Sail Ipswich '97
It was Spring 1996, Maggie Lamb and I were sitting on our boats in Neptune Marina, then the only sign of life in Ipswich Dock. “What a wonderful site for a Classic Boat Festival!” Maggie observed, surveying the large acreage of empty quays and surrounding buildings. We approached the Ipswich Maritime Trust who agreed to put their name to the event.
Setting the best date for the Festival was critical. We found a weekend when the North Sea would be full of square riggers making their way from the Baltic to Northern France between Tall Ships Races and which also coincided with the conclusion of the Old Gaffers Association’s Rally - which then took place annually at Shotley Point Marina, so the weekend of June 21/22 1997 it would be.
The preceding week was one of sheeting rain but on the day, the Dock came alive with 450 classic boats, Dunkirk Little Ships and 5 square riggers plus Dragon Boat Racing, shoreside stalls, Morris Dancers, shanty singers, a beer festival, a firework display and much more - - - and the sun came out!
Needless to say, there was quite a lot of work, scrounging, persuasion and ensuring compliance with Health and Safety requirements entailed in the preparation; which took a year with a growing number of helpers as time progressed. Our main sponsor, Contship Ltd, then based in the Home Warehouse next to the Old Custom House, kindly gave us free office facilities.
6 weeks before the date of the Festival, ABP succeeded in their bid for the Port and were most generous in their backing of the Event - providing hundreds of gift bags containing ‘Sips’97’ flags, bronze plaques, a bottle and vouchers; in addition to sponsoring a large number of public toilets! Ipswich Borough Council also provided enormous backup with street closures, free Park & Ride; as well as advice, security and copious contacts.
We were lucky in that the week’s wet weather relented and gave us a fine weekend - of which the population took advantage to visit the Dock.
Attendance totalled nearly 40,000 over the 2 days of the weekend and the Event made around £15,000 for charity, which all goes to show that the population of Ipswich is exceedingly well aware and proud of our town’s maritime past, present and future.