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Issue Date:- 23 July 2008

Tall Ships Race 2008, Port of Liverpool

THE turnout to the Tall Ships Race can truly be described as stupendous. On Friday, 18 July 2008, it was difficult to imagine where the estimated 300,000+ visitors had come from, but mingling among the crowds it became very apparent that amongst enthusiastic Merseysiders were visitors from all over Britain and indeed, from all around the world. Despite some confusion and grumbles, the one-way-system, imposed at the Albert Dock complex and at Wellington Dock, were largely accepted as a very essential safety factor. It would be a good idea, in future, to have more prominent notices at the Docks’ entrances warning people of the system before becoming separated from their friends and relatives. On Saturday, the crowds swelled to 600,000+ and visitor numbers exceeded that by several thousands on the Sunday. However the mood of the crowd remained remarkably genial despite the inevitable queues for the major attractions. This was helped when interesting entertainers kept them amused. It was a Herculean task but one which was successfully negated by friendly, helpful stewards.

The Tall Ships had been appearing throughout the week, but viewed when berthed en masse in the Albert, Canning, Sandon Half-Tide, and Wellington Docks, the effects were breath taking.

The ships are divided into 4 classes, A,B,C and D, so that like competes with like. The world’s larger ones are in Class A like the Russian “Mir” and the Polish “Dar Mlodziezy” ( Gift of Children) which are longer than Wembley Football Stadium. Also up there for size, and crowd appeal, the Mexican “Cuauhtemoc”, the Brazilian “Cisne Branco” (White Swan) and the Norwegian “Christian Radich” (built in 1937) well known throughout the world. However, all ships have their own individual charm.

Friday, when the weather was less than clement, saw the official opening of the docks for the Tall Ships by HRH Princess Anne, who also briefly greeted those on board the TS Royalist, which is operated by the Sea Cadet Corps. She then continued along the broadwalk at the Albert Dock, to speak, at length, to the young crew of the Class B Danish “Jens Krogh”. Thence on to meet those aboard Ocean Spirit of Moray, entered by Gordonstoun School, Elgin. This was followed by a brief spin around the Albert Dock before the watching crowd. Later that day, HRH the Duke of York, boarded the UK’s “Lord Nelson” where he met many of the Captains and Masters of the International Tall Ships Fleet. Among them he met the “Lord Nelson’s” Captain, Clare Cupples, sailing with the first all female crew in the Tall Ships Race. “Lord Nelson” is splendidly adapted to allow wheel-chair users and those with other physical difficulties to be amongst the crew. On Saturday there was a Crew Parade in the new Conference Hall, which is attached to the new Arena. Above all, the Tall Ships have brought gaiety, and pleasure to many, many people. Dressed overall with bright flags and pennants fluttering in the stiff winds, polished brass, intriguing, complicated masses of ropes and pulleys and the odd figureheads to be admired, these elegant vessels, were a fabulous sight, beckoning people to explore them. Over the course of the 3 days, visitors did just that and packed on board those open to the public.

On Sunday they could even be seen climbing the rigging on “Lord Nelson” and “Stavros S Nicarchos”. Crew members answered many queries and coped with the invasion of landlubbers with apparent pleasure.

Throughout the period, Shanty Groups, Theatre Groups, and Bands entertained folk aboard ships and at various venues around the Docks, but also in some of the surrounding area. All added to the festive atmosphere.

The Royal Navy had quite a strong presence too, with “HMS Argyll”, “HMS Mersey” and “HMS Grimsby” in port. The former was open to the public, as was “RFA Lyme Bay”, which was moored at the new Cruise Terminal; a special treat at that venue was hearing the Band of the Royal Marines playing.

The final drama was on Monday, 21 July 2008, the Parade of Sail, preceded by a splendid aerial acrobatic display by the Yakevlovs. The sailing vessels left their berths and gathered off Otterspool to make their majestic voyage down the Mersey to the open sea, many in partial sail. As they passed Pier Head, they were given gun salutes from “HMS Lyme Bay” and from the Wirral side of the river, water sprays from the fire boats, and hootings from local vessels. Every available vantage point was packed with people eager to catch their last glimpse of these vessels as they sailed off and out to the Irish Sea towards Northern Ireland, where their first leg of their race will begin in earnest, on Wednesday, 23 July 2008, destination Maloy in Norway. Another rest and a chance for the crews to exchange ship places for a few days in Bergen, Norway. The next leg will take them from Bergen to Den Helder, the Netherlands.

Throughout, the message of what this race is all about has been firmly proclaimed; strongly echoing what has previously been said about the Clipper Race Challenge. IT is about giving young people a challenge, through which they can establish self-confidence and self reliance, which will help them in all aspects of their lives. Above all, crew members must essentially learn to work as a member of a team, valuing each other’s contributions, developing tolerance and respect of others, plus the art of co-operation. Sailing can, at times, be dangerous but members are taught to assess and plan for risks and safety is paramount. On all ships crews are a mix of experienced sailors and raw recruits, some of whom may never have even seen the sea!

Accommodation may not be luxurious, but crews not only survive but thrive on their experiences. Also, events such as this meeting at Liverpool, gives youngsters the chance to visit places all over the world, as well as an opportunity of meeting people of different races and cultures. Kurt Western, Chairman of the Tall Ships Race, said this is reflected in the award for a crew, not necessarily the fastest, but the one that has contributed the most in co-operation and support each other (last year, “Lord Nelson” won the award). This award is decided by all the crews’ votes.

On a local level, 40 free berths were available, for youths between 16 to 24, as part of the Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture. They will be aboard the “Stavros S Niarchos”, the Tall Ships Youth Trust training ship. They were joined by 8 trainees, funded by the Mersey Fire Rescue Service. At a wider level, having the Tall Ships Race has been a tremendous coup for Liverpool in its Capital of Culture Year. Mersey Pride has been seen to be truly alive, both among the administrators and participants including, not least, the ordinary citizens attending the event, heard chatting animatedly to the visitors about their City. One elderly gentleman was reminiscing about Liverpool’s maritime past and his grandfather, who had been at sea in the days of sail; he was given one bottle of water a day for all his needs, drinking, washing everything! Events like this week’s make the age of sail more credible for children: History coming alive! The only sour note that kept reappearing was that it was felt that too many franchises have gone to firms outside the City. However Liverpool’s city centre was awash with people, which can only have boosted trade.

Councillor Warren Bradley, justifiably proud of the successful event, says that despite the present global economic difficulties, Liverpool is bucking the trend. He is confident it will continue to do so and that things will not be allowed to grow stale. This optimism seems to be reflected by the citizens of this city. We seem to be genuinely excited by the possibilities afforded.

...continued...  Obviously a great deal of effort has gone into the Tall Ships Races; from all quarters, from organisers to crews, to those who grapple with the logistics of berthing the ships, arranging entertainments and the myriad tasks associated with such an event, including the stewards and Police officers who did sterling work and helped make this a peaceful and happy event. The emergency services, St John, travel companies, who ferried people between the car parks and the centre. Arriva did sterling service ferrying people between St Nicholas Place and Wellington Dock. The Northern Line staff were tremendous with the service they provided, not only for the Tall Ships but for the Open Golf Championships, at Royal Birkdale, at the same time. We all owe these people and many, many others a huge debt of gratitude for such a thrilling weekend. To all those venturesome youngsters and their intrepid instructors, “Bon voyage. Have a safe and successful trip” and please let us have a future visit in the not too distant future. Well done everyone and thank you.


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