he Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge 2009 was organised by Sail Training International, together with the American Sail Training Association, to provide a challenging race that circled the North Atlantic, following the traditional trading route of sailing ships over the centuries taking full advantage of prevailing winds.
The fleet gathered in Vigo on the northwest corner of Spain (30 April – 3 May) for the start of the first race in the series, 900 nautical miles south-south-west to Tenerife in the Canary Islands (14 – 17 May). From there, the fleet raced the 2,600 nautical miles westward across the Atlantic to Bermuda (11 – 15 June) where the ships and crews formed the centrepiece of the island’s celebrations of its 400th anniversary.
The fleet then raced to Charleston on the US east coast (25 – 29 June) before proceeding to Boston, Mass (8 – 13 July). The fleet then took part in a quick cruise in company of a further 370 miles northnorth- east to Halifax, Canada (16 – 20 July), where celebrations included the 250th anniversary of the Naval Port. The final race started on Monday 20 July for the 2,350 nautical miles eastbound across the North Atlantic to Belfast, Northern Ireland (13 – 16 August) where the series’ grand finale celebrations were held.
As with all Sail Training International races and regattas, a Friendship Trophy was awarded to a vessel that, in the opinion of all the captains and crews, did the most to promote friendship and understanding. In the final prize giving in Belfast, this prestigious prize was awarded to the Dutch naval vessel Urania.
The Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge will be remembered for many reasons. Many friendships had been formed over the months, so it was a bittersweet farewell when the fleet finally left Belfast.