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SHIVER ME TIMBERS... A CARNIVAL ATMOSPHERE.

Byline: CHRIS KILPATRICK out on the River Lagan

FORGET Pirates of the Caribbean - this fleet sailed into port with a PS10million booty.

Belfast said ahoy to 50 of the finest Tall Ships in the world yesterday as what has been branded the biggest event in Northern Ireland's history got under way.

And I was ordered to walk the plank as the fun and nauticalinspired festivities began. Thankfully it was just to hop aboard a much more modest vessel to get a closer look at the majestic giants of the seas rather than acting as shark bait.

Joined by a motley crew of sea dogs, I enjoyed a 90-minute trip round the harbour.

And sailing just feet away from the towering ships was enough to shiver the timbers of even the most seasoned seafarer.

Fittingly, Titanic Belfast - a tribute to the most famous ship of all - provided the backdrop with those arriving by sea also passing the mighty Samson and Goliath.

Joining us on deck was Eamon Deeny from Belfast City Council who is skippering the four-day extravaganza.

"It's amazing," he said. "You prepare for something like this for years beforehand and then to stand and see all this today, all coming together, is great.

"Within 10 or 15 minutes huge crowds were arriving and it's absolutely brilliant for everybody to be involved in.

"Belfast is buzzing. You'll remember MTV coming and the buzz from that and this has done the same."

The Tall Ships have dropped anchor in the city twice before. On their maiden visit in 1991 just three ships took part.

The transformation of Belfast in the 24 years since was reflected in the scale of the event this time round. And the docking of the 50-strong fleet for four days is predicted to net the local economy PS10million. They include 16 Grade A ships - the undoubted stars of the show. The granddaddy of the vessels, aptly named the Leader, has been sailing since 1892.

And the largest on show is the monster Statsraad Lehmkuhl at 97m long - roughly the distance between the try lines at the home of Ulster Rugby, the Kingspan Stadium.

My sea legs served me well as we navigated our way round the docks.

On dry land either side of the water thousands were enjoying street entertainment and food in what was a carnival atmosphere.

In all, the attractions are spread out across a one mile-square radius to form a maritime village.

Away from the ships, kids of all ages thronged a Spitfire on display in front of the Odyssey Arena while hot air balloons fired up on the opposite bank.

On Sunday all eyes will be on the skies for a flyover by the Red Arrows.

Between now and then upwards of 500,000 people will have paid the Tall Ships a visit.

And it's a safe bet that few, if any, will leave disappointed.

CAPTION(S):

AHOY THERE ME HEARTIES Mirraarrr Man Chris Kilpatrick

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 3, 2015
Words:492
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