Festivals

Logbook: Falmouth Classics & Shanty Festival 2024

My partner Jack and I were thrilled to join Pilot Cutter Tallulah for this year’s Falmouth Classics & Sea Shanty Festival!

The Festival has been held pretty much every year since 1987(!) though this is probably our 5th Falmouth Classics, and dare I say, my favourite one yet! It was a brilliant and exhausting weekend, and I think I got the mix of sailing, exploring and time ashore just right – we even managed to dodge the worst of the weather – well, almost!

Thursday

Inclement weather in the days leading up to the festival meant that Tallulah’s joining port had moved from St Mawes to Falmouth, and while our foulies were packed for a wet and wild weekend, the sun did make an appearance! However, some pretty choppy seas and gusty winds stuck around all weekend – much to the detriment of a few of the boats, but more on that later.

We joined Tallulah mid afternoon. Once all guests were aboard and the kettle had boiled, we did introductions and Skipper Debbie lead us through the safety briefing. As a group, we decided that if we were to take part in the next morning’s activities, we should head out and into the bay to do a bit of familiarisation and practice sailing. Along with Jack and I, our fellow guest included two lovely couples; Steve & Diane and Alan & Penny. As we prepared Tallulah for sea, we saw the West Country Trading Ketch ‘Irene’ moored near by. It turns out that Penny is a descendent of Irene’s original owner, Clifford Symons and in fact, the ship was named after Clifford’s niece – Penny’s great aunt Irene! How cool is that!

Friday

The weather forecast told of squally rain and gusts of 6’s and 7’s (Beaufort), we decided not to join the races and instead we had a fantastic day of sailing around Falmouth bay. We had front row seats to watch all the different classes of classic vessels from large gaff ketches to little clinker dinghies strut their stuff and we were also able to find more sheltered waters as the winds picked up. For a while we sailed in company with Pilgrim of Brixham – a ship I know and love well (I was Pilgrim’s First Mate a couple of seasons ago). She looked fabulous! By mid afternoon, the sky was dark with moody clouds and over the VHF we heard that one of the small boats had been dismasted. Then a second. So we headed in to find a mooring ahead of the rush of retiring boats and incoming rain.

Alan and Penny also happen to be incredibly talented musicians, so once safely moored up, we headed into town to find a cosy pub. With squeezebox and clarinet in hand we settled in at the Chain Locker and joined in with the shanty bands. We heard news that one of the Falmouth Working Boats had been knocked down by the earlier gusts and sank (no one was hurt and all souls accounted for) so it seemed we made the right choice to head in when we did! Don’t worry, the Working Boat was later refloated.

Saturday

I stayed ashore on Saturday to explore the Shanty Festival (I may have also treated myself to a trip to the spa and a rhubarb and custard pasty from Oggies, but don’t tell the others!..) After helping to slip Tallulah’s lines, I waved them off and headed into town. My crewmates motored into the mouth of the Fal River, setting the sails as they went, to watch the start of the days races. The startline was once again bustling with a variety of vessels and after watching them set sail, Tallulah tacked and gybed her way up into river. At lunchtime, Debbie demonstrated ‘hoving to’ – basically, you tack but don’t adjust the sails – this causes the boat to sit still comfortably in the water, due to the various opposing forces at play on the hull and sails. They later dropped the hook (anchored) at Turnaware for an afternoon swim and snooze – all very civilised indeed!

Once Tallulah was back in port, I rejoined her and caught up with the days adventures before meeting up with friends and fellow sailors and heading into town to watch the Shanty bands. Over 70 shanty groups performed over the course of the festival across three main stages and in various pubs and cafes. Highlights included performances by The Fisherman’s Friends, The Sea Gals, Will Keating and The Longest Johns. These groups entertained audiences with their renditions of traditional sea songs, celebrating maritime heritage in the most fitting way​. However, I do not wish to hear “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?” ever again (or at least until Falmouth Classics 2025). If you want to know more about “Sea Shanties” – I wrote an article on the subject for EcoClipper a few years ago.

Sunday

Sunday was the much awaited “Parade of Sail” – one last lap around the bay (though much slower) to celebrate our sailing heritage and wave to the crowds ashore. This year’s festival was particularly special, marking the 200th anniversary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). Celebrations included special displays and events honoring two centuries of lifesaving efforts along the British coastlines​. The significance of this milestone added an extra layer of pride and respect among us sailors and we very much enjoyed seeing the various examples of Lifeboats from across the ages leading the parade!

Once we completed our lap, we wet sail for the Helford River where we would spend a peaceful night on a mooring ball. We enjoyed a late lunch and while Jack and the other guests were enjoying a well earned chill-out, Debbie, Anthony and I cracked on with some odd jobs – replacing the staysail sheets and refreshing the leather chafe guard on the Jib’s traveller ring.

It was agreed by all that dinner at the Shipwrights Arms was in order (amazing food – we highly recommend!). It was lovely to reflect on the weekends events and adventures with our new friends and it’s always interesting to hear what each person’s highlights were – I have included snippets of feedback below if you’re interested! Jack and I stretched our legs with a little walk and once back at the pub, Alan and Penny treated us to one last private concert. We returned to to Tallulah as the sun was setting – it was the perfect, peaceful end to a busy and exciting voyage!

Huge thank you to Debbie and Anthony, Steve, Diane, Alan, Penny and my lovely Jack for a great voyage, the photo you see above and of course for making Falmouth Classics 2024 the best one yet 🙂
(And thank you to Adam who stayed ashore to dog sit!)

We had a great time and an authentic small boat sailing experience, having only done tall ships before… We certainly had some exciting times as well as moments of tranquility! It was very reassuring having half the crew who knew what they were doing!  loved the area but probably wouldn’t do the shanty festival again. It was an experience wandering around the town amongst all those pirates and a plethora of peg legs and we really enjoyed the music with everyone enjoying the bunfight. At one point I was hearing Drunken Sailor coming at me from three different directions, each accompanied by a raucous audience! … Tallulah is a lovely vessel and so were the gallant crew!

Steve

Many, many thanks to Debbie and all the professionals for a great trip, and your patience and calm direction of a sometimes slow-witted crew! Great to meet meet Steve and Diane too

Penny

Marketing Assistant, Tall Ship Sailor & Co-Host of the Off Watch Podcast

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