Blog: Jules' Gems " A Visit to HMY Britannia" October 2019 - Photography of Julie Picardi

The End of an Era

In 2018 Jim and I traveled to Scotland. Always enthusiastic about history, we were excited to learn that Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia is berthed at Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh, Scotland and open to tour. Not on our original agenda but nevertheless not to be missed, we spent several hours visiting this wonderful piece of history. Officially decommissioned on December 11, 1997, it's a bit sad to think that this era has been concluded, but with a little imagination, one can hear the voices of the Royal Family as they worked and played on this lovely yacht.


Since the 1660s the British Monarchy has had a Royal Ship. The Britannia was the 83rd and the last such vessel of the Royal Family. Christened and launched on April 16, 1953, at Brown's Shipyard in Clydebank by the Queen herself, the ship logged over a million nautical miles visiting 600 ports in 135 countries for 968 state visits. She was an ambassador for the United Kingdom and a place of solace for Queen Elizabeth. The Queen was exceptionally happy aboard Britannia for it was here she felt the privacy that she so needed in her busy life.





Life Onboard The Britannia 

The Britannia served the Queen in many ways. First and foremost, she traveled to foreign countries and entertained heads of state aboard the ship as an ambassador for her country. The Royal Family also spent many holidays together traveling around the Scottish Isles in summer or onboard for a Christmas vacation.  


The Britannia was the only ship in the world in which the captain was always an Admiral. The crew, selected from the Royal Navy,  included  240 yachtsmen or "yotties" as they were called. About half of the yotties were appointed to their positions as part of the Permanent Royal Yacht Service and the rest volunteered for a one year commitment. At the end of their volunteer period, many elected to stay on permanently if a position was available. It was not uncommon for yotties to serve 20 years or more until their retirement unless expelled for medical or disciplinary causes.


A yachtsman may serve many roles aboard the Britannia including caring for the Royal Children and seeing that they were safely entertained during their visits on board. These yachtsmen were known as "Sea Daddies" and provided activities such as treasure hunts and outdoor games on the Veranda Deck.


If the Royal Family was in residence, all maintenance near the Royal apartments had to be completed by 8 a.m. The yachtsmen wore soft-soled shoes to reduce noise and maintain the peaceful environment desired by the Queen. Additionally, hand signals were used in lieu of verbal orders.



In July of 1959, Queen Elizabeth visited Chicago having sailed in on The Britannia via the new Saint Lawrence Seaway. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a notable guest on the Royal Ship for part of the cruise. Other United States presidents welcomed aboard The Britannia have been Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton.


Honeymoon Travels


The Queen also allowed the Britannia to serve as a honeymoon retreat. In 1960, Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong - Jones honeymooned in the West Indies on the Royal Yacht. Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips spent their honeymoon in the Caribbean in 1973. In 1981 Prince Charles and Princess Diana sailed the Mediterranean on HMY Britannia, and the last honeymoon hosted by the Royal Ship was for the Duke and Duchess of York who traveled to the Azores in 1986.



A Floating Palace

The Britannia was often called the Floating Palace however the royal accommodations onboard were actually quite modest as one can see from the images below.  Both the Queen and the Prince used a twin size bed in their individual apartments. The "Honeymoon Suite" was a bit more generous with a double-sized bed. The size of the private apartments themselves was not nearly as large as I thought they would be.

Her Last Journey For State


The Britannia set sail for HongKong in January of 1997 for her final foreign policy mission. It was on this journey that the United Kingdom relinquished sovereignty to the People's Republic of China.


Farewell Journey


On October 20, 1997  HMY Britannia set sail for her last tour, docking at six different ports around the United Kingdom culminating in a tearful farewell by the Queen and the Royal Family on December 1, 1997 at the Portsmouth naval base.  


For more of my photos, visit the website gallery by clicking on any picture on this page or viewing the short slideshow below. There is so much more to see when you visit the Britannia than what I have illustrated here.  My hope in producing this feature is that If you ever travel to Scotland, you won't miss a visit to this intriguing bit of history. For more information about this historical vessel, visit these websites:


https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/edinburgh/britannia/index.html

https://www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk/visit/

https://royalcentral.co.uk/uk/everything-you-need-to-know-about-queen-elizabeths-yacht-britannia-68358/


Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia

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