The Britannia Sailing Trust have very exciting news to share. Read all about it below!

With autumn upon us, most trees are showing signs of dormancy, but Britannia’s timbers are springing into new life. A great transformation has taken place in the ‘magic’ tent since you last heard from us (back in the halcyon days before Covid). Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our team, who remained committed to the restoration despite the hardships of the pandemic, Britannia is starting to look something like her old self again.

With the onset of Covid, it seemed as if we had some problems on our hands. Our reliance on the efforts of mainly elderly volunteers in a confined space meant that for us, as for many millions across the world, ‘business as usual’ seemed to be off the cards.

Thankfully a successful application to the government’s Culture Recovery funding, aimed at heritage projects threatened by Covid, gave us a lifeline which not only allowed us to continue our work, but gave us the leg up we needed to move forwards with the next stage - planking! This grant enabled us to hire three professional boat-builders and two trainees to continue working on the ship while our elderly volunteers were keeping themselves out of harm’s way.

One of the first tasks was to construct a 40ft long steam chest at the rear of the tent. Old planks were removed and new ones cut from locally sourced larch. Due to the ‘shift of butts’ (a technical matter concerning where the ends of the planks meet) we ended up having to replace far more wood than intended, despite the fact that much of the original Russian red cedar was still in perfectly good condition. In total around 45% of the hull has been re-planked.

While the old planks were off, maximising access to the hull, we also took the opportunity to double up many of the old frames. Some of these frames are well over 400 years old, if we factor in the age of the Sandringham oaks when they were felled.

After planking, the new wood was faired, ensuring a smooth surface. It has now been painted and, on the surface, Britannia is almost looking like new. With the restoration of the after deck now approaching completion, she’s almost ready to begin interior fit out.

While the boat-builders were busy with the hull, we outlined an ambitious plan: relaunch on Britannia’s ‘birthday’ in April 2022. We set about finding funding so that we could make this dream a reality – not such a simple task!

Meanwhile, in the wake of the ‘summer of Covid’, we worked on attracting new volunteers to join our existing team as people gradually crawled out of the lock-down woodwork. Our efforts were successful and we are proud to say the Britannia family has grown a great deal over the last year and a half, with many new faces – young and old – helping out in all capacities. There’s always room for more, however, so do come along and take a look if you feel a calling.

At the moment we are focussing on Britannia’s potential for inter-generational teaching and are working to involve local young people looking to gain employable skills. We are also seeking to connect with schools, youth organisations and other charities in order to inspire youth and disadvantaged individuals with the magic and potential of traditional sailing vessels.

In order to pursue these ideas, we received a grant from the Radcliffe Trust for the formation of a traditional tool chest (dubbed the ‘Radcliffe Chest’). This chest will be legally bound to the ship; its contents - a huge variety of traditional boatbuilding, navigational and seamanship tools, as well as books and other educational resources - can never be sold or transferred. It will be for the use of Britannia’s volunteers and beneficiaries – to learn valuable traditional skills and later ‘give back’ to the ship by helping to maintain her in the manner to which she is accustomed.

We are keen to use Britannia as a backdrop for educational and social initiatives, doing our bit to contribute to the rennaissance of conviviality which we hope to see post-covid. Last month the ship hosted a captivating story-telling session with the Plough Story-telling Circle and we are planning a folk and shanty fundraiser in the near future.

We have been liaising with local landowers to discuss the planting of a ‘boat-builder’s woodland’ near Winkleigh, where the restoration has been based for the last three years. This mixed woodland, consisting of native trees traditionally used in the construction of wooden boats, will be our enduring ‘thank you’ to everyone who has helped us and a gift to future generations of boat-builders, long after Britannia has been returned to the waves. If you or someone you know would like to be a part of this, or you know of some land that is just asking to be planted with trees, please get in touch!

Finally, we have one more piece of good news to share – and we are certainly guilty of saving the best ‘til last here. A successful application to the Heritage Lottery has secured us a significant sum of money, ensuring that we are indeed on track to relaunch Britannia in the spring of next year. We are very grateful to National Lottery Players and the Heritage Lottery Scheme for making our mission possible, despite challenges past and present. This has been a breakthrough for us and has given us the final push that was needed to achieve lift-off. The project is only gaining momentum and all in all, it has been a very exciting (though at times nerve-wracking) year and half.

A final note: we have launched a sponsorship scheme, which allows local businesses to partner up with Britannia in exchange for a hefty promotional package, including flags flown from the ship, customised banners displayed at the launch and more. If you or someone you know might be interested in this, send us a message at britannia1915@gmail.com and we’ll be happy to tell you all about it!

Britannia Sailing Trust Team
The Heroic Britannia Volunteer team who have just finished concreting inside the hull, in icy temperatures, November 2021!

To learn more about the Britannia Sailing Trust, visit their Shipshape Network project page here!

Britannia Sailing Trust Team Region South West