Britannia

Keep the home fires burning
Britannia

BRITANNIA is a Boston fishing Smack, built during the First World War for Alfred Rake by his brother-in-law, Walter Worfolk and his sons, Gerald and William, at King’s Lynn.. Worfolk was from a Yorkshire boatbuilding family and had moved to King’s Lynn in 1899. The new vessel was launched from the Friars boatyard on the River Nar on 1 April 1915, and she was rigged as a gaff cutter. She was the last, and largest, whelk trawler to be built on the east coast of England.

BRITANNIA had an eventful career during the First World War. Soon after being launched she ran aground on the Long Sand in the Wash. She was 55ft long and 13ft wide and drew 8ft 6in in ballast, but her bottom was such that the crew were able to walk ashore along the lowered mast. She was not damaged.

During the First World War BRITANNIA had a friendly encounter with a German U-boat. Well to the east of the Sunk buoy she met the submarine on the surface. Some of the German crew came aboard and exchanged a few bottles and some food. The crew decided to say nothing of the incident, as fraternising with the enemy was frowned upon.

In another incident BRITANNIA was caught in the ice when the River Ouse froze over in about 1918: food and fuel were taken out to her by improvised sledge.

In 1917 BRITANNIA brought home the crew of a Russian ship found in distress. Alfred Rake, the owner, fed and slept them for some time before they could be repatriated. They departed eventually, and nothing was heard until 1939 when one of the survivors came to King’s Lynn as an officer on a timber ship and got in touch to thank Alfred and his crew.

Later BRITANNIA became a motor fishing vessel. Running aground in fog on a spit in 1968, when going up to Boston Haven, the steep bank caused her to capsize and sink. A fire crew pumped her out but her owners could not afford to put her back into working order. She was sold and taken to Lowestoft for a failed attempt at re-rigging her.  In 1973 a carpenter named Haydn Samuels bought her and worked on her restoration at Bristol.

From 1974 to 1997 BRITANNIA operated as a charter yacht on the west coast of Scotland. She was then taken to the Hamble, from where she continued to offer sailing holidays. She was acquired by the Trinity Sailing Trust, of Brixham, in 2007 and underwent an extensive refit in 2008. She was then engaged in youth training work and charters, sailing to the Scilly Isles, with berths for ten guests and three crew. In 2011 she was laid up.

Where is she now?

BRITANNIA is currently in Gweek, Helston, Cornwall, where she is undergoing restoration.

 

Sources

The history of BRITANNIA above was recalled by one of one of Alfred Rake’s grandchildren, who sailed on the trawler in about 1930 as a little girl. The crew brought her shells, exhausted birds (including a government carrier pigeon), a model yacht found at sea, and a young seal which was fed on whelk and lived for several years. In return she would dance and sing for them.

 (1997) Classic Yacht: Classic Yacht Opportunities.

Brown, P. (2013) Historic Sail: Britain’s Surviving Working Craft. The History Press: Stroud, Glos.

Do you know more about this vessel and the First World War? Can you help us?