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Photos by Ben Sonkkila

The 77th Sail Past and Blessing of the Fleet on September 9th, 2023, witnessed a splendid display of maritime tradition and camaraderie as member boats eagerly registered their participation in this year’s event. This annual spectacle, known as the SYC Sail Past, serves as the official opening of the SYC boating season and stands as a cherished tradition within our community. The Sail Past and Blessing of the Fleet unfolded gracefully in the presence of the SYC Board, fellow SYC members, distinguished guests, and a receptive audience.

The day’s proceedings commenced with vessels gathering at the end of D arm at 13:30, setting the stage for the Sail Past that commenced promptly at 14:10. Each boat’s captain and crew meticulously adorned their vessels, vying for the coveted “Best Dressed” accolade. Judges evaluated entries based on a set of criteria that included boat themes, crew outfits, the display of signal flags, burgees, bunting, and the proper handling of the ensign, including the dignified dipping salute as they passed by. In a show of respect, each crew also delivered a salute to the Flag Officers positioned on the pontoon.

The origin of this grand tradition can be traced back to the very first Yacht Club formed in Cowes, England, more than two centuries ago. Founded primarily by members of the aristocracy, many of whom were well-acquainted with naval practices and traditions, the Cowes Yacht Club later transformed into the prestigious Royal Yacht Squadron. Here, traditional naval customs were infused with a touch of social refinement, giving birth to the Sail Past tradition.

The heart of the event, the “Review of the Fleet,” carries a legacy spanning over 600 years of Royal Navy tradition and history. It was seamlessly integrated into yacht clubs, continuing the age-old practice of Navy Admirals (and sometimes even Royalty) reviewing the fleet on special occasions.

This formal procedure dictated that a flagship be anchored, with the Admiral and their staff positioned on the Quarterdeck to gracefully receive and reciprocate salutes. As vessels sailed past, they paid their respects by dipping their colors, while captains and their crews stood at attention, rendering salutes. Leading the fleet in this grand procession was the Vice-Admiral, with the Rear Admiral bringing up the rear.

The Southport Yacht Club’s tradition is almost identical, except that the salute is received by the Commodore and Naval representative instead of the Admiral and the salute is delivered by the passing boat, if under sail, by luffing its jib, or, if under power, by dipping its ensign. All of the crew on the saluting boats stand at attention facing the Commodore and visiting Navy Flag Officer. If there is insufficient wind, sailboats should have their engines on. Protocol dictates that until the sail past is completed, only the Flagship may be dressed (strung with bunting & flags). However, after the Sail Past, participating yachts are encouraged to dress their yacht on returning to the dock.



Published in print October-December 2023