The armada is almost upon us and preparations are well under way in Belfast for the arrival next week of a magnificent fleet of the world’s finest sailing vessels.
Organisers say more than half a million people are expected to enjoy the spectacle of 50 square riggers, brigs and barques berthing in the city on Thursday and over the four days of the event.
Quayside entertainment – including live music, street theatre, fairground attractions and international markets – will ensure a carnival atmosphere at the docks, before thousands more spectators seek vantage points along the shoreline for the ‘Parade of Sail’ out of Belfast Lough on Sunday.
This is the third time the Tall Ships have visited the city, building on the success of 1991 and 2009 events that attracted massive crowds and captured the attention of the world’s media.
Eighteen of the vessels are the largest, and most majestic, Class A ships which are more than 40 metres in length. However, the largest visitor is the 97m-long Norwegian barque Statsraad Lehmkuhl.
Like many of the vessels involved in Tall Ships, the second largest ship on display is utilised by its home country’s navy to train officer cadets in old-fashioned seamanship.
The Brazilian Navy’s Cisne Branco (white swan) is more than 88m in length and is fully rigged with three masts.
While the Rio de Janeiro-based ship is a relatively young 16-year-old, others such as the Jolie Brise have a wealth of history dating back more than a century. The pilot cutter’s name is revered in sailing circles as the only ship to have won the Fastnet Race three times – the first success coming back in 1925.
Tall Ships Ltd chairman Dr Gerard O’Hare said: “This is an exciting time. We have ships coming from Norway, Holland, from across the Atlantic from South America and coming up from Portugal and Spain.
“This is an event that goes beyond the boundaries of most of the other events we have here in Northern Ireland, and not just in terms of size, although it will be massive, but also in terms of its international nature.
“It sends out messages of goodwill to the world.”
Mr O’Hare added: “It really is four days of theatre.”
Further information is available at www.tallshipsbelfast.com
Traffic and travel arrangements
Translink are laying on a number of special services to accommodate the large crowds expected to attend the Tall Ships.
Park and ride facilities will be available from Sprucefield, Cairnshill, Dundonald and a new site just off the M2 at the international airport junction (Ballymartin).
Additional bus services will also operate from City Council park and ride sites at Holywood Exchange (for those travelling to the Queen’s Quay side of the event) and from Boucher Road playing fields to Pollock Dock.
However, Translink have stressed that visitors to either of the sites can move freely between the two in the courtesy shuttle buses available throughout. Another free shuttle will ferry those attending from Wellington Place to Pollock Dock.
Full details are available at visit www.translink.co.uk/tallships/ or from Translink on 9066 6630.
Also read about Tall Ships 2015 in numbers