ONE of the last surviving Brixham sailing trawlers is to make a dramatic and emotional return to her home town.
The 1923-built Torbay Lass looked set for the breakers yard earlier this year. The iconic red-sailed 78ft trawler was rotting and sinking at Tilbury Docks, on the Thames.
But thanks to the efforts of a Torbay-based campaign group and crucial funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), she is now waiting for a fair-wind for her triumphant homecoming trip from London to Brixham.
Struan Coupar, chairman of the Trinity Sailing Foundation, said: “The fact that she is the last Brixham trawler that needs restoration, especially with the name Torbay Lass, makes it all the more exciting.”
The group, headed by Trinity, is seeking a £900,000 grant to restore and preserve the vessel.
The first stage of the lottery application has now been approved, providing funds with which to carry out temporary repairs so that she can be sailed back into Brixham harbour under her own power.
Brixham shipwright John Cuthbertson and local trawler skipper Toni Knights, who have both skippered Trinity’s other traditional sailing boats, will head the crew on the voyage.
As a precaution, Torbay Lass will be shadowed by an escort vessel.
The trawler’s current owners do not have the funds to maintain or restore her, and port authorities at Tilbury Docks originally wanted her out by April.
Torbay Lass was given a stay of execution after Totnes MP Sarah Wollaston and Torbay Mayor Gordon Oliver intervened with letters of support.
The second, more detailed, application needs to be submitted in February to fund the main restoration work. A final decision on her fate will be announced next June.
Gordon Oliver has now joined the steering group and will sit on the committee tasked with raising £371,000 in match funding that will be required to supplement the HLF main grant, if that is approved. The total cost of the project to save the vessel is estimated at £1.27million.
The Trinity Sailing Foundation already owns and runs three of the surviving Brixham trawlers – Leader, Provident and Golden Vanity. Also supporting the project are: Brixham Town Council, the Chamber of Commerce, Torbay Development Agency, South Devon College, Tor Bay Harbour, as well as prominent local people including former Pilot Captain Bob Curtis, shipwright Bob Cann and enthusiast Bill Wakeham.
The campaign is now seeking practical and financial support from the Torbay community.
Mr Coupar said: “We hope to see a big turnout to welcome Torbay Lass when she comes back.”
Torbay Lass is one of 200 vessels that form the nation’s National Historic Fleet. Six of the vessels in the Fleet are former Brixham sailing trawlers.
Five of the six have already been brought back to Torbay and restored.