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Tall Ships: Samba and sails as crews prepare for a Brazil-iant festival in Belfast

By Joanne Sweeney

Samba beats blared out of the Cisne Blanco as the Brazilian Navy proudly announced its arrival at the Tall Ships Festival in Belfast.

The waters around the back of the Odyssey arena rippled in time to the beat as the 50 vessels started to arrive for the massive four-day maritime event.

The mood was perfectly chilled out as sightseers and day-trippers got a chance to see the majestic boats arrive - and watch their crews at work and at play.

Ships such as the Santa Maria Manuela from Portugal and the Dutch Atyla slipped silently into the Abercorn Basin.

They were joined by the Norwegian 25-metre vessels - the Wyvern and Wyvern Av Aalesund - and the smaller ships Clyde Challenger and the Huff of Arklow.

Decorated by colourful flag bunting strung from bow to stern, they made Belfast look suitably shipshape.

With the temperature at a pleasant 22C when there was a break in the overcast sky, crew and spectators savoured the occasion.

The Brazilians were a lot noisier compared to Ecuadorian naval ship the Guayas, which was across the harbour at Pollock Dock. Also berthed at Pollock is a Royal Navy Type 23 frigate, the imposing HMS Northumberland.

On Sunday at midday she sails out to lead the Parade of Tall Ships out of port.

Then the epic Tall Ships Race 2015 starts on Monday but, until then, it's rest and relaxation time for the 65 crew members, which includes 15 officers. There was still some maintenance work to be done and those on the walkway seemed entranced by the young blue boiler-suited crew members who scaled up the nearly 50m high mast to carry out their work.

The officers and crew stood out with their impeccable white and navy uniforms and deeply tanned faces.

Some of the Norwegian sailors, however, were definitely not in uniform.

They added to the relaxed vibe as some of the crew enjoyed a late lunch dining bare-chested on board. They kicked back with a glass of wine as spectators watched their every move.

The city felt distinctly international as tanned crew members from the Tall Ships could be spotted walking about to and from their vessels.

The front of the Odyssey had been turned into an entertainment and food village with many of the vendors either setting up shop or already open for business.

One half of its car park had been turned into a fun park with other marquees and shops surrounding it.

For those who wandered down to the harbour, they felt that they had got a sneak peek into what is to come.

Florence McNeely from Holywood, Co Down, was fascinated at how high the crew members were working on the masts, as was her six-year-old nephew Kieran Irvine.

"This really doesn't feel like Belfast at all, it's absolutely brilliant today", said Florence, who plans to return during the festival.

"This is Kieran's first day off school so I thought I would bring him into town to have a look.

"He's fascinated at how tall the Branco is and all the jellyfish in the water."

A rare day off for Philip and Irene Brown from Ballymena turned out to be the right choice to get a feel for what the maritime festival will bring.

"I have to say I'm really impressed with this, but the weather really makes it," said Philip.

Irene added: "I'm glad that we called into Belfast or we would have missed this. We might decide to come back."

Yvonne and Geoffrey Cochrane from Banbridge, Co Down, were in town ahead of last night's Neil Diamond concert at the Odyssey.

"That fella has the right idea," said Geoffrey, referring to the Norwegians enjoying their glass of wine with their lunch. "This could be anywhere in the world right now."

Yvonne added: "We are heading back home tomorrow but it would be a shame to miss this so we might come back with our grandchildren."

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