A double honour has been bestowed upon sailing trawler Excelsior this week by Lowestoft Town Council; the 'Freedom of The Town of Lowestoft'.
In its centenary year this much-loved historic ship and her locally based rescuer, John Wylson, have both been awarded ‘Freedom of The Town of Lowestoft’ in recognition of their activities. In Excelsior’s instance this is the first time the council has awarded a Freedom to something other than a person.
John Wylson has managed to combine a career as an architect with a love of the sea. He found and rescued Excelsior in Norway where she was working as a ‘motor coaster’ and in 1972 brought the vessel back to Lowestoft. John and a friend then spent 10 years of their spare time rebuilding the hull, before setting up The Excelsior Trust to restore her authentically back to her original condition on deck. With an in-depth knowledge of traditional materials and shipwright’s skills, he can fit a futtock or serve a shroud! John’s ambition to keep alive all those skills has made Excelsior an almost unique survivor from the days of sail.
Nationally recognised for her authenticity, Excelsior waves a flag for Lowestoft wherever she goes. This has included places as far apart as St Petersburg and Oporto.
“This means a great deal to me” John said. “However we wouldn’t have been able to maintain such an important part of the area’s maritime history without the help and enthusiasm of countless volunteers and supporters over many years. I am delighted and honoured on their behalf to be given the Freedom of the Town”.
Excelsior is also fondly remembered by the people of Bodo in North Norway, when a German bombing raid set fire to the town during the Second World War. Ferrying the townsfolk to safety on a nearby island Excelsior was herself dive-bombed and was subsequently beached for repairs. There are plans to visit Bodo in the future.
She is the last remaining traditional Lowestoft sailing trawler able to tow a full-sized trawl. Re-commissioned in the 1980s she operates as a sail-training vessel and has taken nearly 10,000 people to sea over those years including many from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The ship’s media appearances include Channel 4’s The Real History Show: Fish and Ships; BBC’s The Last Journey of John Keats; Disney’s Alice Through The Looking Glass; Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk; BBC’s Coast and Channel 4’s Homes by the Sea.
Excelsior’s Centenary Patron is HRH The Princess Royal who will be supporting the 100-year-old celebrations when Covid regulations allow. The Trust is also organising a Smack Race off Lowestoft in 2022 involving vintage sailing trawlers from across Europe and beyond to commemorate its anniversary.
Excelsior Chairman Jamie Campbell: “We are, of course, thrilled that Lowestoft has recognised the importance of the ship as a lasting memorial of the area’s maritime heritage and hope that this will encourage the local community to support and be proud of this remarkable centenarian. We are doubly proud that John Wylson, rescuer and protector of Excelsior has also been honoured in this way. As Vice President of Excelsior Trust, John retains a pivotal role in ensuring that the ship remains fit for purpose and will continue to take so many individuals to sea for what is often a life changing experience.”
Sail on board Excelsior
A regular visitor to Scandinavia, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France and the Channel Islands, due to Covid uncertainties this year’s sailing season means that Excelsior will be sailing in UK waters only. There is currently a programme of day-sails planned during the latter part of June onwards (beginning on Wednesday 23rd June from Lowestoft) which can be seen on the Trust’s website http://www.theexcelsiortrust.co.uk/our-voyages/sailing-calendar or phone Dawn on 0845 308 2323.
The Trust welcomes anyone who wishes to volunteer his or her services (no skills required) to help maintain this remarkable historic vessel. Thank you sails are part of their reward!