Thursday, July 02, 2015

Tall Ships Belfast (2-5 July)

I’ve a single memory of the Tall Ships being in Belfast the first time. I thought I was younger, but I’ll have to believe everyone who says it was 1991. I remember walking along a quay, in the middle of waste ground in a Belfast harbour I’d never seen before, and there were boats with tall masts tied up. I’ve absolutely no memory of getting on board any of the ships.

That’s what I wrote in a blog post in 2009 when the Tall Ships returned to Belfast. The land around Belfast harbour was mid-way through its transformation for the second visit of the vessels whose masts reach up to the clouds. Chip vans had been replaced with a Continental market. It was my turn to drag my daughter around the Tenacious.

They're back! Belfast Titanic Maritime Festival – otherwise known as “the Tall Ships” – runs from noon on Thursday 2 July until 4pm on Sunday 5 July. The best tip from 2009:

The people that I’ve met with the most vivid experiences of the Tall Ships seemed to be the ones who wandered or cycled down to the Odyssey late on Wednesday or Thursday night. No crowds blocked their view of the assembled fleet.

This year 50 vessels of different sizes and classes are expected to berth in the various docks. The Guayas is already over in Pollock Dock beside the BBC Experience and will host The One Show on Friday evening. (You can also catch Hugo Duncan broadcasting his afternoon radio show from the Odyssey car park on Thursday and Friday.)

There are markets and fairgrounds on both sides of the river. Hot air balloon displays, kite workshops, Victorian games and … tall ships too. And the Dock Cafe is sure to be open. The Brazilian Cisne Branco is moored right beside the Odyssey and boasts the largest flag in Northern Ireland!

There’ll be fireworks at 10.20pm on Saturday evening. But perhaps the most spectacular part of the whole event will be the Tall Ships Parade on Sunday, when the whole fleet set sail from Belfast at 11am (preceded by a flypast by the Red Arrows who’ll go on to do a full display over Carrickfergus) and head around the coast as they head up to the Causeway Coast and the start line of the race for Monday morning.

Two Park and Ride sites are operating, one in Boucher Road playing fields, the other Airport Road West (Ikea exit).

A free shuttle bus can take you from Wellington Place (near Belfast Visitors Centre) down to Pollock Dock. Lots more details on the Tall Ships Belfast website.

Out on the water on Wednesday afternoon, the sheer scale of the event was obvious as we manoeuvred in and out of docks and followed a couple of smaller vessels up the lough and into their berths.

The four masted 100m long barque Statsraad Lehmkuhl [that must be close to the length of the City Hall?] will dwarf everything else when it arrives since the Royal Princess cruise ship will have long gone!

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