The story of Excelsior in Lowestoft


Excelsior sailed into my life a quarter of a century ago. A friend who knew me through my advertising company asked if I could help her – and the trust. To find more supporters, more friends, more users to sail around – and to help save them.

I hadn’t heard of the ship then, but one of my clients, Lord Somerleyton, was President, did a great job, but was getting older and needed help building their future in later years.

Ships are “Shes” (a theme I support so much) and when I first visited I was excited about Excelsior and their pursuit of another life – with opportunities to help disadvantaged and other young people improve their lives – to understand boats and much more.

A wonderful gentleman, one of my past bosses, also showed interest when I asked if he might be able to help run the foundation when our president retired. He was a respected leader and we often joked afterwards when he teased me – “that’s another nice mess you brought me in Paul”

But he, we – the whole growing team – did it, and now Excelsior is a young century old.

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John Wylson and then skipper Bill Ewen and his team taught me a lot about Excelsior very quickly. And I’ve sailed them. We have gone to places in more ways than one. To promote them, for income, recognition, for the youth, but also for adults who wanted the unique sail on board.

It’s so nice to see her successful today and happy with Lowestoft’s Freedom. And I applaud John Wylson’s great dedication over the decades that he has sailed, rescued, and made her successful with her. Here’s a little more history …

John moved to Lowestoft in the late 1960s and raised his family in the city. In 1971 John bought an old wooden coastal trader from Norway, Svinør, which had been launched the previous year. This was a traditional sailing smack built in Lowestoft in 1921 as the Fischer-Smack LT472 Excelsior. John sailed the Svinør back to Lowestoft and, with the help of enthusiastic volunteers, set out to dismantle and rebuild Excelsior, using completely authentic shipbuilding techniques and materials – similar to those that would have built the Lowestoft fishing fleet a century earlier. The foundation was established in the late 1970s.

In 1988 the LT472 Excelsior was put back into service by HRH Princess Anne as a sailing training ship, and the process made sense. Excelsior has 12 berths for voyages that include trips to France, Holland, Belgium and the Channel Islands as well as the south coast of England.

Excelsior was no different from any of the other Smacks in the Lowestoft fleet at the time, and today it stands as a testament to their little piece of World War I history. In modern times, Excelsior has been used by television and filmmakers in productions such as The Real History Show: Fish and Ships, The BBC’s The Last Journey of John Keats, Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, and Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

Lowestoft was the largest sailing trawler fishing station in the 20th century with a maximum of 340 smacks in 1913. Ramsgate followed with around 220 smacks and then Brixham with around 160. The Ramsgate fleet ceased fishing in the late 1920s, the Brixham boats in the mid 1930s, but a small fleet from Lowestoft Smacks was still fishing at the beginning of the second World War I when the Admiralty ordered it to be abandoned as the Navy could not offer protection. Excelsior thus represents the largest and longest-lived fleet of British sailing trawlers of the 20th century.

The Excelsior is about to take on its 10,000th passenger since it was commissioned as a sailing training ship in 1988. I have enjoyed my days so much helping her return to her young life. Learn more about Excelsior Trust charter by emailing [email protected]

Paul’s biography MY LIFE MY WAY, which tells a lot about the growth of Norfolk’s business over two-thirds of a century, is available from £ 10.75 including post and packaging at [email protected]


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