Lowestoft Sailing Smack built 1921 by Chambers, John & Co, Lowestoft

Ensign House flag


National Historic Fleet

Fishing Vessel


Lowestoft Sailing Smack


Commercial Activity






Web site









To be confirmed

19.25 feet (5.87 metres)

76.95 feet (23.47 metres)

8.79 feet (2.68 metres)



This fishing vessel is one survivor out of a thousand first class smacks that worked the North Sea from UK East Coast ports in the late 19th century. Although EXCELSIOR dates from 1921, she was built without an engine to a design that had evolved fifty years previously. She was built for Lowestoft which in 1912 had a fleet of 340 similar vessels.

The ketch rigged Lowestoft smacks had a crew of five and a powerful steam capstan for the heavy hauling work. They used ice to preserve their catch and when the ice started to melt after two or three days, they raced their catch back to market where it was dispatched onwards by express goods trains to inland towns and cities for sale on the slab.  Before the combination of sailing fishing vessel and steam railways, most people were unable to enjoy the luxury of fresh sea fish and had to make do with dried fish or muddy-tasting freshwater fish on Fridays, which the Church decreed should be meat-free.

After being laid up in the Depression, EXCELSIOR was sold to Norway in 1935 and converted for coasting. After World War Two, she was sold to Sverre and Ole Borrufsen of Mandal. Her mizzen-mast was taken down in 1968, and she ceased trading in 1970.

John Wylson bought her the following year and repatriated her to Lowestoft, where he re-framed and partially restored her to smack rig in partnership with Mark Trevitt. Extensive fundraising was necessary before restoration could re-start in 1985, with help from a Manpower Services Community Programme using unemployed people in Lowestoft.

EXCELSIOR was commissioned as a sail training vessel by HRH the Princess Royal in 1988, and completed a circumnavigation of Britain in 1989. She joined the London-Hamburg leg of the Cutty Sark Tall Ships Race and revisited Norway the same year. In 1999, her trawling gear was re-created and she caught plaice again after 66 years, an achievement which was televised for Channel 4’s Real History Show. The Trust which now operates EXCELSIOR was set up to keep alive the knowledge and sustainable technology of Lowestoft smacks.

The vessel is in regular use, but now has an engine to improve the safety and comfort of those who sail in her. Since 1989 when EXCELSIOR's restoration back to external ‘as built’ condition was completed, she has been quietly taking people of all ages and backgrounds to sea to experience their maritime heritage first-hand. Each year between April and October she sails around 5000 miles, taking 17 people at a time for day trips or voyages lasting a week or more. She has sailed north almost as far as the Arctic Circle, south to Portugal, and East as far as St Petersburg, and each year she is seen by thousands of spectators.

Source: John Robinson, Advisory Committee, March 2009.

Norman J Brouwer, International Register of Historic Ships (Edition 2, 1993, pp149) pub: Anthony Nelson
Old Gaffer's Association Member's Handbook and Boat Archive (1993)
Classic Boat (November, 2011) Raymarine kit giveaway
Classic Yacht (August, 1997, ppSupplement) Classic Charter Opportunities
David Potter, Parliamentary Maritime Review (Edition 28, 1997) Re-inventing the Wheel

Previous names

  1. 1935 – 1972Svinor
  2. 1921 – 1935Excelsior LT 472

Subsequent Developments

  1. January 2011 Vessel's sternpost and some planks running into it need replacing soon and the sterngear can now be improved for when under sail. These items are to form the basis of a major refit (the last being 1985-9). Source: current owners

Key dates

  1. 1921 Registered under the ownership of a consortium with Jimmy Strong as first skipper
  2. 1933 Laid up during the Depression
  3. 1935 Sold to Norwegian Bjorn Stensland of Kristiansand and converted to a motor coaster
  4. Post-war Sold to Sverre and Ole Borrufsen of Mandel
  5. 1970 Laid up
  6. 1971 Purchased by John Wylson
  7. 1972 Returned to Lowestoft for restoration back to sail Partnership formed with Mark Trevitt and extensive re-framing carried out
  8. 1982 Excelsior Trust formed and part-rebuilt hull and accumulated gear donated by Wylson and Trevitt
  9. 1988 Restoration neared completion and vessel commissioned by HRH Princess Royal for sail training
  10. 1989 Undertook a circumnavigation of Britain
  11. 1999 Trawling gear re-created and vessel caught plaice again after 66 years
  12. 2003 5,000th sail trainee taken to sea
  13. 2007 Over 100,000 nautical miles logged since vessel's restoration


  1. 1993 International Register of Historic Ships - Brouwer, Norman J
  2. 1993 Old Gaffer's Association Member's Handbook and Boat Archive
  3. 1997 Classic Yacht Classic Charter Opportunities
  4. 1997 Parliamentary Maritime Review Re-inventing the Wheel
  5. 2011 Classic Boat Raymarine kit giveaway


  1. 2007 A Sustainability Grant of £3000 to cover the costs of new interpretation signs was awarded from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships
  2. August 2009 This year's lifetime achivement award, given annually by the Transport Trust, went to John Wylson for his 16-year restoration of the 1921-built, ketch-rigged sailing trawler EXCELSIOR. Source: Classic Boat - Aug 2009
  3. September 2011 Raymarine announced EXCELSIOR as winner of the National Historic Ships' Safety at Sea award at the Southampton Boat Show. The smack receives over £4,000 worth or electronic gear, including the C120W chartplotter and an AIS 500
  4. May 2016 Regional Flagship Winner and awarded £250 from the Strategic Development Fund
If you are the owner of the vessel and would like to provide more details or updated information please contact info@nationalhistoricships.org.uk

keel bar:

metal bar forming the keel of a metal vessel