Classic Brixham fishing trawler saved

A classic Brixham sailing trawler has been saved from disaster after winning a near £1 million grant.

Vigilance BM76 was the last in a long line of beam trawlers or smacks built at Upham’s shipyard in the Devon fishing town in 1926.

The vessel, which is part of the UK Historic Fleet, is in poor condition but the grant of £820,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund will allow essential maintenance to be carried out.

Volunteers Tony Bridle (mate), Caroline Griffiths (crew) and Nigel Gooding (finance director) celebrate news of the grant (Trevor Taylor/Friends of Vigilance/PA)
Volunteers Tony Bridle (mate), Caroline Griffiths (crew) and Nigel Gooding (finance director) celebrate news of the grant (Trevor Taylor/Friends of Vigilance/PA)

The 76ft long Vigilance, which weighs 100 tons, will go into dry dock in Plymouth in September for the replacement of the hull and support beams.

The work is expected to last around 20 months and the grant covers the first phase of the repairs so further fundraising will be required to complete the restoration.

Nigel Gooding, finance director of the Friends of Vigilance charity which owns and operates Vigilance, said: “This is great news.

“We are extremely grateful for this award from the National Heritage Memorial Fund for recognising the national importance of Vigilance.

“The grant is urgently needed to carry out essential maintenance and it will, quite literally, save this historic ship from disaster.”

Mr Gooding said that without the grant the trawler faced an uncertain future.

“This grant is a life-saver, it’s a real turning point. It will now allow us to plan for the immediate future and means Vigilance’s red sails will be seen in Tor Bay for years to come,” he said.

“Brixham would not be the world famous fishing port it is today without boats like Vigilance, and this grant is especially important for future generations as it will enable them to understand the fishing heritage of the area.”

Brixham sailing trawlers were built as disposable boats with an expected life of 12 to 15 years.

Mr Gooding said it is a testimony to the efforts of the many volunteers over the years that Vigilance has survived 96 years and will now celebrate her centenary in 2026.

“The stage-by-stage funding will allow an extensive inspection and repairs below the waterline,” he said.

“It will ensure the boat’s backbone and structure will provide a good foundation to complete further repairs to the deck and superstructure.

“Our fight to keep Vigilance in Brixham has received a major boost but big obstacles and more fundraising lie ahead.

“I see this as a reward for our hard work, but we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.”

Dr Simon Thurley, chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “The National Heritage Memorial Fund has a long history of supporting nationally important maritime heritage, so we are delighted that funding from the Cultural Assets Fund will enable a vital step forward for protecting the future of Vigilance.

“This funding will not only ensure the historic vessel can celebrate its centenary in 2026 but will also keep its stories and heritage alive for future generations.”

Once the repairs are complete, Vigilance will once again take people for trips around Tor Bay, along the English Riviera coast and beyond from her berth on the Heritage Pontoon in Brixham Harbour.

The main mast is 82ft (25m) tall and with a full set of sails open the vessel will reach speeds of 12 knots (14mph).

Vigilance was the last of the big trawlers built at Upham’s yard. The exact number of classic boats built there is unknown but is thought to be around 400, of which just a few remain.