A NORTH East city is preparing to welcome visitors – and vessels – from around the globe for an international festival of sail.

From 10-14 July, the city of Sunderland will host The Tall Ships Races Sunderland 2018 – five days of ships, markets, circus, theatre, music and entertainment before the races officially begin.

And along with sailing ships from countries as far afield as India, Russia and Vanuatu, performers are travelling across Europe to entertain the 1.5m people expected to attend the event.

Sunderland won the honour of kicking off this month-long international festival and has been working closely alongside its international partner ports. 

After the spectacular 5-day festival, the ships leave the River Wear on 14 July, they will race to Esbjerg, Denmark, moving on to Stavanger, in Norway, from where they will race to Harlingen, in The Netherlands.

Of the 55 sailing ships taking part in the Races, only 14 are British, with others coming from 16 other countries, including Germany, France, Holland and Helgoland.

As start host port, Sunderland has arranged a packed schedule of events for the five days of the festival, from fairgrounds and markets to live music, art workshops, exhibitions and displays.

And performers from around the globe will join homegrown talent for a series of spectacular shows at event zones around the city.                                                                                                                       

Highlights include Finnish all female circus act Sisus Sirkus, who will showcase their trapeze and circus skills on a 9m high aerial wire.                                                                                                                          

“We are very excited to come and perform in the UK for the first time ever,” said the act’s Selene Abonce Muhonen.

“It is a brand new conquest for us and we thank the Tall Ships Races Festival for the opportunity.” 

World famous Danish clown Paulo Nani, who will entertain visitors of all ages, said: “I am excited to meet the British audience again and look very much forward to visit Sunderland on such a special occasion as the TallShips Races.”                                               

And, as the sun sets over the River Wear, on Friday 13 July, three of the world’s most highly skilled wire walkers will attempt a unique feat of daring and possibly set a world record – by crossing the River Wear on a high wire.

Thousands of spectators are expected to watch as British husband and wife team Chris and Phoebe Bullzini and Belgium’s Johanne Humblet, of Cirque Bijou, will ascend a 30m high, 220m long, inclined high wire without a safety net.

In addition, Summer Streets – a free annual festival founded five years ago by Sunderland Band The Futureheads guitarist and vocalist Ross Millard – is moving from its usual Southwick home to Seaburn Recreation Park to be part of the event.

On Saturday 14 July, its line-up will include Norwegian indie band Beezewax, performing tracks from their most recent EP, Out of the Window and Swedish YouTube sensation Gunhild Carling – famous for playing three trumpets at the same time.

Councillor John Kelly, Sunderland City Council Portfolio Holder for Communities and Culture said: “Russia might be hosting the FIFA World Cup but we’re very proud to have our own international event right here in Sunderland. 

“Countless countries are involved in the Tall Ships Races Sunderland 2018 and the city can’t wait to welcome their visitors, sailors and performers – who can all be sure of a very warm Wearside welcome.

“And, of course, if people like what they see, we’re celebrating our 30th Airshow at the end of July too, and we would love to welcome people back for that.”                                                                

For more information about The Tall Ships Races Sunderland 2018, visit  www.tallshipssunderland.com follow on Twitter @TallShipsSund or Facebook at: Tall Ships Races Sunderland.