#tallship – The visit of the Tall Ships to Belfast from July 2nd to 5th was anticipated with an enthusiasm which was fully justified by the numbers which became involved. Sixty vessels of all sizes assembled on both sides of the River Lagan in the rejuvenated docklands area and the Titanic Quarter, with a goodly sprinkling of the Class A full-rigged ships dominating the scene. And in a well-organised shoreside transport scheme involving Park & Ride centres in the suburbs, the people were able to get to the clean new quaysides in their thousands, in their tens of thousands, in their hundreds of thousands – indeed, it's reckoned that when those who clustered along the shores of Belfast Lough to watch yesterday's departing Parade of Sail are added in, well over half a million people were involved.
At the many events in Belfast Docks, organisers Sail Training International reported that the number of people making a point of personally going aboard one of the Tall Ships was unprecedented at any port since the international programme was launched way back in 1956, underlining the great interest there is in these ships, and what they do. In future discussions on Afloat.ie, we'll be looking at how the success of this event will affect the re-development of a proper sail training programme in Ireland north and south. But for now, with the Sail Training Races 2015 started this afternoon off Portrush on the north coast after the fleet had sailed there from yesterday's departure from Belfast Lough, W M Nixon recalls some memories from the Parade of Sail.
It's something of a triumph of hope over experience expecting to see fleets of Tall Ships becoming veritable Cathedrals of Sail when they're proceeding seaward for their first race after several days of assembling and partying like crazy in some hospitable port. Even with the ten or so miles of open water which Belfast Lough provided before the boats headed into the North Channel yesterday afternoon to proceed to today's start of the Tall Ships first race of the 2015 programme to Alesund in Norway, there's little enough room for the biggest ships to start shaking out the canvas and engaging in anything approaching close quarters manoeuvring.
Then too, in some cases Belfast will have seen crew changes, and the ship's officers – who may themselves just be ever so slightly partied out – will be reluctant to put fresh untested crewmen through all their paces in the first day out, and all of it under observation from boats large and small tearing about the lough on spectator missions.
But even without sail set, the best-looking big ships really are astonishingly handsome. As two of the ports for this year's programme are in Norway, the Norwegians were putting on the style with the presence of three famous full-rigged ships – the Christian Radich, the Sorlandet, and the Statsraad Lehmkuhl. They'll have left Norway in pristine condition, and clearly their crews were determined to keep them that way for the return home, as their square sails remained resolutely neat, tightly furled as a stockbroker's umbrella, with the ships setting only two or three staysails as they proceeded primly down the laugh.
Superbly presented....but setting no square sails – two of the Norwegian biggies, with Sorlandet in the foreground. Photo: W M Nixon
The elegant stern of the Statsraad Lehmkuhl was a joy to behold Photo: W M Nixon
Fortunately we'd the people's choice star of the show to brighten things, the Ecuadorian ship Guayas, game for anything with all sail eventually set, and the usual vast Latin American ensign flying from the mizzen. Guayas is on her first round the world cruise, and she must have been away from home for quite some time already. Let's put that another way. If any international marine paint manufacturer happens to be reading this, may we suggest that you could do yourself a lot of good in worldwide PR by donating many gallons of fresh white paint to the good ship Guayas. Nevertheless if there was an award for party spirit, Guayas would have won it easily.
In terms of square riggers setting the cloth, once again it was the Dutch who set the pace, this time the most enthusiastic being the Morgenster, which is a favourite among Irish trainees. She had her sails up and drawing while still in the Lagan, and looked the part at every stage.
The popular Morgenster had her square sails set before she cleared the river. Photo: W M Nixon
A Ballyholme Laser sailor takes on the French schooner Etoile – and he kept up with her too.....Photo: W M Nixon
Also quickening many an old salt's heart was the French tops'l schooner Etoile, which with her sister-ship Belle Poule has been sail training French naval cadets for longer than any of us can remember (it's 1932, as it happens) and she continues to be a tidy and manageable size which might be an inspiration for those who think Ireland doesn't absolutely have to have her own Class A vessel.
In terms of vessel numbers, it was of course the smaller fore-and-aft craft which made up the crowd, and observing from aboard the hospitable Peter & Carolyn Minnis's Mitchell 31 powercruiser Blue Echo, our group was particularly taken with the team spirit shown by the cheerful crew on the London-based Oyster 80 Rona II.
As for the presence of the eternal Jolie Brise, those of us who knew that this remarkable vessel was the winner of the first Fastnet Race ninety years ago still find it a wonder to behold the way such a hefty vessel can slip through the water, while those who were seeing the splendid old cutter for the first time were much taken with the Fastnet links.
The eternal Jolie Brise – this winner of the first Fastnet Race ninety years ago continues to impress with her stylish way through the water. Photo: W M Nixon
Back to life – the superbly restored Huff of Arklow revelling in the sailing on Belfast Lough. Photo: W M Nixon
Equally impressive in her way was the restored Huff of Arklow, the Flying Thirty first built by Jack Tyrrell of Arklow in 1951 to an Uffa Fox design, and now brought back to vigorous new life by Dominic Bridgeman and his group down Plymouth way. She's due back in her first home port of Dun Laoghaire on Wednesday to be an adornment of the Volvo Dun Laoghaire Regatta 2015 and we'll look at her in more detail in the near future, but meanwhile rest assured that she cut a real dash in Belfast Lough on Sunday.
And finally, with the fleet now on their way towards Norway from today's start area off Portrush, it was more than appropriate that the last little boat we diverted towards for have a looksee was the classic Greencastle yawl James Kelly, built by Robin Ruddock and his maritime heritage group in Portrush in honour of the great local boatbuilder who, between 1895 and 1910, built many notable craft including three Dublin Bay 21s and seven Howth 17s. The James Kelly is one jaunty little craft, and she was sailing like a witch.
Gallant little boat. The Greencastle yawl James Kelly was brought down from Portrush to salute the Tall Ships on Belfast Lough. Photo: W M Nixon