Chris Gurney was at Whitehaven for its Maritime Festival 2007, held over 15-17 June
Whitehaven held its first Maritime Festival back in 1999 and it is now one of the North West's premier outdoor events. In 2005 the event attracted a quarter of a million visitors over the weekend, so in 2007 it was decided to make it a three-day festival with Friday becoming a full day of festivities. The event not only attracts flying displays, but a full range of family orientated activities from tall ships, talent contests, firework displays, clowns and jugglers - it really does have it all. This year's event very nearly didn't happen, but owing to Eddie Stobart's Haulage becoming a major sponsor at the last minute, they managed to secure this year's event at the very least.
So what about this year's flying displays? Friday saw the only appearance by the RAF's Red Arrows over the weekend, owing to them having 'Royal' appointments over the weekend. Although the weather wasn't at its best, the Reds managed to put on their rolling display in front of a very appreciative, if slightly cold, audience. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Spitfire XIX PM631 and Hurricane PZ865 preceded them. The Reds were followed by what would turn out to be the stars of the weekend; Kennet Aviation's Skyraider and the Royal Navy Historic Flight's Sea Fury. Both of these powerful warbirds put on a fantastic show in less than perfect conditions.
Saturday turned out to be slightly better weather-wise and the crowd was treated to a pairs arrival by the Sea Fury and Skyraider and a couple of passes in formation for the cameras before separating for their solo displays. The Sea Fury was particularly impressive in its slot and for the first time flew below my position on the cliffs to the south of the harbour. Other aerial antics were provided by a rather distant Search & Rescue demonstration by Sea King XZ578 from Prestwick, which got called away halfway through its demo, as well as an unusual four aircraft display from the Aerostars. The BBMF's Dakota made its first of two appearances as well. Later during the day there were two flypasts, one from Plain Sailing's Catalina and one from Hawker Hunter WV322.
Sunday dawned bright and sunny and continued like this all day, the crowds flocking to the harbour for another day's entertainment. Once again the Sea Fury and Skyraider combo stole the show, but the BBMF displayed its Dakota and Spitfire AB910 a little bit too far away, with the display controller asking them to come in closer, but to no avail. The Catalina put in a full display after a mammoth effort to get her airborne - on Friday she flew into Carlisle on one engine following a major oil leak. One of Plain Sailing's engineers drove up from Duxford with a replacement part and they had the aircraft serviceable again for Sunday following Saturday's test flight. Well done to all involved! The crew got a very large round of applause from the crowd on the harbour side for their display. The Hunter Flying Club down at Exeter provided Hunter T8 WV322 - they were down to do a display on Saturday, but the pilot got stuck in traffic at the sprawling metropolis that is Exeter! The Hunter gave a good account of itself with a sweeping display but alas the display lacked the topside pass that photographers crave. The show was rounded off by the RAF solo Hawk from RAF Valley, whose display was very 'punchy' and was extremely well flown - in fact it is surprising how loud this jet can be, it certainly got the attention of everyone.
The official crowd for the event was 312,000 over the three days, well above expectations given the weather forecast for the first two days. The next event is scheduled for 2009, planning is already under way and the organisers hope to make it a four-day event!