Pilgrim at 125

Sail on Pilgrim with Classic Sailing

Pilgrim still in full working order after 125 years.

Pilgrim was built in the yard of J.W. & A. Upham in Brixham in 1895 and is the oldest surviving sailing trawler that was built and rigged in Upham. She was one of several hundred Victorian sailing trawlers that worked out of Brixham in the late 19th century.

It’s a fascinating story of endurance and survival that sees her approaching her 125th anniversary still sailing in the traditional manner and out of her home port. That she has survived is due in no small part to the incredible work of the Pilgrim Preservation Project.  

About Pilgrim BM45 today

Every year Pilgrim sails the coasts of Devon and Cornwall and across to the Channel Islands, Brittany and out to the Isles of Scilly. Her programme includes day sailing experiences as well as weekend adventures, short breaks and complete holidays. She is licensed by the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency for fifteen passengers and crew and is original above decks and fitted out to contemporary standards below decks.

There is passenger accommodation for up to 12 in two cabins plus modern heads, showers and a well-appointed galley. Cruising itineraries can be tailored to suit youth groups, family and corporate charters as well as a public programme of sailing adventures to suit all tastes and durations. Guests are always encouraged to get involved and help sail Pilgrim guided by our mixed professional and volunteer crew.

Sailing on Pilgrim with Classic Sailing

About Pilgrim BM45 and her Restoration

In 1999 an agreement was reached between Pilgrim’s then Danish owner and some enthusiasts from Brixham to create a company to facilitate the return of Pilgrim to Brixham for restoration She was 104 years old and in a poor state of repair. The owner, Johan Skibdahl, gave up his ownership in exchange for shares in the company.

A group of experienced people was assembled to form a crew to bring her back. She was not fit to sail and had no main mast. The passage back to Brixham from Denmark was made using her engine. After passing through the Danish archipelago they transited the Kiel Canal and made their way along the Dutch and English coasts until they finally returned her home to Brixham. It was the first time she had been back in 87 years.

In 2003 Pilgrim was taken to be dry-docked in Tom’s Yard in Polruan, Cornwall to have a steel shoe fitted to her keel and new rudder and propeller. Unfortunately, on the passage back to Brixham the propshaft failed and she was towed in by Torbay Lifeboat! Although early repair and restoration work continued it became clear that a major survey was required to establish her long term viability and to identify and schedule the work needed. Throughout this period fundraising activities continued at a pace.

During 2004, Pilgrim was taken to Mashford’s Yard in Torpoint, Plymouth to be protected and to wait for the raising of sufficient funds for a full marine survey to be commissioned. The following year the company was awarded a £50,000 “Project Planning Grant” by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This enabled the survey to be done and for a restoration specification and schedule to be drawn up.

Butlers Yard Old Mill Creek

Pilgrim undergoing restoration 2010

The company was also delighted to receive further funds from South Devon Coastal Local Action Group to help fund her engine room. Pilgrim then moved into a floating dry dock where she was stripped for work to commence in earnest. During 2010 the keel and ribs were replaced and the hull was fully restored under close scrutiny of an HLF and National Historic Ships UK conservation monitor. Finally, in 2011 the Maritime and Coastguard Agency certified the restored, bare hull, to enable it to be taken back to Brixham for completion of the rig and fit-out.

Work on the rig and fit out continued until 2013 when Pilgrim was successfully registered with the Registry of Shipping and Seamen, MCA Coded to Category 2 to carry 15 passengers and crew.  This was the culmination of a massive volunteer effort over an extended period of time.  It was estimated that in excess of £700,000 worth of volunteer labour can be attributed to the restoration at this point.

That year, Pilgrim participated in the Brixham Maritime Heritage Regatta and we were privileged to welcome Prince Charles on board for presentation of the King George V Perpetual Cup. This was presented to the port of Brixham by his Great Grandfather for an annual competition between the sailing trawlers. Pilgrim was 118 years old!

Sailing on Pilgrim with Classic Sailing

Prince Charles

HRH Prince of Wales presenting the King George V Cup to Pilgrim in 2013

In 2014 Pilgrim was the proud recipient of “Restoration of the Year over 40 feet” by Classic Boat which recognised that the rig and deck was “as close a feasible to original build”. She has been busy sailing throughout each summer season ever since.

About Pilgrim BM45 and our Future Challenges

2020 is the Foundation’s 125th Anniversary and we have a busy season of cruises and events planned.  During the 2019/2020 winter we will undertake training and refit activity in Dartmouth and haul Pilgrim out at Polruan in Cornwall for some essential maintenance.  There are considerable challenges to maintain the charity’s activities and we have to strive to create a sustainable long term financial basis for future operations. 

There is a continuing requirement to plan, resource and undertake regular refits consistent with our long term preservation obligations and our operating requirements.  At the same time, we have to continue to develop our governance and management while addressing issues of volunteer recruitment, training, retention and succession.

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