HMY Britannia (Royal Cutter Yacht)

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Britannia in her first season
Career  United Kingdom
Name: Britannia
Owner: 1893: Edward VII 20px RYS
1910: George V 20px RHYC
Ordered: 1892
Builder: D&W Henderson Shipyard Ltd
Yard number: 366
Launched: April 20th, 1893
Fate: scuttled (July 10th, 1936)
General characteristics
Class and type: British Big Class gaff-rigged cutter
Displacement: 221 tons
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. It served him and his son, King George V, a long racing career.

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 Yard on the River Clyde. She was launched on April 20th, 1893, a week ahead of Valkyrie II.

By the end of her first year's racing, the Britannia had scored thirty-three wins from forty-three starts. In her second season, she won all seven races for the big class yachts on the French Riviera, and then beat the 1893 America's Cup defender Vigilant in home waters.

Despite a lull in big yacht racing after 1897, the Britannia served as a trial horse for Sir Thomas Lipton's challenger Shamrock I, and later passed on to several owners in a cruising trim with raised bulwarks. In 1920[1], King George V triggered the revival of the "Big Class" by announcing that he would refit the Britannia for racing. Although the 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 improvements, her performance to windward slopped 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 the Britannia had been stripped of her spars and fittings, her hull was towed out to St Catherines Deep near the Isle of Wight, and she was sunk by HMS Winchester (L55), 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.

A new replica of the Britannia is currently under preparation in Norway, after legal problems in securing her release from her Russian shipyard.[2]

Predecessors and Opponents

The Britanna was the last of the British royal racing yachts. 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.[3]. From 1962 to 1969, the British Royal family also owned the ocean racing yawl Bloodhound (Charles E. Nicholson, 1936).

The 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 M. 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)


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