Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia is the former royal yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, in service from 1954 to 1997. She was the 83rd such vessel since King Charles II acceded to the throne in 1660, and is the second royal yacht to bear the name, the first being the racing cutter built for the Prince of Wales in 1893. During her 43-year career, the yacht traveled more than a million nautical miles around the globe. Today, she is a museum ship and events venue permanently berthed at Ocean Terminal, Leith, in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is visited by around 300,000 tourists each year.
HMY Britannia was built at the shipyard of John Brown & Co. Ltd in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire. It was launched by Queen Elizabeth II on 16 April 1953, and commissioned on 11 January 1954. The ship was designed with three masts: a 133-foot (41 m) foremast, a 139-foot (42 m) mainmast, and a 118-foot (36 m) mizzenmast. The top aerial on the foremast and the top 20 feet (6.1 m) of the mainmast were hinged to allow the ship to pass under bridges.
Britannia was designed to be converted into a hospital ship in time of war, although this capability was never used.
From the Gangway leading to the ship
The crew of Royal Yachtsmen were volunteers from the general service of the Royal Navy. Officers were appointed for up to two years, while the "yachtsmen" were drafted as volunteers and after 365 days' service could be admitted to "The Permanent Royal Yacht Service" (upon volunteering and subsequently being accepted) as Royal Yachtsmen and served until they chose to leave the Royal Yacht Service or were dismissed for medical or disciplinary reasons. As a result, some served for 20 years or more. The ship also carried a platoon of Royal Marines when members of the Royal Family were on board.
Britannia sailed on her maiden voyage from Portsmouth to Grand Harbour, Malta, departing on 14 April and arriving on 22 April 1954. She carried Princess Anne and Prince Charles to Malta in order for them to meet the Queen and Prince Philip in Tobruk at the end of the royal couple's Commonwealth Tour. The Queen and Prince Philip embarked on Britannia for the first time in Tobruk.
On 20 July 1959, Britannia sailed the newly opened Saint Lawrence Seaway en route to Chicago, where she docked, making the Queen the first Canadian monarch to visit the city. US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was aboard Britannia for part of this cruise; Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were later welcomed aboard the yacht. Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales, took their honeymoon cruise on Britannia in 1981. The ship evacuated over 1,000 refugees from the civil war in Aden in 1986.
HMY Britannia, when on royal duties, was escorted by a Royal Navy warship. The yacht was a regular sight at Cowes Week in early August and, usually, for the remainder of the month, was home to the Queen and her family for an annual cruise around the islands off the west coast of Scotland (known as the "Western Isles tour").
According to journalist Andrew Marr in his book The Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II and Her People (2011), at least as of 1965, the British government planned for the Royal Yacht to serve as the Queen's refuge in the event of nuclear war. He quoted the English historian Peter Hennessy: "It was her floating nuclear bunker [...] it would lurk in the sea lochs on the north-west coast of Scotland; the mountains would shield it from the Soviet radar, and at night it would go quietly from one sea loch to another."
During her career as Royal Yacht, Britannia conveyed the Queen, other members of the Royal Family and various dignitaries on 696 foreign visits and 272 visits in British waters. In this time, Britannia steamed 1,087,623 nautical miles (2,014,278 km).
In 1997, the Conservative government committed itself to replacing the Royal Yacht if re-elected, while the Labour Party refused to disclose its plans for the vessel. After Labour won the general election in May 1997, it announced the vessel was to be retired and no replacement would be built. The previous government had argued that the cost was justified by its role in foreign policy and promoting British interests abroad, particularly through conferences held by British Invisibles, formerly the Committee on Invisible Exports.
It was estimated by the Overseas Trade Board that events held on board the yacht helped raise £3 billion for the treasury between 1991 and 1995 alone. The new government said the expenditure could not be justified given other pressures on the defense budget, from which a replacement vessel would have been funded and maintained. Proposals for the construction of a new royal yacht, perhaps financed through a loan or by the Queen's own funds, have made little headway.
The Royal Yacht's last foreign mission was to convey the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten (now Lord Patten of Barnes), and the Prince of Wales back from Hong Kong after its handover to the People's Republic of China on 1 July 1997. Britannia was decommissioned on 11 December 1997. The Queen is reported to have shed a tear at the decommissioning ceremony that was attended by most of the senior members of the Royal Family.
Listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Britannia is a visitor attraction moored in the historic Port of Leith in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is cared for by the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust, a registered charity. There was some controversy over the sitting of the ship, with some arguing that she would be better moored on the River Clyde, where she was built, than in Edinburgh, with which the yacht had few links. However, her positioning in Leith coincided with a redevelopment of the harbour area, and the advent of Scottish devolution.
Entrance to the yacht is via the Ocean Terminal development, and over 300,000 people visit the Royal Yacht Britannia every year. She is also one of the UK's top evening events venues. On 18 May 2006, the Swiss-born Hollywood actress and first Bond girl, Ursula Andress, celebrated her 70th birthday on board the Royal Yacht. On 29 July 2011, a drinks reception was held on board Britannia for Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter Zara Phillips and her husband Mike Tindall to celebrate their upcoming wedding.
The Queens lounge
A retired Rolls-Royce Phantom V state car, owned by the royal family in the 1960s, is on display in the purpose-built garage aboard Britannia. Other highlights of the tour of the five decks that are open to the public include the Queen's Bedroom, the only bedroom of a living monarch which can be viewed (behind a glass wall), and the State Dining and Drawing Rooms, which hosted grand receptions for kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers throughout the world. The Royal Deck Tea Room was added in 2009.
The 1936 racing yacht Bloodhound, once owned by the Queen, is now berthed alongside Britannia. Bloodhound was one of the most successful ocean-racing yachts ever built and was also the yacht on which both the Prince of Wales and Princess Royal learned to sail. The Royal Yacht Britannia Trust bought Bloodhound in early 2010 and she is the centerpiece of an exhibition focusing on the Royal Family's passion for sailing. Visitors can view Bloodhound from a specially built pontoon when the racing yacht is in port. During the summer, July and August, she is berthed in Oban Marina and is available for private charter, as she sails around the islands, once visited by the royal family during their annual two-week holiday in the Western Isles of Scotland. During this period, Royal Yachtsmen (Yotties) from Britannia's original crew sail the yacht for the Britannia Trust.
State dining room