GREAT Yarmouth’s Maritime Festival began this morning, bringing together people of all ages and nationalities in a celebration that has gone from strength to strength every year.

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Thousands are expected to visit Yarmouth’s Historic South Quay this weekend.

Those who make the trip to the coast will get the chance to experience a variety of new and old ships, learn about a maritime past and present, be entertained by music and demonstrations, try the food of different cultures, drink and get as merry drunken sailors.

A great procession of sailors, cadets, East Norfolk Militia in traditional regalia, actors in traditional dress local dignitaries and civil figures announced the start of the festival with the bang of the band’s drum and the bellowing call of town crier David Bullock.

Mayor of Great Yarmouth Colleen Walker was in the procession and opened the festival with a speech, saying: “The Maritime Festival is one of the biggest events in the borough’s calendar, where we celebrate our proud maritime past and look to our exciting maritime future on this historic South Quay, with a range of craft activities, demonstrations, performances and exhibitions, all to a background of rousing shanty music on three stages.”

She later added: “I think people like the fun of it, the relaxed atmosphere and the great singers and stalls. It is a get out and enjoy yourself day, the history is all here but if you want you can just have a good time.”

Music is on offer in the form of rousing sea shanties from groups such as The Keelers - a Geordie four piece and one of the longest running traditional music acts in the country, Wrentham Brass Band and DPA Performing Arts Academy.

Stall holders and exhibitors displaying such things as basket weaving, boat building, net rigging, and painting and prints are sitting alongside dreadlocked Rastafarians selling Caribbean and Mediterranean food cooked in the traditional way in an oil drum.

Italians selling olives and cakes are providing the dessert for those feasting from the pungent traditional food, characteristic of the sea, that is the Hemsby Volunteer Lifeboat Service’s famous fried herrings.

Many more foods are on offer including traditional British sausages and Italian ice cream and coffee.

The whole weekend was designed after Yarmouth’s South Quay was rejuvenated in 2000 to champion the town’s proud past and highlight the involvement it still has in the marine world, including issues of marine sustainability.

One of the grand ships on show to the public - many of which have either been involved in historic battles and moments in history or are examples of state of the art sailing practice - is the Tres Hombres, a traditional sustainable freight service with a cargo capacity of 35 tons.

With an international crew of weather beaten, tattoo sporting sailors, who stay on the boat for up to eight months at a time and had just returned from the Carribean before docking in Yarmouth, this is a true example of an ancient tradition still practised.

Crew member Arjen van der Veen, from Holland, said: “We were invited and are delighted to come and be a part of this event.

“It is important that people know there is sustainable transport, you rely on the wind for your voyages.

“You can get from A to B, emissions free!”

Ernie Childs from Great Yarmouth Pottery vowed to paint the Tres Hombres, as he gave painting demonstrations to festival goers.

“Ernie is a great painter, it will be huge!” said Mr Van der Veen.

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