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Maritime tales – the first Royal Yacht

19 February 2007 by stepheng

model of a brightly coloured yacht

Model of the Royal Yacht, the Mary Image courtesy of Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

This was a story which I, Stephen Guy, worked on as a young journalist.

In 1971 divers from a sub aqua club discovered by chance a remarkable wreck near the Skerries, a treacherous group of rocks off the north coast of Anglesey. Scattered over the seabed was all that remained of a ship that once carried the highest in the land – Britain’s first Royal Yacht, the Mary.

She was presented to Charles II by his allies the Dutch in 1660, the year he came to the throne. Britain had been in the grip of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell since 1649. With the return of the monarchy, popular Charles and the people wanted to party. Bright colours replaced the drab hues that had dominated the Commonwealth world.

The Mary reflected the mood of the age. Her cabins were decorated with gold leaf. Her furniture was made from the finest leather and her figurehead was a unicorn. Charles used her for racing and later she was given to the Royal Navy to transport the great and the good. Not only was the Mary the first yacht outside Holland but she was the ancestress of the thousands of racing yachts and sailing dinghies sailing around Britain today.

Disaster struck in 1675 when she was wrecked on the Skerries, a notorious graveyard for ships. A total of 39 passengers and crew survived – 35 died, including the Earl of Meath. Survivors huddled two days on the rocks before being rescued.

Merseyside Maritime Museum supervised the salvage of items from this important wreck. A gold signet ring with an unidentified coat of arms was worn on the finger of a noble victim who perished in the cruel seas. A silver sword guard is all that is left of a deadly weapon once wielded with great skill. A large pewter plate with the crest of Charles II may have been used by the captain, William Burslow, who died trying to save Lord Meath. The pewter chamber pot was used by the upper classes – the common sailors relieved themselves over the side. A silver porringer bowl for drinking hot, spiced beverages is also in the collection with other silver items such as coins, a spoon and an ornate lion’s head which once graced the handle of a walking cane.

There’s more on The Mary, and this model in particular, on our main site.

A new Maritime Tale appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.

A book Royal Yacht Mary: The Discovery of the First Royal Yacht explores this intruiging saga and is now available in our online shop.  

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