HMY Britannia (Royal Cutter Yacht)
Britannia in the 1890s
|Builder:||D&W Henderson Shipyard Ltd|
|Launched:||20 April 1893|
|Fate:||scuttled (10 July 1936)|
|Class and type:||British Big Class gaff-rigged cutter|
|Length:||121.5 ft (37.0 m)|
|Beam:||23.66 ft (7.21 m)|
|Height:||164 ft (50 m)|
|Draught:||15 ft (4.6 m)|
|Sail plan:||10,328 sq ft (959.5 m2) (1893)|
His Majesty's Yacht Britannia was a gaff-rigged cutter built in 1893 for Commodore Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. She served him and his son King George V with a long racing career.
After the Prince of Wales' nephew Kaiser Wilhelm II acquired the racing cutter Thistle in 1891, her Scottish designer George Lennox Watson received a commission from Prince Albert Edward for a sailing yacht in 1892. He designed His Royal Highness' Yacht Britannia to the "Length And Sail Area Rule" as a First Class cutter and had her built alongside his America's Cup challenger Valkyrie II at the D&W Henderson shipyard on the River Clyde. She was launched on 20 April 1893, a week ahead of Valkyrie II.
By the end of her first year's racing, Britannia had scored thirty-three wins from forty-three starts. In her second season, she won all seven races for the first class yachts on the French Riviera, and then beat the 1893 America's Cup defender Vigilant in home waters. In the Mount's Bay Regatta of 28 July 1894 the Vigilant owned by Jay Gould, director of the American Cable Company was piloted by Benjamin Nicholls of Penzance and the Prince of Wales's (later Edward VII) yacht Britannia was piloted by Ben's brother Philip Nicholls. The Britannia won by just over 7 minutes. People came by train from all over the south west to watch this race. Both brothers were Trinity House pilots of Penzance.
Despite a lull in big yacht racing after 1897, Britannia served as a trial horse for Sir Thomas Lipton's first America's Cup challenger Shamrock, and later passed on to several owners in a cruising trim with raised bulwarks. In 1920, King George V triggered the revival of the "Big Class" by announcing that he would refit Britannia for racing. Although Britannia was the oldest yacht in the circuit, regular updates to her rig kept her a most successful racer throughout the 1920s. In 1931, she was converted to the J-Class with a bermuda rig, but despite the modifications, her performance to windward declined dramatically. Her last race was at Cowes in 1935. During her racing career she had won 231 races and took another 129 flags.
King George V's dying wish was for his beloved yacht to follow him to the grave. On 10 July 1936, after Britannia had been stripped of her spars and fittings, her hull was towed out to St Catherine's Deep near the Isle of Wight, and she was sunk by HMS Winchester, commanded by Captain W.N.T. Beckett RN. This fate marked the end of big yacht racing in Europe, with the smaller and more affordable International Rule 12-Metre Class gaining popularity.
Four known examples of Britannia's racing flags are preserved, one presented by Philip Hunloke to the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, in whose Regattas Britannia was often a competitor between 1894 and 1935, the second at the Royal Northern and Clyde Yacht Club at Rhu and the third at the Royal St. George Yacht Club, which held two regattas in Kingstown for the first season of the RYA linear rating rule in 1896. Britannia's skipper William G. Jameson had lost both races to the new Meteor II and the Ailsa. The fourth known flag is held in the vexillology collection in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. 
Britannia's 51' long gaff, the king’s chair, tiller, some mast hoops, blocks and rigging, anchor chain and clock are preserved in the Sir Max Aitken Museum in Cowes High Street and the remains of her spinnaker boom are at Carisbrooke Castle, also on the Isle of Wight. The spinnaker boom was given for use as a flag pole on the keep (where it twice suffered lightning damage), and the present flagpole is a fibreglass replica. In an episode of Antiques Roadshow from Pembroke Castle, broadcast in April 2017, a relative of a crew member brought photographs, and a damask tablecloth and some cutlery from the yacht, to be appraised.
K1 Britannia is a project to create a replica of the original vessel where K1 designates the Britannia's sail number when she was converted to the J class in 1931. In 1993 a syndicate headed by Norwegian Sigurd Coates purchased a stake in a shipyard in Arkhangelsk in order to create a replica of the Britannia in pinewood. Between 2002 and 2006 the shipyard changed hands several times whilst joinery was nearing completion. In 2006 she was rechristened Царь Пётр (Tsar Pyotr; "Peter the Great") and held back for NOK25,000,000 until 2009, when a Russian court ordered the hull to be launched and delivered by the shipyard to her original owner Sigurd Coates. Subsequently the hull was towed to Son and berthed there until she was purchased by her present owners, a purposely-created British charity, and towed to East Cowes in 2012. Having also reached charity status in the United States of America in 2015, the project subsequently announced that it would raise funds there to finance the building of a new aluminium hull at a shipyard in Florida. The project has since fallen to a standstill.
Predecessors and Opponents
Previously Prince Albert Edward had acquired the 205-ton schooner Hildegarde in 1876, which he had replaced with the 103-ton cutter Formosa (Michael E. Ratsey, 1878) in 1879, and the 216-ton schooner Aline (Benjamin Nicholson, 1860) in 1881. From 1962 to 1969, the British Royal family also owned the ocean racing yawl Bloodhound (Charles E. Nicholson, 1936).
Britannia faced many opponents in her 43-year career. The most notable were:
- Meteor, Valkyrie II and Valkyrie III (America's Cup challengers by George Lennox Watson, 1887, 1893 and 1895)
- Navahoe and Vigilant (Seawanhaka 85' yankee sloops by Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, 1893)
- Satanita ("Length And Sail Area Rule" First Class cutter by Joseph Manston Soper, 1893)
- Calluna and Ailsa ("Length And Sail Area Rule" First Class cutters by William Fife III, 1893 and 1894)
- Meteor II ("Linear Rule" First Class cutter by George Lennox Watson, 1896)
- Shamrock I (America's Cup Seawanhaka 90' challenger by William Fife III, 1899)
- Merrymaid ("Big Class" handicap cruising cutter, Charles Ernest Nicholson, 1904, still sailing)
- Zinita ("Big Class" Second Linear Rule 65' cutter by William Fife III, 1904)
- Nyria ("Big Class" bermuda cutter by Charles Ernest Nicholson, 1905)
- Brynhild II ("International Rule" 23mR cutter by Charles Ernest Nicholson, 1907)
- White Heather II and Shamrock ("International Rule" 23mR cutters by William Fife III, 1907 and 1908)
- Westward (A-Class schooner by Nathanael Greene Herreshoff, 1910)
- Lulworth ("Big Class" cutter by Herbert William White, 1920, still sailing)
- Moonbeam IV ("Big Class" handicap cruising cutter by William Fife III, 1920, still sailing)
- Astra and Candida ("Second International Rule" 23mR bermuda cutters by Charles Ernest Nicholson, 1928 and 1929, both still sailing)
- Cambria ("Second International Rule" 23mR bermuda cutter by William Fife III, 1928, still sailing)
- Shamrock V, Velsheda and Endeavour I ("Universal Rule" J-Class cutters by Charles Ernest Nicholson, 1930, 1933 and 1934, all still sailing)
- Yankee ("Universal Rule" J-Class sloop by Frank Cabot Paine, 1930)
|year||owner||starts||first prizes||other prizes||total prizes|
|1893||Albert Edward, Prince of Wales||43||24||9||33|
|1898||Messrs. Rucker, Cooper, et al.|
|1899||Albert Edward, Prince of Wales||6||0||0||0|
|1899||Sir Richard William Bulkeley, 12th Baronet|
|King Edward VII||used only for cruising|
|1911||King George V||used only for cruising|
|laid up during the Great War|
|1929||not fitted out|
- "King George to race his Britannia again" (PDF). New York Times. 1920-03-10.
- http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/945.html?_ga=2.231017311.1900896189.1495187674-41559397.1495187629. Missing or empty
- "British shipbuilders miss the boat", BBC, 1997-11-14
- Bård Wormdal (2009-07-24), Britannia satt fri, Norsk rikskringkasting
- Britannia arrives back into Cowes, Cowes Harbour Commission, 2012-02-06
- Britannia finally lifted today, Cowes Harbour Commission, 2012-03-13
- "K1 Britannia - newbuild announcement", facebook, 2015-03-08
- Captain Seymour Fortescue, K.C.V.O. (1911). "King Edward VII as a yachtsman". King Edward VII as a sportsman.
- "Britannia". British Pathé. - 24 videos
- Brooke Heckstall-Smith (1929). The Britannia and her Contemporaries. Methuen & Co.
- John Irving (1937). The Kings' Britannia - The Story of a Great Ship. Seeley, Service & Co.
- George Lennox Watson (1894), "The Evolution of Yacht Design", Yachting Volume I, Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes, Longmans, Green & Co, London, pp. 50–101
- Uffa Fox (1949). Sailing, Seamanship and Yacht Construction. Charles Scribner's Sons Publishers. ISBN 978-0-486-42329-6.
- "Britannia model". National Maritime Museum.
- "Royal Harwich Yacht Club".
- Christopher Ennals. "Short history of the Britannia" (PDF). ECYU. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 January 2009.
- "Yachting". Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). 1911.
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