Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta

Posted by Chris Graham on 23rd September 2022

James Hamilton reports on the very enjoyable Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta that took place recently in Brixham harbour, Devon.

Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta

Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta: A classic boat of the racing era meets a modern trawler, 1910 gaff cutter Cynthia designed and built by Thomas Jackett, of Falmouth.

Brixham is a harbour town at the south of Tor Bay in south-east Devon, it has always been a busy fishing port and remains to so, but my visit this time was to see something a bit different – the Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta.

It’s recorded that in 1890, 300 trawling vessels worked from this port. In the early 1800s, organised racing of the trawlers began, they were highly competitive events with pride and honour at stake. These races continued through to the 1900s, and grew in size as racing sailing boats had become a popular pastime of the the upper class. However, respect for the sailing ability of the fishermen overcame any class distinction, and the well-to-do were keen to pit their sailing skills against those of the trawlermen. 

Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta

The same boat and another trawler, this time much older and the type raced in the early 1900s; 1895 Pilgrim, built by JW&A Upham of Brixham. It fished commercially until 1922. Having been repatriated from Sweden in 2009, it was restored and relaunched in 2012.

Despite having the advantage of sleek, graceful and purpose-built racing yachts over the working boats, it was an even contest, with the trawlermens’ experience compensating, if their boats were slower. The heyday of these races was between the two world wars and even had royal patronage from King George V, who was a very keen sailor and raced with his yacht Britannia. After the Second World War, the use of sailing trawlers declined due to their replacement by diesel-engined boats. The racing ceased. In the 1990s a number of traditional sail trawlers were restored by individuals and, when completed, they formed a heritage fleet in Brixham. Then, in 1997, racing resumed in the form of the Brixham Heritage Sailing Regatta and has continued on an annual basis since.

Also built by JW&A Upham of Brixham was Vigilance, a gaff-rigged ketch launched in 1926.

There are now two heritage sailing events held at Brixham during the year, the first at the end of May is the Heritage Sailing Regatta, the second, held towards the end of September, is the Heritage Rally, a non-competitive event. This year’s Regatta took place from 28-29 May, the sailing taking place on the Sunday from late morning until mid-afternoon. It is not as competitively contested as during the 1800s, but there is still the honour of winning the King George V Perpetual Challenge Cup that in 1914 he gave as a prize. 

The vessels are categorised into six groups as the participating boats vary considerably. More than 20 boats took part this year, five of which were original historic working and racing boats, including two trawlers, Pilgrim of 1895 and Vigilance of 1926, both built at the yard of J W & A Upham in Brixham. Three were relatively modern replicas of traditional working boats, both large and small. The remainder of boats were leisure craft dating from the 1950s to more recent times. 

Heeling to the south-easterly wind is 1937 33ft yawl Amaryllis of Whitstable.

There is a breakwater that shelters the harbour, at the end is a lighthouse, built in 1916 from cast iron; it is an excellent place to watch the sailing from as the racing starts and finishes from there. The course is within Tor Bay, the bay of Torbay, the boats make for Paignton, where steam trains on the heritage railway can be seen toiling up the climb above Goodrington sands, they then continue around towards Torquay on the opposite side of the bay before returning. Conditions for sailing were very good this year, with a steady south-easterly wind blowing, creating quite choppy waters further into the English Channel.

The results were:

King George V Perpetual Challenge Cup; Vigilance

Brixham Torbay Royal Regata 1911 Cup: Vigilance

Brixham, Torbay Royal Regatta 1912 Trophy: Cynthia

This report comes from the latest issue of Old Glory, and you can get a money-saving subscription to this magazine simply by clicking HERE


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