Document No 20: Britannia and Vigilant off the Royal Yacht Squadron's headquarters, with the royal yacht Alberta outward bound from East Cowes beyond, 1894

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AUTEUR : Tim Thompson

REF : 0

EDITION : 1893

DATE : 04 Aug 1894



This atmospheric work from the skilled hands of Tim Thompson portrays the legendary Britannia making ready to do battle with her celebrated American cousin Vigilant at Cowes in August 1894. Britannia, anxious to repeat her highly successful maiden season the year before, found herself matched against a worthy opponent in Vigilant, the latter fresh from her triumphant retention of the America's Cup the previous October [1893]. The two giants first met during the so-called "Clyde Fortnight" in July [1894] and sailed against each other seventeen times in all that summer. From the Clyde, the two yachts made their way to Cowes via several other regattas and it is probable that the scene depicted here shows them limbering up for their private match, for a 100-guinea cup, on 4th August, which Vigilant won.

Britannia, arguably the most famous racing cutter of them all, was extremely successful throughout her long life and even though she was re-rigged seven times in all, her hull shape was so efficient that she remained competitive almost to the end. Starting with 33 wins in 39 races during her maiden season, she enjoyed two brilliant but quite separate careers under first, the Prince of Wales (1893-97), and then his son, George V, after 1921. The latter grew so attached to her that, under the terms of his will, she was scuttled after his death in 1936 following the removal of all her salvageable gear.

Vigilant was designed and built for a wealthy American syndicate headed by C. Oliver Iselin. Ordered in response to Lord Dunraven's 1892 British challenge for the America?s Cup, Vigilant won all three of the races in October 1893 to retain the trophy in one of the closest finishes in the Cup's history. Constructed at Pembroke Dock to an Admiralty design, the paddle yacht Alberta was launched on 3rd October 1863 and commissioned two months later on 30th November. Displacing 370 tons, she measured 160 feet in length with a 22˝ foot beam and was built to replace the ageing screw-powered yacht Fairy as tender to the second Victoria & Albert. Fitted with oscillating engines by Messrs. Penn & Sons, she could make 14 knots at full speed and remained a familiar sight in and around Portsmouth for fifty years. Her most frequent rôle was to take the Queen and her household to and from the Isle of Wight since her shallow draught allowed her to berth at the Trinity Pier, East Cowes, from whence it was a short road journey to Osborne House.


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