Sixteen vessels from eight different nations have signed up to participate in next summer's Tall Ships Races so far.

Lerwick is one of the host ports for the 2023 event, traditionally one of the highlights of the global sailing calendar, and it is hoped that around 50 ships will ultimately take part.

Two enduringly popular visitors to Lerwick Harbour, the Statsraad Lehmkuhl and Christian Radich, are among six ‘class A’ ships that have officially signed up since registration opened earlier this summer.

Both are Norwegian registered vessels and between them can accommodate over 200 trainees and 60 crew members.

Joining them will be a quartet of ships from both Belgium and Poland, two Danish ships and one vessel apiece from Germany, Latvia and the Netherlands. Shetland’s own, much-treasured sail training ship The Swan has also signed up.

The largest vessel to confirm so far is the Dar Mlodziezy, a Polish ship measuring 109 metres and weighing some 2,255 tonnes, with the largest of its towering masts reaching a height of 49.5 metres. She can accommodate 130 trainees and 32 crew.

The first ship to sign up was the Zenobe Gramme, a 60-year-old class C former Belgian Navy vessel whose home port is Brussels. She is named after the scientist who invented the dynamo, and can accommodate 10 trainees and seven crew.

Other ships offering a nod to major historical figures are the class A ship Fryderyk Chopin, named after the nineteenth century Polish composer, and the German-registered Roald Amundsen, named after the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911.

When Lerwick last hosted the races in 2011 there was a fleet of 52 ships and, although numbers were somewhat lower in 2022 on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, organisers are expecting a similar number of ships to come on board next year.

Shetland Tall Ships manager Emma Miller said there had been a steady stream of sign-ups already, and that is likely to continue through the winter as publicity for the event increases either side of the International Sail Training & Tall Ships Conference in Gran Canaria in November.

“It’s really exciting to see ships actually starting to sing up, because it makes the event feel all the more closer,” she said.

“It’s great to see the class As coming on board, because it’s such a fantastic spectacle when they’re in the harbour, and the smaller ships too, because they offer such a brilliant and personal sail training experience to young folk.

“It’s been really good to get the first few signed up and we’re aware of ongoing discussions where there’s really positive feedback coming from other ships that we’d be really pleased to see joining us.”

Lerwick will be a host port for the 2023 Tall Ships Races between 26-29 July next year. It is the third time it has hosted the fleet following previous visits in 1999 and 2011.

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