We Discovered The Excelsior Yard In Lowestoft… And It Snowed

2017: A Year Of Salty Adventures

Throughout 2017, SaltyJobs has been on many adventures, by land and by sea. We’ve hung out with our friends around the country, who work on all kinds of boats and in different parts of the marine industry.

We’ve seen old friends, made new friends, re-kindled connections, and discovered new ones. And there have been a few ships, and organisations, who we have bumped into on quite a few occasions throughout the season.

The 1921 Lowestoft smack Excelsior is one of them.


Two salty sailors: Excelsior’s Skipper Gavin & SaltyJobs founder Eleanor onboard Excelsior, December 2017



Excelsior on the slip in her yard in Lowestoft, December 2017

When I First Met Excelsior

I originally met Excelsior in 2006, when I was 16 years old. I had left school two years earlier, to become home educated (not home schooled), and joined a local home education group.

My dad became involved with our group and raised funding for us to go on a residential trip. Having spent 2.5 years of his own childhood living on a motor yacht in the Mediterranean, he knows the value of living & working together on a boat.

So, we chartered three vessels from The Cirdan Sailing Trust and 30 of us went on a four-day residential sailing voyage. Excelsior was on loan to Cirdan at the time, so she was one of the three vessels we chartered. That sail training voyage was my introduction into what has become a passion I can’t shake.

Discovering Excelsior’s History

Excelsior is a 23.5 metre traditional wooden sailing smack, with a 6m beam and 3m draught. She was built in Lowestoft, UK in 1921, by John Chambers. Her first owners were a local fishing consortium, whose previous vessel was wrecked in the fog in a collision with a steamer.


Excelsior leaving Lowestoft

In 1935, Excelsior was sold to new owners in Norway, where she was converted to a motor coaster. She survived the Second World War, despite a near miss from a British air attack. She was later sold again in Norway, and registered to the port of Mandal.

Read more about Excelsior & her history on her SaltyShips page here

Introducing The Excelsior Trust

Excelsior‘s current chapter began in 1971, when John Wylson bought her and sailed her back to Lowestoft the following year. He spent years rebuilding her hull in partnership with M. Trevitt, and in 1983, The Excelsior Trust was founded to continue the restoration.


Rebuilding Excelsior on the slipway

Excelsior was launched in 1988 as a traditional, working sail training vessel.

John Wylson is fondly known as ‘Mr Excelsior’ by all those now involved with the Trust. His years of dedication to this very special smack is an inspirational story in its own right.

Read more about the restoration & Excelsior Trust on her SaltyShips page here

My Experience Working Onboard Excelsior

Nearly 10 years later, via another curvy path, I was lucky to finally get to work onboard Excelsior. My life had taken me on its own salty adventure in the meantime, but I had maintained my volunteering & freelance work for a number of different sail training charities. One of them was Trinity Sailing.

During the summer of 2015, they gave me a call as they needed a relief mate to work onboard Excelsior. They had chartered her for a month from the Excelsior Trust, and needed extra crew for their Paimpol festival trip.


Paimpol Chant du Marin 2017 festival

It turned out to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime voyages.

The whole trip was full of magical experiences. From sailing across the Channel with dolphins, around the rugged Brittany coast with intense lightning storms at night, to a weekend at the festival surrounded by our sail training friends on other boats… yeah, it was awesome.


Hanging out with the crews at Paimpol

And even more awesome because I was proud to be on Excelsior, such an important traditional ship, at a French maritime festival.

The French know how to appreciate traditional ships, and everybody gives you such a warm welcome. Excelsior was literally given a running commentary, of her history and her work as a traditional sail training vessel. Huge crowds line the sides of the lock as you enter as the commentator tells your story over the loud speakers. Amazing.


Excelsior at sunset on the last night of Paimpol 2017

Fast Forward to 2017

If we jump to the present, my path has continued to cross with Excelsior. This year alone, whilst off adventuring spreading the SaltyJobs word, I have bumped into her & her crew in the following places:

  • Brixham
  • Paimpol – Chant du Marin festivals 2015 & 2017
  • St Katharine Docks – sail cargo festival
  • Harwich International Shanty Festival

Oh, we had some very salty adventures all right. And we met people from all around the marine industry.

How many salty jobs can you see just in the photo below?

There is a traditional ship, a modern sailing school yacht, cruising boats, and even a west cardinal buoy at Trinity House in the background! Salty jobs are all around us. It’s time to tell their stories.


Flying the SaltyJobs flag up Excelsior’s mast at the Harwich International Shanty Festival 2017

Visiting The Excelsior Yard

There was one place left to visit. Lowestoft – at Excelsior’s shipyard, during refit. Lowestoft has cropped up a lot for us over the past few years, not least because Excelsior is there, but it’s also home to Lowestoft IBTC and a large commercial maritime industry. 

All roads were pointing to Lowestoft. I had been invited to join the crew for their winter social, held at a lovely art gallery in Norwich. SaltyJobs & The Excelsior Trust are also working on an exciting partnership we’re about to announce soon, so we wanted to catch up about that. And we met the IBTC earlier in the year at the Southampton Boat Show.

So, time to make the long drive, from Plymouth to Lowestoft. We did it last week and finally arrived at The Excelsior Yard. Oh boy were we in for a treat.

This place is amazing. It has the resources of a full boatyard… it’s just not being utilised. The potentials here are massive. Anyway, mustn’t get distracted, will end up buying another boat… that’s how those thought processes always end up…

Excelsior is so lucky that she has these amazing facilities available to her. She has her own mooring alongside a concrete barge, which has been restored in itself, and contains much of the ship’s stores. There is also an office ashore, which needs a desk and some shelves (at the Skipper’s request), and there a million ship’s boats and small wooden sailing vessels – OK not a million but too many to count – in a big tent, which also contains… keep reading to find out!

Anyway – just look:


Visiting The Excelsior Trust yard in Lowestoft

And we couldn’t have picked a better day. It snowed.


It had to happen!

Well. It was freezing cold and we had to borrow a hot water bottle… and it turned a little too wet and cold for the crew to continue working on the hull ready for re-launch… but we took some awesome photos:

The City Of Edinboro’

Excelsior‘s Skipper Gavin gave us the full tour of The Excelsior Yard whilst we were there. It was incredible. Not only is there room for Excelsior on her own slipway, but there is a massive permanent tent construction sheltering the 1884 smack City of Edinboro’ (sic). She was later known as the sailing vessel William McCann, after her builder. She was built in Hull alongside around 400 other smacks all registered in the late 19th century. Of these, City of Edinboro’ is the only known survivor.

We’ll just post one photo for now, as we’d like to publish a separate post & gallery for City. So keep your eyes peeled for that, and enjoy this treasure in the meantime. Yes, there are boats everywhere:


Do You Have Memories Of Excelsior?

We’ve posted a few pieces about Excelsior already, and received huge amounts of engagements from you SaltyJobs crew. Many of you commented with your own stories of Excelsior.

It would be great to hear more about them – and from more of you as well.

Or perhaps you know City of Edinboro’ and could contribute towards an article about her?

Live near Lowestoft and want to volunteer? Get in touch – send us a message and we can put you in contact with the ship.

How You Can Get Involved

Say hello! Don’t be shy, salty sailors.

  • Leave a comment below with your stories about Excelsior, City of Edinboro’, big wooden ships, Lowestoft etc.
  • Like us on Facebook and send us a message there
  • Contact us via our website

Want to work on Excelsior? They are current recruiting for an RYA Yachtmaster qualified First Mate – but be quick, as interviews are being held now, and this role will be filled quickly. Discover more and apply through SaltyJobs here.

You could also submit your CV to SaltyJobs. We often have opportunities to work on ships like Excelsior across a range of experience levels.

P.S. Don’t forget: we are announcing an awesome partnership soon, between SaltyJobs and The Excelsior Trust. Stay in touch to discover how you can get the chance to join in.

Your comments: join the conversation

Blog, Boats & Ships, Inspiration, Our Stories, Photos

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