Famous ship could return to Norfolk by Easter after major refurbishment
- Credit: Bob Richardson
A famous sailing ship which has become part of the furniture in Wells - but departed for a major refurbishment - could return to Norfolk by Easter.
The Albatros, a Dutch sailing clipper, left north Norfolk for Essex in August 2020 to undergo a refit at a specialist boatyard.
She had stayed predominantly in Wells for some three decades, attracting thousands of visitors to the coast.
Former captain Ton Brouwer had run the vessel as a floating bar and restaurant since 2005, but opted to sell up to Bob Richardson almost two years ago.
The 100-footer had, however, fallen into a state of disrepair, prompting the new owner to enlist the help of Jim Dines from Heritage Marine in Maldon.
And, following an extensive - and long-winded - restoration, Mr Richardson has confirmed the Albatros should return to its iconic home within the next few months.
"It is like any renovation," he said. "You either give it a lick of paint and live with its sins, or you strip things back and do a proper job while being sympathetic.
"I feel it is our responsibility to look after our history. With the Albatros, it is just a case of bringing it into the 21st century."
Hailing from Holland himself, Mr Brouwer bought the Albatros in 1980 during a trip to Denmark and restored her over a five-period between 1983 and 1988.
The craft was subsequently commissioned as a sailing cargo vessel once again, travelling all over Europe and the North Sea with its captain and crew.
It was during this time that Mr Brouwer sailed to Wells more than 100 times and decided the Albatros would be central to his next chapter, albeit in far more static circumstances.
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She remained in her familiar quayside berth until the previous master decided to retire and pass on the mantle.
Not unexpectedly, Mr Richardson - who lives near Eye - revealed his new venture had come at a considerable expense, and hoped the dramatic overhaul would be a one-in-50-year job.
"The prospect of doing the work didn't scare me, but the potential cost did," he added.
"You only have to watch programmes on TV about these kinds of renovation projects to realise just how much these things cost. If you do things properly, you often have to double your budget.
"We have spent an awful lot of money stripping her down and doing everything traditionally, but I have been in a lucky enough position to be able to finance that."
Stage one of the refurb was for the Essex-based team to remove almost all of the internal fixtures and fittings, and to drop the masts and rigging.
Steelwork was shot-blasted, while work to the propeller and rudder was also completed.
Overall, the project has included the installation of new electrical and mechanical systems, heating, ventilation, cabins, kitchen, toilets, flooring, ceilings and lighting.
While the vision for the Albatros is not yet set in stone, the likelihood is that the Richardson family will provide a B&B offering to utilise the revamped cabins and en-suite facilities.
Mr Richardson's son, William, runs coffee house Will's of Wells in The Quay and is set to form a partnership with the ship.
Moreover, plans to eventually support local suppliers by means of a food offer are in the pipeline.
"The Albatros is part of Wells, but it needs to make some money somehow to cover the maintenance costs," added Richardson senior.
Reflecting on the mammoth task of the past 18 months, which has repeatedly been interrupted by coronavirus restrictions and other difficulties, the owner admitted it had not been smooth sailing.
But is it clear there are no regrets.
"People thought I was mad buying it," said Mr Richardson.
"They say the happiest day of your life is when you buy a boat, and the second happiest is when you sell it.
"It felt like a good idea at the time, and it still does because it ticks so many boxes for Wells: heritage; William's business; families; holidays on board; and of course it is for the town itself.
"Covid has made is realise we need to just enjoy what we've got here in the UK. It has taught us to seize the day and to not think too far ahead into the future."
History of the Albatros
Built in 1899, the two-masted clipper earned a living for four generations, ferrying cargo around Europe for almost a century.
In the 1930s an engine was installed and the rigging reduced to just steadying sails, allowing her to sail as a tramp until after the Second World War.
During the interim conflict, the Albatros smuggled Jewish refugees and political dissidents out of Denmark and brought weapons for the resistance back into the country.
Having purchased the ship in 1941, a hard-drinking Danish sailor named Rasmussen transported molasses from Nazi-occupied Denmark to neutral Sweden alongside his shipmate, Jansen.
The Germans dismissed them as a couple of harmless alcoholics and only subjected the Albatros to cursory checks as she entered or left.
Under Mr Brouwer's stewardship, the Albatros left Wells from 1998 to 2000 to be chartered and rebuilt by Greenpeace, and was used as a environmental education centre for children.