Sailors ‘need God on their side and wind at their backs’

Crewmen  Anna Larsson from Sweden on board a 48 metre Brig,  Morgenster  Den Helder 1919 , which takes a crew of 36, at the quayside ahead of the Belfast Tall Ship Festival.
Crewmen Anna Larsson from Sweden on board a 48 metre Brig, Morgenster Den Helder 1919 , which takes a crew of 36, at the quayside ahead of the Belfast Tall Ship Festival.

A former Church of England minister has told how sailors in the Tall Ships race “really need God on their side”.

Keith Fletcher, 67, spoke to the News Letter after the seven-man crew of Black Diamond of Durham arrived in Belfast “after choppy seas and rainy weather” on the way over from Scotland.

The Black Diamond of Durham, one of the smallest boats in the Tall Ships race

The Black Diamond of Durham, one of the smallest boats in the Tall Ships race

Black Diamond of Durham, the smallest vessel in the 2015 Tall Ships races with a length of 13.5 metres, is now set to visit Norway, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands in the race.

And according to Mr Fletcher, in spite of their size, the crew is “always hopeful” about collecting silverware in their designated C class boat category, as they have done over the last eight years.

“I am a retired Church of England vicar who retired on health grounds,” he said.

“But there is no doubt when it comes to sailing you need God on your side and the wind at your back.

Keith Fletcher, crew of the Black Diamond

Keith Fletcher, crew of the Black Diamond

“I did my first Tall Ships in 2001 and did the whole thing, but now I am getting older I help with the deliveries.”

The Durham man said the experience on a boat like the Black Diamond “is challenging”.

“On a little boat like this (Class C) – as opposed to a Class A ship where you basically get one job to do – you do almost everything,” he said.

“Even trainees get to steer, work the sails, cook and wash up so it is an all-round hands-on experience. And when you are racing, you are four hours on, four hours off, day and night.

“Over the next few days there will be crew parties – crew will want to see around Belfast and what happens here, as well as the Titanic experience. They will also want to show people around the boat.

“We are also hoping to attract a few more crew members for the race, so we will see how that goes.”

Belfast City Council have estimated that 500,000 people will visit Belfast to see the Tall Ships Race in which 87 vessels have registered to compete.

Forty-five vessels are expected to arrive in Belfast.

Nineteen countries are represented in the races and 14 of those will be stopping in Belfast. The countries represented include Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Equador, Latvia, Russia and Sweden.

Meanwhile, there are expected to be 2,000 crew members in Belfast from around 30 different nationalities.

Tall Ships 2015 is a free event in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter and Pollock Dock area from today to Sunday.

Opening times for the events are: noon to 9pm today; 12.15pm to 9pm tomorrow; 10am to 10.30pm on Saturday and 10am to 4pm on Sunday.