Excelsior to host international Smack Race Festival

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 "truly historic event" is set to hit the waters off Lowestoft this summer as vessels from across the world descend on the east coast.

The red sails of traditionally rigged sailing smacks will illuminate the waters off Lowestoft Ness as The Excelsior Trust hosts an international Smack Race in July.

This one-off event - which is being staged after it was postponed amid the continuing coronavirus crisis last year - will take place on Saturday, July 30.

Organisers The Excelsior Trust are expecting that up to 25 traditional vessels will descend on Lowestoft for an event being staged to celebrate the centenary of the town'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.

A spokesman for The Excelsior Trust added: "We are also very proud to announce the 70ft 1st Class Essex Oyster Smack Pioneer will be racing, the last of the large Essex Smacks to survive.

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

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"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."

With different types of sailing smacks taking part in this year's event, the boats will be put into different racing classes.

From 9am a spectacular close-up view of the historic vessels can be witnessed from Lowestoft’s South Pier, as the smacks process through the Bascule Bridge and out to sea.

The staggered start can be seen from the Sea Wall opposite Lowestoft Maritime Museum, and the progress of the various classes can be followed from Gunton Cliff as the fleet sets off around the course.

Back on Lowestoft’s South Pier, there will also be a two-day Vessels Festival taking place with stalls, music and displays reflecting the vibrant maritime, business and arts scene in Lowestoft.

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.”