Saturday, April 14, 2007

Royal Yacht Britannia

Staying just a twenty minute bus ride away from the Royal Yacht Britannia was a pleasant surprise. We only found out when we got to Edinburgh that the vessel's new permanent home was in Leith Harbour on the Firth of Forth, and just a few miles from the city centre. Now de-commissioned, Britannia is open to the public as a floating Royal exhibition.

Britannia was launched in 1953 and commissioned in 1954, and in her fourty years' career until decommissioning in 1997 she carried the Queen and other members of the Royal Family on hundreds of overseas missions and engagements. She was also designed to be converted into a hospital ship in time of war, although this never became necessary. Another of her designed roles was as a mobile sanctuary for the Royal Family in the event of a nuclear war with the then Soviet Union.

Her being berthed in Leith Docks coincided with a regeneration of the area, and there is a new Terence Conran-designed shopping centre right next to Britannia, called Ocean Terminal. The centre has all the usual shops, restaurants, cinema etc., and also houses the Britannia Visitor Centre where you start your tour. You get the now familiar audio headset tour guide and make your way up an enclosed tower that connects the building with the yacht, to board Britannia and start your tour on the top deck at the bridge. As you complete each deck you return to this tower beside the boat and go down to the next level before rejoining the tour.

It was a foggy early morning.

My family on the Poop Deck. Now it's been turned into an exhibition all the poop's been cleared up.

The Queen's and Duke's sleeping quarters were very tastefully decorated but surprisingly small. Both had single beds in fact, and the audio tour explained that Her Majesty's sheets were specially tailored because she favours an extra deep foldback. Don't know how I've lived so long without knowing that! I don't mean any disrespect, but the painstaking details to which every tiny thing was subjected did get a bit silly after a while.

The Queen's cabin

The Duke of Edinburgh's cabin

The only double bed on the yacht is in the Honeymoon Suite, and was added when Charles and Diana were married and had their honeymoon aboard.

Karen spotted this commemorative print of a Royal tour to Arabia in 1979 hanging on the wall. Can't get away from the place can we?

The Duke's study

...and this is the Queen's

There were several bars on board, or "messes", indicating how heirarchical the environment was. The Officer's Mess was grander than the NCO's Mess, which was grander still than the regular men's Mess. Still, at least they all had a place to go to unwind after a hard day's poop-scooping.

The Officers' Mess

NCO's Mess (Non-Commissioned Officers)

Mess whose name escapes me, but it's the next one down in the pecking order.

Let's now take a look at the sumptuous surroundings of the Grand Drawing Room and Dining Room, where Her Majesty entertained heads of state and other important guests.

The Drawing Room. Naval regulations prohibited the lighting of the fire, so HM had to make do with an electric one.

The Dining Room

Presidents Clinton and Reagan, General Norman Schwarzkopf, and Nelson Mandela all dined at this table (but not on the same night). The food is prepared to the same lofty standard as any other Royal residence, and now you too can experience the dinner of a lifetime. Yes, Britannia is available for corporate hire and events. What more impressive way to woo an important client. You could even have your wedding reception on here (you'd have to win the lottery first).

The Galley

Pantry? Servery? Can't remember!

Now let's look at what went on behind the scenes:

Crew sleeping quarters

Note all the different uniforms. Crew members often had to change uniforms eight or nine times per day, depending on the duty they had. All of which needs...

A heavy duty laundry on board.

The Sick Bay includes a fully-equipped operating theatre.

The Royal Barge, which was used to take HM and party ashore.

There is even a garage containing one of the Royal Rolls Royces, although this was not used in Britannia's latter years, as they were able to find suitable transport at their destination.

The Engine Room

Finally there was the Engine Room, which apparently looked as sparkling clean as this throughout Britannia's active service. Stormin' Norman was quoted as saying, "Well I've seen the museum piece... now, where's the REAL engine?"

Looking around Britannia is a treat and gives you a real sense of history. You can almost see the famous figures strolling up and down the decks and imagine the important functions that she hosted. However it also underlined how detached the Royal Family is from what you and I would call normality, and I got the same feeling of their being woefully out of touch as I wandered around on board, that I got from the recent film, The Queen.

Still, she's a beautiful vessel and if I had the money I'd throw a big party there and you'd all be invited!

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