This summer sees the 2013 Tall Ships Races arrive in the Baltic Sea, a most arresting sight for all those fortunate to witness over 100 magnificent seafaring vessels brought together in the ports of Helsinki and Riga over the coming days. The Tall Ships Races was first organised in 1956, in part as a way of maintaining and promoting the art of sailing to younger generations as increasing numbers of steam-powered ships took to the water as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, some of the 20 ships that participated in the very first race still ply the waters worldwide as training vessels for sailing.
The 100+ vessels taking part in the Tall Ships Races are divided into four classes – A to D – based on their size. Class A vessels are square-rigged or over 40 metres in length, the oldest of which dates back to 1914 whilst the largest has a crew of 276 people! Class B vessels meanwhile are rigged with a length of less than 40 metres and have a minimum waterline length of 9.14 metres. Class C and D vessels may conform to the same size specifications as those in class B, however they are rigged in a modern style, with class C vessels not carrying a spinnaker sail.
Arriving from Aarhus in Denmark, Helsinki marks the second of the four legs in the 2013 programme, kicking off tomorrow (Wednesday, 17th July) and running until Saturday, 20th July. There’s an official opening ceremony on the main stage of the Hietalahti market, followed by a fun ‘carnivalesque’ crew parade along Bulevardi Street on Thursday. On the bill for Friday is a fantastic fireworks show before the Parade of Sails on Saturday marking the tall ships’ departure from lunchtime onwards.
The whole event is free and there are concerts and entertainment (mainly in Finnish) across three stages until 10pm each day. Visitors will be able to tour class A and B ships between the Wednesday and Friday (ships will display their visiting times on the pier’s bulletin board) and children are well catered for too, with circus acts, face painting and puppet shows scheduled throughout the day. There’s even a dedicated napping venue!
Following the scheduled events in Helsinki, the tall ships cross the Baltic Sea towards Riga, arriving on the 25th of July for another four-day programme of activity. The cruise between Helsinki and Riga is not actually part of the competition, rather an opportunity for small groups of ships to sail together and for crews to get better acquainted. The programme in Riga follows a similar pattern to that of Helsinki, with ships open to the public on the Friday and Saturday (26th and 27th July) and special events laid on, before departing once again (this time racing) to their final Baltic destination, Szczecin in Poland.