'A massive success': Thousands turn out for historic festival in town

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival successfully held in Lowestoft.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

Iconic vessels descended on the east coast as thousands of people turned out to witness some truly historic scenes in a seaside town.

The successful Smack Race.

The successful Smack Race. - Credit: Lowestoft RNLI

A fleet of historic sailing smacks and Old Gaffers hit the waters off Lowestoft on Saturday as The Excelsior Trust and Associated British Ports hosted an international Smack Race.

Good crowds at the international Smack Race and Vessels Festival

Good crowds as the international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

In decades gone by, a Smack Race would have traditionally been held annually in Lowestoft.

The bigger smacks in the Lowestoft Smack Race.

The bigger smacks in the Lowestoft Smack Race. - Credit: Mike Page

And that tradition made a welcome return for the first time in more than 20 years as the centenary smack race took centre stage at the weekend.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

Marking the 100th anniversary of Lowestoft’s own 77ft sailing vessel Excelsior LT472 - an icon of the town’s national fishing heritage - the racing was held as part of delayed centenary celebrations, after the event had been postponed amid the continuing coronavirus crisis last year.

The bigger smacks in the Lowestoft Smack Race

The bigger smacks in the Lowestoft Smack Race. - Credit: Mike Page

Saturday's stunning spectacle also showcased a successful Vessels Festival as "everything Lowestoft and everything seafaring" was celebrated.

The bigger smacks in the Lowestoft Smack Race

The bigger smacks in the Lowestoft Smack Race. - Credit: Mike Page

Vessels from across the world captured the imagination as good crowds assembled to spectate and take photos, while many other onlookers turned out with binoculars to welcome the vessels early on Saturday morning.

The bigger smacks in the Lowestoft Smack Race

The bigger smacks in the Lowestoft Smack Race. - Credit: Mike Page

Most Read

Spectators lined up at the bridge, close to the pier heads, at Heritage Quay and on South Pier as the traditional rigged sailing smacks and smaller vessels left for the racing between 7.45am and 9am.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

The vessels headed to the race area off the north beach, around Corton, with crowds assembling at Gunton cliffs and along the north sea wall - between Lowestoft Ness and Tramps Alley - to catch a glimpse of those competing.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

Racing began at around 9.30am, with the larger Smacks hitting the startline ahead of the smaller vessels that started racing from 10.15am.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

With Great Yarmouth’s steam drifter Lydia Eva supporting the event, a number of smaller vessels - including Lowestoft Lifeboat - went out to support the racing.

Lowestoft Lifeboat as the international Smack Race and Vessels Festival in Lowestoft.

Lowestoft Lifeboat as the international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

As well as Excelsior LT472, among the 25 traditional vessels attending was the 78ft Boy Leslie from Norway - which worked out of Lowestoft between the wars - and the 68ft Swan LK 243 - a herring boat from Lerwick, The Shetlands.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

Running from 9am to 5pm close to Heritage Quay on Lowestoft’s South Pier, the ‘Vessels Festival’ celebrated "Lowestoft's rich maritime heritage" with music, demonstrations, history, food, stalls and displays - including numerous local stallholders exhibiting their goods.

Stalls as the Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft.

Stalls as the Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

Among them was the IBTC - International Boatbuilding Training College - Lowestoft, who showcased traditional boatbuilding methods.

Gerry Skews, cooking kippers, as the Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft.

Gerry Skews, cooking kippers, as the Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

Gerry Skews, from Waveney Valley Smokehouse - Britain's most easterly smokehouse - was among the stallholders that "attracted a lot of interest" throughout the day.

Live music as the Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft.

Live music as the Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

With live music and race commentary updates on stage, performances from a range of acts were showcased - including the Pot of Gold shanty crew singing sea shanties.

Live music as the Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft.

Live music as the Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

After a successful's day's racing, numerous trophies were presented by ABP representatives and the Lord Lieutenant, Clare, Countess Euston - with former Lowestoft Lugger Gleaner LT 64 collecting The Excelsior Trust First Class Smack Trophy for the first large smack over the line.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

The Excelsior also opened to the public to have a look around on Sunday on Heritage Quay.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft.

The international Smack Race and Vessels Festival was successfully held in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

With the event organisers pleased with the turnout, as good crowds attended throughout the day, a trust spokesman said: "It was a massive success.

"Around 5,000 people visited the shore-based Vessels Festival and watched the smacks leave the harbour, while many many more lined the Gunton clifftops to see the race out at sea.

"It was a brilliant day."

The organisers thanked all the sponsors, volunteers, stallholders, the public who assembled in great numbers and all the visiting vessels who turned out from far and wide.