Famous ship could return to Norfolk by Easter after major refurbishment

The Albatros, which calls Wells home, is currently being renovated in Essex

The Albatros, which calls Wells home, is currently being renovated in Essex - 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.

Ton Brouwer is the captain of The Albatros in Wells. Picture: Ian Burt

Ton Brouwer, the previous owner and captain of the Albatros

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. 

Bob Richardson, owner of The Albatros, which is based in Wells

Bob Richardson, owner of The Albatros, which is based in Wells - Credit: Bob Richardson

"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.

The Albatros is being "brought into the 21st century"

The Albatros is being "brought into the 21st century" - Credit: Bob Richardson

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.

The Albatros, usually based in Wells, is being "brought into the 21st century"

The Albatros, usually based in Wells, is being "brought into the 21st century" - Credit: Bob Richardson

"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. 

Albatros during its renovation in Maldon, Essex

Albatros during its renovation in Maldon, Essex - Credit: Bob Richardson

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 refurbishment of the Albatros has cost new owner Bob Richardson hundreds of thousands of pounds

The refurbishment of the Albatros has cost new owner Bob Richardson hundreds of thousands of pounds - Credit: Bob Richardson

"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.

Bob Richardson

Albatros owner Bob Richardson (right) during the voyage from Wells to Essex - Credit: Bob 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.

The Albatros is being refurbished in Essex

The Albatros is being refurbished in Essex - Credit: Bob Richardson

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.

Albatros has been completely stripped back during its renovation in Maldon, Essex

Albatros has been completely stripped back during its renovation in Maldon, Essex - Credit: Bob Richardson

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. 

Albatros is undergoing an extensive renovation

Albatros is undergoing an extensive renovation - Credit: Bob Richardson


Albatros during its voyage from Norfolk to Essex

Albatros during its voyage from Norfolk to Essex - Credit: Bob Richardson


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