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Community / Tall ships understood to return to Lerwick in 2023

The return of the Tall Sips' races has been described as 'fantastic news' for the isles. The photo by Billy Fox shows the Dutch tall ship Morgenster leaving Lerwick at the end of the 2011 event.

LERWICK is set to host the Tall Ships’ Race in 2023 after a bid to bring the massive community event back to Shetland was successful.

The decision by Sail Training International, the organiser of the annual tall ship races, hasn’t been made public yet but in a confidential e-mail to councillors in Shetland – seen by Shetland News – chief executive Maggie Sandison confirmed that the local bid has been successful.

There is however the possibility that the event may have to be postponed by a year or two depending on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the ever-changing conditions around international travel arrangements.

A report to confirm that Shetland has been successful is due to go before councillors in April.

In November 2019 the SIC committed almost £1.4 million towards hosting the 2023 event which in 2011, the last time the tall ships came to Shetland, generated £2.5 million for the local economy.

The council hopes to recoup some of its financial commitment by applying for funding from the newly established Crown Estate fund and the Shetland Community Benefit Fund, which distributes disturbance payments from SSE Renewables, the company that owns the Viking Energy wind farm project.

Sandison’s e-mail to councillors said: “I am pleased to let you know that the bid has been successful- Sail Training International, has confirmed to us that they have selected the five Host Ports of The Tall Ships Races 2023 and Lerwick is a host port along with Den Helder, Hartlepool, Fredrikstad, and Liverpool.

“It is clearly positive news that we’ve secured the event which will be a very welcome boost to our community after lockdowns, restrictions and so many community events being cancelled.

“It will also be an opportunity to boost our tourism economy and promote Shetland as a destination to visit after the disruption and uncertainty of 2020/21.”

VisitScotland’s islands manager Steve Mathieson said that “if it goes ahead” then it would be “fantastic news” for Shetland and its tourism industry.

“The 2011 event was very successful in terms of attracting visitors, promoting Shetland as a destination, and from the figures that came out at the time it showed that it was very profitable for the local economy,” Mathieson said.

“We have started our planning towards recovery [from the Covid pandemic] now and we know it is going to be a long rebuilding process, and you have to be optimistic that by 2023 things will be normalising.

“The 2011 event was a great example of all the community and agencies working together, and I am sure it will be the same for 2023.”

The Tall Ship Races 2020 were postponed due to the Covid pandemic. In an attempt to catch up on the timetable the intention is to run two tall ship events in 2021. However there is a possibility that this may not be possible due to the pandemic.

Sandison said in her e-mail that the local company set up to deliver the local event would have contingency plans in place to should the 2023 date slip.