“Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves….”
The building of the Royal Yacht Britannia was commissioned by the father of Queen Elizabeth II, His Majesty King George VI. Sadly, he died before it was finished.
It was Queen Elizabeth II who smashed the bottle of wine to christen the ship: “I name this ship Britannia. I wish success to her and all who sail in her.” The Queen then pressed the button at the Clydebank shipyard of John Brown & Company to launch the yacht, ship no. 691, into the Clyde River.
The bridge provides sight and information from the gauges, and it’s the place where orders about steerage are generated, but the yacht is actually steered from the wheelhouse, which is below the bridge. That’s because the bridge is visible to other ships and therefore more vulnerable to attack. The process is: orders from the bridge about direction and speed to the wheelhouse, and then instructions from the wheelhouse to the engine room regarding speed.
The ship’s wheel on Britannia came from a racing yacht that was built for the Prince of Wales (son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, later King Edward VII) in 1893. After he died, the yacht went to George V.
The captains of the royal yachts were always admirals, right up until 1995. The last admiral-captain of the Britannia was Sir Robert Woodard, KCVO. From 1995 until 1997’s final voyage, Commodore Anthony Morrow, CVO, served as captain.
The ship’s compass is carved from a solid piece of mahogany, and is one of two identical compasses. The other is in Greenwich, in the National Maritime Museum. The pair of compasses began life on the “Royal George” (1817,) then were moved to the “Victoria and Albert” (1855,) and to each subsequent royal yacht, until the Britannia, when they were separated.
By tradition, the royal yacht was a “floating palace,” a family home for the royal family, with friendly faces, family photos, and the rooms used by the family were decorated accordingly. Enormous effort was made to allow the family, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip especially, to feel at home on the ship, such as bringing on Malvern water for tea. The crew, although members of the Royal Navy, were called by their first names while serving on the Britannia.
Daily routine for the Queen included briefings from the Press Secretary and reviewing with the Queen’s Personal Secretary the contents of the government boxes sent daily.
Because of who they were, the ship was also the “Royal Court afloat,” so it had to be equipped for more formal functions. Leaders of other countries were sometimes hosted on board as a state visit. Such an event meant that about five tonnes of luggage (including the royal jewels) had to be brought on board, plus accommodating up to forty-five members of the Royal Household, such as valets, dressers, clerks, right up to, and including, the Press Secretary and the Surgeon.
Below is the drawing room, used for before dinner drinks and after-dinner activities, such as games or music, by the family, and for gathering for more formal occasions during a state visit.
The ship itself required twenty officers and two hundred twenty yachtsmen. “Daily Orders” were prepared and printed each day that had that day’s scheduled activities, times, and other details on them. Any last minute changes were posted on the “Red Hot Noticeboards” around the ship. In addition to being called by their first names, orders were given with hand signals in order to maintain a quiet, home-like atmosphere when the Royals were on board. Serving on the Britannia was so unique that an association of “Yotties” was founded in 1989 for all who had served from January, 1954, through December, 1997.
The crew functioned on an established hierarchy, and each group had their own mess, dining room, and quarters assigned to them. The decorations were done accordingly, with the officers ranking highest.
I have probably gotten these out of order, so please forgive this landlubber if I have.
The laundry room is huge, and seemed large for the yacht, even this family’s yacht. And it was. It was made so large because the yacht was made to be convertible to a hospital ship if there was a war or other large military operation involving casualties, and additional capacity was needed. It was launched in 1953, so, luckily, the need never arose while the yacht was under sail.
Although Britannia never served as a war-time hospital, in 1986, the Queen did send her to rescue British nationals and other persons who were suddenly trapped in the middle of an uprising in Aden, some of whom were injured. Over 1,000 people were rescued from hotels that were being shelled. As a non-military ship, Britannia could enter the close waters without increasing tension in an already tense area or attracting fire.