Edward Prince of Wales, the late King Edward the VII, and the Royal Yacht Britannia
Prince Edward took much interest in the design of the Royal Yacht Britannia. She had 7 changes of rig with major upgrades during her life. Britannia is rarely seen in her original form as she is here, with her original rig, being better known and often illustrated later in her life as her fame accumulated.
This extraordinary picture was researched by kind permission of Keith and Ken Beken, from among their father / grandfather’s original glass plates at their shop, Beken of Cowes. Knowing Gordon Frickers was (and at the time of writing still is!) himself a fully trained photographer and would not damage the plates or unlike some artist’s infringe their copyrights, both were extremely helpful including advising on colours of the yacht and her sails. This Britannia should not be confused with the Britannia of HRH Queen Elizabeth 2, a fine and unusual painting of which (Royal Visit, Plymouth, Drake 400), can be seen in the members’ bar of The Royal Plymouth Corinthian Yacht Club.
Britannia was a revolutionary racing yacht built especially for the Royal family, whose links with yachting go back at least as far as the days of the “merry monarch”, King Charles II.
She was built by D & W Henderson of Clydeside.
She measured 102 feet & set 10,000-sq. ft. of sail. Launched to race against straight stemmed & clipper bowed Victorian cutters, her long convex overhangs were considered new, radical & ugly.
“Britannia” won over 200 first prizes, still an unbeaten record. Many of these races were won with Capt Albert E. Turner of Wivenhoe at the helm. Britannia was arguably the most distinguished yacht ever sailed. She certainly had a huge impact on the public, promoting Yachting (which we now call sailing!), by annually visiting and racing at most major British ports, adding glamour and Royal kudos.
Without the inspiration of “Britannia” there would have been no glamorous “Big Class” & in turn the “J Class” superyachts would not have evolved. Indecently, Velsheda was also a J Class and carried the largest single piece mast in the world, only being surpassed in the 1980’s (see Velsheda Vertigo).
“Britannia” eventually passed to King George IV and had seven changes / upgrades of rig in her life. After his death, on his order, she was scuttled by the Royal Navy, not before various parts of her found their way were “acquired” to survive in places like the Royal Yacht Squadron at West Cowes.
This original painting was sold to a gentleman of Wivenhoe, Essex, a village that provided most of Britannia’s crew from her fishermen.
At her best in a blow (Britannia weather!) she has become a classic and a legend.