In his book “Boats, Boffins and Bowlines”, George Drower gives Charles II credit for introducing Yacht racing to Great Britain. Prior to the execution of his father, Charles had been taken aboard a frigate and allowed to steer the vessel. This was his only experience of sailing boats prior to the adventures of 1651.
Following defeat in the Battle of Worcester and the six-week circuitous and hazardous journey through England, Charles arrived at Shoreham. There, the wheeler dealer owner of the 34 ton coal brig “Surprise”, Nicholas Tettersell, agreed to take Charles to France for a payment of 60 silver coins as long as he provided a cover story to his very small crew to protect him from subsequent punishment by Cromwell’s forces.
On the continent, Charles found refuge in the Netherlands where nobles enjoyed the sailing of jaghts. Over his eight years of exile Charles showed considerable prowess in the arts of navigation and race tactics. On his return to England as King his Dutch hosts provided an escort of thirteen yachts and also presented him with the vessel “Mary” which had been built for use by the Dutch East Indies Company.
Once secure on the throne Charles commissioned a British designed and built boat, which was named “Katherine” in honour of his bride to be Catherine of Braganza. She was soon joined by a near identical vessel named “Anne” which had been commissioned by Charles’s brother James and on October 1st a race between the two took place with a prize of £100 to the winning boat. The crew of “Anne” won the first leg from Greenwich to Gravesend but on the return leg, with Charles at the helm, “Katherine” was the quicker boat, the series was squared and the first authenticated Yacht race in British waters had been completed!
By the time he died in 1685 Charles II had owned 28 yachts, several of which he had raced and subsequently handed over to the Royal Navy. Within his “fleet” was kept the coal brig “Surprise” that had carried him to freedom. After his restoration to the throne Charles had arranged for the vessel to be found and purchased from her Shoreham owner. She was renamed “The Royal Escape” and was kept for occasional trips on the Thames.
The voyage of Prince Charles in The Surprise is commemorated each summer by the Royal Escape Race organised by the Sussex Yacht Club operating from Shoreham – http://www.royalescaperace.co.uk/.
The historic1661 competition on the Thames is commemorated with the London Frostbite Race – http://littleshipclub.co.uk/content/race-down-thames-and-back-2013
Text courtesy of The Monarchs Way Association
Image from Wikipedia