bring this famous corner of London to a standstill as you serenely cruise the Thames. Indeed, as well as traffic, it seems time stands still when you go through. Our current Thames Sailing Barge, ‘Will’, was built in 1925, just 31 years after Tower Bridge first opened in 1894 and especially when you  glance to one side and see the historic Tower of London up close, it’s easy to imagine yourself doing just this exact same thing 100 years ago.

Tower Bridge’s New Glass Walkways…

New Glass Walkways

New Glass Walkways

The glass walkways in Tower Bridge are 11 metres long each, one in each of the West and East walkways, the horizontal structures that bridge the two towers at the top of the famous landmark. They are the most major additions to the Tower Bridge Exhibition since it opened in 1982 and allow visitors to enjoy Tower Bridge from a new and exciting aspect. Most visitors will see the traffic on the road below crossing the bridge when they visit unless they plan their visit to coincide with a scheduled bridge lift for an appropriate vessel booked to come through.

Of course this is the special bit, the highlight, the pièce de résistance!! You can see Tower Bridge’s own video of this happening on our main Tower Bridge Cruise page here. It’s a weird but exhilarating feeling to seemingly float in the air, seeing the grey-green Thames rushing past directly underneath, then to see a boat or ship – very often our own SB Will – come through, it’s main mast reaching up towards you.

The Topsail Cruise and Tower Bridge Tour combo

Majestic Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge opening

In combining our cruise with the glass walkways experience we have unlocked what we believe is one of the very best experiences you can have in London, whether you are a tourist or a local. For the ticket price of just £49 pp, we arrange everything so that on your inclusive tour of the Tower Bridge Exhibition and the glass walkways you can get to see the very boat that you will later have a Thames Cruise on, pass below you as the bridge opens. Later on you’ll be on board that same boat as it cruises through when you;ll be able to look up at the magnificence of Tower Bridge from your privileged position and see the glass walkways with other people looking down on you!  Here’s exactly what is included when you book this great experience with us:

– A ticket to the official self guided Tower Bridge Exhibition Tour.

– A schedule timed to coincide with your visit for when your boat, Sailing Barge Will, will be passing through Tower Bridge.

– A 2-hour cruise on SB Will

– A bridge lift whilst on your cruise

– A delicious cream tea

Schedule for our inaugural Tower Bridge cruise on Sunday 15th March (Mothering Sunday) NB: THIS SCHEDULE IS APPROXIMATE AND WILL BE CONFIRMED SHORTLY. PLEASE CONTACT US WITH ANY QUERIES.

14.00 – Start your Tower Bridge Exhibition tour at North Tower of Bridge

14.30 (TBC) – See SB Will cruise through Tower Bridge through the walkways’ glass floors

c.15.30 – Finish your Tower Bridge Exhibition tour

16.00 – Join SB Will at Tower Pier or St Katharine’s Pier (TBC)

16.00 – 18.00 Enjoy a 2 hour Thames Cruise on SB Will, including a cream tea and at least one Tower Bridge lift.

18.00 – Finish your cruise and experience at Tower Millennium Pier outside the Tower of London and next to Tower Bridge.

Your vessel – Sailing Barge Will

Sailing Barge Will is a historic ship, listed on the UK National Historic Ships register. Through the 19th and earlier 20th Century Thames Sailing Barges were common to the Thames as commercial sailing boats, bringing produce in and out of London. Their flat bottoms allowed them to sit on Thames and other estuary flats at low tide. Despite their size, they could be sailed by “a man, a boy, and a dog”. They were vital transport for London’s economy for many years. SB Will has an illustrious history, amongst her trials, tribulations and triumphs she has been beached on Eastbourne, attacked twice by the Luftwaffe in WWII, and served as the boardroom for the directors of P&O. She also has her own Wikipedia page.

These days Will cruises on the Thames most of the time with us, keeping Tower Bridge busy and  delighting her guests with her wide open decks, immense historic charm, and large wood panelled interior lounge-dining room with real log burning stove and original fittings.

We hope we can welcome you on board one day soon to SB Will and our Tower Bridge experience.

By Guy Wimpory (

What’s it like to go to a Tall Ship Festival?

December 8th, 2014 by Guy
Tall Ships Races 2015

Fireworks through Tall Ship masts – Amazing!

With the LIDL Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival taking place next summer, we’ve been chatting about the various Tall Ship festivals we’ve been lucky enough to be involved in over the years. Counting them up we’ve worked on no fewer than 7 – Belfast 2015 will be our 8th, and we are very much looking forward to it. But what is so good about them?

Do you have to be a Tall Ship spotter to enjoy one? What is there to do? Can anyone get on a ship?

Well, we are old hands, and at least one of us is a salty old sea dog, so fresh from our reminiscing as well as chatting with new clients and some of the Tall Ships’ captains coming to Belfast in 2015, we’re here to tell you what to expect. We’ve even got our 5 favourite Tall Ship fest moments to give you a bit more insight into these wonderful events. We live and breathe this stuff but realise for many people, a Tall Ship festival is an alien thing. The fundamental facts in no particular order are:

Crowds at the Belfast 2009

Belfast Tall Ships 2009

– Scores of beautiful Tall Ships from all around the world turn up at a port near you for anywhere between 2 and 5 days usually. (Belfast 2015 is 4 days, 2nd – 5th July and expects up to 80 ships.

– They typically do this as part of a Tall Ships race. Organised by Sail Training International (STI) these races pit Tall Ships of varying sizes against each other in handicapped race legs covering hundreds of miles between several international ports.

– When in port, the host city creates a free public festival based around the visiting ships as a celebration of their visit and the race.

– Typically, many other attractions become part of the programme: free music performances, food festivals, fireworks displays, aerobatic displays, street performances, river or harbour activity and sail pasts, stalls, funfairs, kids’ activities, harbour cruises and much more.

– Some Tall Ships are opened by the quayside for free public visits for everyone.

– A crew parade with the many hundreds of international crew will march through the city streets celebrating the international festival of friendship that these events also represent.

– The crew in Tall Ships Races are truly international and many of them are taking part in a great exercise in personal development: ‘sail training’. The driving force of the races, sail training gives the young people aboard incredible life changing opportunities to grow, tasting responsibility and teamwork in a vital and inspiring environment. One rule of the Tall Ship races is that at least 50% of a participating ship’s crew must be aged between 16 and 25.

– On the final day of a port visit, all ships will be coordinated in an impressive grand departure – the Parade of Sail – which will see all the ships leave the port together and parade out through the inshore waters in an impressive flotilla, sails hoisted, towards the start line of the next race leg.

– Many of the Tall Ships will be for hire through a contracted agent (the bit we do) making themselves available for private hire to companies and also the public for ticketed events.

– 9 million people attended the 2013 Tall Ships races, 1.1m came to 2014’s UK race host port Greenwich, Belfast 2015 is expected to attract 500,000 people. They are popular!

Crowds at the Belfast 2009

Lit up: Belfast Harbour

Yes, they are indeed very popular, and for good reason. Those are some of the facts but what is it that clicks together to make the festivals such great experiences?

There is certainly something about the civic pride that seems to be generated in showcasing the best of a city in such a spectacular way. Also, the Tall Ships with their draped and furled sails, the majestic sleek lines of the hulls all moored together, seems to awaken a bit of romance in everyone. They evoke times gone by and perhaps a simpler and more exciting world. They exude a spirit of adventure and who isn’t moved by that? Add to the mix the family and party atmosphere helped along by the other highlights and attractions beyond the ships and you have a formula for a very special event.

If you are lucky enough to get onto one of the ships as a hospitality guest or if you buy a ticket for one of the public events such as a harbour cruise with fireworks, or a sail out with the whole fleet for the final day Parade of Sail then you truly will see the best these events have to offer. Being on deck as things get animated, as ropes cast off, as you serenely cruise by Tall Ship after Tall Ship on the quayside, does make you feel…well, special.That’s why we are excited about Belfast 2015. That and the fact it is a city we love anyway after having so much fun with the Tall Ships last time in 2009. To add a bit more flavour to the scene, here are a few of our personal treasured memories from some of Tall Ship festivals gone by:

1. BELFAST 2009: When one of the acrobatic planes from the display zoomed down and through one of the iconic Harland and Wolff cranes then back up into the sky as everyone oohed, ahhed and cheered from the ships and the quaysides.

2. Being on deck, cruising on the Thames and holding against the tide at GREENWICH 2014 as the Saturday night fireworks lit up the other Tall Ship masts and the grand façade of the Old Royal Naval College on the beautiful Greenwich waterfront.

3. When the sails were hoisted and caught the easterly wind on a cruise out on Tall Ship Wylde Swan from HARTLEPOOL 2009 and the guests onboard first felt the magic of a Tall Ship, powered by wind power alone. As the saying goes: “The looks on their faces…”

4. LIVERPOOL 2008 when the Tall Ships immediately chorused their horns in unison across the city following the fireworks finale.

5. GLASGOW 2003: Sailing under the Forth Bridge on the Jean de la Lune with a small public group – such a fantastic view of an iconic bridge. (And yes, they were painting it)

We can’t recommend coming along enough if you ever get a chance, if you can get on board by buying a ticket for one of the public cruises or get yourself invited along as a corporate guest (always good!) then snap up the opportunity.

You won’t regret it! Want to know more about the opportunities for Belfast Tall Ships 2015? Email us at or call 020 7623 1805.

By Guy Wimpory (

Topsail goes back to Belfast – July 2015

September 24th, 2014 by Guy
Tall Ships Races 2015

Sail Training International’s Tall Ships Races 2015

We’re coming back!

And so are the tall ships…in fact even more than turned up in 2009 when we last worked in Belfast. Up to 80 tall sailing ships will attend the LIDL Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival 2015 next July, including up to 20 of the most impressive – the romantic and evocative mighty square riggers. It is these beauties of the sea which are expected to attract up to a million people to Belfast Harbour and Titanic Quarter.

In 2009 Belfast was the finish port for the Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge, welcoming ships that had raced across the Atlantic from Halifax in Canada. That race had begun in Spain, gone via Bermuda and the United States before visiting Canada prior to the last long run across to Belfast, a most welcoming port for tired sailors. This time, Belfast has the honour of starting the Tall Ships Races proper. Between 2nd and 5th July, the ships will grace Belfast, both opening to the public for free quayside visits but also many will be available for cruises and private parties, both for the public and local businesses wishing to make the most of this special event. That is where we come in, you can keep an eye on developments for all hospitality on this website, or sign up to our Belfast newsletter here to get all updates on available tickets and event slots.

The Titanic Quater

Crowds at the Belfast 2009

Belfast Crowds in 2009

We are very excited indeed to be working on such a big event again! In 2009 we all fell in love a little bit with Belfast – such a friendly and buzzing city, and since then it has undergone so much change. This change can be seen not least in the Titanic Quarter, a thriving new district on the south side of the River Lagan around the famous Harland & Wolff shipbuilding site, birthplace of RMS Titanic amongst many others. The Titanic Quarter these days is a place to work as well as play, and it is still developing. We are excited about working with a fleet of tall ships to evoke this famous maritime area’s past whilst celebrating its vibrant present and future.

Our Belfast 2015 newsletter will keep you informed of what’s on and how you can get involved with the visiting tall ships in a number of ways so make sure you sign up! We’ll let you know about opportunities to party and entertain, take part in the races as a sailor, or just turn up and enjoy the fantastic free entertainment including fireworks, music, food markets and much much more.

Find out the latest news here!

The best fireworks in town!

Best fireworks in town!

Our Belfast 2015 newsletter will keep you informed of what’s on and how you can get involved with the visiting tall ships in a number of ways so make sure you sign up! We’ll let you know about opportunities to party and entertain, take part in the races as a sailor, or just turn up and enjoy the fantastic free entertainment including fireworks, music, food markets and much much more.

Tall Ships are signing up all the time to the race from Belfast, you can keep an eye on all of them here (see the Vessels Entry List) and the ones we will be using for hospitality and cruises we will list at the top of our Tall Ships webpage.

We’ll keep you informed – let us know if you want to get involved!

By Guy Wimpory (

Tall Ships at Royal Greenwich – a Triumph!

September 13th, 2014 by Guy
SB Will at Tall Ships Festival

We led the parade of Traditional Thames Barges

Last weekend we took part in the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival which was only a short trip down the river from our moorings at Tower Bridge. Based between Royal Greenwich and Woolwich Arsenal, this was one of the largest Sail Training International tall ship events ever held in UK waters and it really did not disappoint. The event began with a regatta from Falmouth to the capital with the fleet leaving the West Country on the 31st August before sailing up the Thames for a five day celebration in Royal Greenwich between 4th and 9th September involving tall ship cruises, fireworks and other river and maritime based events. The festivities culminated in a spectacular Parade of Sail as the tall ship fleet formed up and processed out of London and onto their next adventure. When the Thames is full of tall ships everyone here at Topsail gets excited! It was a rare experience where, just for a few days, maritime heritage dominated the capitals thoughts.

A Spectacular Fleet

There were more than 50 tall ships of all different shapes and sizes. In fact, there were so many that they had to be moored in many locations: 16 at Royal Arsenal Woolwich Pier, 25 smaller vessels at Wood Wharf in the West India Docks, 6 moored near Greenwich Pier and a further 6 larger vessels at Victoria Deep Water on the Greenwich Peninsular. The star of the show was undoubtedly the Dar Mlodziezy. Moored near Enderby’s Wharf, her great size and proud lines cut an impressive shape in the sky when cruising round to Blackwall Point.

The Barge at Greenwich

Fireworks at Woolwich

Topsail’s Rachael snaps the fireworks at Woolwich

Dealing with old historic vessels in the capital, we contributed our part to the festival by joining the Parade of Traditional Thanes Barges on Friday 5th between Royal Greenwich and Woolwich. Our very own Sailing Barge Will lead the parade when we past the grandstand at 3pm ahead of fellow Thames Sailing Barges Lady Daphne and Adieu. Sadly Sailing Barges Kitty and Pudge had engine failure, but the three of us, blazing with flags, were proud to celebrate the tradition of the Thames Sailing Barge and their historic contribution to sailing and maritime heritage in the capital. We also had the privilege of taking a group out on the river for the awe inducing fireworks on Saturday night. Our skipper, Jerry, managed to get the Will incredibly close to the action at Woolwich which wowed our guests and the crew. Viewing fireworks through the masts of tall ships is something other-worldly event. You have to pinch yourself!

“Just a quick note to say we had a wonderful time aboard Sailing Barge Will last night. The event was awesome. The food was wonderful. Hot, tasty, and enough of it to feel full. Wonderful. The staff on board were friendly and helpful. With Rachael working very hard to make sure we all had an excellent evening. Thank you. Lynne Bullivant.”

Sail Training International

Parade of Sail

A beautiful Parade of Sail

It’s important to take a moment to thank Sail Training International (STI) for organising this momentous event and to thank them for their continued work in supporting tall ship events across Europe. Their contribution towards sail training and offering amazing opportunities to youngsters deserves our utmost gratitude. Without them these events simply wouldn’t happen. It all began when the organisation grew out of the Sail Training International Race Committee that staged the first Tall Ships Race in 1956. They continue to run annual Tall Ships Races in Europe and the North Atlantic that draws scores of tall ships and visitors to European ports. They do this in conjunction with supporting the sail training community with learning, research, events, seminars and publications and composed of 29 countries, they really are an international force to be reckoned with.

“Here at Sail Training International our purpose is the development and education of young people through the sail training experience, regardless of nationality, culture, religion, gender or social background. We are a registered charity (not-for-profit organisation) and have worldwide membership and activities.” (See more…)

Hear, hear!

By Guy Wimpory (

Sailing Barge Will Prepares for Summer

April 30th, 2014 by Guy
Sailing Barge Will Clear Out 2014

Sailing Barge Will Clear Out 2014

Here at Topsail we’ve been clearing out Sailing Barge Will getting her ship shape for the summer season. Launched in 1925, Sailing Barge Will is coming up for her 90th Birthday next year! On such an old barge the items you find (or should I say antiques) are really quite amazing. Old spanners form the 1930s, ancient photographs, manuals from a bygone era and of course a lot of rubbish! After a few days sorting manically in the sun the Barge looked more like a large open plan Flea Market than a working vessel. It was worth it though as she’s now fitter than ever and ready for her busy working season. With sailing trips off the east coast, corporate hospitality work in the capital and taking part in the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival, we’re really excited about the coming few months and would love you to be a part of it!

Dry Docking and new crew…

A New Lick of Paint in Dry Dock

Dry Dock New Paint Job

After our much needed sort out came the really important work out of the water. Once a year Sailing Barge Will goes into Dry Dock for a repaint and work can be completed under the water line. The sheer size of Will becomes apparent when she is out of the water. As the largest Sailing Barge ever built at just under 100ft long, Sailing Barge Will is an impressive sight! With all the structural checks and work done, she left Greenwich last week, cruising back up to Tower Bridge to pick up some guests for a Clay Shooting Event in the capital looking smarter than ever.

This year Sailing Barge Will has also waved goodbye to Tom Cook, our much loved skipper and friend who we will miss greatly this summer. Tom is going on to work as an apprentice with the National Historic Ships fleet so we’re sure he’s going to be more than busy keeping our nations maritime history alive over the next few years: a worthy cause to loose him for! Working on the Barge will not be the same without him at the helm dodging the fearless Thames Clippers though.

However, we’d like to welcome Tom Lagan to the crew as our new Mate. With Barging in his blood and a wealth of experience it looks like he couldn’t be more spot on for the job. Did I mention he is also a Jazz drummer? A new season, new crew, we are very excited about the coming adventures this summer!

Have a Topsail Summer

SB Will breaks out of London!

In and Out of London!

After working exclusively in London for a few solid years, Will adventured up to Pin Mill last year on a rare sailing trip. Getting her sails out and returning to the sea is what she was built for as a coaster Barge and she seems all the happier for it. We are preparing for another few sailing trips this year, flexing our muscles in the Thames Estuary, the Essex coast and beyond! See if you can catch us sailing by – we are the big grey one! This photo of the barge furling sails was sent in to us last year by a passing vessel.

We’ll also be doing a lot of corporate work in the capital and opening the majestic Tower Bridge for our guests. This is another great part of what we do: being able to take people onto the Thames and escape the summer heat and hustle of London work. why not breathe the fresh air and experience the historical Thames with a cocktail in hand? The Barge is the perfect host and (we think of course!) the most beautiful vessel available to charter on the Thames. As a familiar sight for Londoners now, the grey Barge swooping in under the bridge to pick up guests on a calm summers evening before whisking them away on a magical trip really is the most rejuvenating experience.

Perhaps Oldest Barge on Film?

British Pathe’s film Red Sails has a clip that has been doing the rounds in the Topsail Office. Seen here the clip entitled Red Sails AKA Sailing Barge from 1947 shows early footage of a Thames Sailing Barge that we think is almost certainly our very own Sailing Barge Will!

Set around Great Yarmouth the film shows the barge, loaded with grain, sailing and being towed in and out of harbour. Our recognisable Wheel House (an unusual feature for barges) and other similarities have us convinced: this is our Barge 67 years ago! These Barges have been working and sailing for longer than most of us have been alive and will most definitely out live us here at Topsail. There is something quite extraordinary about this, its a real privilege to spend time on the Barge and be able to share this with other people. If you fancy stepping on a piece of living and breathing history join us on board. We’re the most unique and special vessel on the Thames (well we would say that wouldn’t we!) and we can quite literally take you on a cruise back in time.

By Guy Wimpory

The ever evolving Thames Part Two…

February 3rd, 2014 by Guy
Alex Von Humboldt at Sunset

New Cranes arrive at London Gateway

Last month, we started looking at the river of the future – London as a Victorian city re-imagined with new juxtaposed glassy lofty heights and crazy development projects. How we see and move, the very urban fabric of London is changing and the Thames is still at the geographical heart of the city. The river’s past was undoubtedly extraordinary but we must look forward to see how dynamic the Thames of tomorrow will be. Amazingly, the Thames is central to three of the biggest construction projects currently taking place in Europe. The so-called ‘Thames Super Sewer’, London Gateway Port and Crossrail are flagships of the UK construction industry.

The Port of London Grows!

The London Gateway is a new port located on the north back of the Thames in the estuary. It was containerisation along with the lorry and construction of motorways that helped to cause the rapid decline and closure of London’s central dockland areas during the 1960s and 1970s. The larger container ships could no longer get up to the central London docks and, down river, Tilbury became the only port to remain in business at a much reduced capacity. As with most extreme changes in society’s social and physical landscape, it was pure economics that played its part – the lorry was simply a cheaper form of transport. Our very own Sailing Barge Will was sold out of trade in 1966 and became a storage space, before being sold again as a private yacht and eventually slipping to P&O and ironically becoming a corporate hospitality PR vessel for the new shipping industry that had replaced her.

A Return to London’s Shipping Fortunes

London Gateway marks a return to London’s shipping fortunes. Although the area in Thurrock has been used for unloading and loading ships since the sixteenth century, the government used statutory powers to establish a new port in the area as part of a wider regeneration scheme. This new deep-water port can handle the largest container ships the world has to offer. By using modern technology, it will reduce shipping costs and also provides a fantastic hub for access to rail and road networks across the UK. Although phase one is complete and the first ship arrived in late 2013, it will not be fully operational for a few years.

Logistically, it’s quite impressive: a container quay stretches 2.7km and it is located on several major shipping lanes. 12,000 new jobs will be created in the area and the developers, DP World, estimate that a further 30,000 jobs will be indirectly supported by the new port. Although small in comparison of old, this resurgence in the Thames as a trading port for cargo is refreshing. It may look radically different but the Thames is once again an important trading hub. It is the reason London became so powerful in the first place: you can’t take shipping away from the Thames for long!

A Victorian Sewer in the 21st Century

Building a Victorian Sewer

Building a Victorian Sewer

Much of London’s infrastructure is still rooted in its Victorian conception and one of the best examples can be found when looking at London’s sewer network. Clearly, human settlements form near rivers because of drinking water, irrigation and trade; however, it is often overlooked that a river can very usefully dispose of waste! Up until the 19th century the Thames was an open sewer! However, with a growing population, many of the Thames tributaries began to slow with waste and spread disease. It was not until 1858 and the so called ‘Great Stink’ that Parliament began to take the issue seriously and they commissioned the civil engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, to design and oversee the construction of an underground sewer system.

This extraordinary achievement covered over many of London’s ‘lost rivers’, built the ‘embankment’ on reclaimed land and solved the waste problem by diverting sewage away from populated areas.
Amazingly, this sewer has served London for years with only minor modernisation. However, with a growing population and increasing rain water running off newly concreted areas, London’s sewer ‘overflow’ which was supposed to act only in emergencies now regularly allows raw sewage into the Thames. It was not designed for the current demand!
This has led to the radical proposal of a new 22 mile long tunnel running over the Thames called the ‘Thames Tideway’. It will run mostly under the Thames between Hammersmith and Beckton and will upgrade London’s sewer for the 21st Century at an estimated cost of £4.2 billion!


'Sophia' breaks ground at Plumstead

‘Sophia’ breaks ground at Plumstead for Woolwich

Another world class London development is Transport for London’s Crossrail, an ambitious new underground railway that is currently Europe’s largest railway and infrastructure construction project. The 73 mile railway will move east to west across the Capital linking London new and old, Paddington and Liverpool Street to Canary Wharf and Heathrow Airport. Excitingly, the railway will also provide a new Thames crossing from Custom House to Woolwich. The new Canary Wharf station is being built in a drained dock on the Isle of Dogs – crossing the Thames was once an industry in itself for small vessels – now trains have transformed how London’s population move about their city. Excitingly, the Tunnel Boring Machine ‘Sophia’ is currently under the Thames working its way from Plumstead to Woolwich!

Boris Island

Although still on the drawing board, a new London Hub Airport has been proposed for the Thames estuary. All London’s existing airports are in bad locations because of London’s prevailing winds and their proximity to heavily populated areas. Building a new runway at Heathrow is a constant political sore and so several high profile public figures, including Mayor of London Boris Johnson, have championed constructing a new, purpose built airport on the Isle of Grain. Out of the way and on reclaimed land that is currently disused the airport could be paid for by selling off land at Heathrow to form a new, leafy West London borough. Perhaps aircraft will be the new common place sight in the Thames Estuary? The largest Thames port may become one for the air!

By Guy Wimpory

The ever evolving Thames Part One…

January 3rd, 2014 by Guy
Alex Von Humboldt at Sunset

Illustration of proposed London Garden Bridge

As Tower Bridge has just entered her 120th anniversary year, it seemed only fitting to celebrate the Thames and how much it has changed. All too often the Thames’ industrial and trading past is celebrated and we forget that the Thames is moving forwards as well. Its dynamism continues to be at the city’s core. When entering the upper pool on the Barge last week, it was really striking how much the skyline has changed! With the growth spurt of the Shard and the ‘Cheese Grater’ the area once renowned for brick warehousing and trade has now become a glassy, modern and futuristic soaring metropolis. Add the growing loom and reflective, car-melting dazzle of the so-called ‘Walkie-Talkie’ and London’s beginning to look more reminiscent of Tokyo or New York not the familiar Victorian London!

London's Cable Car

London’s New Cable Car

The same event took us down to our Clay Pigeon Shooting area in Thamesmead, where a similarly space-age panorama meanders round from the Thames Barrier of the O2 Arena, the heights of Canary Wharf and the brand new Emirates Airline Cable Car (which we really cannot recommend more!). The string of pods hang across the river like fairy lights and provide a new river crossing between the Excel Exhibition Centre and the O2 Arena. Interestingly, it has only just celebrated its first birthday this summer – London is changing fast and the Thames seems to be at the forefront of these eye-catching new monuments to London as a world Capital.

New River Crossings

Like the Cable Car, new river crossings are filling the news at the moment. It’s a tradition that stretches right back to the early Roman pontoon bridge that became the first of many incarnations of London Bridge. The Thames is a natural barrier from North to South and bridges encourage and spur change and development, bringing isolated areas together for the first time. There are three sites for a potential new lower Thames crossing to ease traffic over the Dartford Bridge and further link communities either side of the estuary. There is even a proposed new bridge idea for Woolwich. Extraordinarily, presently, the lower Thames only has crossing points at the Rotherhithe Tunnel, Blackwall Tunnel and Woolwich Ferry between Tower Bridge and the M25 at Dartford. New plans to move the ferry up river to construct a fixed toll bridge instead are radical. The proposal has even received many criticisms from environmentalists because of the predicted vast  increases of through traffic to the area. The world may have changed but people still need to cross the river!

A Garden Bridge!

Views from the Garden Bridge

Views from the Garden

On a slightly more environmental note, there is also the fantastical proposal from designer, Thomas Heatherwick, and actress come-lobbyist, Joanna Lumley, to create a Garden Bridge! Although this was considered a fantastical pipe dream when first proposed a few years ago, Heatherwick’s astounding success with the new Route Master buses and his triumph with the inspired Olympic Torch has not only given the idea credibility but also allowed the traditional British cynicism to lapse for a time and believe in the impossible. Over half the money has now been raised and recent political support has come in from Mayor of London Boris Johnson and, surprisingly, the Chancellor himself George Osborne. This magical pedestrian bridge of trees and plants would be the first new bridge in the capital since the Millennium Bridge was constructed in 2000. If agreed, the new bronze hued bridge will widen and narrow organically, linking Temple Station with the South Bank. Such a vision can only help to secure London’s position, as a world Capital and the Thames still features at its heart!

By Guy Wimpory

‘Estuary’ exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands

December 15th, 2013 by Guy

Staging ‘Estuary’

'Estuary' poster shows WWII Thames Forts

‘Estuary’ poster shows WWII Thames Forts

“Thames Estuary airport plans prompt new contemporary art exhibition at Museum of London Docklands. A new art exhibition which explores the outer limits of the River Thames in painting, film and photography and printmaking…”

Estuary is a fascinating exhibition that seeks to explore how the Thames Estuary has been depicted in contemporary art. It features twelve artists from the last few decades as well as two new works. Francis Marshall, curator of Estuary said, “When we decided nearly two years ago to hold an exhibition of contemporary art, the airport proposal was at the front of Londoners’ minds. This renewed focus on the Estuary, combined with a fantastic body of contemporary art which depicts the place, cemented the museum’s plans to stage Estuary.”

Marking the tenth anniversary of the Museum of London Docklands, the collection takes a stunning look at the Thames Estuary after the collapse of the shipping industry that made it the largest, busiest port in the world. Old and new are thrown together in this historic place that leads to a confused identity and the exhibition aims to tie the fragments together to show the many dimensions of the Thames Estuary 2013. Most importantly, what it means to the people who live and work there.

Portrait of a River

Tom Cook Splicing

Tom Cook Splicing

The highlight for Topsail was the new film by the Danish film artist Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen. Titled ‘Portrait of a River (2013)’ the film consists of various shorts focusing on the people and places that give the Estuary its contemporary character. This tackles the identity problem head on, threading together the people that rely on the Thames for work as well as the changing environment they inhabit. With such a large area, exploring the Estuary through these short ‘chapters’ is illumining and the patchwork films that emerges is as entertaining as it is relevant.

Barge Crew on Film

Barge Crew on Film

Excitingly, our very own Skipper of Topsail’s Sailing Barge Will, Tom Cook, featured in three of the shorts along with First Mate David Cooper. As the largest Sailing Barge still operating on the river, it seemed appropriate to feature Will as both something that used to be common place on the river and yet still remains there in an entirely different way. The first beautiful short involves Tom splicing an eye on a mooring line. This was, and still is, a basic maritime skill that was once part of life on the Thames for hundreds of Thames Barge crews. Now there are very few remaining Sailing Barge’s with none still trading and Will is one of several barges that operate in London on a regular basis in the tourism industry.

Secondly, and similarly, Tom talks the camera through a chart of the Pool of London between just above and below Tower Bridge. His knowledge of the area is phenomenal laced with incredible stories such as the pirates of Wapping and the Tower of London’s Polar Bear that used to swim in the river on a chain leash and scare local passing Watermen and Lightermen! The Third involves our crew singing an old river Shanty song while motoring though an open Tower Bridge. The old traditions mixed with the position of the Thames as central tourist attraction for London’s visitors.

A View from the River

If there is one thing that shines through this exhibition it’s that the history of the Thames soldiers on, thrust into the future. It is inexplicably linked with changing identity of the Thames and this is what makes our river so fascinating. Old Wharves mix with exciting glass architecture, our Sailing Barge’s hold now has a cargo of people, fine dining, and our high mast opening Tower Bridge not functional but a stunning experience for guests! Our Sailing Barge now has a virtual tour (click here) while being 85 years old! We feel privileged to work here, its really quite a ride!

The video is also part of last year’s Thames Festival projects that accompanied the ‘1513: A Ship’s Opera‘ performance in the Upper Pool. With steam ships, whistles, bells and a Trinity Lightship it was an amazing spectacle to witness. The Thames is now an artistic hot spot, we’ll keep you updated on any new projects for the Thames.

By Guy Wimpory

Maritime Festivals and Events to look forward to…

November 7th, 2013 by Guy
Alex Von Humboldt at Sunset

Alex Von Humboldt at Sunset

Having spent last week thinking excitedly about the Tall Ships Races beginning in Belfast in 2015, we thought it would be a good time to look forward to other Maritime events in the coming few years. Having been part of many spectacular events in the past such as the Mayor’s Thames Festival, Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, International Festivals of the Sea and Tall Ships Races in Hartlepool and Belfast in recent years here at Topsail we love to look ahead at future spectacles on the water.

Early predictions for the Tall Ships Races 2014 astoundingly predict up to 100 Tall Ships from around the world taking part according to organiser Sail Training International. Beginning in Harlingen, The Netherlands, the fleet will then head north to Fredrikstad in Norway where the Tall Ship Races will coincide with the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Norway’s Constitution and independence. The next visit remains in Norway, heading to Bergen for the fourth time. This beautiful natural harbour promises to be another highlight for the event with up to 500,000 visitors attending before a final leg to Esbjerg, Denmark. This is always an extraordinary event that aims to train and challenge hundreds of young people. What’s more, the following year, it’s going to begin in Belfast on 2nd July! We remember taking part in the Belfast visit 2009 and we Topsailors are elated that its coming so close again in only a few years’ time.

Luckily you don’t even have to wait until 2015 for an event in UK waters as the Falmouth-Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Regatta is happening next year. Over 30 Tall Ships will arrive in Falmouth during the last week of August before a weekend of festivities and the beginning of the race on 31st. The Tall ships “will pass between Henry VIII’s twin Tudor castles of Pendennis and St Mawes in a magnificent Parade of Sail to the start line in Falmouth Bay.” Then they will continue east to the Isle of Wight before finishing in Royal Greenwich for another week of celebrations. This magical event looks set to take the already successful Sail Royal Greenwich event of last year to new spectacular heights. We can’t wait!

The summer of 2014 will also see the return of the Clipper Round the World Challenge. Topsail and Thames Leisure were in the flotilla that saw this momentous event begin from St Katherine Docks and exit the pool of London via Tower Bridge last August. We’ll be there to welcome their return in mid-July and celebrate their extraordinary achievement. In the meantime, why not follow their progress as the 670 crew travel 40,000 miles taking in 16 ports on 6 continents before returning to London next July on their website!

What a great few years of maritime events to look forward to – not forgetting the yearly events like the Henley Royal Regatta and Mayor’s Thames Festival that keep us busy. And, of course, we’ve all got our fingers crossed about another Festival of the Sea!

By Guy Wimpory