A new Britannia to rule the waves

By Richard Wright

Published on Friday, November 16, 2012 - 11:17


A new Britannia to rule the waves

Guiseppe Longo inside the hull of K1 Britannia. Picture by Peter Boam.

WIGHT LIVING BRITANNIA, in all her incarnations, has ruled the waves — and now a Cowes project aims to ensure that is again the case.

King George V’s royal yacht bearing that name may never be seen in Solent waters again but it is planned a replica, also called Britannia, will be — courtesy of a multi-millionaire businessman.

The only clues to the identity of the 70-year-old benefactor is he is from elsewhere in the world and is still very active in the business world. He is also a generous soul with a very deep pocket.

And, apparently, the man wants nothing in return for pouring money into the project. He just wants the delight of seeing a majestic sailing leviathan on the water, to be used to raise cash for a host of good causes and, quite simply, to inspire.

When you look at her lines it is easy to see his point. Britannia is both beauty and beast.

Just a couple of vital statistics will illustrate just how big a beast Britannia is and just how large the consequent task will be. The lead keel, which will keep her 52m-long bulk upright in the water, will weigh 80 tonnes.

Britannia’s mast will reach 55.5 metres to the sky. The Columbian pine and spruce, already imported from Norway and waiting in Southampton, will be laminated to make what will be the tallest mast in the world.

The original Britannia was King George V’s pride and joy.

She was built in 1893 for Queen Victoria’s son Prince Albert Edward and served him and his son, King George, in a racing career that was the stuff of legend.

The king’s dying wish was for his beloved Britannia to follow him to the grave. She was scuttled in St Catherine’s Deep in 1936.

Fast forward 58 years and the Queen gave her blessing to the replica being constructed. Another 18 years on and we are where we are today — the hull encased in a scaffolded tent at Venture Quays in East Cowes.

To say the re-birth of Britannia is ambitious is an understatement. When the scale of what is being undertaken by Island craftsmen is seen and the timescale for its completion is considered, it will be magnificent testament to that skill and effort if she is ready for launch in April 2014 as projected.

K1 Britannia has already had substantial Island involvement, even before the idea was hatched to bring her here by the late Harry Spencer, of Spencer Rigging, and Mark Downer, of AM Structures, Sandown.

As a result, her 6ins-thick timber and composite hull is on graceful laminate ribs. She was equipped with a teak deck for the Russian who originally bankrolled the project.

Britannia was brought to the Island in February, having been rescued from Norway. She languished there after her owner became embroiled in a messy ownership dispute, having returned from holiday to find Britannia bearing the new name, St Petersburg, on her stern.

What the small K1 Britannia team members now have is what they believe to be a super-solid shell.

While the shell may be Rolls Royce, the interior was pure B&Q. There is nothing wrong with that in the kitchen but not in an elegant re-creation of a classic yacht.

Thirty-two tonnes of tat was ripped out to take Britannia back to her substantial guts. In the next few weeks, it is planned for the team to be expanded from five to up to 25 to start putting her together again — in style.

They are being led by 50-year-old Guiseppe Longo, who has been imported from Bristol to lead the effort.

The former Italian first division rugby winger has the so-called restoration of the century on his CV — transformation of the massive 1920 gaff cutter, Lulworth.

He wants to give younger people a similar chance and he has also determined that, given King George V’s original Britannia was a Solent superstar of its day, Cowes should remain the home of the project.

To those ends, there are plans afoot to work with the UK Sailing Academy and for a team of young volunteers to gain experience of working on a unique project — one that combines age-old techniques with the high tech.

"We are really looking forward to having the young people on board. Who knows what doors the chance of being with us will open for them," said Guiseppe.

He has issued an appeal for memorabilia, parts and equipment of the old Britannia that can be incorporated into the replica.

"We have already managed to purchase the original Britannia clock and we are hoping for gifts, to buy or to be loaned items. We are very much hoping to have the original medicine chest on loan and we have received the original top-mast, which will be used to make the flagpole," said Guiseppe.

"Before the original Britannia was scuttled, most items were stripped from her, so there is real hope the K1 Britannia will be much more than a replica, that she would incorporate items that would have been part of King George’s love affair with the yacht."

Three weeks ago the public was given its chance to be part of the project to ensure not only is she built but there is funding to fit her out fully and enable her to be used for at least five years of fundraising by charities.

That appeal uses methods of which King George could not have dreamed.

Britannia was one of the first appeals when the Kickstarter website went live in the UK.

The call for donations includes evocative film footage and shows just how majestic she will look under sail. It seeks £500,000 to be pledged in the campaign’s 60-day life.

"We are currently raising funds for Britannia’s running costs, interior design and engineering to recreate every item that would have been on board Britannia at the turn of the century," said project director Scott Ward.

In return for pledging to the project, people from around the world are promised a unique Britannia gift.

A small donation will bring a copy of an original sketch or blueprint while a large donation will gain a place in a race at Cannes, St Tropez or the Caribbean, or the chance to be one of the 200 people who will be able to party on Britannia’s deck.

Just seeing Britannia in The Solent would probably be reward enough for many people.

• To see Britannia’s Kickstarter go to www.tinyurl.com/brityacht

Reporter: richardw@iwcpmail.co.uk

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