Maritime Festival becalmed

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Rye is famous for its festivals. Whether it is food, music, film or the arts, we do them. And we do them well. It is sad, therefore, when it appears that one of them is coming to the end of its life.

This, however, could be the case with the Maritime Festival. Begun 11 years ago and run with enthusiasm and skill by Charles Bronsdon and his team of organisers and volunteers, it has grown in popularity year by year until, in the view of the organisers, the numbers of people crowding on to Strand Quay are such that they feel there is a real danger that someone could fall off the quayside and hurt themselves.

Both boats and Quatside are filled with visitors
Both boats and Quayside are filled with visitors

There is, of course, insurance to cover such an eventuality, but in these litigious days it would appear that, regardless of insurance, the organisers could be sued personally as a result of any injury sustained. Whether a litigant would be successful in this, is another matter, but the risk, nevertheless, is there. All this is in addition to the physical hard work of putting on an operation of this nature and, as Bronsdon admits, “None of us are getting any younger”.

Rye News is reluctant to see the festival disappear. The sea, after all, is in the Town’s DNA – it is our history and our heritage and we need to celebrate that. We have offered sponsorship and active help and involvement to find a way for the festival to continue. The format, maybe, will need to be changed – perhaps splitting the venue – in order to overcome some of the current problems. It is important, too, that the town as a whole should be involved – we saw, at Christmas last year, what can be achieved when that policy is adopted.

45ft of carbon fibre and high tech - a long way from the original yachts of 1851
GB Americas Cup trials, 45ft of carbon fibre and high tech – a long way from the original yachts of 1851

But organising an event on this scale takes time, effort and money and it is likely that if there is a Maritime Festival at all this year it will be on a reduced scale (and perhaps under a different name) while we plan for 2017 and a celebration of the sea that will be, we hope, like nothing Rye has seen before.

Coincidentally, 2017 is the year of the next competition for the America’s Cup. The oldest sailing race in the world, Britain has never won it since losing the first race in 1851. Next year, however, we are, arguably, likely to have the best chance we have ever had of regaining it with a team under the leadership of Sir Ben Ainslie, who is the Englishman who can take the credit for turning the US team from almost-certain losers, in the final against New Zealand last time, to come out eventual winners in one of the most gripping series of races for the Cup so far. If he can do the same for Britain next year, what better reason could we have for celebrating our seafaring heritage?

Photos: John Minter and GB America’s Cup team

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