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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, July 18, 2008
    Getting the sea vision again

    They'll look even more impressive on Monday afternoon, of course, when at the mouth of the Mersey the Tall Ships unfurl their sails and head out into the Irish Sea at the start of their 2008 race to Måløy, Norway (and then on from Bergen to Den Helder, Holland for a grand finale on the 20th August). But standing on Sandhills station this afternoon this was a pretty striking view, the contemporary mess of dockland commerce combining with the high masts of the race's Class A ships. Seventy Tall Ships from all around the world are here this weekend. We see them as symbols of the past but many are modern and all are used for the 'development and education of young people of all nationalities, cultures, religions and social backgrounds through the sail training experience'. This rich picture adds deep perspective to Liverpool's pivotal present.

    Watching the smartly-dressed crew of the Mexican naval training vessel Cuauhtémoc graciously helping passengers on and off their 90.5m barque (named after the last Aztec emperor and built as recently as 1982 in Bilbao, Spain), the thrill of internationalism begins to simmer. Hearing the voices of the hundreds of visitors around me - many languages, many dialects - the claims of Liverpool to be 'the world in one city' cease to sound like shallow PR spin, and the realisation comes that at this dockside, there has always been this mix.

    Strengthening the connections further I recall a recent email from Gill, visiting Mexico, telling me of her discovery of a chain of upmarket department stores called Liverpool; the company's website reveals that the Liverpool stores have an 160 year history and are Mexico's leading department store chain.

    The Tall Ships, in dock, are mightily impressive, but I'm as interested in watching the people visiting them, trying to get a handle on the experience (what's the draw of this event? every time Liverpool hosts it the city is inundated). And what most engages me is a marquee with a British Shipping banner at its entrance. Here, the Chamber of Shipping and Sea Vision UK are working hard to demonstrate to the passing public that maritime life is nothing to get sentimental about, it's thriving today.

    Sea Vision are keen to share their three core messages: our seas are vital to trade, energy, defence, leisure and the environment; the UK maritime sector makes a major contribution to our economy and quality of life; and our maritime industries are modern and high-tech and offer excellent career opportunities. I look around at a dock throbbing with fascinated visitors and the youthful energy of hundreds of Tall Ships staff and volunteers, dock and affiliated workers, I sit outside a mad-busy dock road cafe with a bacon roll and a cup of tea, sharing my table with a couple who've sailed over from Ireland for this weekend's events, and I get it again, the sea vision. Like Liverpudlians (even landlocked ones like me) always have.

    Pics from my Tall Ships, Wellington Dock 2008 Flickr photostream