Torbay Lass sailing

Update on project to save Torbay Lass

Campaigners hoping to save one of the last surviving Brixham sailing trawlers from the breaker’s yard are about to hear if the vessel might be saved.

A Torbay community steering group, headed by the Trinity Sailing Foundation, handed in a £900,000 bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, in May, to try and secure the future of the 1923-built Torbay Lass.

If the first stage of the bid gets the green light, a second, more detailed, application will be submitted in February with a final decision to be announced next June.

The initial decision, now only two weeks away, is crucial as the project will have to be dropped if the idea is rejected.

Torbay’s Mayor, Gordon Oliver, and local MP Dr Sarah Wollaston have supported the project from the outset, and the Mayor has now joined the Steering Group and will sit on the committee tasked with raising £371,000 in match funding required if the Lottery grant is obtained.

Also helping with that task will be Steve Parrock, Chief Executive of the Torbay Development Agency, and his colleague Suzie Masterman, together with Struan Coupar and Toby Russell from the Trinity Foundation.

Torbay’s Mayor Gordon Oliver said: “Torbay is steeped in maritime history and it is right that we look at how, as a community, we can help save this Brixham sailing trawler, which forms part of the national historic fleet, from the breaker’s yard.

“This boat is local living history and has a story to tell our residents and visitors of all ages. It would be a huge disappointment if this vessel was not able to be saved and restored to its former glory.”

The Steering Group met last Friday and made plans to bring the vessel back to Brixham as soon as possible if the first stage of the plan is approved.

Meanwhile, Torbay Lass remains at Tilbury Docks on the River Thames, where she had been threatened with eviction at the end of April until Gordon Oliver and Devon-based MP Sarah Wollaston stepped in to urge for extra time. She has now been given until the end of this month.

Her current owners say they have no money with which to find her a berth elsewhere. The total cost of the project to save the vessel is estimated at £1.27 million.

The Trinity Sailing Foundation already owns and runs three of the surviving Brixham trawlers – Leader, Provident and Golden Vanity. It is a registered charity dedicated to the preservation of historic local vessels and providing sail training for young people and sailing opportunities for members of the general public with an interest in traditional craft.

Among those also supporting the project are Brixham Town Council the Chamber of Commerce, South Devon College, Tor Bay Harbour Authority, as well as prominent local people including former Pilot Captain Bob Curtis, shipwright Bob Cann and enthusiast Bill Wakeham.

The campaign is seeking practical and financial support from the Torbay community.

Mr Coupar said: “If we are successful we need to start raising the additional money that will be required, and for that we need businesses and other organisations to get behind us and help.”

If the initial Heritage Lottery Fund application is successful Torbay Lass would then be moved to Brixham under her own power, with an escort vessel in case she gets in to difficulties.

Torbay Lass is one of 200 vessels that form the nation’s National Historic Fleet, vessels that include HMS Victor, Cutty Sark and SS Great Britain. Six of the vessels in the Fleet are former Brixham sailing trawlers, a testimony to their reputation as an iconic class of working vessel in the days of sail.

Five of the six have already been brought back to Torbay and restored. The aim is to complete the locally-built heritage fleet based in Brixham by restoring Torbay Lass in the harbour area, with the work open to the public. The work will take two years to complete.

A survey of Torbay Lass, carried out at Greenwich, revealed the extensive nature of the restoration work required to save her. However, the surveyor has said she can make the trip under her own power provided precautions are taken.

Sailing trawlers were first developed by the fishermen of Tor Bay and became the model for deep sea trawling in Europe during the 19th century. At one time more than 3,000 were in commission, based in ports like Hull, Grimsby and Lowestoft as well as Brixham and Plymouth. They vastly increased the catches made by previous methods, and linked up with the developing railway network to bring fresh fish to all parts of the country.

For further information call Harry Gottschalk, at the Trinity Sailing Foundation, on 01803 88 33 55 or email team@trinitysailing.org