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A campaign has been launched to save one of Devon’s most important historic ships from the breaker’s yard.

Launched in 1923, she is one of just six surviving Brixham sailing trawlers.

In recent years the other five have been saved, restored and brought back to the town. Now the last, Torbay Lass, is in danger and in urgent need of rescue.

All six of the surviving vessels are in the National Historic Fleet, the 200 vessels judged to be of pre-eminent significance in terms of maritime heritage, and meriting high priority in terms of conservation.

The charity which is the vessel’s current owner has appealed for help to “Save Torbay Lass”. It has been unable to maintain her and the port authorities at Tilbury, where she is kept, have said she must be removed by the end of April.

Mick Shirley, chairman of the charity, says: “We are desperate. Unless a new owner can be found and extensive repairs carried out, she will be lost. It would be wonderful if she could be moved back to Devon, where local interest would be greater and her survival assured.”

The community campaign, involving various groups with maritime heritage interests, is being supported by the Conservative MP for Totnes, Dr. Sarah Wollaston, and Torbay’s mayor, Gordon Oliver, among others.

“Torbay Lass is an iconic part of Britain’s maritime heritage,” says Struan Coupar of the Trinity Sailing Foundation, one of the groups involved.

”It seems inconceivable that she should be lost without one final effort being made to save her.

“Saving her and restoring her to seaworthy condition will be a major undertaking, costing many hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

Trinity is a sail training charity which is already responsible for the preservation of three of the other surviving vessels.

The campaign has three objectives:

  • To return her to Brixham, to the community from which she came, and restore her original name;
  • To carry out major repairs to the vessel and equip her to meet modern safety standards;
  • To provide her with a worthwhile modern role as a sail training vessel, and so secure her long-term future as the final part of Brixham’s heritage fleet.

Torbay Lass was built by R Jackman & Sons in 1923 and fished under sail until 1938. Converted to a yacht in 1939 and subsequently renamed “Kenya Jacaranda”, she was used as a sail training vessel for more than half a century, from 1952 until 2006.

Withdrawn from service because of her deteriorating condition, she sank at her mooring in Tilbury docks in 2010, but was refloated.

Torbay Lass is one of just a handful of Brixham sailing trawlers to survive in UK waters, out of a fleet once numbered in hundreds.

Like the other survivors she is part of the National Historic Fleet, the vessels judged to be of major importance in terms of maritime heritage. They include HMS Victory, Cutty Sark and SS Great Britain.

The Brixham sailing trawler was a legendary class of working boat, the foundation for a vast British trawling industry that grew up in the 19th century. The design, developed in Devon, became the standard for deep sea trawling throughout Europe.

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