Races and Festivals for sail training Tall Ships really began in the mid 1950s. The idea of an international race for sail training Tall Ships, manned by crews drawn from cadets and seamen under training, and to mark what was expected to be the end of the age of sail, was first discussed informally in 1953.
The ‘Sail Training International Race Committee’ was established and plans were made for a race between Torbay in the UK and Lisbon in Portugal in July 1956.
But instead of marking the end of the age of sail, this first Tall Ships Race heralded the dawn of a new age for sailing ships and sail training.
Over the decades since, many new sail training Tall Ships have been built, big and small, and many older ships have been converted to sail training.
The fleet that participates in The Tall Ships Races in Europe has grown from just 20 in 1956 to sometimes well over 100 today.
The European races gave rise to two important developments: First, the creation of national sail training organisations around the world and second, the development of many other races, events and festivals for sail training Tall Ships.
Several races for sail training Tall Ships around the north Atlantic have been staged; in 1964, 1976, 1984, 1992, 2000 and 2009. The American Sail Training Association hold an annual series of Tall Ships Challenge events that today attracts a fleet of some 10-15 vessels. In 1997 a Tall Ships race was organised in the waters around Japan, and in 2002 one was held in waters around Korea. Special races have also been organised specifically for the smaller vessels, such as the Small Ships Races organised by the UK’s Association of Sail Training Organisations and the annual Nordic Sail involving Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
The growth of races for sail training Tall Ships also heralded the growth of maritime festivals, some including sail training Tall Ships, others specifically for them. In recent years the schedule of these events has become crowded, so in 2004 Sail Training International established its Endorsed Events programme to help coordinate dates and provide a mechanism for mutual support and promotion. This programme began in Europe but has been extended to other regions of the world.
The first Tall Ships Race in 1956 was established by an organisation called the Sail Training International Race Committee. This became a permanent body, changing over the years through other incarnations as the UK Sail Training Association, the International Sail Training Association and finally back to its roots as a new charity in 2003, Sail Training International.
Between 1973 and 2003 the event was sponsored by Cutty Sark. From 2004 to 2009 the event was sponsored by the city, province and port of Antwerp, Belgium. From 2010 to 2013 the event will be sponsored by the city of Szczecin, Poland.