A final friendly wave and then off on their next adventure
THEY weighed anchor and slipped out of Dublin to the sounds of a 21-gun salute, sailing onwards to their next adventure.
The four-day Tall Ships Festival came to a colourful and cacophonic climax yesterday as more than 40 ships bade farewell to Ireland in brilliant sunshine.
Organisers said more than 1.1 million people had visited the festival over the last few days, making it one of the biggest public events ever held in Ireland and rivalling the Papal visit of John Paul II in 1979.
It also provided the capital's economy with a €30m spending boost.
Yesterday, an official estimate put the number lining the quays at 200,000, however thousands more flocked to Dun Laoghaire and Howth to catch a glimpse of the ships sail away in all their full-masted glory.
At 11am, the East Link Bridge was raised and the 'LE Emer' led the parade of ships out of Dublin Port and into the bay.
On the quayside, the Army provided a 21-gun salute, the sound of the explosions reverberating around the surrounding streets. The honour was returned by the departing boats and the air filled with the blare of ships' horns.
The first of the tall ships to depart was the Mexican windjammer 'Cuauhtemoc'. Dozens of her sailors had scaled the rigging to perch atop the masts, some over 100ft up, and wave at the crowds below. As it passed the raised bridge, the ship's horn gave a series of deafening bellows, which were answered by cheers from the spectators.
Next was the German vessel 'Alexander Von Humboldt II', which steamed down the Liffey at a brisk clip, its crew all on deck to bid auf wiedersehen to Dublin.
It was followed by a procession of smaller schooners, sloops and cutters.
Spectators used whatever means possible to gain the best vantage point. Apartment dwellers flocked to their balconies, while those on the streets below scaled benches and windowsills, craning their necks and standing on tip-toe to catch a better view.
However, the best seats in the house were atop the revolving ferris wheel, where occupants caught a regular -- if fleeting -- glimpse of the action on the river.
At some points along the quays, the crowds were 10-people deep and many had gathered over an hour before the exodus was due to start.
It took just over an hour for the entire fleet of 43 vessels to leave the port. However, the fun was just beginning out on the bay.
After four days in port, they were finally able to unfurl their sails and catch the wind as they headed for Dun Laoghaire before heading north again and looping back from Howth.
Hundreds of pleasure craft, dwarfed by the tall ships, followed their progress, with sailors waving and hooting as a festive atmosphere engulfed the bay. The fleet returned the greeting, shooting their cannons in salute.
Among those out on the bay were Tourism Minister Leo Varadkar, who was enjoying the spectacle on board 'LE Emer'.
"It has exceeded our expectations," Mr Varadkar told the Irish Independent.
"It's given tourists an excuse or a reason to come to Ireland and it's been great for local people as well. It has lifted the country's spirits.
"I went for a walk around last night, around Grand Canal Dock, and it was like a different city," he said of the hive of activity that accompanied the festival.
Dublin Lord Mayor, Councillor Naoise O Muiri, said the capital had set the "gold standard" for future ports for the tall ships.
Back on land, the crowds were equally enthused about the festival.
"It's the perfect day out," said Brian Kavanagh from Dunboyne, Co Meath, who was with his children Rachel (10) and Sean (8).
"I was here the last time the tall ships were here in 1998. I lived in a house on City Quay so it was actually on my doorstep -- I could see the boats from my bedroom. I had to travel a little bit further to be here today but it was worth it," he added.
The festival also drew large numbers of Cork and Donegal GAA fans who combined a trip to Croker for the All-Ireland semi-final with the parade of ships.
'It's gorgeous, fantastic," said Cara Mooney from Drumsna, Co Leitrim, who was with her husband, Donegal supporter Ronan, and their children Caoimhe (8), Senan (5) and Siofra (3).
And while Ronan was the only one with a ticket for the match, the rest of the family were content to watch the ships.
"Maybe we'll get a ticket for the final," laughed Cara.