Leading Article: Sailing into the sunset

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The Independent Online
CERTAIN parts of the world still carry their cargoes in ships which travel with the blessing of the wind. You can see small sailing ships at work - real work - in the China Sea, off the coast of East Africa, in the great estuaries of Bangladesh. To the traveller from the Western world they seem immensely picturesque. Their sails, stitched and patched, bleached and stained, have the tone of water-colours: pinks running together with browns. Other than the occasional creak of rope and timber and the rippling of water at their bow and stern, they move silently. Only when the wind drops or they are fighting upstream against a current do you see the human sweat and muscle which it takes to sail them. Men straining on the bank against the tow-rope, walking and chanting, mile after mile.

These men might be puzzled at a phrase which has rung along the Mersey for the past few days and will ring even louder today. The Romance of Sail. Dozens of the world's largest sailing ships are moored in that river and today hundreds of thousands of people will watch from the banks as they sail into the Irish Sea and then scatter to their home ports. It will be a magnificent sight, as uplifting as any great art. But the romance of the sailing ship was born with the death of its utility, rather like the case of Liverpool itself.