The Moray Firth’s Fantastic Flotilla 2007

Harbours thronged with crowds eager to glimpse the red sails of vintage fishing boats on the horizon saw the north of Scotland’s proud seafaring heritage brought vividly to life this summer.  Around 30 boats, including traditional fishing and working vessels, formed the first Moray Firth Flotilla, the largest maritime event in Scotland this year. Sailing the firth for a week, visiting historic ports where entertainment and educational attractions were laid on by local communities, the fleet attracted an estimated 34,000 visitors.  The Flotilla in pictures (1.4MB pdf)

The Flotilla was a unique and memorable part of Highland 2007, the year Scotland celebrates Highland Culture.  It was the brainchild of Sinclair Young, chair of the Moray Firth Partnership who, along with a small team of fellow enthusiasts, spent two years turning the dream into reality.  Using their extensive contacts in the traditional boating fraternity the team sparked enthusiasm for the event among boat owners in the Highlands ands Islands, around the UK and from as far afield Norway and Holland.  They also worked closely with the communities the fleet was to visit to ensure each port would lay on a memorable welcome for the crews and the visitors turning out to see them. At the same time they pitched the project to potential sponsors to ensure the event attracted the funding it needed.

As well as funding from Highland 2007, the Flotilla attracted sponsorship from the Scottish Co-op, The Crown Estate, the Highlands and Islands Enterprise network, the National Lottery Awards for All, Old Pulteney, Talisman Energy, EventScotland and Platform PR. It was also supported by The Highland Council, Moray Council and Port Services Invergordon.

The team’s hard work paid off when some 7,000 people watched the Flotilla assemble at Wick during the port’s Harbourfest on 23 and 24 June. A civic reception and a night of ceilidhing was followed by a moving quayside service led by the Salvation Army before the boats set sail. Crowds lined he sea walls and cliff tops to wave the Flotilla off.

The Flotilla’s first port of call after setting out from Wick was Lybster. There more than 1,000 visitors turned out and enjoyed a day of music, refreshments, crafts and a demonstration of the village’s traditional game of Knotty. Several of the traditional vessels played host to 120 children from two local schools, who, through their visit and talks from skippers and the Flotilla team gained a vivid insight into the life of fishermen in the early 20th century.

At Helmsdale, the next port of call, the Flotilla attracted around 3,000 visitors over two days. Attractions organised at the port included craft and charity stalls, refreshments, a pipe band, guided tours of the harbour by staff form the Timespan centre, talks on the history of the vessels and a spectacular parade through the town depicting the history of fishing. Some 300 pupils from five schools visited the traditional fishing boat The Reaper. That vessel alone was boarded by 1,100 visitors during its time in Helmsdale.

Although poor weather delayed the Flotilla’s arrival at Cromarty and Invergordon, it is estimated the event attracted around 2,000 people to both ports. Again the communities laid on food, drink, fun, education and entertainment to mark the visit. At Cromarty, this included children’s puppet performances, a driftwood sculpture event and traditional music in the evening.

At the penultimate port of call, Buckie, the Flotilla’s arrival coincided with the historic fishing town’s Arts Festival. Although the fleet’s stay there was affected by the worst weather of the week, the boats still attracted in the region of 3,000 visitors, with the Reaper recording 451 visitors over two days. Before departing, the crews enjoyed the results of a mass cooking event by local school pupils, who also presented a message in a bottle to be dropped in the sea by a boat on the final leg of its journey.

A Royal Welcome awaited at Portsoy, where HRH the Earl of Wessex was on hand to review the fleet to mark the start of a weekend of festivities at the 14th Scottish Traditional Boat Festival. Poor but improving weather delayed many of the vessels, so the crews were delighted when Prince Edward altered his busy schedule for the day to visit them at Buckie.

The Flotilla team also held a reception for sponsors at Portsoy, attended by Prince Edward.  As in previous years, the Traditional Boat Festival proved a huge draw, attracting an estimated 18,000 visitors. Having finally completed their historic journey, the Flotilla crews spent two happy days in Portsoy before they dispersed – all promising a continuation of the friendships made during the 10 days of their maritime adventure.

Research carried out during the event showed that of the estimated 34,000 visitors to the Flotilla, approximately 13,000 (39%) were from the Highlands and Islands, 12,000 (34%) from elsewhere in Scotland, 4,000 (12%) from elsewhere in the UK and 5,000 (15%) from outside the UK.

The Flotilla captured the imagination of the media and attracted more than 40 pieces of coverage in newspapers, television and radio, locally, regionally and nationally. Analysis of readership, viewing and listening figures suggest this created nearly seven million “opportunities to see” coverage of the event.

Reflecting on the Flotilla’s success, Sinclair Young said: “This was the first time anything like this had been attempted in this area and we are delighted with the way it went. The crews had a fantastic time as did all those who turned out at the ports to see the boats.  “We are very grateful to all our other sponsors, as well as to the crews, communities and the tens of thousands of visitors who helped make this unique project such a success.”