National Historic Ships announces its flagships of the year 2023

National Historic Ships UK (NHS-UK) has appointed six historic vessels from around the UK to act as its Flagships of the Year for 2023 and ‘fly the flag’ for maritime heritage.

The 2023 Flagships of the Year are:

Swan – former Shetland fishing vessel converted to a sail training ship welcoming all ages and abilities.

Lady of the Lake – Victorian Lake District ‘steamer’ believed to be the oldest working passenger vessel in the world.

The Chieftain – former Barmouth lifeboat which saved 132 lives and now offers public boat trips from Whitstable Harbour.

HMS Caroline – the last remaining survivor of the WWI Battle of Jutland, now a museum ship in Belfast operated by the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

LV21 – 40 metre steel-hulled lightship which now operates as an art, culture and performance space moored on the River Thames at Gravesend.

Marjorie R – former West Yorkshire coal barge converted into a floating independent bookshop in Leeds Dock.

The 2023 Flagships will receive a special broad pennant to fly at the masthead and a brass plaque. Each Flagship will be holding a flag-hoisting ceremony during June and July 2023 to celebrate its new status.

NHS-UK’s annual Flagship Awards have been running since 2009. The Awards provide an opportunity to demonstrate and celebrate the value of historic vessels to the wider public. This can be through a variety of online activities, special events, open days, workshops and tours.

Competition was particularly strong for the coveted accolade this year. Applications were received from a range of operational and static vessels on the National Registers based on their seasonal programmes and planned level of outreach.

NHS-UK has awarded six very different craft the status of Flagship of the Year 2023; three operational and three static vessels. They will also be flying the flag as ambassadors for the UK’s maritime heritage sector. NHS-UK will work closely with each of the Flagships to promote their vessel and offer support and advice.

About National Historic Ships UK (NHS-UK)

NHS-UK is a government funded, independent organisation which gives objective advice to UK governments and local authorities, funding bodies, and the historic ships sector on all matters relating to historic vessels in the UK. It maintains the National Register of Historic Vessels, which lists over 1,500 historic craft. It also manages the Shipshape Network, which was set up to promote the regeneration of traditional maritime skills around the UK.

Operational Flagships of the Year 2023:

Swan, ‘Fifie’, built 1900 (Lerwick, Shetland)

Awarded in recognition of her participation in the Tall Ships Race which will be hosted in Shetland this year, the projected visitor numbers resulting from this and the strength of her links with local groups and communities. Launched from Lerwick in 1900, Swan fished under sail until 1935, by which time she was one of only five sailing herring drifters left in Shetland. Fitted with an engine, she continued to fish until the 1950s, and left Shetland in 1960 for conversion to a houseboat. Following several owners, she was rediscovered in Hartlepool submerged and neglected. The Swan Trust was formed in 1990 to save her. After a major restoration, Swan was re-launched in 1996. Based in Shetland, Swan now operates as a sail training and charter vessel and is a regular entrant in the Tall Ships Races. Each year she takes out hundreds of students from schools and youth groups, as well as members of community groups and the general public.

Lady of the Lake, passenger vessel, built 1877 (Ullswater, Cumbria)

Awarded in recognition of her planned PR and marketing campaign, local business partnerships and the high number of passengers carried in the last 12 months. Lady of the Lake was one of the original ships of the Ullswater Steam Navigation Company, which was founded in 1859 to transport goods, mail, and passengers up and down Ullswater lake. From 1910, she was a Royal Mail Steamer carrying mail from Howton to Patterdale. She has survived two sinkings and a fire and is now a commercial pleasure steamer on Ullswater. Lady of the Lake is one of a fleet of five heritage boats owned by Ullswater Steamers. She is believed to be the oldest working passenger vessel in the world.

The Chieftain, lifeboat, built 1948 (Whitstable, Kent)

Awarded in recognition of the day trips and open days planned as part of her 75th anniversary and her growing presence on social media. Twin screw Liverpool class lifeboat which served as the Barmouth lifeboat from 1949 to 1982 and saved 132 lives. Restored to her former glory in the 2000s, The Chieftain now operates boat trips and seal safaris from Whitstable harbour in Kent. She retains 90% of her original timber and all her original fittings.

Static Flagships of the Year 2023:

HMS Caroline, Naval cruiser, built 1914 (Belfast, Northern Ireland)

Awarded in recognition of her planned public engagement into 2024 (which marks the centenary of her being berthed in Belfast), as well as the level of social media output and learning resources for schools. HMS Caroline was one of a class of six light cruisers built by Cammell Laird in time for the outbreak of the Great War. Launched and commissioned in 1914, she joined the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow. In 1916 she was engaged in the Battle of Jutland. In the 1990s she became the Reserve Training Centre to recruit and train Royal Navy Reserve officers and ratings. Operated by the National Museum of the Royal Navy, HMS Caroline is now a hugely popular visitor attraction and museum in Belfast, where she has been berthed for 99 years.  The ship reopened at Easter 2023 after a three-year closure due to the pandemic, with several newly refurbished galleries. HMS Caroline is the last surviving vessel of any nation which fought at the Battle of Jutland.

LV21, light vessel, built 1963 (Gravesend, Kent)

Awarded in recognition of a year of planned celebratory activities to commemorate the 60th anniversary of her launch, including public open days and a creative new learning package. Built in 1963 Light Vessel 21 is a unique 40 metre steel-hulled lightship, the last of the renowned Philip & Son’s ships to be commissioned by Trinity House. LV21 saw most of her service off the Kent coast on the Varne, East Goodwin and Channel stations. In 1981 she was involved in the worst light vessel collision in which the light vessel survived. Retired from service in 2008, LV21 now operates as a maritime heritage facility, art, culture and performance space. Moored next to Gravesend Pier on the River Thames, she celebrates her 60th birthday this year.

Marjorie R, coal barge, built 1946 (Leeds, West Yorkshire)

Awarded in recognition of her unique offer as an independent bookshop and community base, as well as a planned art programme, exhibition and developing local relationships. Marjorie R was a working West Yorkshire Coal Barge for many years. After her retirement she spent brief periods being lived on, neglected, sunk and re-floated twice before being burnt out and left to rust. Her current owners bought her as a project in 2012 and converted her to a houseboat. After six years of living on the vessel, they decided to redevelop it into a floating independent bookshop. The Hold Fast Bookshop opened in November 2022 and is moored in Leeds Dock.

Flagship Ceremonies

Swan – Friday 16 June, Anstruther Harbour

Lady of the Lake – Monday 26 June, Ullswater

The Chieftain – Thursday 22 June, Whitstable

HMS Caroline – tbc, Belfast

LV21 – Tuesday 27 June, Gravesend

Marjorie R – Tuesday 4 July, Leeds

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