Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival attracts bumper crowds.

Jetman pictured at the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival at the weekend - a week long maritime themed festival packed awash with family fun, food and sea-going antics which will run until the 5th June. Pic Sammy McMullan/McAuley Multimedia
Jetman pictured at the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival at the weekend - a week long maritime themed festival packed awash with family fun, food and sea-going antics which will run until the 5th June. Pic Sammy McMullan/McAuley Multimedia

Hundreds of budding sailors voyaged to Northern Ireland’s glorious coasts for the opening weekend of NI’s favourite nautical extravaganza, Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival, which began on Friday with a captivating boat blessing on the Ballycastle seafront.

The weeklong celebration recognises the unique body of water between Ballycastle and the magical island of Rathlin- affectionately known as Rathlin Sound- and is taking place until June 5 with over 15,000 people expected to attend.

Sarah, Patrick and Anna in costume during the fancy dress competition at the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival at the weekend - a week long maritime themed festival packed awash with family fun, food and sea-going antics. The festival kicked off on Friday and will run until the 5th June. Pic Steven McAuley/McAuley Multimedia

Sarah, Patrick and Anna in costume during the fancy dress competition at the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival at the weekend - a week long maritime themed festival packed awash with family fun, food and sea-going antics. The festival kicked off on Friday and will run until the 5th June. Pic Steven McAuley/McAuley Multimedia

Opening weekend highlights included country music sensation Lisa McHugh who brought the crowds to their dancing feet on Sunday night in the Marine Hotel, and the crowning of Ulster’s very first Chowder Cook Off champion who will now compete in the All-Ireland competition in 2017.

Seafaring families were also able to set sail on a real-life Tall Ship, the Soteria, as well as watch the action-packed Sailing Regatta. Those who were willing could even test the waters themselves by learning to kayak or power-boat.

Caroline Casey, Tourism Development at Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, said: “We were absolutely thrilled by the turn out for the opening weekend of the Rathlin Sound Maritime Festival. This event is a fantastic chance to celebrate something so important to our unique maritime heritage and it was great to see families enjoying that.

“But this was just the beginning of the annual nautical celebration! Still to come are lots of activities on Rathlin Island including an opportunity to explore the Ship Wreck and Arandora Star exhibitions. We also have a Rathlin Sunset cruise with Rathlin Island Ferry company and of course our finale on Rathlin on Sunday with the ‘Big Lunch’ music by Altagore and Aoife Scott and lots more.”

This year’s festival has been organised by the Council, Ballycastle Community Development Group, the Rathlin Development & Community Association, and the Ballycastle Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Sponsors include Tourism Northern Ireland, Malin Waters and Rathlin Boat House Partnership as returners. Also on board are new sponsors Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd, Marine Hotel Ballycastle, Naturally North Coast & Glens Market and Causeway Coast and Glens Food Network.

For more information on the full Festival programme of activities in Ballycastle and on Rathlin Island, between 27th May and 5th June, visit www.rathlinsoundmaritimefestival.com