Belfast says bon voyage to Tall Ships spectacular
After four brilliant, sun-filled days and 500,000 visitors, flotilla takes to sea with the best wishes of a thrilled city
As they sounded their goodbyes, the blasts of the Tall Ships' horns were almost drowned out by the tens of thousands who gathered to shout their farewells.
Belfast, host to this majestic fleet of ships in one of the biggest events the city has ever witnessed, said its noisy 'bon voyage' yesterday as the fleet departed one by one from the harbour.
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A brief but spectacular aerobatic display by the Red Arrows yesterday morning signalled the beginning of the end of the four-day maritime festival in which 50 vessels from 15 countries took part.
Saturday night also saw thousands crowd into Belfast Docks to witness a hot-air balloon and firework display, with the overall number of Tall Ships visitors thought to have smashed the 500,000 expected.
By lunchtime yesterday crowds surged towards Queen's Quay as the remaining ships made their final preparations for departure.
Belfast Harbour had evoked the crowded waterways of its past with nearly 1,000 international crew docked, and the crew members waved, sang and took their own photos and videos of the Belfast spectators to take back home.
The imposing Cisne Branco drew most of the crowds with the carnival-like feel to its departure.
The buoyant Brazilian crew manned the 88-metre-long ship which, despite its 19th century feel, was built in 1999 for the Brazilian Navy. Manning the polished wooden decks of this three-masted clipper as Samba-style music blasted onshore was Lieutenant Nascimento Junior (32), one of the 64 crew members.
"All of you have been very friendly in Belfast," he said. "It has been unbelievable the whole atmosphere.
"In three days we had more than 32,000 visitors. We broke our last record for the number of visitors in one day, which was in New York, with 10,000. On Friday here we had 14,000 on the ship. There were very long queues."
As the crowds waited patiently for the final departure, at around 1.30pm the music stopped and the Cisne Branco crew responded with salutes to a series of whistled commands. The tug of ropes and click of unfurling sails meant they were finally away.
The young crew of the neighbouring Europa also signalled an enthusiastic farewell.
At just over 54 metres long, the Netherlands boat, built in 1911, has taken part in Tall Ships races all over the world since 1994.
Martin Booth (51), from Belfast, was there to say goodbye to son Joshua (16) who is one of the 40 trainee crew members.
Watching proudly as Joshua scaled the dizzying heights of the rigging, Martin said he was happy for his son to have this exciting opportunity.
"It is an adventure at sea," he said. "He has just finished his GCSEs at Methody and was looking for something to do for the summer."
Mum Claire and sister Alexandra were also proudly taking photos alongside the ship.
"They have been well prepared," said Claire, who said she wasn't too worried. "They have done a lot of training."
Shouting from the deck of the ship as he reached the bottom of the rigging, Joshua said his excitement levels were "10 out of 10". "It's brilliant," he said.
The 1937 Gulden Leeuw ship from the Netherlands and the Eendracht, Holland's largest three-masted schooner, also set sail around the same time, the Eendracht's crew beating the sides of their boat in a noisy goodbye. There were also waves for the UK's Lord Nelson and Portugal's Santa Maria Manuela as they passed by on the opposite Donegall Quay.
Michael Traynor and girlfriend Carla Power, from Belfast, accompanying Jake Power (5), said they had just enjoyed some paella from one of the many continental-style market stalls.
"He is enjoying it and this is a good way to see the ships off," said Michael from his Queen's Quay vantage point.
Brandishing his toy pirate sword, Jake said the best bit was "all the honking".
Angela Campbell, from Belfast, with her children Louis (7) and Lola (4), is a Tall Ships die-hard fan.
"We've been down from 10am and this is the third day we have been here," she said. "I think it is amazing, so good for Belfast and the economy, I would definitely come again."
As the ships sailed out of Belfast Lough yesterday, they made their way to Bangor before finishing their parade at Whitehead in Co Antrim, with an expected 300,000 lining the coast to witness the spectacle.
This is the third time the Tall Ships have visited Belfast.
Police said the event had attracted more than half a million visitors and thanked all those who helped make it a success. Belfast City District Commander, Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw, said: "We are extremely pleased at the public's co-operation over the four days.
"Motorists, although at times delayed on the roads, were largely heeding our advice. The traffic management systems worked effectively. We acknowledge at times there was congestion on some roads but I think the public will appreciate that with any major public event, traffic disruption is inevitable.
"The Tall Ships event has proven once again that Northern Ireland can host the very biggest event successfully and safely."