Certificate no 741
Status National Historic Fleet


Function Fishing Vessel
Subfunction Trawler
Location Brixham
Vessel type Brixham Trawler
Current use Private use
Available to hire Yes
Available for excursions No
Info required No
Web address http://www.vigilanceofbrixham.co.uk/index.php


Builder Upham, J W & A, Brixham
Built in 1926
Hull material Wood
Rig Gaff Ketch
Number of decks 1
Number of masts 2
Propulsion Sail
Number of engines 1
Primary engine type Diesel
Boiler type None
Boilermaker None


Breadth: Beam
19.80 feet (6.04 m)
8.49 feet (2.59 m)
Length: Overall
111.93 feet (34.14 m)
Tonnage: Gross
Air Draft
To be confirmed


Built in 1926 by JW & A Upham, of Brixham, for George Foster and skippered by his brother Fred, both from Brixham, VIGILANCE was launched in December of that year by George Foster’s grand-daughter Alice Friend. The vessel’s £1000 cost was paid in full to Upham’s on her launch day. She had oak frames, 2 ½ inch oak topside planking, 3in oak planking at the bilges, and 2in elm planking below the waterline.

VIGILANCE was a typical ketch-rigged trawler, designed by Upham’s, with a graceful counter stern, long run and skeg at the heel of her keel. In 1933 she won the Brixham Regatta’s King George V Perpetual Cup (the ‘King’s Cup’) in a fresh breeze, despite being last of the seven ketches over the start line. In lighter airs she was less successful. Registered with the number BM 76, VIGILANCE was fished by the Foster brothers until 1937 when the fall in fish landings and the loss of uninsured gear forced them out of business. In December of that year Upham’s yard bought her back for £525 but did not use her for fishing. In February 1938, lying idle on a mooring in the outer harbour, she was badly damaged when she was swept off it by a storm from the NNW and sustained extensive damage to her port side when she drove onto Torbay Lass. She was taken into the inner harbour for repairs.

It is believed that she was used as a naval kite balloon mooring vessel during the Second World War. After the war she was converted into a yacht and was fitted with a paraffin engine. She was sold in January 1949 to William Meldrum and re-sold two months later to Harold Owen who sailed her at Shoreham. However, Owen was drowned when he fell from his other boat in 1952 and VIGILANCE was set on fire on the same day as his cremation; the cause of the fire has never been established, though locals thought that his wife had torched her in an effort to stop their son going to sea. As a hulk, she served as a pontoon and storeroom at Shoreham until being bought in 1955 by an Australian who jury rigged her with a tarpaulin and attempted to sail her away. She was deemed a hazard to shipping and towed into Littlehampton by the coastguard.

Later in 1955 the Australian sold her to Ken Harris, a carpenter and cabinet maker, who began a singlehanded rebuild of VIGILANCE which took him until 1971. Most of the frames were renewed in 10” x 5” oak, and the topsides replanked (with mahogany and Malayan keruin) upwards from seven strakes above the keel. Where new planks were necessary below the waterline they were of larch. Deck beams, deck, deck house, skylights and bitts were new and Ken Harris handmade 1.5 tons of iron fastenings. The lower sections of both masts had been destroyed in the fire and so a landing light post from an aerodrome was acquired and scarfed to make new sections. An extra twelve berths were added to her accommodation so that she could be used for charters.

From 1971 to 1978 she was based at Cowes and with the registration number TS K332 started chartering. In 1978 Harris moved VIGILANCE to Dartmouth, and in 1983, after sailing the boat for twelve years, he added an extra keel, of greenheart, to strengthen her and improve her sailing performance to windward. An all woman crew sailed VIGILANCE in the 1983 Tall Ships Race and, in 1986, after moving her base to north Wales, she carried a school expedition to Norway’s Lofoten Islands, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Prior to that trip her Leyland-made Matilda tank engine was replaced by a 260 hp Scania diesel.

In 1994 VIGILANCE moved again, this time to Peel Harbour in the Isle of Man. It was from there in 1997 that the boat was purchased from Harris for £60,000 by a syndicate and returned to her home port. She was refitted and restored by Philip & Son on the Dart, when 22 planks were replaced in her hull and she was fitted with modern navigational equipment.

In 1999 she collided with LEADERin the Brixham Regatta race and needed a new bowsprit. In the winter of 2003/4 a new engine was fitted and in each successive winter repairs and restoration have been carried out to her hull, spars and rigging. The mainmast was replaced in 2004, main boom in 2007 and mizzen boom in 2008. New main and mizzen sails were bent in 2007. In winter 2010/11 new shrouds were fitted. 

She has twelve passenger and four crew berths. Her sail inventory includes mainsail, summer and winter topsails, mizzen and mizzen topsail, stay foresail, mizzen staysail, storm jib and three other jibs of different weights.

Source: Historic Sail, Britain's surviving working craft, Paul Brown, the History Press.

M and


Langley, E & Small, M, Lost Ships of the West Country, Stanford Maritime, 1988
Old Gaffer's Association Member's Handbook and Boat Archive, 1993
Classic Boat: Looking after Vigilance, September 1999
Classic Boat: The Carrick Craic, September 1995
Classic Boat: Charter UK Destinations - Wish you were here?, February 2011
Classic Boat: T boned at Brixham, August 1999
Classic Boat: Brixham sailing trawler Vigilance wins King's Cup again, August 2004
Classic Boat: At Close Quarters Ken Harris: the man of vigilance, September 1999

Key dates

  • 1926

    Built by J. W. Upham of Brixham

  • 1949

    Converted to a yacht

  • 1950s

    Badly damaged by fire and rebuilt over 15 years

  • 1997

    Bought by a group dedicated to restoration


  • 2007/2008

    A Sustainability Award of £3,000 towards the cost of new sails was made from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships

  • 2000/01

    The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £520 for maintenance work

Own this vessel?

If you are the owner of this vessel and would like to provide more details or updated information, please contact info@nationalhistoricships.org.uk

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