In July, Shetland’s main town of Lerwick once again played host to a spectacular sailing fleet which arrived to take part in the Tall Ships Races 2023

LERWICK Harbour is a busy port servicing the islands’ multi-million-pound fishing fleet, the offshore energy industry, and a steady flow of impressive cruise ships carrying thousands of tourists.

But for a week at the end of July the quayside was transformed by the visit of dozens of sailing vessels of all shapes and sizes as Sail Training International’s Tall Ship Races returned to Shetland.

With 37 ships berthed in the harbour – ranging from Class A triple-masted barques to much smaller but equally impressive historic former fishing boats, including the Lerwick-registered Swan – it was an undeniably spectacular sight. 

Add to that the festival atmosphere, with street performers and two stages hosting music ranging from traditional Shetland fiddle groups to nationally celebrated performers Peat & Diesel and Tide Lines. 
Anyone who was lucky enough to be there will remember Tall Ships Lerwick for many years to come.

The Herald:

The event enjoyed live music performances from more than 60 acts including Tide Lines and Peat & Diesel


EVERY year the international Tall Ships Races is organised by Sail Training International, a not-for-profit organisation which aims to develop and educate young people through the sail training experience – bringing together people from around the world and from a variety of backgrounds.

The first race was in 1956, and Lerwick has thrice been a host-port – 1999, 2011 and 2023. This year, the race began in Den Helder, Netherlands, before crossing the North Sea to Hartlepool. 

From England’s northeast, the fleet travelled to the Norwegian port of Fredrikstad, after which the North Sea zigzagging continued en route to the Shetland Islands. 

The final racing leg departed Lerwick on 29th July sailing to Arendal, Norway.

HOSTING such an iconic international event is a big deal and Shetland is still revelling in the aftermath of organising such a successful celebration.

A huge amount of effort and planning took place in Lerwick ahead of the festivities, which included circus performances, a funfair, street performances and a visit by The Princess Royal. 

That’s on top of the impressive programme of live music, combining the cream of Scottish and Shetland talent. 

More than 10,000 people attended the event on each of its four days, with a carnival atmosphere in the town throughout as folk enjoyed themselves against the spectacular backdrop of the 37 visiting tall ships.   

Vessels from as far afield as Indonesia and Uruguay joined ships from the UK and Scandinavia in Lerwick Harbour. Sail Training Shetland provided funding for 100 sail trainees to participate in the races, including on board the islands’ own sail training vessel, The Swan.

Thousands of revellers enjoyed live music from over 60 acts including headliners Tide Lines and Peat & Diesel, while local bands including First Foot Soldiers also enjoyed a rapturous response from the 5,000-strong audience which packed out the main stage arena on all four nights.

A month on from the event, there’s been plenty of time to reflect on the event’s success, and its legacy for the whole islands’ community.

Shetland Tall Ships Ltd board chairman Malcolm Bell said: “Coming on the back of tough times, the importance of bringing together so many people from different backgrounds and different nationalities cannot be underestimated.  

“Without the amazing backing of all the businesses which sponsored Tall Ships Lerwick, giving their time, money and expertise, the event could not have happened. 

“So many people went above and beyond the call of duty, and we want to pay a very special thanks to the army of volunteers, staff and partners who came together to ensure everything ran smoothly.”  

The Herald:

Thousands of visitors enjoyed this year’s spectacular Tall Ships Races 


PROJECT manager Emma Miller said the event had been the culmination of months of hard work by lots of different people, many of whom worked well into the small hours in the days and nights leading up to opening ceremony on Wednesday 26th July.

Miller said the voluntary team of liaison officers had done a “sterling job ensuring the ships and their crews were taken care of – they were incredible, and they really did work as a team”.   

She said: “We knew the community would get behind the event, but the reception, participation and sense of celebration exceeded expectations.”  

Miller said the event had provided considerable social and economic benefits, as well as giving islanders a real sense of pride.   

“Whether it’s the immediate economic impact of the packed pubs and bustling shops in Lerwick, or the widespread media exposure at home, nationally and overseas, Shetland’s hosting of such a prestigious international event will serve the islands well.  

“Tall Ships Lerwick 2023 is something we, as a community, can be proud of, and we hope the legacy is long-lasting.”  

Event supporter VisitScotland’s director of events Paul Bush said the organisation “would like to congratulate all those involved in making this four-day spectacular such an incredible success and celebration”. 

“Tall Ships Lerwick is a shining example of how events not only unite local and international communities but also create positive social, cultural and economic impacts,” he said.  

“Having events on this scale in our calendar further elevates our profile as the perfect stage for events and our position as a world-leading events destination.”  

And there’s still time for one final Tall Ships party. Miller added that Shetland 

Tall Ships Ltd. will lay on a thank-you celebration in the autumn for everyone who volunteered.

This article was brought to you in partnership with Tall Ships Races 2023