HMY Britannia (Royal Cutter Yacht)

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Britannia in the 1890s
Name: Britannia
Ordered: 1892
Builder: D&W Henderson Shipyard Ltd
Yard number: 366
Launched: April 20th, 1893
Fate: scuttled (July 10th, 1936)
General characteristics
Class & 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, who later became King Edward VII. She served him and his son King George V with 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 shipyard on the River Clyde. She was launched on April 20, 1893, a week ahead of Valkyrie II.

By the end of her first year's racing, Britannia had scored thirty-three wins from forty-three starts. In her second season, she won all seven races for the first class yachts on the French Riviera, and then beat the 1893 America's Cup defender Vigilant in home waters. In the Mount's Bay Regatta of July 28, 1894 the Vigilant owned by Mr. Jay Gould, Director of the American Cable Company was piloted by Benjamin Nicholls of Penzance and the Prince of Wales's (later Edward Vll) yacht Britannia was piloted by Ben's brother Philip Nicholls. The Britannia won by just over 7 minutes. People came by train from all over the south west to watch this race. Both brothers were Trinity House pilots of Penzance.

Despite a lull in big yacht racing after 1897, Britannia served as a trial horse for Sir Thomas Lipton's first America's Cup challenger Shamrock, 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 Britannia for racing. Although 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 modifications, her performance to windward declined 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 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, 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.

Two known examples of Britannia's racing flags are preserved, one presented by Sir Philip Hunloke to the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, in whose Regattas Britannia was often a competitor between 1894 and 1935, and at the Royal St. George Yacht Club, which held two regattas in Kingstown for the first season of the RYA linear rating rule in 1896. Britannia's skipper William G. Jameson had lost both races to the new Meteor II and the Ailsa. Britannia's 51' long gaff, the king’s chair, tiller, some mast hoops, blocks and rigging, anchor chain and clock are preserved in the Sir Max Aitken Museum in Cowes High Street and the remains of her spinnaker boom are at Carrisbroke Castle, also on the Isle of Wight. The spinnaker boom was given for use as a flag pole on the keep (where it twice suffered lightning damage), and the present flagpole is a fibreglass replica.

Britannia Replica

Main article: K1 Britannia

In 1994 a replica of Britannia was approved and laid down in Russia for a Norwegian owner. She is undergoing fitout in Cowes where she is planned to be rigged according to her 1931 J-Class specifications.

Predecessors and Opponents

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.[2] From 1962 to 1969, the British Royal family also owned the ocean racing yawl Bloodhound (Charles E. Nicholson, 1936).

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 Manston 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)

Racing record

year owner starts first prizes other prizes total prizes
1893 Albert Edward, Prince of Wales 43 24 9 33
1894 48 36 2 38
1895 50 38 2 40
1896 58 14 10 24
1897 20 10 2 12
1898 Messrs. Rucker, Cooper, et al.
1899 Albert Edward, Prince of Wales 6 0 0 0
1899 Sir Richard William Bulkeley, 12th Baronet
1900 1 0 0 0
King Edward VII used only for cruising
1911 King George V used only for cruising
1912 10 5 0 5
1913 13 8 1 0
laid up during the Great War
1920 23 7 14 11
1921 28 9 7 16
1922 re-conditioning
1923 26 11 11 22
1924 19 7 5 12
1925 36 6 6 12
1926 23 4 7 11
1927 24 8 8 16
1928 34 9 10 19
1929 not fitted out
1930 26 5 5 10
1931 29 6 7 13
1932 32 9 14 23
1933 39 12 12 24
1934 27 3 7 10
1935 20 0 0 0
total 635 231 129 360


  1. "King George to race his Britannia again" (PDF). New York Times. 1920-03-10. 
  2. Captain Seymour Fortescue, K.C.V.O. (1911). "King Edward VII as a yachtsman". King Edward VII as a sportsman. 

External links