Image via WikipediaOne beautiful day, the sea flat calm and the sun burning down on us a large motor yacht came shimmering out of the horizon and as it neared, we realised it was "THE ROYAL YACHT BRITANNIA" in all its glory, spotless, and sparkling in the sunshine like a new pin.
I was still cook at the time as I remember having a pot of chips on the cooker and between keeping my eyes on them and trying to take in the magnificence of this sight, that was a chance in a lifetime experience, I decided to switch off the cooker and take in as much of this as I could. (Well what would you have done?) It must have been 1964 as I was only cooking for a short time, learning my trade as quickly as I could to get me away from the galley sink, so to speak and on to the deck full time.
My uncle (our skipper) who was enjoying the experience too, noticed that there was no escort, meaning that no royalty was aboard her, but that meant nothing to us as we would never have seen them in the first place, and secondly, the yacht was of far more interest to us than any royalty. It steamed up past pretty close giving us a good look at the luxury and expense that had went into the building of it and as it disappeared it left us wondering just how much it was costing the taxpayer, with its 220 crew of deckhands, cooks, engineers etc and over twenty officers.
As luck would have it about five years later I had the chance to view this luxury yacht again but this time there were two Frigates, one on each side escorting her as she sail towards the River Clyde, with an Auxiliary vessel on hand (a tender that fueled the frigates and yacht on passage and carried other provisions cutting out the need to stop anywhere unscheduled that would put them in danger) and who knows what under the water or in the air for that matter.
It was obvious that the Queen or some other high up royal figure was on board and had decided to use the yacht to visit the River Clyde where they were most likely carrying out some duty like launching a ship at John Browns shipyard or something similar, then maybe heading for a cruising holiday after.
They never came very close this time but we could see them clearly as they continued on in their formation, the crews on the alert in case of any unforeseen incident that might put the flotilla and the royalty at risk.
We had thought of the expense the last time we saw the yacht steaming on its own, but NOW what was the cost to the taxpayer with three navy ships and full crew on the surface (and as I said who knows what was under the water and even in the air) plus the crew of the yacht, which carried an extra 26 men of the royal marine band, when royalty was aboard?
When the yacht was decommissioned, one of the reasons given was the cost of running her, which was reason enough to the taxpayer but they would only have taken into account the cost of running the Britannia and not the cost of the naval escorts needed every time royalty decided to go for a sail.
I was lucky enough to see her twice at sea and beautiful though she was, she was still a big burden on the taxpayer and an unnecessary luxury even for our royal family.
I was pleased though when I heard that instead of being scrapped she was to spend the rest of her days as a museum at Leith Docks just outside Edinburgh, where she could be admired by the public and respected for the magnificent example of top class yachts from a gone by era.
The rich are still building and sailing around in yachts even more luxurious than the Royal Yacht Britannia, but their beauty and history are no match for that grand old lady of the seas.