A rare wooden boat being restored in deepest landlocked Devon is celebrating its 108th birthday with an open day on Easter Monday, April 10.
The 58ft Britannia is being rebuilt by seasoned boat restorers Sam and Vicki Samuels and a team of volunteers, 20 miles from the sea at a workshop in the village of Winkleigh. A key part of the project is to train disadvantaged young people in the art of boatbuilding.
Sebastian Dixon, age 19, was unemployed before he joined the team two years ago. Despite having to commute three hours a day to get to Winkleigh, he hasn’t missed a day’s work since then and was recently awarded a £500 grant to buy tools.
‘I’m learning so much from the shipwrights and feel like I’m getting involved with the boating industry,’ he said. ‘There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears!’
Similarly, Abi Hart, age 20, was working one day a week in a pub when she heard the Britannia Trust was looking for volunteers. Over the past year, she has not only started her training as a boatbuilder but has also started an RYA Yachtmaster course and is now well on the way to a life on the ocean wave.
‘We all have so much fun in the boat shed and I am getting to know Britannia in a way that few others will have the chance to do,’ she said. ‘I feel like a new person, gaining so much more experience, and I now know what I want to do with my future.’
This is the second time the Samuels have restored the former fishing boat, which was built in King’s Lynn in 1915. The first time was in 1973, when they lived on board in Lowestoft, Suffolk and Bristol, the Westcountry and finally the Western Isles of Scotland, until they were forced to sell her in 1996. The vessel then went through a series of owners until 2013, when the Samuels’s son Gareth spotted her in a derelict state on a mooring in Brixham.
By then, Sam and Vicki were in their 70s and had no intention of taking on a major rebuild project. Sam had recently qualified as a pilot and was planning to build himself a lightweight biplane.
When they saw the state of their beloved former home, however, they put all those plans on hold. Instead, they bought Britannia – which by then had been condemned by a surveyor – for a symbolic £1 and had her shipped up to Winkleigh. Since then, the Samuels and their team – led by Sam, and joined in the last year by master shipwright Andy Cornish – have been fixing the damage caused during those ‘lost years’. The intention now is to fully restore her to relaunch in September at Exeter Quay, where it is hoped she will be part of a fleet of heritage boats based at the quay.The Britannia Open Day runs from 1-5pm on Easter Monday, April 10 at the workshop behind Airfield Garage, Seckington Cross, Winkleigh EX19 8EY, with boatbuilding demonstrations and tours of the ship. See https://britanniasailingtrust.org