Visitors to Belfast’s Tall Ships extravaganza were yesterday able to board an arresting vessel of a very different variety.
The working warship HMS Northumberland had sailed into port on Thursday night, and opened to the public yesterday.
It will be open again today before the event draws to a close on Sunday morning.
The Royal Navy frigate may not sport quite the same towering wooden masts as other vessels at the quayside.
But her gun-grey RADAR tower still made her stand out amid the more old -fashioned sailing ships, and long queues had formed in order to board her by mid-afternoon.
Within the first two hours of her being open to the public, 1,380 visitors had walked up the gangway.
Once onboard, they could view the ships’ torpedoes and even try their hand at firing a number of (unloaded) small arms used by the sailors – ranging from a pistol to different kinds of SA80 rifles.
Ronnie Boyd, 75 and from Moneypatrick, appeared overjoyed to be onboard.
The retired hospital maintenance man said: “It’s a brilliant day – brilliant day! And to be on this boat here is just exceptional.
“This boat has seen action, and just to be here, be on it, and visualise what it had been like when it was in action, it’s just brilliant.
“I’m more than impressed. It’s beautiful, wonderful. It’s just good to be here.”
Dave Ogle, a 62-year-old Enniskillen bus driver and former member of the Army, said: “I’m from Northumberland, originally, so it’s special.
“All the young staff, the Sea Cadets, are very knowledgeable about all the stuff – the escape hatches, the weaponry, the machinery on board.
“This is quite an impressive ship.”
Many of those visiting were from outside the Province such Pat Ryan, a 48-year-old GAA fan from Tipperary, who said that the event had been “well advertised down south
Gordon Burrell from Lurgan, a 71 year old retired teacher and missionary in Kazakhstan, described the festival as “a great cross-community thing”
None of the ship’s officers were available to speak to the News Letter.
However, Paul Brogan, 40, a quantity surveyor from Lisburn who was there with son Aaron (9) said: “The crew told us they’d been to the Gulf chasing Somalian Pirates.
“They came back in December after being there for six months.”
In 2013, the vessel was also responsible for intercepting an estimated £5.4m-worth shipment of pure cannabis resin off the Gulf of Oman.
It chased the drug smugglers for 30 miles, and watched them throw an estimated 1.5 metric tonnes of the drug into the sea as they attempted to escape.
By contrast to this modern ship, some of the vessels on display date back to the start of the 20th century – or even beyond.
The oldest on display is reportedly Leader, which was built in 1892 for a global fishing tycoon.
However, at 23.35m it is relatively small fry compared with the Statsraad Lehmkuhl – one of the oldest of the Class A ships on display, which was built in 1914 and measures 87.21m in length.
Irene Bracken, 53 and from Enniskillen, said although they live close to Lough Erne “you never see ships like this coming down our way”.
Asked if any in particular had caught her eye, she said: “All of them!”
One of those who had sailed into port the day before was Clinton Kinrade, 28 and from the Isle of Wight, who is a crew member on the La Malouine.
“We’ve been graced with beautiful weather, and fantastic people,” he said.
It was his first time in the Province, and he said it was the biggest sailing event he had ever seen.
Paul Williams, 48, a civil servant from Belfast said: “It’s a great encouragement for the people of Belfast to see the festival go out internationally and to show Belfast in a different light.”