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Patron on boardpouring the bubbly

THE Countess of Wessex officially relaunched a sailing smack just a stone's throw from where it was first built 124 years ago.

Her Royal Highness poured a bottle over Priscilla's bows at Brightlingsea hard on Thursday afternoon following a major restoration project.

Apprentice shipwrights have spent four years restoring the smack, which is part of Essex’s fishing heritage and the oldest surviving vessel to be built by the Stone Brothers boat yard in 1893.

The 36ft sailing smack will be used by the Pioneer Trust for training, and also for private hire for smack races and local regattas.

The Countess of Wessex is patron of the Association of Sail Training Organisations which helped to stage the launch event.

The Pioneer Trust received £790,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a wider project which included the Priscilla restoration and other schemes. Ops manager Felicity Lees said: "The project was over nearly four years, with two boat rebuilds, including Priscilla which was the bigger one.We did quite a lot of other things as well and this is now the end of the project."

The trust was originally set up to restore the Essex smack Pioneer, which was built in 1864 and rescued from the mud at West Mersea in 1998. It is now used to train people how to sail.

Felicity said: "Apart from the Pioneer launch back in 2003, this is the biggest thing we have done. It's been a pretty major project and probably took about four years by the time we finished it. We have had lots and lots of apprentices working on it over the past few years. Our remit was 15 apprentices but there has been a lot more than that."

A smaller boat called Trinity House has also been restored as part of the project.

Felicity added: "There aren't many opportunities to learn how to sail a smack, but now you will be able to learn to sail a gaff rig boat on Priscilla at a reasonable price. Priscilla is only half the size of Pioneer so you get a real feel of being able to sail her yourself because you only need a couple of people rather than a team. She was the last smack to come out of Stone's Boatyard so she is historically significant to the area. When we relaunch her it will be just a stone's throw away from where she was originally built."

(adapted from the Clacton Gazette, 26th June 2017)

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