As Falmouth and Royal Greenwich prepare to host the first ever Tall Ships Regatta to be held solely in English waters, taking place from 28 August to 9 September 2014, we look at what will be happening on land and at sea
The Tecla. Image by Sian Robbins
Stepping into the water taxi at Falmouth harbour, any interest I’d had in watching the sleek luxury yachts of visiting millionaires quickly disappeared as we neared the Tecla, a 28m-long sailing vessel from the Netherlands, which was built in 1915 and is due to take part in this year’s Tall Ships Regatta. Compared to the rows of gleaming white, modern yachts found at the harbour, there was something far more appealing about the shabby-chic appearance and creaking wooden boards of this historic former fishing vessel, draped with ropes, rigging and the crew’s drying laundry.
Manning the rigging. Image by Paul Watts
As we passed the vessel, the deck was a hive of activity as the crew prepared to set sail. Having only just reached Falmouth after sailing around the world, the call of the sea was obviously too strong for them to stay moored for any length of time. And who could blame them? With the sun warming the deck, the sea sparkling and the only sounds being the crash of waves against the bow and cry of gulls above the billowing sails, it’s easy to see what attracts people to sign up as trainee crew members of these graceful vessels and take part in the tall ships races and regattas organised by Sail Training International (STI) each year.
National Maritime Museum, Cornwall
For those less hasty to give up dry land and head out for adventures on the open waves, you can still get a taste of what life on board these vessels is like when around 50 of them gather in Falmouth from 28-31 August for the Tall Ships Regatta, where members of the public will be invited to board the impressive collection of docked Class A square-riggers taking part (often between 40-60m) to learn more about these historic ships.
The first tall ships race was organised by STI in the 1950s and since then the annual races and regattas have grown in size and prestige, encouraging the development and education of trainee crew members from around the world (at least 50 per cent of vessel crews must consist of trainees in order to qualify to take part).
This will be the first time that such an event has taken place solely in English waters. During this year’s regatta the tall ships will be racing from Falmouth to a marker off the coast of the Isle of Wight before making their way to Royal Greenwich where there are a number of events planned to celebrate their arrival, continuing from 5-9 September. This will be London’s largest tall ship event for over 25 years and, with the race over, there will be an opportunity for members of the public to take a trip along the River Thames with the crews for a first-hand experience of traditional sailing.
Both Greenwich and Falmouth make fitting host ports for the event with their strong maritime connections. The two sites are also linked by one of the country’s most famous vessels, the Cutty Sark. This 19th-century tea clipper was restored in Falmouth in 1922 and used as a training ship for cadets before she was found a permanent home in Royal Greenwich and opened as a visitor attraction after further restoration.
Councillor Chris Roberts, leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “The Royal Borough of Greenwich boasts the longest riverfront in London, making it an ideal place to host the Tall Ships Regatta in 2014. We are proud of our maritime history. Playing host to London’s first regatta for 25 years will provide us with a fantastic opportunity as the Tall Ships sail past our historic maritime landmarks like the Old Royal Naval College and Cutty Sark.”
Whether you join in with the Tall Ships action at Falmouth or Greenwich, visitors can get a sense for the areas’ historic connections with shipping, sailing and the sea at their respective maritime museums. From Greenwich museum’s objects association with Lord Nelson to Ben Ainslie’s Olympic sailing boats held at the museum in Falmouth, a vast amount of history and achievements can be charted across the two sites.
In the run up to the ships leaving Falmouth, the town’s streets will be rife with festivities from music and song to the colourful ships’ crew parade through the town centre where sailors will make their way past the boutique shops and galleries that help to give Falmouth its distinct character. The skies above Falmouth will also be lit up during a farewell fireworks display on the evening before the ships leave the harbour on their way to Greenwich.
The race itself will commence on 31 August as the majestic parade of sail sees the ships pass between Pendennis and St Mawes castles, the two defensive structures that flank the waterway into Falmouth harbour. Built at the behest of Henry VIII to defend the area, the castles are now under the care of English Heritage. It is from coastal vantage points surrounding the castles that thousands of people will gather to watch the white sails of the Tall Ships crowd the waters of the Fal estuary, transporting spectators back to a time when famous explorers such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh would have set sail in search of adventure and unknown horizons.
John Hick, chairman of Falmouth Tall Ships Association, said: “You don’t need to be a seasoned sailor to feel moved by the sight of these incredible ships and from both an historic and geographical point of view, Falmouth sets them off to perfection. It’s a wonderful chance to get a glimpse of what it is to live and work on board these historic vessels.”
Sailing ships from all over the world will be taking part in the regatta but it is one of the British entrants that event manager, Sam Groom, suspects may beat the others to the finishing line: “Duet, a wooden gaff rigged yawl is a keen competitor and has been in the past both class and overall winner. Launched in 1912, she was built on the River Itchen and was once owned by the famous explorer Augustine Courtauld.”
The event is set to be a wonderful experience for those taking part and an exciting spectacle for those back on dry land, and, after witnessing the rousing sight of around 50 ships setting sail, there may just be a few future trainees among the gathered crowds, inspired to embark on their own adventures at sea.