Following our excursion to Bristol to see the SS Great Britain, which I blogged about a couple of days ago, our bank holiday weekend of messing around on boats continued on Saturday when we went along to the Gloucester Tall Ships Festival at Gloucester Docks.
The Tall Ships Festival is an excellent event, taking place every other year. Contrary to expectations of Bank Holiday weather, the sun shone: so much so in fact that I sunburnt my head and spent the next couple of days resembling a belisha beacon.
For the first time it was decided to charge an entry fee this year: Two pounds for a day pass and £6 for a weekend pass, which also allowed you to get into the museums for free. Despite only being available to go along for one day, I nonetheless bought weekend passes in advance and was glad I did: the queues for day passes were lengthy!
Gloucester people like to have a good moan, so the decision to charge entry was predictably met with horror by some and there were on-line comments about boycotting the event. This struck me as ridiculous – where else can you get a whole days entertainment for £2 with free entry for kids? The only comments I heard on the day were exclamations of incredulity that the event was so cheap.
There were six tall ships in attendance: Morgenster, Atyla, Johanna Lucretia, Keewaydin, Vilma and, in the dry dock, the Earl of Pembroke.
You could get on board all but the last of these. The Morgenster and Atyla were on the east side of the main basin; they were the largest of the ships and, subsequently, the queues to get on were also the longest.
Around the west side of the main basin were the remaining three ships and shorter queues. Here the crews were dressed appropriately as seafarers and pirates and were encouraging participation in the singing of sea shanties as they played on ukeleles, or just to help them in their labours as they swabbed the decks.
More by luck than judgement we found ourselves aboard the Vilma at just the right moment to get prime viewing position for an impressive but distinctly non-period demonstration of flyboarding. A flyboard is a kind of jetpack, but with the jet being a jet of water supplied by an attached jet ski. The flyboarders put on a great display, reaching great heights above the main basin and performing tricks suck as ‘porpoising’ through the water.
The display completed we left the Vilma just in the nick of time as, captained by someone looking uncannily like Jack Sparrow, it decided to pick a fight with the Keewaydin moored alongside. Showing remarkable manoeuvrability in the relatively tight confines of the main basin, it sailed back and forth as the two ships fired cannons at each other.
The noise of cannon fire was deafening, causing some of the more timid spectators to leave hurriedly in search of clean underwear, and soon clouds of smoke billowed across the previously serene waters of the Docks.
Luckily some kind of understanding was finally reached and the fighting came to an end – although not before the captain of the Vilma ended up in the drink for his troubles.
Speaking of drink, we met up with friends and enjoyed the hospitality of the fine pubs in the area: Portivo Lounge, Doctor Fosters and the newly opened Tank, all of which were packed out. We also perused the market stalls around the docks, grazing on the rich variety of food on offer as we went. All in all it was an excellent way to spend a day.
Sadly I didn’t get the opportunity to explore the Shanty Festival taking place around the rest of the city, except for a brief visit to Cafe Rene. What I did hear was very good, however, so will try to do better next time.
The question is when will ‘next time’ be? As I mentioned previously, the event runs every two years, but the Citizen reports that there are calls for it to be an annual event – little wonder as it reportedly ploughed around £12 million into the city economy over the three days. This is clearly very good for the city, but I fear that it may be a step too far for the poor hardworking folks at Marketing Gloucester who are responsible for organising the event.