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The Tall Ships Races, Greenock 9 - 12 July 2011 by Helen Drummond, Project Manager, Sail Inverclyde. Scottish Region meeting of 14 September 2011 in Glasgow.

Helen Drummond began her presentation with a brief history of the Tall Ships Races. The first event took place in 1956 and was organized by a London lawyer, Bernard Morgan, who intended the event to be a last farewell to the era of sailing ships. However, public interest was such that a revival was started and today more ships than ever take part in the annual event. It also led to the foundation of the Sail Training Association which now has two ships and also to Sail Training International.

Initially the event was sponsored by Cutty Sark whisky and was called "The Cutty Sark Tall Ships' Races" during this period, but after some 25 years of sponsorship, with some countries introducing bans on advertising of alcoholic drinks at sporting events, the sponsorship was not renewed and a new sponsor was sought. For the last four years this has been the Polish city of Szczecin.

The Tall Ships Races take place every summer and ports are selected 4 years in advance. The process commences with bids being sought and in 2006 17 ports were asked to bid for the 2011 event. Bids include a business plan, marketing plan and budgets. Port selection is based on written submissions and the geographic location so as to allow 7 days sailing between ports.

The 2011 event started at Waterford in Ireland, with ships visiting Greenock, Lerwick, Stavanger and finishing at Halmstad in Sweden. The posts selected must work together and ships need to be encouraged to take part due to the financial considerations. Many organize "on deck" corporate events or seek recruits to sail with them and it can cost up to £1,000 to sail with a ship.

Once a port has been selected a Port Committee is required, so Sail Inverclyde Limited was set up with Clydeport, Riverside Inverclyde and Inverclyde Council being participants. The board was drawn from members of these organizations and a management team was appointed. Working groups were set up to look at various aspects of the event, for example, the Traffic Management Group, the Finance Group, the Marketing Group, etc.

The Infrastructure Group had perhaps the biggest job as it had to consider how people arrived, departed and moved around the venue and what facilities would be required. The last time the Tall Ships visited Greenock, in 1999, the provision of Park and Ride caused concern and a lot of parking was provided at Bishopton, the Phoenix Retail Park and at Inverkip Estate and there were 8,000 users resulting in a loss of around £500,000 for this facility.

Given this experience, it was decided not to provide park and ride for the 2011 event, especially as First Scotrail now have a specialist events team and there is a better bus network. However, the emergency services objected as there was a need to ensure that the main A8 remained open at ll times as it is the main arterial route in Inverclyde so it was felt that the additional traffic could cause problems.

The decision was taken to provide Park and Ride and two large parking areas were secured, one at Inchinnan with 6,000 spaces and the other at IBM with 2,000 spaces. There was much deliberation as to what to charge and it was decided to charge £15 per car irrespective of the number of passengers. This turned out to be too high and resulted in a loss of £122,000.

There is a lot of volunteer support for such events and with 54 ships from 13 countries, there were 1,732 people on the ships with only 44 from Scotland. A liaison officer was appointed for each ship to assist with whatever was needed and there were 120 liaison officers in total. They all required local knowledge, sailing knowledge and language skills. There were also volunteers with the administration of the event and some 25 community groups were also involved.

There were a number of challenges to consider. In 1999 the ships had been able to dock near to the town centre, but as this has now been redeveloped it was decided to move to James Watt Dock and Inchgreen. At James Watt Cock it required refurbishment of the old Sugar Warehouse. There was also a traffic management and budget issues to resolve to keep the event within the budget that had been set at £2.6 million.

The event was aimed at exceeding visitor expectations and in 1999 the weather had been superb with four days of cloudless skies. This year, the forecast was for unpredictable weather. Another problem was that the site at James Watt Dock and Inchgreen was not of the same quality as the town centre had been in 1999, so it was for those reasons that the "Sugar Sheds" were to be used and this was their first use since United Molasses moved out many years ago. A better events programme was provided too.

So what were the highs and lows? The most impressive ship to attend was the "Gloria", the official flagship and sail-training ship of the Colombian Navy, but all ships were impressive in their own way. The entertainment programme was very successful and included a range of acts. International star Lulu and the group Deacon Blue headed the list and there were four entertainment areas. One of the highlights was the display by the Red Arrows who provided their full 25 minute display. There was also a firework display and the company that provided this did so free of charge in return for the advertising.

But it was not all high points. There were a couple of low points and one areas that led to most complaints was the provision of toilets. These had been provided by the company that is providing the facilities for the Olympic games and were brand new. Although plans had been made in accordance with the guidance for such events and were based on 50,000 people being on site, it soon became clear that more facilities were needed and more portable toilets were hastily organized.

There were also issues with the disabled car parking facilities in that the surfacing caused problems for wheelchair users. Signage was also criticized, although everything was signed and site plans were provided. Special signs were put up on the main roads and motorway and Transport Scotland arranged for the variable message signs to provide information and direction.

Overall, the event was a success and had a major economic impact on the area with an estimated £10.4 million being brought into the local economy in return for the outlay of £2.6 million. There were around 700,000 visitors to the event which was free to visitors.

Helen Drummond answered a number of questions from the audience before the Chairman, Derek Halden proposed the vote of thanks and presented her with a pair of the Scottish Region's engraved glasses as a memento of the evening.

The Scottish Region would like to thank Glasgow City Council for hosting the event.

Report by John Fender.


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