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Tall Ships

What is a Tall Ship?

A tall ship is a traditionally rigged sailing craft. They differ from more modern sailing vessels in that they do not use newer materials (such as aluminium and steel) and have more complex rigging as a result. Traditional rigging may take the form of square rigs and gaff rigs, with separate topmasts and topsails. Popular modern tall ship rigs include topsail schooners, brigantines, brigs, and barques. The term tall ship has come into widespread use in the mid-20th century with the advent of Tall Ships’ races.

Visitors will be able to board the tall ships Matthew, Phoenix, Ruth and Belle Angele on Saturday 25 and Sunday 27 May on production of a valid Tall Ships Festival Wristband.

Sailing schedule of the tall ships and the Amazon

The Matthew

Built: 1994-96 in Bristol, UK
Length overall: 24 metres
Beam: 6.5 metres

The Matthew is a full size replica of John Cabot’s ship which charted North America in 1497. She retraced the famous journey of her namesake in 1997 for the 500th anniversary of the voyage carrying the same number of crew and taking the same amount of time to reach Newfoundland. Not everything is exactly the same as the original though. The new Matthew uses some modern building materials such as aluminium bronze bolts rather than hand-wrought iron bolts or wooden nails to hold the planks in place. She also has radar, satellite communication, global positioning, an engine (for safe sailing in the busy seaways of the 20th century,) and a crew who stand a greater chance of survival when at sea as a result! Today, the Matthew is mainly based in Bristol Harbour taking visitors on short cruises. 

The Phoenix

Built:1929 in Frederikshavn, Denmark
Length overall: 34 metres
Beam: 6.5 metres

The Phoenix began life as an evangelical mission schooner for 20 years before becoming a cargo vessel. She was purchased by new owners in 1974 who converted her into a brigantine (the favoured ship of many pirates!) In 1991, she was converted in a Spanish-style caravel to double as Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria for Ridley Scott’s ‘1492: Conquest of Paradise.’ She kept the name for a few years because of the interest in the film. She was reconverted into a two-masted 18th century brig in 1996 because of the increasing demand for period square riggers, and reverted back to her original name of The Phoenix of Dell Quay.

The Ruth

Built: 1914 in Rää, Sweden.
Length overall: 20 metres
Beam: 6 metres

Originally a cargo ship transporting ceramic pots and stoneware for the famous Swedish company Höganas, The Ruth had her first engine fitted in 1922. She continued delivering her cargoes during the Second World War and travelled as far as France and Iceland. She changed hands in 1941 and continued her work as a Baltic trading vessel, transporting all manner of goods including unwanted fish to auction in Gothenburg. After laying idle she was rescued and restored in 1964 and began life as a sailing schooner. After stints as a charter ship and providing educational trips around Sweden, the Baltic Trader now runs charters out of Penzance in Cornwall.

La Belle Angèle

Built: 1991 in Pont Aven, France
Length overall: 24.5 metres
Beam: 4.6 metres

La Belle Angele is an elegant tall ship built in the busy French port of Pont Aven in Brittany. Built in 1991, she was a labour of love for a group of enthusiasts who wanted to restore a tall ship and see it based in Pont Aven. The hull was transported to Brittany in July of that year, while the rest of the design was inspired by plans and photographs of a ship from 1870, L'Utile. Whilst she used many of the same materials as the ship she was inspired by, the linen sails were replace with synthetic material for the modern vessel. La Belle Angele debuted at the 1992 Brest Regatta. The ship takes her name from a painting by influential post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin, who frequented the artist colony in Pont-Aven. Gloucester Tall Ships 2013 will be the first UK event of its kind that she will be have taken part in.

Other Ships and Boats 


Built: 1885 in Southampton, UK
Length overall: 31 metres
Beam: 4.6 metres 

Amazon is a most unusual vessel and is a rare survivor of the Victorian era. She was built as a screw schooner (a power-driven vessel with sails) and was steam-powered until her original engine was removed in 1937. In 1914 she was already too old-fashioned to be taken into service during the First World War because of her coal fired compound steam engine. She was built by the first owner (a Hampshire landowner and later MP) as a tribute to his young bride (an Amazon being ‘tall, strong and athletic’). Amazon has the distinct honour of being the only vessel that was present at both maritime Diamond Jubilee celebrations; she was a spectator yacht at the Royal Fleet Review for Queen Victoria in 1897 and was in the Pool of London for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 3 June 2012. A unique ‘double’. It will not be possible to go on board Amazon.

The Blue Launch

Built: 1885 in Southampton, UK
Length overall: 7 metres
Beam: 2.4 metres

The Blue Launch, a replica of a cutter from the time of Nelson's Navy, was built from actual 18th century boat plans held at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. It was built entirely by members of the by the Historical Maritime Society. The 12-oar launch was recently uprated to a gaff-rigged sailing launch, or cutter. A cutter is a working boat, designed for transport (including a company of Royal Marines, or soldiers), transfer of crews, provisions - including beer and water barrels. The Blue Launch holds a crew of 12 men, and has an armament of a 12 pounder carronade.

Hereford Bull

Built: 2012 in Gloucester, UK

Length overall: 11 metres

Hereford Bull was built last year to represent the county of Herefordshire at the Thames Pageant to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Constructed from wood, the vessel was built by Tommy Nielsen’s boatyard in Gloucester from the measurements of an old trow found at Lydney. Two or three centuries ago, boats like these were used on the rivers Wye and Severn to take cargo to Bristol, where they would be loaded onto boats and taken around the world. Normally, the Bull would have a square sail on a mast to help her six rowers, but to fit under the bridges today, she’s wearing a special, shorter mast.

Massey Shaw

Built: 1935 in Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK

Length overall: 24 metres

The Massey Shaw is one of London’s un-sung heroes on the Thames. Built in 1935, the fireboat served the London Fire Brigade until 1971. During World War II she took part in Operation Dynamo to rescue soldiers from the beaches at Dunkirk, ferrying 500 men to the warships and bringing over 100 men back to England. During the Blitz, Massey Shaw pumped vast quantities of water from the Thames to fight fires along the Thames waterfront.

Sula Lightship

Built: 1958 in Beverley, Yorkshire, UK

Length: 35m

Sula Lightship is a registered National Historic Vessel and is one of the best preserved lightships in the world. Very few lightships remain as manned lightships have been replaced with automatic buoys or unmanned light vessels. The ‘Sula’ was an active light vessel on the Spurn Humber station, off the east coast of England from 1959-1985. She was built in Beverley, Yorkshire, and was crewed with 7 men. Since 1985, she was moored in Guernsey, Milford Haven and Ireland until 2007 when she was towed to the Sharpness boatyard, where conversion to her current role as a centre for complementary therapies took place. The lightship is also partially open for the general public as a tourist attraction.

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