Registration number 447
Status National Historic Fleet

Previous names

  • 1921 - 1935 Excelsior LT472
  • 1935 - 1954 Excelsior
  • 1954 - 1972 SVINØR
  • 1972 Excelsior


Function Fishing Vessel
Subfunction Trawler
Location Lowestoft
Vessel type Lowestoft Smack
Current use Commercial Activity
Available to hire Yes
Available for excursions Yes


Builder Chambers, John & Co, Lowestoft
Built in 1921
Hull material Wood
Rig Gaff Ketch
Number of decks 1
Number of masts 2
Propulsion Sail
Boiler type None
Boilermaker None


Breadth: Beam
19.25 feet (5.87m)
8.79 feet (2.68m)
Length: Overall
76.95 feet (23.47m)
Tonnage: Gross
Air Draft
78.00 feet (23.77m)


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.

Her first skipper, Jimmy Strong, was skipper of His Majesty's Armed Smack Fame during WW1. On 6th March 1916 H.M.A.S. Fame survived five confrontations with a German coastal submarine (or submarines) .

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.   In 1940, during WW2, EXCELSIOR had delivered a cargo of firewood to Bodo in North Norway when on 13th April the town was attacked from the air by German bombers. As the town was built largely of wood it caught fire so EXCELSIOR ferried many of the townsfolk to safety on nearby islands until the pier she was operating from was itself destroyed by a bomb aimed at her. She was severely shaken up and was beached in a leaking condition and her engine dismantled to prevent her being used by the Germans.

Mid-war, an illicit radio was hidden aboard EXCELSIOR with which the islanders of SVINOY, where she was based, were kept informed of news of the War from the BBC's Norwegian Radio News in London.

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 Excelsior 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.


Key dates

  • 1921 Registered under the ownership of a consortium with Jimmy Strong as first skipper
  • 1933 Laid up during the Depression
  • 1935 Sold to Norwegian Bjorn Stensland of Kristiansand and converted to a motor coaster
  • July 1937

    Vessel commenced trading still with the name EXCELSIOR



  • 1954

    Vessel sold to Sverre and Ole Boerufsen of Svinoy and registered in the nearby port of Mandal as SVINØR

  • 1970

    Laid up

  • 1971

    Purchased by John Wylson

  • 1972

    Returned to Lowestoft and re-named EXCELSIOR.  Painstaking restoration back to sail commenced in partnership with Mark Trevitt

  • 1982

    Excelsior Trust formed and part-rebuilt hull and accumulated gear donated by Wylson and Trevitt



  • 1982 - 1988

    Restoration to 'as built' condition externally completed and vessel commissioned by H.R.H. Princess Royal for sail training

  • 1989

    Undertook a circumnavigation of Britain

  • 1999

    Trawling gear re-created and vessel caught plaice again after 66 years

  • 2003

    5,000th sail trainee taken to sea

  • 2007

    Over 100,000 nautical miles logged since vessel's restoration

  • 2016

    Vessel appointed National Historic Ships UK's Regional Flagship of the Year

  • 2019

    Runner-up in National Historic Ships UK's Martyn Heighton Award for Excellence in Conservation for her replica smacks' boat

  • Nov 2023

    Colin Barton, Winner of the 2023 Marsh Volunteer individual award


  • April 2021

    Excelsior Trust received a grant of £80,800 from round 2 of the Government's Culture Recovery Fund.

  • 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

  • May 2016

    Regional Flagship Winner and awarded £250 from the Strategic Development Fund

  • 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

  • 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


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

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