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Tall ships: Thunderous farewell to fleet on final day of festival

By Rebecca Black

Belfast said "Bon Voyage!" in a thunderous farewell to the Tall Ships with a spectacular fireworks and Red Arrows display.

Saturday night's pyrotechnic extravaganza stunned the thousands gathered at Belfast docks before the majestic Parade of Sail as the ships left on Sunday morning.

Their departure was heralded by the RAF's Red Arrows display team which tore up the sky above Belfast Lough this afternoon.

Over 50 vessels made their way out into the Irish Sea with thousands lining the shore to watch the fleet head for the race's starting point off the Co Antrim coast.

The usually business-like Belfast Lough was transformed throughout the week with stunning Tall Ships as far as the eye could see, and there was so much entertainment on display that even people suffering from seasickness would have been more than happy.

Thousands of visitors yesterday flocked to event, excitedly touring the magnificent giants of the sea.

It was like the Belfast Lough of old, when hives of freshly built ships, freight vessels and sailing boats crowded the waterway.

Indeed, the lough was a feast for the eyes - the Tall Ship flotilla, the majestic Royal Princess cruise ship and the enormous oil platform being repaired at Harland and Wolff bringing to life to our capital city.

The Tall Ships drew a diverse crowd from the diehard fans who follow them around several ports. Among their number were pensioners and parents with their excited children.

Des Butler (64) travelled to Belfast from Co Meath to see the fleet and admitted he fell into the diehard fan category, even sporting a Tall Ships T-shirt.

He added that he travelled to wherever the Tall Ships dock when they come to either the UK or Ireland.

"Let's see, I have seen them in Liverpool, Aberdeen, Cork, and this is my second time seeing them in Belfast," he said.

But he was slightly disappointed his favourite Tall Ship, the Russian vessel Mir, was not part of the fleet visiting Belfast as it is currently on its way to Norway.

"Mir means peace," he explained. "I saw it in Cork a few years ago - she was too big to get into the harbour."

Asked what it was about the Tall Ships that he loved so much, Des replied that he was not certain but thought that it might run in his family.

"My grandfather was in the British Merchant Navy so maybe it is in the genes," he said.

"I just love watching them."

There was even more anticipation about the Tall Ships from three Sea Cadets whose uniforms were freshly starched whose shoes were polished for the experience of a life time - being able to work on the vessels.

Smartly dressed eighteen-year-olds Eve Malcomson, Janice Fleming and Katy Jamieson were excitedly walking along the waterside on their way for duty on board three different ships - the Maybe Sailing, the Golden Leeuw, and the Alexander von Humboldt II.

"We are really excited to see them and to get to work on them," they said.

"The work will be general crew stuff such as the watch system - which is keeping watch - galley duty and then helping with the sailing.

"Some of us want to go on and join the Merchant Navy."

The Tall Ships were also praised this year for being more accessible than ever before.

The Black family from Belfast were delighted that one of the ships was wheelchair accessible, meaning that their 11-year-old daughter Hannah would be able to join in on the experience of going on board.

"The whole site is pretty accessible for us and it is great that one of the ships is even wheelchair accessible," her father, Stephen, said.

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