Boatbuilder’s Woodland

Since 2023, Britannia Sailing Trust has partnered with the National Trust in Devon to create a woodland dedicated to the provision of natural materials to heritage craftsmen.

The Idea

We developed this idea as we were restoring Britannia in Winkleigh, from 2015-2023. We needed to source many hard to find like-for-like materials to replace planks, sister frames, lay deck and craft spars. In the course of his search, our lead boatbuilder Sam Samuels found that the availability of high quality timbers suitable for boatbuiling was greatly reduced since the 1970s, when he restored Britannia for the first time.

Wooden sailing ships can’t be crafted from any old pieces of wood. Not only is the species of tree important, but the age of the tree, the shape of its branches and the location where it was grown are all important aspects of selecting the right piece of wood for a job.

Much knowledge has been lost since the heyday of wooden shipbuilding – not only in terms of crafting techniques, but also in terms of the specialist forestry and sawmill industries that are needed to support shipbuilding.

Commercially grown forests do not support its main need – slow-grown timber from tree species not often farmed. Boatbuilders also required curved timbers which naturally match the curved shapes of a ship’s hull. In commercial forestry, which mainly services construction, curved timbers and crooked knees are considered worthless and are often consigned to the rubbish pile.

Boatbuilding depends on bountiful and well-managed natural forests, native species and healthy eco-systems. Without this, it is very hard to construct vessels of the quality allows the craft to become an art and flourish.

Thankfully, timber is a renewable resource. In a boatbuilding woodland, timber can be harvested in a way that supports the health of the forests (sometimes even without felling the entire tree)!

Britannia Wood

Britannia Woodland, set aside and managed by the National Trust, is dedicated to boatbuilders and other craftsmen practicing endangered traditional skills that require a supply of natural materials. This includes thatchers, turners, coopers, charcoal makers, and many more.

The woodland is in the process of being planted, but will be a mixed natural woodland, sustainably managed for perpetuity. Resources taken from the forest – such as timber and coppicing – will be always available free to boatbuilders and crafsmen who require them. The goal is to support heritage crafts and enable future generations to practice and enjoy them.

Fittingly, Britannia Woodland is situated on a cliff that overlooks the sea.