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Organisers of one Scotland’s leading celebrations of maritime heritage are delighted to reveal ambitious plans for a virtual offering in 2021.

The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy in Aberdeenshire will shift from a physical event a to digital festival due to the uncertainty that remains regarding the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions – with the backing of EventScotland as part of the Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21.

With public safety and protecting the local community their primary consideration, the boat festival committee have been working behind-the-scenes on innovative plans to stream a collection of bespoke video content to showcase the many facets of the flagship event which regularly attracts 16,000 to the North-east coastal town.

This virtual event will go live over the weekend June 25-27 . It is being flagged as a preview for next year’s showcase, with that the hope that the festival will return to Portsoy on June 17-19, 2022.

It will be the second year in a row that the festival has been postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

However, a virtual festival provides a different way to share the festival with a wider audience, both at home and abroad, as an opportunity to share some of the special elements which collectively make the festival unique.

Festival chairman David Urquhart said that the digital festival would shine a light on Portsoy and the wider area to viewers across the globe, as well as maintaining the festival’s reputation as a leading Scottish maritime event.

Mr Urquhart said: “It is with a heavy heart that we have taken the decision not to go ahead with the 2021 Scottish Traditional Boat Festival.

“It had always been our desire to deliver a safe festival, but our number one concern has been to protect the safety of the local community and the many thousands of visitors who descend upon Portsoy over the festival weekend.

“We simply cannot plan with any degree of confidence that we will be able to deliver the event the town deserves, and our visitors have come to expect, and public health has to be our key consideration.

“So, we are working on delivering a festival on a virtual platform to share our flagship event with audiences around the world. While festival lovers won’t be able to come to Portsoy, we will deliver a festival to them through streaming.

“This festival will maintain our profile, providing some fun and entertainment on the weekend the festival was due to take place and will give a taste of things to come in 2022. We look forward to returning to a real live event, safely, next year.”’

Paul Bush OBE, Director of Events at VisitScotland, said: “We are delighted to be supporting the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival as part of Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21. Scotland offers the perfect stage to celebrate our maritime history and this year's festival provides a great opportunity to learn more about coastal and cultural traditions in North-East Scotland."

Uncertainty over the timeline for the easing of restrictions which enable large scale outdoor events to take place has dashed hopes of the festival being held in June. Organisers held on for as long as they could but have conceded that in the interests of public safety, they cannot plan with any degree of certainty for the event going ahead.

Details of the digital offering will be released shortly, but it will have a focus on seafaring activities, food and drink, crafts and music.

This year’s festival has been awarded funding from EventScotland as part of the Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21, and the creation of a truly memorable virtual festival will celebrate Scotland’s coasts and waters in a format which will shine a spotlight on these vital elements of our landscape.

The two-day boat festival began back in 1993, initially as a one-off event to mark the 300th anniversary of the historic Portsoy harbour. Since then, it has become a mainstay of the Scottish events calendar, attracting an international audience.

In 2019, it was crowned winner of the Best Cultural Event/Festival category at the Aberdeen City & Shire Tourism Awards. It was recently named festival of the year by Prestige Awards.

2020 was a challenging year for Portsoy Community Enterprise. In addition cancelling the boat festival, its Salmon Bothy museum which annually attracts 3,000 visitors remained closed. Popular cultural festivals normally held in the Bothy’s upstairs meeting space were also called off due to restrictions.

Its Sail Loft 25 self-catering accommodation and Portsoy Links Caravan Park were shut during for part of the season, although both were able to resume operating later in the summer.

The digital boat festival will showcase the area’s many assets to people both at home and abroad, seeking to inspire them to visit Portsoy and the Aberdeenshire coast once travel restrictions lift.

Find out more about the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at its Facebook page @STBFPortsoy or at https://www.stbfportsoy.org/

Find out more about our Shipshape Network Scotland Projects here.

Scottish Traditional Boat Festival (c) Allan Robertson
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