The last, and largest, whelk trawler to be built on the east coast, SPIRIT OF BRITANNIA was built for Alfred Rake by his brother-in-law, Walter Worfolk, and his sons, Gerald and William, at King’s Lynn. Worfolk was from a Yorkshire boatbuilding family and had moved to King’s Lynn in 1899. The new vessel was launched with the name BRITANNIA from the Friars boatyard on the River Nar on 1 April 1915, and rigged as a gaff cutter. She is believed to have been planked in 2” Archangel redwood fastened with 5” galvanised spikes, and cost £290 exclusive of sails and rigging. Her mast was of 10” diameter pitch pine.
Soon after the launching she ran aground on the Long Sand in the Wash. Her bottom was so fine – she drew 8’ 6” in ballast – that the crew were able to walk ashore along the mast. She was not damaged. During the First World War BRITANNIA had a friendly encounter with a German U-boat. Well to the east of the Sunk buoy she met the submarine on the surface. Some of the German crew came aboard and exchanged a few bottles and some food. The crew of BRITANNIA decided to say nothing of the incident – fraternising with the enemy was frowned upon. In another incident she was caught in the ice when the Ouse froze over in about 1918: food and fuel were taken out to her by improvised sledge. In 1917 BRITANNIA brought home the crew of a Russian ship found in distress and Alfred Rake fed and slept them for some time before they could be repatriated. They departed eventually and nothing more was heard until 1939 when one of the survivors came to King’s Lynn as an officer on a timber ship and got in touch to thank Alfred and his crew.
Later she became a motor fishing vessel. Running aground in fog on a spit in 1968, when going up to Boston Haven, the steep bank caused her to capsize and sink. A fire crew pumped her out but her owners could not afford to put her back into working order. She was sold and taken to Lowestoft for a failed attempt at re-rigging her. In 1973 a carpenter named Haydn Samuels bought her and worked on her restoration at Bristol.
The above history of BRITANNIA was recalled by one of one of Alfred Rake’s grandchildren, who sailed on the trawler in about 1930 as a sort of mascot. The crew brought her shells, exhausted birds (including a government carrier pigeon), a model yacht found at sea, and a young seal which was fed on whelk and lived for several years. In return she would dance and sing for them.
From 1974 to 1997 SPIRIT OF BRITANNIA operated as a charter yacht on the west coast of Scotland. She was then taken to the Hamble, from where she continued to offer sailing holidays.
She was acquired by the Trinity Sailing Trust, of Brixham, in 2007 and underwent an extensive refit in 2008. She was then engaged in youth training work and charters, sailing to the Scilly Isles, with berths for ten guests and three crew. In 2011 she was laid up because charter work was scarce.
Information courtesy of National Historic Ships UK