I have to admit, the last tourist site that I was interested in visiting when I was in Edinburgh, was the former Royal Yacht Britannia.
It was well off the beaten path, and as far as I knew was just a boat.
What was the big deal?
Well, my travel companions convinced me to make the trip to its permanent mooring at Ocean Terminal in Leith, and I am really glad that they did because it is a piece of royal history that is actually pretty darn cool.
What is the Royal Yacht Britannia?
Now, it is no Buckingham Palace, but what makes the Britannia so interesting is that it served as the Royal Family’s floating home during foreign travels from its launch in 1953 until it was decommissioned in 1997.
It was one of the few places where the family could have complete privacy (well as much privacy as you can have with a full staff around you) and offers an intriguing look at the queen’s private, traditional, and unfussy British taste.
Here are some technical facts about the yacht:
• Launched on April 16, 1953, by HM Queen Elizabeth II
• Length overall: 125.65m or 412ft 3in
• Gross tonnage: 5,862 tons
• Shaft horsepower: 12,000
• Speed: 22.5 knots maximum 21 knots continuous
• Range: 2,196 miles at 20 knots (burning diesel fuel)/2,553 miles at 18 knots (burning diesel fuel)
The photos below show some of the most interesting rooms on display to the public.
I know it’s hard to believe, but this simple, old-fashioned looking room was the Queen’s private apartment.
Yes, that is a simple single bed that you see there!
The Duke’s private apartment also contains a single bed and simple furnishings.
The Dining Room walls are covered in treasures that the Queen was gifted during her travels.
It used to take over three hours to set the room for a State Banquet, as each place setting was measured with a ruler!
The drawing room is decorated like a charming country home and was the gathering place on the yacht.
Princess Diana’s ties to the Britannia
The boat has had many famous guests from all over the world and was also the vessel that took Princess Diana and Prince Charles on their honeymoon. (I would never describe myself as a “royalist”, but like a lot of the world, Princess Diana has always fascinated me.)
There is something amazing about walking in the same place that some of history’s biggest movers and shakers have walked.
The only room on the boat with a double bed is where Princess Diana and Prince Charles stayed and, more recently, where the Clintons slept while they were guests on the yacht.
Running the Queen’s Royal Yacht
The ship’s company was made up of an admiral, 20 officers, and 220 yachtsmen who kept the five tons of luggage organized, the Rolls-Royce ready to go, the beautiful teak decks scrubbed, and the ship running smoothly!
According to the website, “HMY Britannia was unique in that her Commanding Officer was always a Flag Officer, generally a Rear Admiral (although the first two were Vice Admirals and the last a Commodore). Having such a high ranking Officer as HMY Britannia’s ‘Captain’ reflected the gravitas of the duties he had to undertake. In this respect, all crew (20 Officers and 220 Yachtsmen), were personally selected by the Commanding Officer.
Around half the ship’s company were appointed for a two-year tour of duty. The rest were hand-picked for permanent service and remained with Britannia throughout their naval career. Promotion on Britannia was slow as so many Yotties turned down their natural promotion on to other Royal Navy ships to stay in their existing rank on board Britannia. Therefore promotion for the Yotties became known as ‘Dead Man’s Shoes,’ waiting for the post holder to retire.
Duties ranged from ensuring the slope of the royal gangway was never steeper than 12° to arranging the royal flowers; from daily diving to search the seabed beneath the Yacht to polishing the silverware. In temperatures of up to 120°F, they manned Britannia’s ‘state of the art’ Laundry, yet were as pristine as the ship herself at all times; the Royal Yacht was one of very few Royal Navy ships that did not have a Chinese Laundry service. The junior Yachtsmen also had the arduous task of scrubbing the two-inch thick teak decks each day to keep them in pristine condition. They were also called on to work at the many prestigious state banquets and dinners held on board.”
Planning your visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia
All levels of the yacht, from the engine room up, can be visited by the public, and there is even a tea room to enjoy (I didn’t hit that up, but I hear that the food is amazing!).
The Royal Yacht Britannia, Ocean Drive, Leith, Edinburgh.
HOURS: January, February, March, November, December 10 am – 3:30 pm; April, May, June, July, August, September 9:30 am -4:30 pm; October 9 am – 4 pm.
TICKETS: You can purchase your tickets online or in-person. An Adult ticket costs £16.00. TOURS: Free audio or private tours are available