A few years ago Irish Sea Shipping - The Online Shipping Magazine had some caustic comments to make about the Mersey River Festival being past its sell by date. It was pleasing to note that the Festivals held in 2003 and 2004 were significant improvements.
Whilst from a personal point of view I often think too much emphasis is placed on the non nautical side of the Festival which detracts from the overall Maritime theme I do recognise that some additional attractions are needed to interest those who probably would not bother coming down to the River Mersey.
This year, however, things appear to have gone wrong again on a number of fronts, not withstanding an interesting selection of visiting vessels.
IS THIS THE INFORMATION AGE?
The first problem concerns advanced information, or more exactly the lack of it!
In 2004 information about the forthcoming River Festival was available on an informative and well designed web site www.merseyriverfestival.co.uk.
This web site was available from early 2004, and as the weeks went by it was possible to build up a picture of vessels attending the event as well a other attractions.
The 2004 festival web site remained available until early 2005 and one realistically hoped that come spring information concerning the 2005 event would start to appear.
However, instead of being updated the web address was configured to redirect visitors to the Liverpool Culture company's Liverpool 08 web site at www.liverpool08.com.
The Liverpool 08 Site offered the scantest of information about the River Festival and other "Sea Liverpool" events has been posted. Basically confirming the dates and providing a contact information line phone number.
In this day and age, when the internet provides for the first port of call for those trying to get information about events, places to visit, family attractions etc, the lack of detailed internet is a serious and unforgivable omission.
LACK OF ACCURACY
Eventually a printed booklet appeared in May giving details of the River Festival events. However, this appears riddled with errors at least nautical ones. The obvious ones are highlighted below.
The full rigged ship KHERSONES is described "as the only ship of her kind in the world".
KHERSONES is a member of the Dar Mlodziezy Class, one of several similar full rigged sailing ships constructed at the Gdansk shipyard, Poland in the late 1980s. So far from being unique she has several sisters including class leader DAR MLODZIEZY and of course her sister MIR which was the star visitor to the 2004 Mersey River Festival.
Along side the photograph of the KHERSONES, the brochure shows a picture of her sister MIR taken at last year's festival. However, this is captioned PRINCE WILLIAM!
It is completely impossible to confuse MIR with PRINCE WILLIAM. The Tall Ship's Youth Trust's PRINCE WILLIAM is a brig - has two masts whilst the MIR considerably larger is a full rigged ship with three masts.
Confusing the MIR and the PRINCE WILLIAM is something akin to confusing the LADY OF MANN with the QUEEN ELIZABETH 2!
Anyone closely examining the photos of the KHERSONES and the erroneously captioned MIR would also note that the two vessels are almost identical - just look at the
Close examination of the two photographs reveals that apart from hull colour the KHERSONES and MIR are almost identical therefore making the claim that KHERSONES is unique an obvious error!
The Irish Naval Vessel LÉ CIARA appears as "Le Ciara" giving it an almost French sounding name. Would anyone list a Royal Navy vessel as "Hms" rather than "HMS" no they wouldn't so why not be accurate?
One must also question why there is no mention of the presence of the historic coastal motor passengers ship BALMORAL operated by Waverley Steam Navigation Company? This vessel being present on the Mersey over the festival weekend including the Parade of Sail.
It is obvious that whoever compiled the information contained within the River Festival brochure has no knowledge of nautical matters! Surely this should be a pre-requisite for compiling an information brochure and generating information on a maritime festival?
PARADE OF SAIL - "Was That it?!"
The 2005 Parade of Sail appeared somewhat disappointing and this I have spoken to several people who were somewhat disappointed. Why could it not have been arranged for more of the principal vessels berthed in Canning Dock to exit to the river and participate?
Admittedly the time window in which the river gate can be open will obviously limit vessel movements, but would it not be better to get the bigger vessels out which are visually more attractive? Would it not have been better to all the larger vessels berthed at Birkenhead to enable them to enter / leave the river at most states of the tide?
WELLINGTON DOCK - WORST LOCATION ON THE WATERFRONT?
However, I leave the worst aspect, in my opinion, of the 25th Mersey River Festival to last. The decision to use the Wellington Dock, Liverpool as the main berth for the three principal sailing ships KHERSONES, LORD NELSON and PRINCE WILLIAM.
The justification for using this dock was that it was a trial run for the Tall Ships Race in 2008. Last year the principal tall ships used Birkenhead's West Float. A much more suitable location.
At West Float Birkenhead, not only do the ships appear against a more natural background of dock-side transit sheds, but there is good quayside hard standing for visitors.
None of these features is provided at Wellington Dock. A largely unmade surface, unfriendly to the disabled, smelly - its located next door to the infamous Sandon Dock Effluent Treatment Works; and then, what is probably worse from a photographer's point of view, the chain link fence!
Wellington Dock has for some years been surrounded by a chain link fence which is around 7ft in height and topped with barbed wire!
One can see from the photograph of the KHERSONES (top left) the effect this has for photographers trying to get a decent shot from the quayside! If it wasn't for digital cameras with their viewing screens and ability to preview images decent photographs across the dock of the KHERSONES would have been impossible. I had to take several shots to get anything that was reasonably well composed.
On the east side of Wellington Dock, the chain link fencing had been partly removed and rolled back, but the ugly vertical uprights remained, spoiling any photographs of LORD NELSON and PRINCE WILLIAM taken from the Quayside.
Considering that this year has been designated "Sea Britain" and local events have been promoted as "Sea Liverpool" the publicity for the twenty fifth anniversary Mersey River Festival has been poorly organised and the information brochure is inaccurate.
The viewing facilities for the principal tall ships is exceedingly poor. Photographing tall ships at the dock side is a challenge as it is, with masts and spars often being lost in a back ground of tall buildings cranes and other structures. - How much better they would have looked at Birkenhead in a traditional dockside setting.
CAPITAL OF CULTURE?!
The Liverpool Culture Company which has organised the Mersey River Festival in 2005, claims on its web site to be "the organisation set up to deliver the culture programme up to and beyond 2008".
Well if Mersey River Festival 2005 is anything to go by don't hold your breath for Capital of Culture Year 2008!
Overall, in the opinion of this observer of the nautical scene, this year's Mersey River Festival, was rather disappointing especially considering it is Sea Britain Year and also the Twenty Fifth Anniversary Festival.
Liverpool is capable of hosting great maritime event's, the conclusion of the 2002/3 Clipper Race in September 2003 is evidence of that.
If anyone wishes to discuss my comments on the River Festival - please do so on the Irish Sea Ships YAHOO GROUP at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/IrishSeaShips/
John H. Luxton
June 12, 2005