Find out more about our exciting Main Hall re-rig here.
The return of the Tall Ships to Falmouth Harbour will see thousands of spectators line the streets and surrounding coastline to catch a glimpse of some of the most extraordinary sailing vessels on the ocean today. Not only will visitors get the chance to marvel at a breathtaking collection of Tall Ships on the water, but they’ll be able to step aboard and explore them too.
The Tall Ships race, otherwise known as ‘Magellan Elcano’, is a historic international event steeped in tradition. Uncover its origins below and find out more about what you can expect to see this year, both in the town and at the Museum.
Following World War II and the growing preference for steam power over sail, retired London solicitor Bernard Morgan came up with the idea of bringing together young cadets and seamen in training from all over the world for a friendly sailing competition.
The first race, from Torquay to Lisbon, was held in 1956. As the race gained global recognition, it expanded its reach to encompass multiple race legs and ports of call, showcasing the participating ships in various cities worldwide.
Originally known as the Cutty Sark Tall Ships Race, due to its sponsorship by Cutty Sark Whisky, the name referenced the famous 19th-century British clipper, Cutty Sark, serving as a symbol of the golden age of sail.
The race, currently known as the Tall Ships Races Magellan Elcano series, celebrates the first circumnavigation of the world by Ferdinand Magellan and Sebastián Elcano over 500 years ago.
The original aim of the Tall Ships Race was to promote international friendship while also training young people to sail. To this day, over half of each crew is required to consist of young people.
Falmouth’s association with the race began in 1966 when the port hosted its first tall ships gathering. Since then, the race has visited Falmouth in 1982, 1998, 2008, and 2014 and will return this year after being cancelled during Covid. This year’s visit will make Falmouth the event’s most-visited port.
Over the years, the popularity of the Tall Ships visits to Falmouth has grown, becoming a highlight of the town’s cultural calendar and attracting some of the world’s most majestic tall ships. The event has not only been a showcasing of sailing spectacles but also a celebration of Falmouth’s maritime identity. Read our guide to five must-see vessels at Falmouth Tall Ships 2023.
A tall ship is not actually any specific kind of vessel, but the term usually refers to large, traditionally rigged sailing ships. We use rigs to identify different types of sailing vessels: brigs, barques, and schooners are a few examples. The number of masts and their arrangement, plus the use of fore-and-aft sails or square sails—or combinations of both—determine what type of ship it is.
Since 2011, there have been two size classes:
A “ship” is both a generic term that refers to any large watercraft and a highly specific term identifying a vessel with three or more masts that sets square sails on all masts.
This year’s event will welcome an impressive fleet of 11 tall ships to the bay. What’s more, you have the chance to board one and have look inside.
The tall ships will arrive in Falmouth on Tuesday 15 before setting sail at the start of the race on Friday 18.
There will be a variety of things for the public to see and do on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Among the highlights is the opportunity to go on board and explore the magnificent vessels from the inside. There’ll also be live music and entertainment, exhibits, a crew parade through the town centre (Wednesday 16), and a lights and laser show on the harbour (Wednesday 16 and Thursday 17).
You’ll need a ticket to board the Tall Ships. While you can buy tickets on the day at the entrance, buying in advance online will guarantee your time slot and enable you to fast-track through the queue. Tickets cost £5 for adults and £2.50 for children (aged under 16). Keep in mind that only assistance dogs are allowed in Falmouth Docks.
It is estimated that your visit to the Docks, including exploring the ship, will take around two hours.
Before the ships begin the race and depart for Spain, the tall ships, together with hundreds of supporting local boats, yachts and marine craft, will sail in company from their moorings. This impressive sight will see the ships sail along the coast past Pendennis Headland and Falmouth’s golden beaches. It will take place on Friday 18 at 3pm. Have your camera at the ready!
You’ll undoubtedly want to find yourself a perfect vantage point for the Parade of Sail and start of the race, and thankfully there’s a wide sweep of locations from which to find a good spot. The Tall Ships will be visible in all their glory from St Anthony Head on The Roseland, right along the coast to Rosemullion at the mouth of the Helford River.
The best viewing areas include Cliff Road, Pendennis Headland, Castle Beach, Gyllyngvase Beach, Swanpool Beach, Maenporth Beach, Rosemullion Head, St Mawes, and St Anthony’s Head.
NMMC is a prime location for catching an impressive look at the Tall Ships. Not only does the Museum sit right on the harbourfront, but the 100-foot Lookout Tower provides a panoramic view of the area. You can even relax with a scenic brew in the café, which boasts a captivating vista of its own.
There are some fantastic family-friendly activities taking place inside, too. We’ll be running a special version of Make & Take where children can build their very own Tall Ship. A Pirate’s Life For Me!, a fun-filled interactive theatre show, takes place four times a day in the Main Hall, and no two shows are the same.
Be sure to check out to visit the Museum Shop too – we have some beautiful gifts and keepsakes just for the event which showcase a bespoke Tall Ships design by local illustrator Matt Johnson.
You can find out more about Falmouth Tall Ships here.