The romance of a classic yacht sailing on the high seas is something special which captivates everyone who loves travel and adventure.
So imagine my delight when I bumped into a group of enthusiasts who are planning to restore a historic yacht to its former glory.
The Señora is a 107-year-old motorsailer, a classic beauty in need of restoration, and I have to admit that I’m a little in love with her.
The Señora was the E-type Jag of her day, the queen of the seas, with a fascinating history as intriguing as the boat herself.
She’s a 50 feet wooden classic, a gem in larch and oak, below decks leather upholstery, mahogany furniture and brass fittings. A sailing lover’s dream.
Designed by the famous yacht designer Alfred Mylne, she was built on the Isle of Bute in western Scotland, in 1908.
She was once owned and sailed by the rich and famous – her owners include a wealthy Scottish industrialist, the chairman of the P&O shipping line and a famous racing driver.
The Señora was requisitioned by the Admiralty in both World Wars.
She played her part in the Second World War during the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 when a flotilla of British boats travelled to France to rescue Allied troops.
Photographs of her in the 1970s show her gorgeous interior woodwork and fittings, all in mahogany, teak, and polished brass.
The condition of her hull after more than 100 years is eloquent witness to the skill of her Scottish boatbuilders and the quality of the materials they chose for her.
‘Lady in distress’
But Señora is also a ‘Lady in Distress’, in danger of being cut up for firewood!
Unless £10,000 is raised by the end of March 2015, she will be broken up, as the boatyard where she is stored can no longer afford to keep her.
She is currently ashore on England’s south coast in Newhaven.
Although her condition has deteriorated over the last 20 years, she is still one of a handful of yachts of the period sufficiently well-preserved that most of her original timbers can be re-used in the restoration.
If she can be saved, the plan is to take her to Sunderland for restoration. The project will then provide opportunities for local people to change their lives, through learning skills, gaining qualifications and getting good jobs.
She would become a ‘People’s Boat’, available for the enjoyment and training of everyone. Once restored, she’ll also be available for chartering and pleasure cruises.
Sunderland in north-east England is a city with a proud heritage in ship building, glass manufacture, coal and steel. So it seems appropriate that the city’s waterfront is destined to be her new home.
Once called ‘Britain’s biggest shipbuilding town’, Sunderland’s main industry closed down in 1988 with the loss of many traditional jobs.
Now the Señora could provide a big boost not only in terms of jobs and training but to Sunderland’s tourism and leisure industry.
But before that can happen, there’s just the minor issue of finding the money! Restoring and buying a yacht doesn’t come cheaply. It’s a labour of love.
Raising the money
The Señora Trust hopes to raise enough money to buy the yacht and transport her to Sunderland so restoration can begin.
The trust is looking for donations, support and investment to get the whole project kickstarted.
After restoration, The Señora will be available for teaching sailing skills to aspiring sailors of all ages and backgrounds.
She could also be a fantastic boost for the heart of the city, creating hope, training, jobs and prosperity on Wearside.
And for lovers of yachts, just imagine the sight of a beautiful 100-year-old yacht sailing off the north-east coast once again.
One of the great things about the project is that unemployed people will learn new skills and help to rebuild Sunderland’s boat building industry that once made their city a byword for quality around the world.
Once the first £10,000 is secured, the next job will be to restore Señora to her former glory, in time to help Sunderland host the Tall Ships fleet in 2018.
As well as restoring The Señora, four traditional wooden dinghies will also be built for sailing training.
The restoration of the beautiful 1908 yacht could give unemployed people of all ages the opportunity to train in boat building and carpentry.
When restoration is complete, the Sunderland City Boat Building Company and the Sunderland City Sailing Company (community enterprises) will offer skills training and work experience for apprentices and newly qualified workers.
It sounds like a great project. And it’s one that I’m passionate about because I used to work in Sunderland.
I know only too well about the city’s high unemployment rate and the deprivation which some areas continue to suffer from.
Although Sunderland’s waterfront has been regenerated in recent years, there is more work to be done. The city has an attractive marina but it can’t stop just there – sailing needs to be for everyone, not just those wealthy enough to buy their own yacht
It’s wonderful to see yachts back on the River Wear but boat building lies at the heart of this waterfront community.
Once The Señora is shipshape again, the boatbuilding work will continue with yet more jobs, trainee opportunities and chartered sailing trips.
Kim Simpson from the Señora Trust told me when I met him last week that “the opportunity is now and it’s a one-off. Señora is unique, a classic beauty from a former age.
“To rescue her will be both a privilege, and chance to be part of the city’s vital work of economic and social regeneration.
“At a time when jobs and training are badly needed on Wearside, she will be bringing skills and employment, and with them dignity and prosperity to the people of Sunderland.”
I couldn’t agree with him more… let’s hope that his dream can become a reality.
Without doubt, securing The Señora for Sunderland would be a fantastic boost to Sunderland’s waterfront and civic pride.
With a deadline of 31st March before the Señora will be broken up, the Trust is calling on the public, the sailing community and businesses to help with The Señora’s purchase and restoration.
Help save the Señora
This is an appeal where every pound will make a solid contribution to real jobs and real people’s futures, giving people the tools to change their own lives, their families’ lives and the future of their community.
Señora was built for a rich man, and in her long life has given pleasure to the powerful and the famous.
If she can be restored, Señora will be restored to her best and most beautiful. She will be loved and enjoyed by thousands, as they learn to sail on her.
What a thrill to restore a classic yacht as the ‘People’s Boat’. I’m on board, are you?