'Historic' sailing race to hit town's waters this weekend

A scene from the Smack Race in the 1990s.

A scene from the Smack Race in the 1990s. - Credit: Courtesy of The Excelsior Trust

A "wonderful" fleet of historic sailing smacks will hit the water off Lowestoft this weekend.

The Excelsior Trust will host an international Smack Race on Saturday, July 30, with vessels from around the world featuring.

The race had been due to take place last year, before being postponed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

It is being staged to celebrate the centenary of Lowestoft's 77ft sailing vessel Excelsior LT472 - an icon of Lowestoft's national fishing heritage.

Vessels will include the 78ft Boy Leslie from Norway and the 68ft Swan from The Faroe Islands.

The larger smacks are set to arrive in Lowestoft ahead of the race, and will be based at Haven Marina, with later arrivals at the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club.

With the Smack Race beginning around 9am, vessels will leave the harbour in stages before heading out to sea for the main race.

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A trust spokesman said: "This will be a major spectacle and Excelsior Trust is delighted that so many other historic vessels are joining in with our delayed centenary celebrations."

The race will take place from just north of the Sparrows Nest Lighthouse, up towards Great Yarmouth to just north of Hopton, before returning.

The popular Lowestoft-based sailing smack Excelsior LT472

The popular Lowestoft-based sailing smack Excelsior LT472. - Credit: Mick Howes

The day will also feature a Vessels Festival on Lowestoft's South Pier with stalls, music and displays to reflect the now-vibrant maritime, business and arts scene in the town.

The spokesman added: "Traditionally a Smack Race would have been held annually in Lowestoft in the late 1800s when Lowestoft was a fishing boom town.

"But due to the decline in fishing and the increasing rarity of these historic vessels, the last event of this kind was held over 20 years ago.

"As there are different types of sailing smacks taking part this year, the boats will be put into different racing classes, to ensure opportunities are fair for all."

Excelsior Trust founder John Wylson said: “This will be a remarkable and truly historic event, which could be one of the last of its kind.

"Sadly each year the number of old wooden fishing smacks, fully restored and maintained to be seaworthy, diminishes.

"So let’s enjoy this wonderful collection of heritage vessels whilst we can.”