Now, it’s not every day that you stroll down your city’s promenade to see the place transformed into the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. In the summer of 2005 though, that’s exactly what happened to my home town of Waterford. And it’s safe to say that the Tall Ships left their mark.
After that day, any time I walked into a local pub, shop or restaurant, people would be leaning over counters, arms aloft, recreating the moment when the masts glided majestically into view and Waterford became home to Blackbeards and buckaneers and rang with sea shanties. The good news is that for four days from June 30th it’s all happening again and Waterford’s quay will host over 70 nautical wonders as the Tall Ships make their merry way back for another seaside sojourn.
I could tell you that the four days is a festival of music (I’m hugely excited about seeing rockabilly Imelda May sing her heart out), food, and fireworks – and it is. But I remember it through sounds, sights, and tastes, all of which have logged in my memory like a summer scrapbook. So if you’ll take my advice and set sail over here in time, I’d like to offer you a little preview…
Now I’m not exactly a seasoned seafarer. In fact, my only real experience of water is taking a ferry. When I was six. And asleep. But I’ve just discovered I’ve been missing out on the oh-so-romantic sound of sails fluttering against the wind. As those mighty ships hove into view, the excitement builds, and thrilled voices carry through the crowd as kids are hoisted up on Dad’s shoulders for better views. And even with all that noise, all that my ears heard was that delightful fluttering of the sail gently flapping against the mast. It’s enough to make a man board a tall ship of his own…
Seafood, seafood, seafood. Naturally I’m biased, but Waterford must have the best in the world. I remember hitting the prom and the pied-piper like smell of garlic prawns teasing me all the way to the seafood stall where I walked through an imaginary door into culinary heaven. While there’s lots to be said for an elegant meal in a Michelin-star like The Cliff House, I’ve never been happier than sitting quayside with that bucket of hot, buttery, garlic prawns. Finger-licking isn’t mandatory, but I bet you won’t be able to help yourself.
Part of me thinks that a higher power knows when the Tall Ships Race comes to Waterford. Why? Because the 4 days of the ships’ visit are bathed in the kind of sunshine that you would expect to enjoy travelling with Captain Bligh on the south seas. During the day my pals and I would slip in and out of the markets and stalls (the young ones are very excited about minting their own coins this year) bopping along with the crowd to music banging from the live stage and all the while a big yellow sun would hang in the sky heating the water and giving me the finest farmer’s tan in the city. But really, it’s the evening when the magic really happens. The sun turns to dark gold and evaporates over the horizon, before the moon illuminates the hulls and the hulking masts of the ships that look for all the world that they’ve sailed out of a child’s bedtime story. Then, as if all that weren’t enough, the sky erupts with a multicoloured bang of fireworks and we all stand there gazing open-mouthed with our faces lit up by trails of green, pink and red.
I’d like to say that my friends and I walk home yapping incessantly about what we’ve just seen throwing our arms aloft mouthing the booms and the squeals of the fireworks. But the thing is, we’re totally quiet, each of us adding the images, the tastes and the sounds to our own summer scrapbook. On June 30th when the Tall Ships roll into town I’ll be opening that book again and I’d love for you to come and do the same.