The following blog was written by one of "Britannia's Friends" Andrew, who volunteered to work with us for four days in October.
"In October 2018 I met Sam, Vicki and Britannia for the first time in 25 years. Sam and Vicki had withstood the passage of time remarkably well, barring the odd dodgy knee, but sadly Britannia wasn’t quite the elegant, if elderly, lady I had last seen at the quayside in Portree in 1993. The intervening years have of course seen her reluctantly sold by Sam and Vicki and subsequently enduring a period of neglect compounded by misguided and insensitive alterations resulting in the loss of most of the painstaking fitting out of her interior undertaken by Sam in the 1970's, and her sad decline from a graceful sailing vessel to little more than a hulk used as a floating dormitory in an obscure backwater.
Enter Sam & Vicki once more, fuelled by a determination not to let her slip into terminal decline but to rescue her and give her a new lease of life and a new purpose in her second century, once restored to her formal glory. A thoroughly praiseworthy goal, but a huge challenge nonetheless despite the growing army of supporters and volunteers Sam and Vicki have enlisted to the cause. Having decided that the practical problems of working on her in a boatyard a considerable distance from their home in mid-Devon compounded the difficulty of the project they decided on the bold step of transporting her lock, stock and barrel to Winkleigh, about 30 miles from the sea, where the local community now seem to be taking her to their heart.
Of course a Devon field may be a picturesque setting for her, but serious restoration work on a boat of this size and complexity requires a wealth of facilities and a suitably protected working environment, which Sam and a growing team of volunteers, drawn from the local population and the many friends and admirers of Britannia they have accumulated over the years, have set about constructing over the last few months, so that I renewed my acquaintance with her in a magnificent purpose-built shed which has grown over and around her.
Given the sad state of Britannia herself if was really heartening to see how much has already been achieved in constructing her temporary home, creating a setting in which similar magic can be worked on the old lady herself. Seeing the shed immediately impressed upon me that these people know what they’re doing and are seriously determined to meet this challenge, had I ever doubted this. In the light of what has already been accomplished it is much easier to believe that the damage and neglect of the past 15 years ago can and will be fully reversed.
Despite the lack of superstructure and interior fittings she is still recognisably the same boat that first bewitched me in 1988. She literally has a heart of oak and although much of Sam’s painstaking craftsmanship has been stripped from her, her keel, frame, hull and deck are mostly intact and what is there now is largely sound and secure, much irredeemably rotten and damaged timber having been removed before she was moved inland.
Faced with such a task it was great to get stuck in for a few days and do my small bit to move things forward a little. We removed large amounts of accumulated detritus, redundant wiring and pipework from within the old saloon area and remaining cabins, leaving a clearer field of operations for work on actual restoration to begin.
We also took delivery of some heavy-duty woodworking machinery from storage elsewhere, ready for its installation in the shed so that serious woodworking activities can commence. Best of all we manhandled a stack of huge pieces of sawn mahogany into safe storage in the shed to provide the wherewithal for eventual refitting of Britannia’s interior to the standard that old friends of her will remember from her heyday providing unforgettable sailing holidays amid some of Britain’s most beautiful land- and seascapes.
None of this is going to be quick or easy, and a lot more financial and practical help will be needed in the next few years before the dream of returning her to the sea in A1 condition can be realised. I left with the firm conviction that Sam & Vicki’s new vision for their old friend is realistic and achievable and I cannot wait to have the opportunity to give another helping hand to the work and to admire the further progress I expect to see when I’m next able to visit. Meanwhile if it’s crossed your mind to lend a hand, do it! I could not have been made more welcome and it’s hard to think of a more satisfying and rewarding way of spending a few days than by rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in!"
|Britannia 1988 Loch Carron|