Tall Ships gave Belfast a £10m windfall, let's get them back
Hopes for armada's return, but it will be 2019 at the earliest
As the Tall Ships sailed into the distance, Belfast's Lord Mayor said he hoped to see the £10 million festival return to local shores as soon as possible.
Arder Carson hailed the outstanding success of last week's festival, which attracted more than 500,000 visitors and looks set to double the £5m estimated income for the city.
The soonest possible year the Tall Ships could return is 2019 when the event is due to be held somewhere in north west Europe.
It's understood that race organiser, Sail Training International, is keen for the event to visit Belfast for a fourth time.
But we will have to wait until December this year when the host cities for the 2019 Tall Ships race are due to be announced.
The Sinn Fein first citizen also paid tribute to agencies across the city who contributed to the event's success.
"This has been a shining example of multi-agency excellence, all partners working together for the good of our city," he said.
"The buzz created in Belfast was amazing. This was a free event and locals as well as visitors enjoyed all that was on offer.
"The event organisation was superb and we look to be well on target to reaping the economic windfall of around £10m that we had hoped for."
He added: "Yet again, Belfast has been showcased on an international stage and proved it punches well above its weight when it comes to staging world class events."
The fleet of 46 sailing vessels drew record crowds to Belfast, making it one of the biggest events to be staged in the province.
During five fabulous days docked in Belfast one ship recorded its highest ever number of visitors.
Brazilian vessel The Cisne Branco had 32,000 visitors on board during its stay in Belfast, the highest number it has recorded anywhere in the world.
But the fun of the festival was just a fond memory yesterday as crews were at action stations for the start of their arduous race to Norway.
The recent run of good weather was never going to last and it was a dismal and drizzly farewell yesterday as the ships mustered five miles off the Co Antrim coast.
The first leg of the challenge sees the various classes of sailing vessel go hell for leather from Portrush to Aalesund in Norway before racing again from Kristiansand to Aalborg in Denmark.
Crowds climbed hills and lined the cliffs along the coast near the seaside town for a glimpse of the fleet before it set off.
The new mayor of the Causeway Coast and Glens, Michelle Knight-McQuillan, waved the ships off at the start line from an RNLI lifeboat.
"It was great to see them up close and in action, with the guys in the rigging getting themselves prepared for the race, to see the work that's involved is an absolutely amazing opportunity," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"To be honest, I'm not a great sailor, but it was probably the excitement and the sights that I was going to see, I just forgot all about seasickness, you're in awe of everything that's going on.
"It was also great to look back at Portrush and see how many spectators were up on the hills with binoculars trying to see the start; there were even a number of small boats (which) went out to wish them well.
"I think the people on the Tall Ships appreciated it as they were all waving back at the small boats."
She added: "Sadly it was a bit grey, but it was still a brilliant opportunity to see the ships and it did bring people along to our coastline."
Due to the different types of ships taking part the race is a timed event with each vessel given half-an-hour to cross a set GPS starting point.
The first ships to get under way yesterday were the class A vessels, which crossed the start line at around 1pm, with classes B, C and D starting after 2pm.
The route will take them past the Outer Hebrides and the Shetland Islands before a dash across the North Sea to Norway.