North Sea Tall Ships Regatta 2016

Tall Ships Regatta, August 26-29, Blyth, Northumberland.

To mark the diamond anniversary of the Tall Ships Races which first took place in 1956, this year sees the North Sea Tall Ships Regatta being held from August 26-29 at the deep water port of Blyth in Northumberland.

Every year, Tall Ships Races and Regattas have been held around the world, attracting hundreds of ships and millions of spectators. They are sights not to be missed and visitors to Blyth can expect a great view from the quayside as well as being able to go on-board the ships.

Following on from the Regatta – with celebrations including live music, street theatre and a Parade of Sail – the ships will depart on a five hundred mile race from Blyth to Gothenburg in Sweden.

Few sights can be more atmospheric: and never more so than when your correspondent witnessed such an event some years ago.

A touch of spice permeated the air and in the docks sleek sailing ships awaited. There in a place with a history as colourful as the swashbuckling sailors who once made it their home was a time out of mind like no other.

Tall Ships on the River Mersey as part of the Tall Ships race in Liverpool for the Capital of Culture celebrations.

Tall Ships on the River Mersey as part of the Tall Ships race in Liverpool for the Capital of Culture celebrations.

A fleet of over sixty of the most beautiful Tall Ships had gathered in Liverpool – a city steeped in maritime history and tradition and once the gateway to the New World. The festival culminated in the spectacular Parade of Sail as the ships departed for the start of a five week race: the first leg of which took them around the north of Scotland and then on to Norway.

Splendid ships with graceful lines and sky-piercing masts were led down the Mersey by Royal Navy Frigate, HMS Argyle. With full-rigged ships, barques, brigs and schooners it could have been a scene from a Canaletto painting as they evoked memories of the great days of sail. Days when noble ships, like Gothic cathedrals, flashed their splendour around the world, their names written on the wind – Sea Witch, Flying Cloud and Cutty Sark – as they flew across oceans with clouds of canvas billowing against the sky. There in Liverpool was a dream weavers vision lost in time.

With national pride at stake, the crew of one of the most beautiful Class A ships – the Brazilian Navy training ship, Cisne Branco – lined the decks in their immaculate white uniforms while dark figures like ants scaled rigging.

racestartSails flashed white in afternoon sunlight. Prows cleaved the waves and steel-nerved mountaineers of canvas and rope manned the yards, dizzyingly high above rolling decks, as the magnificent craft were urged on, only by the supple shifting sinews of the wind.

It was not hard to feel the elation of those mariners of over a century ago as they embarked on the great clipper ships for Cape Horn and China. Like them I was soon enchanted by echoes of the past, the rhythm of nature, the snap of the canvas and the beauty of days at sea.

On a cruise that money couldn’t buy, courtesy of The Royal Navy, the worlds press – invigorated by salt, spume and sail, gathered beneath the Press Ensign as the crew of HMS Blazer, an Archers class P2000 patrol vessel, ensured we kept station with the fleet.

Passing churning windmill blades of a coastal wind farm, I couldn’t help but reflect that it is these beguiling craft that are the REAL wind machines – a soul-lifting epitome of power and grace, offering true symbiotic harmony with natural elements

The Christian Radich Tall Ship

From across the world there were all manner of vessels with romantic and inspiring names: Royalist, Lord Nelson, Westward Ho – but perhaps the most inspiring ship was Christian Radich from Norway – possibly the most famous Tall Ship today, due to the beautiful lines and constant globe trotting since World War Two. She has been a winner of the races several times and with nine thousand metres of rope and a thirty-eight metre tall main mast, Christian Radich is hard to beat. As she sailed towards us I wondered ‘Was it her size bearing down on us or was it her gracious dignity?’ That men can fashion such a thing out of metal, wood and canvas is indeed miraculous. There are ships by the thousand but this is a ship in a million – magnificent as she passed by. In that moment I realised I had witnessed a triumph of achievement and that it would be hard to tell the tale in all its magnitude, for the Tall Ships Race is a masterly evocation of the ships and the sailor-men, the peril and the toil of the great days of sail which brought credit and renown to these islands.

How lovely are these models of the sailing art, the last of a glorious era – gestures of defiance to the power age. Whatever the future of sea travel, however incalculable the prospects of advancement in the size and speed of ships, it remains beyond doubt that the Tall Ships represent the most significant moments in the long history of our island race. They sail the world, crossing the Pacific, rounding The Horn, surviving storms. Yet throughout, the only motive power is the ocean wind. Their passage and very hope of survival lies in the skill of their masters and the strong able arms of their crews. Their ‘engines’ are a gentle tracery of masts with a maze of rigging developed by seafarers over centuries. They speed in splendour through the great oceans and their strength is the pride of the craftsmen who built them. Grace and beauty flows with them forever. They are the noblest ships of all.

They speak of customs long retained, Of simple, plain, primeval life. They mask the little we have gained, With all our study, toil and strifeJohn Hookham Frere. (1769 - 1846)
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