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Tall Ships: Charting a course on the high seas is the life for hearty sailors

By Lesley Houston

They say join the navy and see the world - and that's the story behind many a sailor aboard the Tall Ships now docked in Belfast Harbour.

Just ask Luis Dias, second officer of the naval training ship Santa Maria Manuela from Portugal.

Sporting pristine naval whites and impressive beard, he looks every inch the seasoned sea dog - and at just 26 years of age he plays a major role aboard the impressive clipper.

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Yesterday he was showing off the class A vessel built in 1922 to visitors flocking to Donegall Quay, as they took a peek at life on the high seas.

"I'm in charge of navigation and safety and passage planning; I plot the charts for the journey," he said.

It is his first time in Northern Ireland, but the Lisbon native had a surprising first port of call landside - a discount chain store.

"Every time I come to the UK I go there and buy lots of chocolate and bring it back home to Portugal," he explained.

Life on the Santa Maria Manuela is hard work, but the holidays are good.

"I work for six months of the year and for the rest I relax," he said with a glint in his eye.

As the Tall Ships depart local waters in a few days, Luis will be navigating the course to Norway. As well as his crew, he will be bringing 10 lucky young people from Northern Ireland selected to live the Tall Ships experience for 10 days. "We'll show them how to do everything and to experience what it's like to work on a boat like this."

As for life at sea, Luis said: "I love it, that's why I'm here."

With bleached eyebrows and a deep tan evidence of a life outdoors, Dutch sailor Jakob Fremgen agreed.

"It's much better than an office job, though I have to do a little bit of paper work sometimes," he said.

Standing aboard the imposing class A Morgenster from The Netherlands, the 25-year first mate has been working on the 46-metre brig for the last two years of the ship's 96-year history.Jakob's ship will be teeming with 36 local sailors who will literally be shown the ropes of the boat, its galley and navigation system en route to Norway.

After that, Jakob and his crew head out to Cape Verde off the west coast of Africa, where he'll be among crews taking holidaymakers of tours around the islands.

No wonder he says it'll be a job "for life" for him. At Albert Quay, another class A naval ship, the Orp Iskra, has the best view of the impressive angles of the Titanic Belfast building.

Officer Paul Talaga (32) says he's keen to get a glimpse inside, but admits he wonders what he'll find.

"It looks very interesting but I'm wondering what's inside because the Titanic is below sea," he said.

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