The Tall Ships Races' 2008 got underway on Monday under conditions that were equally blustery, sunny and overcast; the same winds that had kept the golfers on their toes at Royal Birkdale sadly prevented many vessels from setting canvas for the Parade of Sail. Several skippers were clearly champing at the bit, though: Pelican of London and Alexander von Humboldt had both removed the harbour stow from several yards in readiness, while Stavros S. Niarchos set most of her jibs and staysails - so too Cuauhtémoc, who set off several gun blasts in passing the Liver Buildings. Cadets from the irresistible Royalist manned the yard arms, the Girl Guides from Lord Nelson waved and laughed, and several of the Omani Sultanate's Shabab Oman were dressed in full dress kilts in reference to her Scottish build. Given the conditions, braver souls than me manned the yards of the gigantic Dar Mlodziezy, the fireship Trafalgar blasted sky-high water cannons, there was a fly-by of Yakelov stunt planes and a helicopter scudded low circuits over the fleet before landing on Lyme Bay. HMS Argyll was in attendance, as were many Mersey ferries - not to mention many tens of thousands of happy spectators!
The fleet is bound for Northern Ireland, where the official race begins on Wednesday 23rd July. The first leg of the competition is to Maloy in Norway, where the ships will assemble between Friday 1st and Monday 4th August. Then the cruise-in-company brings the fleet to Bergen from Saturday 9th to Tuesday 12th August - and the second leg of the race heads for Den Helder in the Netherlands, where the tall ships will celebrate between Wednesday 20th and Saturday 23rd August.
If I was a betting man, I'd wager on Pelican, Christian Radich, Statsraad Lehmkuhl and Sorlandet as four of the Top Five... anyone think different?
I've also decided that the TS Royalist might just be my favourite ship of all time. So there.
Stavros S Niarchos leads the Parade of Sail
The helicopter and the brave souls...
Fire tug Trafalgar
The ever-popular Cuauhtémoc
...and TS Royalist in good cheer...