NOWADAYS people talk about the superyachts of the rich and famous but one of the forerunners, and indeed one of the first to be commissioned, has to be the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was formally ordered from john Brown and Co Ltd on February 5 1952, ironically the day before the death of King George VI, as it was meant to replace the Victoria and Albert which had been in service for 50 years.
Launched by Queen Elizabeth in April 1953, following trials, it was commissioned in 1954 and its first voyage took Princess Anne and Prince Charles to Tobruk where they met up with Her Majesty and Prince Philip and sailed to Malta where they had lived and then Gibraltar. This was the start of a story which saw the Royal Yacht undertake 696 foreign visits, covering over one million nautical miles, and being considered for use as both a hospital ship and a ‘nuclear bunker’ in the event of world war three.
Nearer in many ways to a liner than a yacht, it had a length of 412 feet and speed of 21.5 knots, with the capacity to cater for 250 guests, and comfortably accommodate the needs of the Royal Family with 21 officers, a troop of Royal Marines, and 250 Royal Yachtsmen, all of whom had volunteered for duty. In order to save costs, some of the furniture and decorations were supplied by the Victoria and Albert museum.
The vessel was finally decommissioned in 1997, with its final duty being the return of the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, back to the UK following the handing over of Hong Kong to China. It is now berthed in Edinburgh where it is open to the public for visits and special events and, according to Trip Advisor, has become the UK’s number one attraction.
2016 sees the 35th Anniversary of the honeymoon voyage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer and the 30th Anniversary of the honeymoon voyage of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, and sadly both of these marriages and those of Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones, and Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips who also honeymooned on board, all ended in separation or divorce.