More than 350,000 people converged on the small Northumbrian port of Blyth, where HMS Grimsby, Tyne and Explorer helped the majestic tall ships on the latest leg of their summer tour.
The two warships were part of a substantial Royal Navy contingent at the four-day North Sea Tall Ships Regatta, which drew in members of the public from as far away as Birmingham, and matelots from as far away as Gosport.
Engineers from Sultan made the 720-mile round trip with three veteran helicopters – a recently-decommissioned Search-and-Rescue Sea King, Lynx and Gazelle – which were surrounded by lengthy queues throughout the event, despite never leaving the ground.
Students helped to bring P2000 HMS Explorer up the coast from Hull, then manned the Gazelle.
And reservists from HMS Calliope just down the coast in Gateshead set up a recruiting stand and were active ambassadors for the Senior Service throughout the ‘naval village’.
Their efforts helped drum up 30 potential spare-time sailors, while the local careers office proved nearly as successful with its recruiting efforts – more than two dozen genuine candidates for the Armed Forces.
A diving tank is always popular and Northern Diving Group’s water-filled glass box provided entertainment throughout.
Those who didn’t fancy getting soaked could watch the divers show off their bomb disposal skills and share their advice and guidance to members of the public considering a diving career.
A display of survival equipment also drew the crowds – thanks chiefly to the ability to don the kit, which always works with youngsters.
Other young people were providing the entertainment: cadet units from Ashington/Whitley Bay and Fenham performed music, drill and hornpipe dancing.
Grimsby’s sailors had to cope with 150 visitors flowing through her passageways every hour during the three days she was open to the public – and continued giving tours when not, this time to cadet groups and members of the RNR.
Her gangways were closed on the fourth day of the festival for she, Tyne and Explorer acted as guardships for the ‘parade of sail’ as the tall ships left British shores for Gothenburg in Sweden.
The line of 19 sailing vessels – with Tyne and Grimsby at the front and Explorer at the rear of the line – stretched for more than six miles along the coast, watched by an estimated 60,000 spectators.
“As well as being a hugely popular spectacle, the event also allowed the warships to hone their skills in tactical communication as they led the parade out of Blyth,” explained Tyne’s navigator Lt Cdr Mike Rydiard.
With the elegance of the parade over, the sailing ships lined up on the start line –the passage to Sweden is actually a 500-nautical-mile race, with the first vessels expected in Gothenburg by the weekend.
Tyne and Grimsby took up position at the pivot point of the start line, while Explorer then took up position to indicate the ‘No Go’ Zone to make sure none of the ship’s had an unfair advantage.
With the race director aboard Tyne, it was that ship’s job to signal the start of the race, which she did with several blasts on her siren
“The whole day was fantastic,” said Tyne’s Executive Officer Lt Craig Clark, who took part in the 2005 Tall Ships Race.
“It was a real privilege to be on the other side and lead the parade with Tyne representing the Royal Navy. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience which I am very fortunate to have been a part of.”