Festival begins with a bang

A VOLLEY of musket fire and the chime of bells marked the grand opening of Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival this morning.Town crier David Bullock read the official proclamation to signal the start of a weekend of seafaring action.

It started with a bang and ended as a sizzling success story.

An estimated 30,000 weekend visitors came from all over the region to enjoy Great Yarmouth's 11th Maritime Festival.

The timeless appeal of ships spanning the centuries moored alongside South Quay - once described by Daniel Defoe as “the finest quay in England if not Europe” - drew an impressive queue even ahead of Saturday's 10am opening when the East Norfolk Militia started sea-faring action with a volley of gunfire from their muskets. And Yarmouth tourism's marketing manager Kirsty Burn said the number of visitors could be gauged by the volume of sizzling herring being cooked by Hemsby's lifeboat crew.

“They bought 15st of herring with them on Saturday and they had sold out by 1.10pm,” she said.

In warm sunshine that stayed throughout the weekend, families queued to take a step back in time on the Shtandard, a three-masted replica of an 18th century Russian frigate, as well as the Lydia Eva, the last remaining steam drifter lovingly restored as a floating museum.

They were also able to savour the bygone grace of the 1915-built wherry White Moth, the 1906 shrimper Horace and Hannah and the 1921 Lowestoft smack Excelsior, officially classed as one of the 60 most historic ships in Britain.

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The current era was represented by the Gorleston RNLI and Caister independent lifeboats which gave demonstrations throughout the weekend, a UK Border Agency cutter, two offshore supply vessels and the Royal Navy's HMS Raider patrol craft.

Meanwhile, leading companies in the offshore energy industries manned a quayside marquee spelling out the still bright future for the port represented by the North Sea.

After Yarmouth Mayor Michael Jeal had finished his welcoming speech, more than 2,000 visitors poured through the gates in the first 90 minutes.

As the crowds wended their way along the site - extended this year to include Stonecutters Quay - their senses were assailed by the smell of the herring, the sound of the militia's muskets and the harmonies of shanty singers.

Throughout the festival, visitors were able to enjoy trips on both the MV Coronia, the Cobholm-built pleasure boat returning to Norfolk from Scarborough for her 75th birthday, and the Southern Belle, Yarmouth's resident pleasure cruiser.

There were demonstrations of maritime crafts such as net mending and ship building, maritime related arts and crafts, local herring and kippers, local beer and some of the finest shanty singers on three different stages. Families were entertained by The BBC Bang Goes The Theory Roadshow, staging a number of science performances on both days, fun activities laid on by the RSPB and and an invitation by Natural England to explore the hidden undersea landscapes off Yarmouth.

There were cookery demonstrations by notable local chefs, walkabout performers, including The Giant Seagulls, displays from the East Norfolk Militia and other street theatre artists as well as appearances by Admiral Lord Nelson and Lady Emma.

The town hall was open over the weekend with a display by Gorleston Model Boat Club, which even included a scaled-down Lydia Eva.