2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the Royal Yacht Britannia, the former royal yacht of Queen Elizabeth II. The yacht is the 83rd British Royal Yacht since the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660 ( the first yacht was a gift from the Dutch).
Britannia was built on the river Clyde near Glasgow, launched in 1953 and commissioned in 1954. She is a three masted vessel with the top 20 feet of the fore and main mast hinged to allow passage under bridges. She was designed to be used as a hospital ship in wartime and as the queens refuges from nuclear war. She was manned by volunteers from the Rayal Navy who could after a while be appointed to the Permanent Royal Yacht Service. When the royal family were abroad the ship also carried a platoon of royal marines.
In 1997 the decision was taken not to replace Britannia and after carrying the Prince of Wales and the Governor of Hong Kong away from the Island after the handover to the Chinese in 1997 she was decommissioned in December of that year.
Britannia is now a Permanent Tourist Attraction in Leith, Edinburgh, and entry is via the Ocean Terminal shopping centre.
The official course of the tour is to proceed from the deck down through the five decks of the ship, with the uppermost level being the royal apartments and the lowest level the engine room and laundry, the latter being very busy as at times the marines on board had to change uniforms five times a day.
The Britannia was a very hierarchical community and as the visitor proceeds down through the decks they see the status of the occupants of each deck go down. The luxurious royal apartments give way to successively more crowded and functional accommodation till that used by ratings is reached where there seems barely room to swing the proverbial cat and privacy nonexistent.
Britannia is the second royal yacht of that name, the first being a racing cutter built for the then Prince of Wales in 1893. The Royal Family's love of yacht racing is shown by the fact that the 1936 racing yacht Bloodhound, one of the most successful racing yachts ever and previously owned by the Queen is berthed next to Britannia.
Highlights of the tour include the retired state car, a Rolls Royce Phantom V, The state dining room and the Tea Room on the upper deck which opened in 2009. Reserve at least three hours for the self guided tour.
The tour gives a glimpse into the life of the royal family and the 21 officers and 250 yachtsmen who served on board as well as a feel for a vanished era that feels like another world.
In April 2013 the Royal Mail issued a set of commemorative stamps to mark Britannia's 60th Anniversary.
After the tour you may want to visit nearby Newhaven Quay with its excellent Sea food restaurant and view of the Forth Rail Bridge in the distance.