4:00 p.m. January 8, 2022
A famous sailboat that is now part of Wells furnishings – but has left for a major refurbishment – could return to Norfolk by Easter.
The Albatross, a Dutch sailboat, left North Norfolk for Essex in August 2020 undergo a refit in a specialized shipyard.
She had remained primarily in Wells for about three decades, drawing thousands of visitors to the coast.
Former Captain Ton Brouwer had run the ship as a floating bar and restaurant since 2005, but chose to sell to Bob Richardson almost two years ago.
The 100ft had fallen into disrepair, however, prompting the new owner to seek help from Jim Dines of Heritage Marine in Maldon.
And, following an extensive – and long-drawn-out – restoration, Mr Richardson has confirmed that the Albatross is expected to return to its iconic home in the coming months.
“It’s like any renovation,” he said. “Either give him a lick of paint and live with his sins, or you strip things and do a good job while being sympathetic.
“I think it’s our responsibility to take care of our history. With the Albatross, it’s just about bringing it into the 21st century.”
A native of Holland himself, Mr. Brouwer bought the Albatross in 1980 while traveling in Denmark and restored it over five periods between 1983 and 1988.
The craft was then put into service as a sailing freighter once again, travel throughout Europe and the North Sea with his captain and his crew.
It was around this time that Mr. Brouwer sailed Wells over 100 times and decided that the Albatross would be the focus of his next chapter, albeit under much more static circumstances.
She stayed in her familiar berth at the quayside until the previous captain decided to step aside and pass the torch.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Richardson – who lives near Eye – revealed that his new business had come at a huge expense and hoped the sweeping overhaul would be 50 years’ work.
“The prospect of doing the job didn’t scare me, but the potential cost did,” he added.
“You only have to watch TV shows about these kinds of home improvement projects to realize how much these things cost. If you do it right, you often have to double your budget.
“We spent a lot of money stripping her down and doing everything traditionally, but I was lucky to be able to fund that.”
The first step in the refurbishment was for the Essex-based team to remove almost all internal fittings and fixtures, and to remove the masts and rigging.
The metal frame was shot peened, while work on the propeller and rudder was also completed.
Overall, the project included the installation of new electrical and mechanical systems, heating, ventilation, cabins, galley, toilets, flooring, ceilings and lighting.
While the vision of the Albatross is not yet set in stone, it is likely that the Richardson family will come up with a bed and breakfast offer to use the renovated cabins and en-suite bathrooms.
Mr. Richardson’s son William runs Will’s of Wells Cafe at The Quay and is about to form a partnership with the ship.
In addition, long-term support projects for local suppliers via a food offer are in the making.
“The Albatross is part of Wells, but it has to make money somehow to cover the maintenance costs,” added Richardson senior.
Reflecting on the mammoth task of the past 18 months, which has been repeatedly interrupted by coronavirus restrictions and other difficulties, the owner admitted that the navigation had not been smooth.
But is it clear that there are no regrets.
“People thought I was crazy to buy it,” Mr. Richardson said.
“They say the happiest day of your life is when you buy a boat, and the second happiest day is when you sell it.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it still is because it ticks so many boxes for Wells: heritage; William’s business; families; vacations on board; and of course, c is for the city itself.
“Covid has made it clear that we just have to take advantage of what we have here in the UK. It has taught us to seize the opportunity and not to think too far into the future.”
History of the Albatross
Built in 1899, the two-masted clipper has made a living for four generations, transporting goods across Europe for nearly a century.
In the 1930s, an engine was installed and the rigging reduced to simple stabilizing sails, allowing her to sail like a tramp until after World War II.
During the interim conflict, the Albatrosses smuggled Jewish refugees and political dissidents out of Denmark and brought back resistance weapons to the country.
Having bought the ship in 1941, an alcoholic Danish sailor named Rasmussen transported molasses from Nazi-occupied Denmark to neutral Sweden alongside his shipmate, Jansen.
The Germans rejected them as a pair of harmless alcoholics and subjected the Albatross only to superficial checks upon entering or leaving.
Under Mr Brouwer’s direction, the Albatross left Wells from 1998-2000 to be chartered and rebuilt by Greenpeace, and was used as a center for environmental education for children.