History

Britannia was built in 1914 in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, by a well-known and respected family of shipwrights, the Worfolk brothers. She is a Gaff Cutter, 58 feet long on the deck, with a 13 foot six inch beam and drawing eight feet. She has a beautiful hollow bow, making her a very fast vessel and giving her beautiful lines.

Britannia was the last Class One Smack to be built by the shipwrights and commissioned by Alfred Rake. She was the largest vessel built in the Friar’s yard for 40 years, and her launch in April 1915 was recorded in the Lynn Advertiser.

She is singled-framed, all grown oak crooks, specially chosen by the boat builders from oak trees in Sandringham Forest. These frames are immensely strong, which is why 100 years on they are all still intact and original. She was planked with 2″ Archangel Redwood, fastened with 5″ galvanised spikes and cost £290 in 1915, exclusive of sails and rigging. Her mainsail cost £99.00.

Alfred Rake’s grand-daughter believed that Britannia may be the only British craft to have had a friendly encounter with a German U Boat in World War 1. She met the submarine whilst it was on the surface and some of the German crew went aboard exchanging food and a few bottles!

In 1917, she rescued the crew of a Russian ship found in distress, and Alfred’s wife, Louisa, fed and housed the crew for some time in her home, as Russia were in revolution at the time and had no Government to support or claim the seamen.

For the next fifty years Britannia had a career as a Whelker, sailing out of Kings Lynn and Boston by the Wash. Her lines being similar to the Revenue Cutters made her fast. She was fine and deep-drafted, making her unable to dry out on the sandbanks, a normal practice for the Wash boats who were generally shallow drafted, enabling them to go aground, catch the whelks and then sail off on the next tide. Britannia’s style was to carry an open boat on deck, anchor off the sandbanks, put the boat over the side for the men to catch the whelks and then they could get back on board before the tide was full, and sail at speed back to port to sell the whelks at market. First back got the best price!

The Whelking industry steadily declined in Lynn and eventually Britannia was the last Whelker left sailing out of the Port. Also, because of the decline in whelking, the smacks who originally all carried topmasts, began to strike their rigs of topmasts and topsails. Again, Britannia was the last smack to retain her topmast. She was sold on to Boston in the Thirties.

In the late thirties she was fitted with a large Marine engine, and used for power trawling her fishing registry changed to BN42. There is no record of her after this until in 1968, working as a powered fishing boat, she ran aground on a spit whilst returning home to Boston, and the steepness of the bank caused her to capsize and sink.

She was pumped out and raised, but the owners could not afford to put her back in working order and she was sold to a dentist from New Zealand, Rodney Robinson. He re-decked her, but ran out of money or enthusiasm, and she was then put up for sale again.