|Melanie Warden (right), and her fellow sailors, working the ropes on board the Euro on their Transatlantic voyage back to Belfast|
For one local girl, it was a fitting end to an experience of a life time. As some of us wish away the damp and dreary summer holidays, one lucky, Lisburn lady chose to make history. After almost a month at sea on board the Europa, former Wallace student, Melanie Warden, had an emotional reunion with her family on Thursday when the flotilla of Tall Ships arrived in Belfast after travelling 7000 nautical miles across the Atlantic.
Speaking of her trip, Melanie enthused: "It was a fantastic experience, I'm sorry to be home."
On her first day on board the Europa, Melanie admitted, "It was daunting, I was completely overwhelmed by the ropes and the size of the ship. The crew were amazing though, they showed us how to do everything and how to be safe on board. Having to work in four hour watches meant we got to grips with the ropes in no time."
"We spent two days in Halifax before boarding the Europa and the atmosphere over there was just the same as here, there were huge street parties and lot's of things to do!"
As this was the longest time Melanie had spent away from home, she admitted, "I didn't think too much about home when we were away, but when we saw land again I felt pretty emotional. I think a lot of people had a wee tear in their eye."
Since the ships arrived ahead of schedule, it allowed Melanie time to show her new foreign friends the glorious sights of Northern Ireland: "We arrived in Ballycastle last Monday and spent three days travelling along the North Coast, taking our visitors to see the Giants Causeway and Portrush and then we anchored in Lame for one night.
"Belfast City Council wanted ships to visit different ports to advertise the event so that everybody in Northern Ireland had a chance to come and see them if they couldn't make it to Belfast for the weekend. There were eleven different nationalities aboard the Europa so by visiting different ports, it gave them the opportunity to see the various sights of Northern Ireland."
The enthusiastic sailor continued: "We had brilliant weather at the start when we were travelling South towards the Gulf Stream, the views were amazing and we even spotted a few dolphins but when we turned to come back up North, the weather was horrendous and the waves were huge."
The local daredevil continued, "That was the best bit though, it was so exciting, the water came up over the deck but it just made the experience so much more memorable."
For those of you assuming the food had been abominable on board the tall ships, Melanie, too was just as
shocked to find out it wasn't: "I couldn't believe how good the food was, we had fresh bread every morning and desserts in the evening which definitely kept our spirits up!"
Not only was the trip a nautical experience but also a cultural one, Melanie remarked: "I shared my cabin with another girl from Belfast, one from Switzerland and another from England. It was such a privilege to meet so many people from across the world and learn more about their culture. I will definitely keep in touch with all the new friends I made, I'll really miss them."
The Lisburn girl said how celebrations continued throughout the weekend, "There was a crew parade on Friday night, where we walked around the streets of Belfast and loads of people came out to watch. Afterwards, all the crew members went to the Odyssey arena for the prizegiving and a big crew party. The atmosphere was brilliant and we ended up winning the prize for the noisiest crew in the parade."
"The Europa did really well, it won 1st prize in the Class A group as well as coming third in the entire race so the lack of sleep was definitely worth it!"
If Melanie wasn't very emotional when she arrived with the ships, she was certainly emotional when they left without her: "It was really sad to see the Ships leave without us. I wanted to go too but everybody, including the full time crew, left and a brand new crew arrived to take the Europa back to the Netherlands. Before travelling home, some of the crew are heading down to Dublin to see the sights there too."
"I think I've been running on adrenalin all weekend because it's really only hit me how tired I am. I think I'll need a few days to recover." Melanie, who awaits her A Level results on Thursday says how reality has hit her hard, "It's so bizarre, I had completely forgotten that my results were coming out and now that's all I'm thinking about!"