A SMALL crowd cheered as the first Tall Ship arrived in a North-East town yesterday.

The Spanish Bermudan sloop Hansa sailed into Hartlepool Marina shortly after 9am to the sound of sirens and applause from about 20 spectators.

The 60ft Class D ship, which sails out of La Coruna in Spain, was the first arrival ahead of this weekend’s four-day extravaganza.

Crew member Pedro Pena said his team was delighted with the way the race had gone.

“We are very happy to be here,” he said.

“It was our main objective to come first. We have been to Hartlepool before and we are glad to be back.”

The Hansa has competed in the Tall Ships Races before and Mr Pena said the crew planned to continue to take part in the future.

He said: “We had no wind for two days at the beginning which was not good, but then it was very good. The sea conditions were pretty good.

“The boat will be staying around for the week.”

Despite the second Tall Ship, Latvian’s Spaniel, being due to arrive last night, race organisers took the decision to change the length of the race to ensure all the ships will arrive on time for the start on Saturday. Light winds have meant progress in the race has been slow.

A special race formula used by Sail Training International will ensure that all vessels finishing at sea will still be eligible for a placing.

Class A vessels will now finish the race today at 1pm, Class B vessels at 1.15pm, Class C vessels at 1.30pm and Class D vessels at 2pm.

As the second vessel was arriving, the Mayor of Darlington, Councillor Bryan Thistlethwaite was setting off on a journey to Stockton with a special beacon.

The Olympic-style torch will be passed between the five Tees Valley authorities ahead of the start of the event. A final beacon will then be lit on Seaton Carew beach.

Up to one million visitors are expected in Hartlepool over the weekend.

■ A comprehensive guide to the Tall Ships Races will appear in The Northern Echo tomorrow.