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When Britannia ruled the waves

Times Staff Writer

Britain is hoisting its flag and pulling out the stops in a yearlong celebration of its seafaring history. Hundreds of events, including tall-ship races, maritime festivals and historic reenactments, are part of SeaBritain 2005.

"Almost every town in Britain is taking part," said Paul Chibeba, spokesman for VisitBritain, which promotes tourism to that country.

The celebration is timed for the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, a key naval engagement of the Napoleonic wars in which British forces, led by Adm. Horatio Nelson, thwarted Napoleon's hopes of invading Britain. Nelson perished in the Oct. 21, 1805, battle off Spain's Cape Trafalgar, but not before uttering the soon-to-be famous words from his deathbed: "Thank God, I have done my duty."

Among the highlights of SeaBritain:

The country's first international fleet review since Queen Elizabeth II's silver jubilee. More than 150 vessels from 35 nations — nearly double the participants in 1977 — will assemble June 28 in Portsmouth. There will be modern warships, merchant vessels and tall ships on parade, plus an armada of private boats. The evening will bring fireworks and a sound and light show evoking a 19th century sea battle. Viewing the parade is free.

The fleet review will be followed by the International Festival of the Sea, June 30 to July 3, also in Portsmouth. It will offer live music, interactive exhibits, a 19th century-style street market, marine parades, military exercises, food and more. Tickets are about $37 per adult in advance and about $42 at the door. Information: 011-44-870-013-4030, .

An exhibition at the Historic Dockyard in Chatham, called "The Road to Trafalgar," is to open June 1 and run through September 2007. It will explore the dockyard's role in building Royal Navy ships, including the Victory, Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar. Information: .

Even the makers of Wedgwood china are taking to the sea. An exhibit called "SeaWedgwood," tracing nautical themes in ceramic designs, runs through spring 2006 at the main factory's visitor center on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent in the English Midlands. Information: .

Autumn will bring a flotilla of barges and cutters re-creating the waterborne funeral procession for Nelson along the Thames River (Sept. 16) and a nationwide Trafalgar Weekend with various events across the country (Oct. 21 to 23).

For more information, including an events schedule, for the SeaBritain 2005 festival, visit .

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