Coinciding with the 250thcentenary celebrations of the Royal Yacht Squadron in 2015 a new Britannia sailing yacht carrying the iconic K1 sail number is hoped to be launched in the Solent. Should this come to fruition it will bring to a happy conclusion a saga that has lasted 24 years.
Yachts named Britannia have been synonymous with the British Royal family since 1660. In total the monarchy have had 83 yachts named Britannia. The last, most loved and well known Royal sailing yacht bearing that famous name was commissioned by Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Albert Edward, in 1892 from the drawing board of George Lennox Watson and she was built on the Clyde by D. W. Henderson.
Original Britannia sporting her new Marconi rig in 1931 & The “Sailor King” George V at the helm
(photos: German Federal Archives Wikipedia )
A fine first Class Cutter of the Big Boat Class she enjoyed considerable success in her early regatta career in British and Riviera waters and her success as a racing yacht continued under the ownership of the Prince of Wales’ son, King George V or the “Sailor King”. He was persuaded to bring her out of mothballs following WW 1 and this decision and his passion made a significant contribution to the rejuvenation of the Big Class regatta circuit and the era of the 1920s and 30s. For many, this period is The Golden Era of Big Boat sailing and Britannia the most well known of classic gentleman’s racing yachts.
King George V had her re-rigged under the new J class rule in 1931 as a Bermudan cutter and her single wooden spa for that change remains the largest wooden spa built for a sloop to this day. It weighed over 3 tons. Over her illustrious career she won 231 races. Following the death of the “Sailor King” in early 1936, his wishes that she be scuttled as none of his children would cherish her, were carried out off the Isle of Wight in St. Catherine’s Deep in July 1936. Her spas and fittings had been stripped and sold at auction for £1050 with the proceeds distributed to various charities by the King George Fund for sailors.
Fast forward to 1993 and an idea for a replica bore fruit.
A wealthy Norwegian industrialist Sigurd Coates gained permission from her majesty Queen Elizabeth to use original plans and drawings to build areplica and in 1991 had purchased the Solombala Yard in Arkhangelsk Russia
to build her.
Sigurd Coates – A man with a lifelong dream to create a Britannia replica
(photo: Rune Saevig )
What ensued was a saga of epic proportions that would see his dream turn to a nightmare lasting 17 years . The choice to commission a yard in Russia was based purely on cost. For such a build in the usual Western European yards, estimates were at a minimum of 10 million euros, whereas the quotations from the Solombala yard were a fifth of that. Work commenced and the early signs were all positive.
Work at the Solombala Yard progressing well
(Photo: K1 Britannia Trust Wikipedia)
The famous Britannia name gracing a Big Boat Class Cutter again
(photo: K1 Brtiannia Trust Wikipedia)
Britannia and her instantly recognisable short bowsprit.
(Photo: Moss-Avis Pal Andreassen – www.moss-avis.no/)
The 122 foot hull comes out of the Solombala Yard shed
(Photo: German Classic Yacht Club – www.fky.org/news/britannia09.htm)
Getting ready for launch
(Photo: German Classic Yacht Club – www.fky.org/news/britannia09.htm)
The replica gets wet for the first time.
(Photo: David Glenn Yachting World)
By his own admission Coates then made a huge mistake. With the boat not finished, he sold the yard to another Norwegian Industrial group who subsequently sold in 2006 to the oligarch Andrev Dubinsky who ran the department of Waterways and Locks and was a good personal friend of Mr. Putin.
From this point Coates’ problems really began. It appeared that the new yard owner and other Moscow businessmen realised the value of this iconic replica classic and a 4.2 million dollar bill immediately materialised and over time legal wrangling over title escalated to absurd levels. Arguments over the contract terms, disagreements over invoice totals already paid, what assets had accompanied the sale of the yard and even accusations at one point of spying for Nato ensued. Over the next 3 years and despite numerous court rulings in his favour and paying 1.5 million dollars in final stage payments, Coates was unable to get the completed hull released to his possession. At one point with Russian police in tow he arrived at the yard to be told that his hull had “disappeared” and that the mysteriously similar one with a hastily drawn up stern nameplate “Tsar Peter “ was the yard owner’s personal property!
The perils of doing business in Putin’s Russia became all too apparent. With the help of a section of the armed judiciary in July 2009, Coates was finally able to get the hull launched and the correct documentation to title in his possession and to get away from the yard and begin the 2000 nautical miles sea journey back to Norway. Two engine failures added to the travails but they arrived safely at his home port, the historic maritime centre of Son in the fjords close to Oslo, in the first week of August 2009.
Getting ready to finally leave Russia – Oslo Bound
(Photo: Ann Coates Coates Productions )
Sigurd Coates quayside with his beloved Britannia after 17 years of struggle.
(Photo: Pal Andreassen – www.moss-avis.no/)
Sadly this was not the hoped for happy ending. With his electric motor company now in financial difficulties he was unable to afford to complete her and she lay for a further 2 years at anchor unfinished, his dream of a new Britannia ruling the waves in tatters. But the story was not over.
Sigurd Coates intention was always to have a foundation for charitable use and to have Britannia spend much of the season racing and chartering in British Waters and to be based in her spiritual home of Cowes in the summer months. He felt that the British public’s affinity for the replica would be strong and she would do good charitable work there with youngsters etc.
This part of his dream may well come to fruition. Following his financial difficulties and sale of his core business he negotiated the sale of the hull in return for some exclusive time to use her for himself each year and a place on the board, to a charitable foundation that would be based in Cowes and who proposed charitable future use for his iconic replica.
The K1 Britannia Trust http://k1britannia.org, a project conceived by the late Harry Spencer of Spencer Rigging and now run by an American charity specialist Scott Ward, took over the project with ownership of the yacht transferred to a Gibraltar registered company Minicast Holdings, and the K1 charitable trust being granted an exclusive 10 year lease on her use.
A fascinating video of the Sailor King’s Britannia
(Click to play and then enlarge to full screen for the best experience)
Their aim is for her to be used as a venue and fund raising platform annually for 80-100 charities around the world. Kickstarter a crowd funding platform has been used with limited success to raise donations from the general public to complete the restoration project and the trust have a shop in Cowes High Street. Following an appeal on social media they have been successful in finding original fittings and parts stripped and auctioned back in 1936 which will now be included in the refit.
In February 2011 the hull was towed by tug from the Oslo fjords to arrive at her spiritual home of Cowes.
The tug arrives to tow Britannia to Cowes
(photo: Hamo Thornycroft Wikipedia )
The hull in tow from Norway
(photo: Hamo Thornycroft Wikipedia )
Britannia hull is back in Cowes (Photo: Tim Addison www.cowes.co.uk ) & The Hull ashore at Venture Quays
Deterioration from 2 years idly moored meant significant restorations needed to be made and after some craning difficulties she was successfully put up on dry standing at Endeavour Quay in Cowes and the restoration of the replica started in earnest. The interior project is under the design management of Studio Faggioni of Italy with Guiseppe Longo as project manager.
Design plans for Britannia the King’s Yacht – K1 Britannia
(click to play and then enlarge the screen for the full experience)
Guiseppe Longo inside the stripped out Britannia interior. (Photo: Peter Boam ) & Britannia is planned to be rigged in her 1931 J Class configuration (Photo: Studio Faggioni)
Longo has credited to his name the restoration of the 120 ft. cutter, Lulworth (a former racing contemporary of the original Britannia), considered by many to be the classic yacht restoration of the century. He had already had dealings with Sigurd Coates as original Lulworth Spas made by Spencer Rigging of Cowes had been sold to the Lulworth Italian project by Coates.
Longo believes the Russian yard did a Rolls Royce job on Britannia’s deck and hull but more of a ‘B&Q’ job on the interior and so far 30 tonnes of ‘tat’ have been removed from the interior, stripping her back to bare ribs, awaiting a new bespoke interior fit for the “Kings Yacht”.
Sigurd liked it but the interior was not quite up to Guiseppe Longo standards!
(photo: Moss-Avis Pal Andreassen www.moss-avis.no)
Changes to hull planks, ballast and skylights have also been made. The new 55 metres spruce mast will once again be the tallest wooden mast in the world.
In October of 2013 she was again refloated, to be moved from Endeavour Quay to Hythe, where it is hoped the project will be completed in time for the RYS anniversary celebrations of 2015.
To once again see the K1 sail number gracing a 38 metre Big Boat Class Sloop competing in classic regattas around the circuit will be a superb sight and if her presence can benefit worthy charities along the way then even better.
Perhaps there will be a happy ending to this 24 year saga after all.
The K1Britannia Trust computer generated vision of the completed Britannia replica
(photo: the K1 Britannia Trust www.k1britannia.org )
P.S. Britannia has always held a special place in the hearts of those passionate about sailing and many an artist has tried to capture her magnificence – none better than Stephen Renard. Britannia leading White Heather, off the Needles is an impressive and captivating oil which can be viewed in Cowes at the K1 Britannia Gallery, High Street, Cowes, Isle of Wight – contact Robert Jarman firstname.lastname@example.org or
Britannia leading White Heather, off the Needles
STEPHEN RENARD – born 1947
Oil on board
Size: 36 x 60 ins / 91.44 x 152.40 cms
Provenance: Private Collection, United Kingdom
The artist was born in Huddersfield, in 1947.
Although interested in art, and gifted artistically from an early age, Renard chose to attend teachers training college at Liverpool University, finally graduating with a degree in the natural sciences
During his three years at training college, he developed a passionate interest in sailing.
Leaving his teaching profession behind, Renard then made his living as a portrait artist, taking lessons in ink drawing and becoming a freelance illustrator.
Purchasing a boat in the early 80s, he taught himself to sail and at that stage, painted ships as a hobby
Since then, he has concentrated on yachting subjects and in addition, has been asked to work as the in-house artist for the Royal Thames Yacht Club. (For his first commission, he produced a painting of the Spithead review, honouring the birthday of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.)
He is now regarded as one of the leading painters of yachting subjects and his work is held in many private and corporate collections worldwide.
For further information, or to arrange a viewing, please contact
Robert Jarman at ‘Objects of Desire’ Tel: 01962 793134
Stuart McClellan has been a passionate sailor and follower of all things yachting since he was 11 years old, starting out with his father who on retirement purchased a small family cruising yacht in 1971. Based in Tollesbury on the Essex coast , every time they left the Woodrolfe Marina they would pass a very large rotting hulk buried in the mud used as a houseboat. Enquiry as to what a J class (he was mistakenly told the hulk was a J Class) was and the provenance and history of the SY Merry Maid led to many a trip to the library for information and a lifelong passion for the Big Boat Class of the Golden Era of the 1930s was spawned. Forty two years on the passion for the beautiful classic yacht aesthetic has been joined by an equal passion for ocean going high tech multi-hulls. Stuart has had the good fortune to sail big multi-hulls in both Europe and Australia.
A city career in Proprietary Derivatives trading at UK merchant bank Schroders and private trading firm Manro Haydan and for the last 15 years as an independent, part funded this sailing passion, but his desired J Class yacht purchase has yet to be made. Currently he and his family enjoy cruising the beautiful East Coast estuaries on his 1960 Baltic Clinker or Halberg Rassy.
To share this passion he co-founded SailingAction, a specialist charter organiser for participation and viewing of iconic regatta action particularly J Class, Classic, Thames Barge and working sail and multi-hulls in the UK and Europe. Uniquely offering bunk and day ticket rather than whole boat charter, offering luxurious champagne days SailingAction has many satisfied customers who have experienced the beauty, majesty and awesome sights out on the water that regatta action brings.
Sailing Action details:-
T: 07748 334625 01206 299661 07734 097922