Hopes that a Tall Ships regatta could visit Ramsgate in 2021 as part of celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the grant of a Royal charter for the harbour by George IV have been dashed.
In May Thanet council leader Bob Bayford said the authority was ‘keen’ for the event to take place and had “agreed to pursue feasibility work,” after being contacted about the idea by a member of a Ramsgate community group.
It was hoped the traditionally-rigged sailing vessels would use Ramsgate as one of the port stops during racing in 2021 – to coincide with the 200th anniversary celebrations. The harbour received its royal status – the only one in the UK to hold such an honour – in 1821 when King George IV visited Ramsgate several times.
The Tall Ships Races are organised every year by Sail Training International.
Each year ships from around the world gather together to participate in challenging offshore and ocean racing, and to share and enjoy shoreside festivities and celebrations. Next year’s Tall Ships racing will use harbours in Denmark and Norway.
The ships would have used Ramsgate harbour for a start or finish regatta stop if the 2021 deal was agreed.
But that visit will not be made due to a problem with water depths for entering and mooring of the largest ships and because of the limited number of vessels that could be accommodated.
Paul Bishop, head of race directorate at Sail Training International, said: “Sail Training International is grateful to Thanet District Council for the interest in hosting the 2021 Tall Ships Races. We have assessed the viability and unfortunately Ramsgate Harbour does not have the technical capacity to host this event as it requires around 2kms of linear quay space, with depths of up to 7 metres, in order to host the 50 to 80 vessels that regularly take part.
“Ramsgate Harbour may be suitable for a smaller Tall Ships Regatta, which Sail Training International regularly organise in Europe in the late summer period, as the Regatta fleets can have as few as 20 smaller vessels. We are keen to keep this under review but there are no specific opportunities at this stage.
“We have recommended that Ramsgate Harbour becomes a “Sail Training Friendly Port” as this could attract regular Tall Ship visits throughout the year. This involves two main areas of commitment, the provision of free or discounted berthing facilities and an active programme of promoting and helping fund sail training opportunities for young people from the area.
“Sail Training voyages are a terrific opportunity for the personal development of young people with a sense of adventure from all backgrounds and we hope that Thanet District Council will support this initiative.
“Ramsgate Harbour has great facilities and has a long-standing reputation for looking after the needs Sail Training vessels and their crews. I have happy memories of operating STV Scott Bader Commonwealth from there in the 1980s and I would dearly like to see the harbour host a Tall Ships Regatta at some stage in the future.”
Currently the harbour depths vary between -2.0m and -2.7m although a neap tide would extend this.
Ships for a full race vary in size from the largest Class As to smaller Class Ds. Ramsgate would only be likely to offer around 20 spaces for large vessels after a programme of works.
The Tall Ships were last in Ramsgate in 2009, when there were 24 vessels. The original 2021 proposal had been for around 30 craft to visit the harbour as a Regatta stop but correspondence from TDC’s maritime service says the council would need to install concrete floating pontoons at the Outer Basin to accommodate the ships.
The maritime correspondence indicates an estimate of £2.4million for providing berthing pontoons, services and dredging or a reduced works option with an estimated cost of £300,000.
The event could have attracted between 250,000 and 500,000 spectators over a four-day period bringing in revenue of between £12m-£24 million.
A Thanet council spokesman said: “The council has had no communication with Sail Training International regarding any event. However the council was approached by a member of the public who has expressed an interest in the possibility of the Royal Harbour hosting a Tall Ships Regatta in 2021. This would coincide with the 200th anniversary of the royal charter being issued by King George IV.
“The council has looked at the possibility of hosting the Tall Ships at the harbour but due to the size and number of vessels and issues regarding public access, the amount of investment required would be significant.
“This information was fed back to the member of the public in July and no further correspondence was received.”
Sail Training International has suggested a small ships regatta could be suitable for the 2021 event.
UPDATE: ‘More work to be done’
Stephen Byrne, a member of Ramsgate Action Group who was leading plans for the event, said the Sail Training Friendly Port designation was not something the council has yet agreed to.
He added: “We need to do more work to demonstrate how we will accommodate a typical Regatta fleet of 25 vessels with a maximum draught of 4m.
“We are concerned that existing problems with the inner harbour sluice gates will reduce the available draught for some of the smaller vessels and are presently looking to investigate the exact problem. Typically, these events cost between £500,000 and £1,000,000 to organise and mount. We have been advised by TDC that the visitor access requirements for the event will cost £2,500,000 making the project uneconomical.
“However, we have now investigated how other host ports, such as Blythe, have dealt with this issue and believe we can reduce these costs to a manageable level. “
Mr Byrne said the group is hopeful an event could be arranged, although not necessarily for 2021, if the concerns of Sail Training International are addressed.