A thrilling Tall Ships event

Copyright Rob Powell



What a success of the Easter gathering of Tall Ships moored along the Greenwich waterfront.  Eight vessels lay stem to stern, their tall masts echoing our historic past.  Four or five days of keeping a watch on their activities were indeed a joy to savour before they sail across the Atlantic – just like the fleets of yesteryear.

‘Wylde Swan’  – moored just off Highbridge Wharf – slipped off to convey her guests on the daily cruise between Woolwich and Tower Bridge.  Some of her number – hovering around the fireworks celebrations – joined in the chorus of ships’ sirens after the final bang – a real bonus for the legions of spectators.  I watched entranced as her crew hauled up the heavy sails prior to her sailing venture down the Thames and over to France and the Bay of Biscay.  The fleet gathers in Southern Portugal before crossing the Atlantic via Barbados and Boston, then down the great River of St. Lawrence to Quebec for the 150th celebration of their independence.

I was tickled pink to be able to purchase the blue and white Quebecoise flag from their sales tent in the camp of stalls gathered in the college grounds alongside the Cutty Sark, and I hoisted it on our flag pole to bid farewell on Easter Sunday.

Greenwich was really on fete – I have never seen so many stalls and funfair attractions gathered over the Bank Holiday weekend; just like similar Tall Ship events I had witnessed in Amsterdam, Cherbourg, Portsmouth and up in Newcastle when we joined the outward voyage in an escort craft – our return back to this City was so sad as all the colour and glamour also went out with the tide.

We have enjoyed so many visitors from far and wide and were pleased to welcome anxious parents who were to wave farewell to ‘Blue Clipper’ from Malta where their daughter was to be the galley cook for her great Atlantic venture.  The servicing of the anchored fleet is due extra comment as large passenger-carrying ribs run to and fro from Greenwich Pier, bringing crew and guests and, no doubt, mail.  The fire practice was sounded and the only chance for me to see how many crew were on board before their paying guests arrived.  Later a briefing ‘muster’ was also held for twenty or so, bringing these down from their rigging duties which are labour-intensive as sails are furled and made ready;  which reminds me to leave my desk to sketch all that’s going on!

With sounds of sabre-rattling around Korea, the news that the Russians have cancelled their participation with the withdrawal of their vast, three-masted training ship from Vladivostok saddens one.  It was fascinating to see the fleet awake and take porridge and coffee prior to a short religious moment when crew and guests shared the Easter joy prior to their voyage later in the afternoon.  Meanwhile the water boozer ‘Oasis’ filled the water tanks of each vessel.  Duvet covers streamed out in the short breeze as the bells of the ORNC chapel struck nine o’clock, the essential pre-sailing duties being carried out.

Our Open House event was most rewarding as folk purchased my ‘Guide to the Tall Ships’ which explained the purpose of the voyage and trans-Atlantic route.  Each ship was also illustrated, based on earlier research last month.  Both the £10 Borough publication and Greenwich Visitor published the official guide, which would have saved me a great deal of research!  The flow of visitors into the house and on to the deck to take in the river activity came from every corner of the UK.  Newcomers from the new housing developments were intrigued, and many old watermen and yachties enjoyed the event too!!  Multiple sea voyages were discussed by both young and old, stirring our past excitements – what fun we all enjoyed, every fleeting moment!


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