Racing yacht set to take to Norfolk and Suffolk coast again

At first glance it may be hard to imagine that she was the talk of the Victorian and Edwardian yacht racing world.

With its unfinished deck and yet to be installed planks and beams it is easy to see why visitors to a north Suffolk boatyard could ignore one of the country's most historic yachts.

But this 119-year-old lady of the seas will soon be her sleek and elegant self again when she takes to the sea to help youngsters discover the joys of the sailing world.

The Victorian gaff cutter Leila is being restored at Harbour Marine Services on Southwold Harbour.

Named as the fifth oldest sailing yacht in the UK by the National Historic Ships Register, the London-built vessel has been subject to a major restoration project since 2008.

The Leila Sailing Trust has spent �90,000 on restoring the yacht to her former glory.

However, due to the rotten condition of some of the planks and beams the trust needs another �30,000 to finish the work.

Most Read

It is hoped the money can be raised in time to get the long Leila ready to celebrate her 120th birthday in style next year. The trust plans to take out groups of up to seven disadvantaged children from the Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth areas on the Leila next summer.

If the Leila takes to the waves in 2012 she will become a familiar sight again along the region's coast.

Her previous owners the Alison family, of Yarmouth, used to sail her in the 1980s and 1990s and she was also used as committee boat for Gorleston Sailing Club's Enterprise Races.

In 1963 the Leila hit the headlines in the EDP as the Alisons got into trouble when their newly-acquired yacht had to be towed into harbour after a propeller became fouled by a piece of floating fishing net.

Another previous owner, the Carter-Jonas family, kept the Leila on the River Orwell.

Colin Warboys, chairman of the Leila Sailing Trust, is looking forward to the day when she leaves dry dock and reaches speeds of up to seven knots as she takes youngsters on five-day trips to Holland and back.

He said: 'I think it is fantastic thing that we can keep the Leila sailing and be able to show children what yachts and sailing are actually like. She is a lovely yacht and it is nice we can give such a historic boat another chance to go out to sea again'

Despite the attention and major refit in 1990 given to the yacht by the Alison family about 30pc of the Leila's beams and planks were rotten.

It is thought if the trust had not taken her on in 2008 she would not have survived last winter.

As well as replacing beams and planks with oak and mahogany ones, the trust will refit the interior of the Leila with a saloon, toilets and bunks.

David Beavan will be the skipper of the Leila when she sets sail again.

He said: 'A previous skipper has said she goes fast as a witch. She is going to be different to other yachts I have skippered.

'But the main thing will be making sure young people enjoy going out on her and are shown the ropes.'

So far the trust has received �50,000 of Heritage Lottery funding and �40,000 in private donations to fund the restoration.

The National Historic Ships Register has also handed over �2,200. Harbour Marine Services and timber merchant Ben Sutton of Sotterley have also supported the project.

n Tomorrow the Leila Sailing Trust has organised a sponsored bike ride from Ipswich to Southwold to help raise some of the �30,000 needed for further work.

The 55-mile coastal ride starts at Ipswich Docks at 9.15am with participants expected to start finishing at Harbour Marine Services at Blackshore, Southwold Harbour, from 2pm.

To apply to take part and for further information email

To make a donation in support of the cyclists visit

The trust is also appealing for anyone with shipwright skills who wants to work as a volunteer on the Leila to contact it through trust secretary Rob Bull on 0784 2149496.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter