King George the Fifth at the helm of Britannia, taken from the Wikipedia
I’ve just bought a copy of Frank Carr’s book The Yachtsman’s England, published in the spring of 1937. Carr could write carefully turned and well researched material, but on this occasion he seems to have been employed to provide lots of colour with special emphasis on the Empire and old socks school of writing, and he certainly included some fine sentimental stuff in this one!
Writing about the yachtsmen of England, he has this to say:
‘It requires,’ said a writer in the London Review over seventy years ago, ‘a combination of those attributes which distinguish a modern Briton to make a racing-man or genuine yachtsman.’ What was true in 1862 is equally true today; and no-one can think of those fine qualities which go to make a great yachtsman without remembering first the man in whom they were so perfectly combined – our late sovereign, His Majesty King George the Fifth. He who so dearly loved the sea, who by his subjects was so dearly loved, had won a place in the hearts of all of us who know the ways of little ships, not as our King alone, but as the First Yachtsman in the land. Most of us knew him only as a slight figure on the deck of the splendid old Britannia; or from the happy photographs taken of him at the helm, or hauling on a halliard, or looking up at a sail to see with a master’s eye that they were all well set and drawing. But we knew that he was a sailor as well as a King, who could see with a sailor’s eye and feel with a sailor’s understanding. We knew that he felt the power of a little ship to win the love of those who sail her, and we loved him for the love he bore Britannia.’
Many of us who enjoy sailing can get pretty misty eyed about our boats, perhaps particularly when they’ve seen us through a trying passage, but King George V’s affection for Britannia seems to have been a bit extreme. Perhaps it was from jealousy that anyone else might sail his yacht or maybe it was to avoid the sad effects of decay and decline that have afflicted other great racing yachts, but his dying wish was for his yacht to follow him to the grave. And so in 1936, probably just weeks before Carr sat at his desk to write, Britannia’s stripped hull was towed out to deep water near the Isle of Wight, and sunk.
To many of us now it seems like a big and unnecessarily wasteful gesture, but it turned out to be more than that – for it also marked the end of big yacht racing in Europe.
For more on Britannia at the Wikipedia, click here.
For Uffa Fox’s view, click here.
For more on Britannia at intheboatshed.net, including film clips, old photos of her racing and news of a revitalised Alfred Mylne company, click here.
For more on Frank Carr, click here.