Atlantis: a tale of a bygone age

Mon, 24/08/2009 - 15:24
Submitted by Clare Wright

The sheltered sea lough of Strangford on the Co. Down coast of Northern Ireland was once busy with small sailing ships carrying farm produce and bulky merchandise to neighbouring ports and across the Irish Sea to mainland Britain. All that traffic has long since gone, and the only sails visible today are the yachts and sailing dinghies from the Lough’s many yacht clubs and a few fishing boats. But one Tuesday in mid-August the past came alive again with the arrival of the sailing ship Atlantis, which visited the Lough en route to the Tall Ships Festival in Belfast.

Atlantis was launched in Hamburg in 1905, and for the next seventy years she acted as a lightship at the entrance to the River Elbe in Germany. On retirement she was converted into an elegant three-masted barquentine and now sails under the Dutch flag in the north Atlantic and Caribbean. Anchored in Strangford’s Castleward Bay, where her trading predecessors once waited for a favourable wind and tide, she was a magnificent sight, her tall masts and spars seen against the backdrop of the wooded hills of the National Trust’s Castle Ward Demesne.
Officials of the neighbouring District Councils of Down and Ards invited Atlantis to Strangford; for their guests she undertook a cruise in the morning and for the general public in the afternoon. No one who sailed with her will ever forget the experience – helping the crew hoist and trim her sails, the sheer magic and power of a great ship sailing so quietly through the water. It was a splendid day, blue skies, blue sea, light winds and the birds and seals for which the Lough is famous. All this with the distinctive profile of the Mourne Mountains rising above the low hummocky hills that fringe the Lough, and the accompanying armada of yachts and motor boats and fast-moving ribs. The Lough has many small islands and reefs, but Atlantis navigated them all in style, under the watchful eye of the pilot and local boatman (who did confess that he would have liked a modern echo sounder rather then the traditional line and lead sinker!)
Atlantis stayed in Strangford for little more than a day, but her visit will be long remembered by local people and tourist alike. She sailed from Strangford on the evening tide, though the Lough’s narrow entrance, past St. Patrick’s Rock and out into the open waters of the Irish Sea, thence to join her companion vessels in the port of Belfast for the 2009 Tall Ships Festival.


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