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Tall Ships Race may return as borough prepares host port bid
THE Tall Ships Race could be coming back to Weymouth and Portland.
The resort is considering bidding as a host port for the world-famous event, a move which would be a major money-spinner for the local economy and revive the sailing port.
Weymouth holds the record of being the only port in the world to have hosted the start of the Cutty Sark Tall Ships Race on three separate occasions.
The last time, in July 1994, when the economy was being battered by defence cuts, was a resounding success. 750,000 people flocked to the resort over four days to witness the spectacle of magnificent square-rigged ships in the harbour and bay before they set off on the race to the Mediterranean.
It was more popular than the much-heralded Olympic sailing events last year.
Around 500,000 people visited the borough during the Olympic Games, 340,000 fewer than the council predicted.
An aspiration to host the race again is detailed in a harbour business plan which has been drawn up for Weymouth and Portland Borough Council by new Weymouth Harbour Master Keith Howorth.
It has been produced to keep the council up to date on harbour performance and covers planned activity over the next five years.
The report says: “The visit by a significant number of interesting vessels together with a range of shore-side activities is a recipe that has been very successful in generating a large number of visitors.
“There is some capital outlay and restrictions that have to be satisfied. The programme is set for the 2015 season so the earliest opportunity is in 2016 or beyond.
“It is likely that this would have to be a joint venture with Portland Port to allow berthing for the larger vessels.
“If the full event is too ambitious perhaps a feeder port for the race or other tall ships rallies would be appropriate.”
Mr Howorth said the idea for hosting the races was just a ‘seed’ and further discussions would have to be held to take it forward.
The people behind the race, Sail Training International (STI), said they looked forward speaking to the council about discussing the potential of hosting an event.
Bidding for 2016 had now closed so any application would be for the following year.
Chief operating officer of STI Gwyn Brown said: “We are always looking for opportunities to host new and exciting events.
“If the beautiful town of Weymouth is interested we look forward to talking to their representatives at some point and discussing the potential of hosting an event there.
“We know that Weymouth is no stranger to tall ships, being the home of TS Pelican.”
Mr Brown said the qualifications the organisation look for in a port are suitable berthing and support from both the port authority and town to develop sail training for young people.
Event’s return ‘would be great for resort’
IT MAY just be an idea, but people are welcoming with open arms the prospect of Weymouth hosting another Tall Ships Race, following on from the 1994 spectacular.
Adventure Under Sail, which operates the Weymouth-based TS Pelican, welcomed the news.
Sales and marketing assistant Becky Simmons said: “The last event in 1994 was fantastic and brought so many people to Weymouth as well as a fleet of tall ships.
“It was great for young people who had the opportunity see ships from around the world and get involved in crewing.
“The important thing about the race is that it provides sailing opportunities for young people giving them hands-on experience, so as well as learning sailing skills it helps to build confidence and self-discipline.
“The race is a huge draw and such an enormous event. Ships come alongside in the harbour and many are open to the public.”
Former harbour master Peter Tambling said past events were a huge success but they took a lot of planning.
He said today there is much more competition with ports around the world wanting to be involved.
Mr Tambling remembers: “It was such a fantastic show. At the Nothe you couldn’t see the ground beneath you it was so busy.”
He added: “Something like this should be investigated to help the harbour otherwise it will collapse.
“We’re not getting any commercial trade in the port, fishermen are moving to Portland and the focus is on leisure craft which is seasonal.
“The harbour needs a boost.”
Dorset Seafood Festival organiser Roger Dalton said: “Tall Ships was a spectacular event and one I’d love to see repeated. There was a great atmosphere; a carnival feel about the place. Weymouth has a great track record organising events and with the Olympic sailing last year, it doesn’t get much better than that.
“There’s a lot of experience organising national and international events and there’s more skills in the town now.
“The issue is how will it be funded and by whom.”
Harbour board member Councillor John Birtwistle said: “Even today people continue to talk about the Tall Ships Race.
“It was a while ago but it’s not forgotten.
“It would be fantastic if it were to happen here again.
“Weymouth can handle big events and we should be building on the maritime connection.”
Vessels bring welcome boost for trade
THE Tall Ships Races for sail training vessels are planned four years in advance with the route carefully selected to enable visits to different sea areas around Europe.
Once organisers Sail Training International (STI) has selected the sea area, all the relevant ports in that region are invited to bid to become a host port.
The race is split into three or four stages so different ports have an opportunity to welcome the ships.
Up until 2003, it was known as the Cutty Sark races after sponsorship from the whisky brand.
These days, the race can attract more than 100 ships, including some of the largest sailing vessels on the ocean.
There are many economic, social and community-oriented reasons why a port may bid to become a host port, says STI.
Traditionally, huge crowds – from many hundreds of thousands to well over a million – visit a port during the four days of the event, bringing welcome income to the port, town or city and local businesses, plenty of national and international media attention, and a range of opportunities for community involvement and enjoyment. Next year’s event will be held between The Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.
Weymouth and Portland had huge success hosting main tall ships events in 1983, 1987 and 1994, plus smaller associate events.
Hundreds of thousands of people turn up for tall ships events and the publicity surrounding the race gives tourism a major boost.
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