Fate of historic Exeter ship in desperate jeopardy

Fate of historic Exeter ship in desperate jeopardy


A mission to keep a historic sailing ship afloat is in 'desperate' jeopardy. Britannia, the last functional example of an East Coast Fishing Smack, is undergoing a community restoration in Exeter.

The aim is to restore it to its working life at sea. However, it won't be possible unless £250,000 is raised.

Not only does it threaten the future of the boat but it also jeopardises two young boatbuilder apprenticeships and scuppers the dreams of operating an education programme for disadvantaged young people, once the boat is seaworthy again.

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The 109-year-old sailing ship is owned by Sam and Vicki Samuels, an 80-year-old couple who founded Britannia Sailing Trust in 2014, a charity supporting disadvantaged young people through boatbuilding and sailing. To secure its future, they have launched a national campaign called Help Save Britannia.

So far more than £11,500 has been raised. Britannia has been an important part of Sam and Vicki's lives for 50 years. They have already restored her once already while raising their family on board as they sailed across the world.

Sam and Vicki Samuels, the owners of Britannia
Sam and Vicki Samuels, the owners of Britannia -Credit:Britannia Sailing Trust

After selling it in 1996, they crossed paths with her again in 2013 and are now committed to restoring her for a second time after she fell into disrepair. The project marks their lifelong passion for the ship and for sailing, but due to underfunding because of rising costs, their dream of seeing Britannia sail again is likely to end in heartbreak unless more funding and donations come in.

Sam said: “We have nine committed trustees and the support of many individuals, some of who have sailed aboard Britannia in the past. It’s got such wonderfully rich heritage and as the last ship of its kind in the UK, is a treasured part of our maritime culture. But the sad reality is, rising costs mean that we are now underfunded and urgently need more support to help us save this lovely boat.”

The trust’s future in supporting young people is also in doubt. The charity focuses on offering career-building opportunities while building skills, gaining confidence and improving mental wellbeing.

Britannia in Exeter
Britannia in Exeter -Credit:Britannia Sailing Trust

Sam said: “Young people are the future of traditional sailing ships. They’re the next generation of boatbuilders, shipwrights, skippers and sailors. The ship will enable the charity to offer training and work experience for individuals to learn how to sail and maintain a traditional sailing boat, part of Britain’s maritime history.

"We owe it to them to give them this invaluable opportunity to learn vital life skills. We feel Britannia has been an integral part of our lives for so long and it was fate she returned to us again.

"We want others to experience the same joy she has brought us but we’re heartbroken at the prospect of not being able to revive her. We hope people can do whatever they can, however they can through donations, and sharing our plea for help. We shall be eternally grateful.”

The restoration of Britannia
The restoration of Britannia -Credit:Britannia Sailing Trust

Britannia has a rich history including ribs built from oak trees in the Royal Sandringham Forest, encounters with a German U-Boat in World War One, rescue of a Russian ship in distress and she has even sunk at least once.

Construction work on Britannia was started by the Worfolk Brothers in 1914, a well-known pair of shipwrights, from Friars Yard in Alexandra Dock, King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Britannia was launched a year later to become the largest and fastest vessel in the King’s Lynn fleet.

It was built as a whelking ship. Whelks are a type of marine snail which were an incredibly popular street-food at the time.

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