Sunderland will not only host the Tall Ships Race in 2018, it will be the starting point for the sea-faring spectacular.
It’s been announced that the River Wear will launch the world famous race in 2018 with more than 70 vessels arriving from July 11 that year, ahead of the start date of July 14.
A host of cultural activity will take place on the banks either side of the river to mark the historic milestone.
The announcement was made on board Stavros S Niarchos, a 200ft two-masted brig who is visiting the city until Sunday.
Coun John Kelly, portfolio holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture, said: “To be selected as the start port for the Tall Ships Race is both an honour and a welcome challenge.
“Now, securing starting port status for the Tall Ships Races 2019 means we’ve got the icing on the cake. It’s absolutely fantastic for Sunderland.”
Branding for the race, which is set to attract thousands of people to Sunderland, has also been unveiled.
Coun Kelly added: “It’s a really positive story for the region. We are already working on the plans for the cultural activity which will take place on either side of the river.
“Plans are also in place to dredge the river ahead of the race. We are also working hard on the legacy of the race. If we can host a race like this, we need to be able to capitalise upon it. Sunderland is very much a river city, with a city centre that’s very close to the river. With the new Keel Square development, we have some great opportunities for engagement activities. We want to put on a first class show and give people a lasting memory of the event.”
The races bring hundreds of sail training places and volunteering opportunities for young people. They can be part of a trainee crew developing new skills as they sail on the ships in the races, or as volunteers helping to deliver events.
Roy Love, Captain of the Stavros S Niarchos, said: “We sailed into Sunderland last night and it was a lovely, flat calm sea. There was lots of cheering and applauding as we sailed in.
“There will be a lot bigger ships than her in the Tall Ships Race, she’s about midrange, but she’s pretty representative of what you will see. I think it will be great for Sunderland.”
Gary Hutchinson, commercial director of Sunderland AFC and chairman of the Sunderland Business Group, said the arrival of a Tall Ship in the waters of the Wear was a great way to mark the countdown to the Tall Ships 2018.
He said: “The Tall Ships Race is a huge opportunity for the city to have its name heard around the world, and - though 2018 may seem a long way off – it will be here before we know it.
“To hear the news today that the 2018 event will start off in Sunderland means that an international spotlight will shine on the city, and that is something to be proud of.
“The event will undoubtedly provide a huge boost to our city, putting Sunderland on the map, as well as the wider region. We have a stunning waterfront – and hosting the Tall Ships will provide a great opportunity to show that off, and promote our fantastic city by the sea.”
He added: “The first visit from a Tall Ship signals the beginning of an exciting build up to the race and we really look forward to welcoming the world to Sunderland in 2018.”
Stavros is the largest brig to have been built in the UK in the last century and was commissioned in 2000. She is 200ft long (197ft/59.4m) and has masts rising to nearly 150ft (148ft/45m).
The brig is named after the Greek businessman and sailor who died in 1996.
She will be open to the public tomorrow from noon to 5pm.
Visitors to the ship should enter the Port of Sunderland by the Low Street Gate. There is no parking available on-site and limited street parking in the immediate area. Drivers are advised to park in the city centre - at St Mary’s or Sunniside multi-storeys - and walk for ten minutes to Low Street.
Admission is free, but donations to the Tall Ships Youth Trust are very welcome.
Young people are being given the chance to sail the open seas on Stavros.
There are around a dozen places left to board the ship on Sunday and sail with her for five days, departing at Blyth on Friday.
The cost is usually £479, plus £18 insurance. This was reduced to £199 and now, with a bursary from the Northumberland branch of the Tall Ships Youth Trust, the cost is £100, plus insurance.
The places are open to 12-15-year-olds.
Anyone interested can visit the ship today or contact the secretary of the Northumberland branch, Mike Bloomfield, on 07745 868 255.
The 2018 race dates are:
•Race 1 - Sunderland (July 11-14) to Esbjerg, Denmark (July 18-21)
•Cruise in Company: Esbjerg - Stavanger, Norway (July 21-July 26)
•Race 2: Stavanger (July 26-29) to Harlingen, The Netherlands (August 3-6)