Visitors to the Irish Sea Shipping web site will probably have read my rather scathing remarks concerning the Mersey River Festival 2005 which appeared in Viewpoint 2005.
Plans for a River Festival in 2006 were dropped, the excuse being the amount of construction work being conducted in the vicinity of the Pier Head / Albert Dock would make a full scale festival impractical.
However, it was suggested that there would be an alternative event scheduled to coincide with the conclusion of the Clipper Ventures Round The World Yacht Race. Unfortunately the race schedule was disrupted when some of the yachts developed technical problems and the conclusion of the race was put back until the end of July.
However, the alternative maritime event went ahead over the weekend of July 01 / 02 though advertising by Liverpool City Council / Liverpool 08 Culture Company was almost none existent. Small advertisements appeared in the local press, - hardly eye catching stuff - but nothing was to be found on the relevant tourist web sites until just before the weekend itself.
To give them credit - Mersey Ferries - appeared to produce most of the advanced publicity as a result of advertising their Dock Cruise scheduled for Saturday July 01 during early June.
Once again the Liverpool decided to use the unsuitable Wellington Dock site in Liverpool. This time rather than post my feelings directly to the web site which is targeted at those with maritime interests, I decided to post my comments to the Letters Pages of the "Liverpool Daily Post & Echo" newspapers. The following letter appearing in both newspapers:
This weekend I attended the "All Aboard" event which was centred on the Wellington Dock, Liverpool.
There appeared to be very little advance publicity for this maritime event, with little information appearing to be available either in the local press and just as important these days for visitors from further a field, on the internet.
Perhaps this lack of publicity may account for why there appeared to be so few present?
Wellington Dock itself is a most unsuitable site to berth visiting ships.
The presence of a high chain link fence surrounding the dock, and which was only removed in places to allow gangways to be inserted, makes quayside photography difficult as did the unimaginative berthing of the Irish Naval vessel LE ORLA on the more open Sandon Dock quay.
Given that there are plenty of well surfaced open quays at Birkenhead that have been used during previous "Tall Ship" and Mersey River Festival events up to 2004 one wonders why the inferior Wellington Dock had to be used this year for the "Ship Ahoy" event and also for last year's river festival?
As it is planned to host the Tall Ships Race in 2008, one hopes that greater care will be given to the berthing arrangements for visiting ships and the substandard Wellington Dock is either hurriedly improved or not used.
In response to my letter to the press I received the following response from the Liverpool Culture Company's head of Maritime Events:
Dear Mr Luxton
"All Aboard" - Maritime Event
I am writing further to reading your letter published in the Daily Post following the staging of the "All Aboard" event in Wellington Dock over the weekend of ist/2nd July.
You are correct in stating that Wellington Dock needs to be improved and indeed there are two further phases of re-surfacing and repair work already planned and programmed to be carried out during the next eighteen months. This work is scheduled to be completed by June 2008 in preparation for the visit of the Tall Ships' Races in July 2008.
Unlike 1984 and 1992 Sail Training International who is the organiser of the Tall Ships' Races now place great emphasis on the whole fleet being berthed as close together as possible. When the fleet is split (as was the case in 1984 and 1992) the smaller vessels often feel they are treated in an inferior manner to the large Class A tall ships. Perhaps more importantly a split fleet creates difficulty for both the public and the sail trainees in visiting all the vessels in the fleet.
Indeed Liverpool City Council would not have been successful in its bid to host the Tall Ships event in 2008 if the berthing of the ships was split between the Wirral and Liverpool.
In 2008 the class A Tall Ships will be berthed in Wellington and Sandon Half Tide Docks. The Class B, C and D ships will be berthed in Canning, Canning Half Tide and Albert Docks with the Cruise Liner facility at Pier Head providing berthing for two of the Class A tall ships.
You may also be unaware that it is Liverpool City Council that organises and funds the Mersey River Festival, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and the Honda Power Boat Grand Prix and therefore the city has a responsibility to use and improve the facilities it has within the city for the benefit of the city and its residents.
We are acutely aware that Wellington Dock is in the working docks and is situated adjacent to a Waste Water Treatment plant. It is acknowledged that it does not compare with the Albert Dock but what it does provide the public with is perhaps a better understanding of what lies behind the dock walls and provides access to areas of the waterfront that are normally denied to them.
Wellington Dock and Sandon Half Tide Dock also provides' ample quay space for the very large Class A Tall Ships. The Dock also provides a flat surface without cobbles that is ideal for older people and people with disabilities who can park on site and only have a very short distance to travel across to board ships.
In 2008 small stretches of fencing will be lowered to allow photographers a clear view of the ships and we have already confirmed that a motor vessel will be on the dock and that will act as a media and photographers "on water" platform.
Tall Ships' in Newcastle in 2005 attracted 1.5 million visitors so we will need all the available quay space across the waterfront in 2008 should we be fortunate to attract such numbers of visitors.
Thank you for supporting "All Aboard" and for the feedback on the event which is always useful and I hope that we can continue to rely on your support as we work towards creating a suitable venue for the return of the Tall Ships' Races to the River Mersey in
Head of Maritime Events
Liverpool Culture Company
I will let readers come to their own conclusions from the response from the Culture Company.
It is quite clear that only "small stretches of fencing" will be lowered on the quay side.
If a proper job is being undertaken to make Wellington Dock suitable for visitors why not replace the fencing with a waist high fence in the heritage cast-iron style to be found in many locations including the Albert Dock?
One wonders what motor vessel will act as the photographers' platform?
Given that they are hoping to emulating the success of Newcastle's hosting of the Tall Ships in 2005 - there could be a L-O-N-G wait for a space in that motor vessel to take a few photographs, even if it is quite sizeable!
It is completely inaccurate to claim that Wellington Dock is in the "Working Docks" area. Whilst the dock may still be accessible to ships - the presence of that fence would make any cargo handling impossible. Also most docks are not surrounded by high chain link fences.
It is many years since cargo was worked Wellington Dock. For a realistic working quayside one has to move further north to at least Huskission Dock. Wellington does not provide the public with a better understanding of what goes on behind the dock walls - it is a wasteland which is atypical of a dock environment.
With regard to the berthing of the tall ships on the one (Liverpool) side of the river, one must wonder if it is a case of Liverpool wishing to secure all the prestige of the event rather than sharing it with with the Wirral. Gossip doing the rounds amongst contacts on the waterfront suggests that this could well be the case!
On the last vessel I visited, EYE OF THE WIND, a friend and I spoke to one of her crew members. This person, who gave the impression of having much tall ship experience was greatly dismayed at the lack of publicity for the "All Aboard Event" and suitability of the locations for use as a venue for the Tall Ships Event in 2008.
Time ticks on, Liverpool European Capital of Culture Year commences in just over 16 months.
You can be sure that Irish Sea Shipping will be keeping a critical eye on related maritime activities!
Comments from others (public or private) would be welcome - feedback from readers would be very welcome and if requested will be featured on the site!