The Tall Ships Races 2009 was held in the Baltic Sea, an area that is popular with many sail training vessels, a fact that helped to swell the numbers. Over 8,000 crew, about half of which were aged between 15 and 25, took part in the event meaning yet more young people have been exposed to the excitement and challenge of taking part in a sail training voyage.
Not only did were there a record number of Tall Ships taking part in The Tall Ships Races in 2009, but a new support sponsor for the event was attracted. In addition to the support of Antwerp, Sovcomflot, Russia's biggest shipping company specialising in energy shipping, helped Sail Training International to deliver a first class event. With its base in one of the host ports, St Petersburg, Sovcomflot made a strong event even stronger for its second ever visit to the Russian city. The company already had strong links with sail training because, as part of its programme, all cadets and all staff undertake at least one voyage on Mir.
The Tall Ships Races Baltic 2009 also managed to excel in many other areas. Some of the largest Tall Ships in the world gathered in the first port of Gdynia in Poland, all moored ‘nose to tail’ in the harbour which meant spectators were able to take in the fascinating Tall Ships experience. As many of the ships were open to the public, unsurprisingly huge queues of people formed for their chance to step onboard. The event attracted some 2.5 million visitors with the Parade of Sail on the final day bringing so many people down to witness the event that even the beaches filled up with standing room only!
The second port of St Petersburg also attracted a huge crowd of over 950,000 people, a number that would have been the highest for the event in any other year. No stronger to celebrity visits, The Tall Ships Races managed quite a coup when Vladimir Putin, Chairman of the Russian Federation and Prime Minister of Russia agreed to attend the prize giving and hand out the prizes to the astounded and very proud crews. The world’s media watched as well as some 50,000 people who managed to squeeze around the stage.
Putin summed up the atmosphere in St Petersburg when he said during his welcome speech:
“There is no doubt that seeing the world's sailing fleet at its best is a memorable event. It will not leave either the racing experts or new spectators indifferent. This event will prompt even more people to experience the adventures of the sea. The dream to sail the seas will capture new imaginations, resulting in new crews setting off into the open sea.”
He continued: “I would like to emphasise the importance of the mission promoted by The Tall Ships Races. The main concept has always been to build relations between states and nations, establish direct personal contacts, develop tolerance in young people, and teach them to respect each other, and to understand diverse cultures. Every year, the regatta brings thousands of young men and women together, and knits their friendship with a tight reef knot.” The full text of Putin's speech can be downloaded here
Sail Training International couldn’t have put it better themselves!
The third port of call was Turku in Finland, which the fleet reached after an extremely enjoyable cruise through the archipelago. Turku is a relatively small Finnish port but this was its fourth time hosting the event and managed to put on an exceptional festival, attracting a very respectable 530,000 visitors.
The fourth and final port was a new one to the event, Klaipeda in Lithuania. Even though this small country had never hosted the event before three quarters of the population came down to Klaipeda to see the ships, some 1.35 million people. The final prize giving and parade of sail were both broadcast live on Lithuanian TV and the event was seen as the biggest and best festival of the entire year.