WITH just over four weeks to go before Waterford becomes the first Irish city to host the start of the Tall Ships' Races, final preparations are continuing to ensure everything runs smoothly for the four-day event.
Ninety-one tall ships crewed by more than 3,000 sailors and trainees arrive in the 48 hours up to midday on July 6. Hailing from 21 countries, the ships are expected to bring upwards of 250,000 visitors to Waterford's historic quays in the four days to July 9, when the annual race series will begin with the ships sailing for northern France.
Nicky Fewer, chairman of Waterford's Tall Ships coordinating team, said he is confident the people of Waterford will join visitors from across Europe for what promise to be four of the most remarkable days the port city have ever witnessed.
"There is no precedent in Waterford for an event of this magnitude and while we've obviously a lot of work to do in the next month or so, I'm very confident that everything will run smoothly.
"There's a real sense of anticipation building around the city and across the south-east at this stage and a growing awareness that this really is an outstanding opportunity to showcase our region in the eyes of the world."
Thirty two of the ships scheduled to sail from Waterford in July come from Britain; eight each from Poland and the Netherlands; six each from Belgium, Russia and Germany; four from Spain; three each from France and Ireland; two each from Finland and USA and one each from Denmark, Lithuania, Uruguay, Norway, Indonesia, Bulgaria, Northern Ireland, Portugal, Oman, Latvia and India.
The ships due in Waterford include 28 of the largest 'Class A' vessels, among them the Russian ships Kruzenshtern, at 113.5 metres and Mir, at 109m.
Other ships likely to attract particular interest are the three Irish entrants, Dunbrody, Jeanie Johnston and Asgard II as well as Dewaruci, an Indonesian tall ship "adopted" by the City of Waterford following last year's tsunami disaster in Asia.
A comprehensive shore-based programme of entertainment is also planned and this will reflect the international nature of the event.
Seven outdoor stages dotted through the city centre will feature free performances each day from Wednesday-Friday, July 6-8, by almost 40 bands including acts from Japan, Trinidad, Britain and the US.
The stages sited at John Roberts Square; Greyfriars; Henrietta St; Keyser St; Barronstrand St; Gladstone St and William Vincent Wallace Plaza will have individual musical themes.
The festival climax will feature a spectacular fireworks display entitled 'Suirfire' at 11pm on Friday, July 8, which will light up the skies above the tall ships berthed on the River Suir ahead of their departure on the following morning.
Another festival highlight will be the traditional Crews Parade which will see crew members from each of the participating tall ships parade in formation through the city streets, from Ballybricken to the People's Park, Lombard St, on the afternoon of Thursday, July 7.
Musical highlights will include performances by the Renegade Steel Orchestra; Cuisle; Jimmy Crowley; Waterford's own Brendan Bowyer; Los Albertos; Weapons of Sound; Waterford City Brass; Rough Deal String Band; Mugenkyo and the Bagdaddies, while street theatre performances will also enliven the streets.
Additional musical treats with a nautical theme include performances by local sea shanty group Hooks & Crooks and a group travelling from Whidbey Island on the northwest coast of the United States, called Shifty Sailors.
Funderland will have a funfair on the north side of the Suir for the week commencing July 3. This will feature Ireland's biggest roller coaster and a giant Ferris wheel that will provide some of the best views of the assembled fleet of tall ships.
A series of educational events and exhibitions with a maritime theme will also take place to coincide with the races, with venues to include the Municipal Gallery at Greyfriars; City Library at Lady Lane; Waterford Treasures at the Granary and Garter Lane Theatre.
The Tall Ships' Races are organised each year by Sail Training International as a means of bringing together sail training tall ships from around the world in friendly competition and a key rule of the races is that at least half of each crew must be aged between 15 and 25 years, with more than 50 of this year's trainee cohort originating from Irish schools and colleges.