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 enquiries@topsailevents.co.uk or call 020 7623 1805.

By Guy Wimpory (guy@topsailevents.co.uk)

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