Britannia sets sail for farewell voyage
October 20, 1997
Web posted at: 11:38 p.m. EDT (0338 GMT)
PORTSMOUTH, England (CNN) -- People came early Monday and
stood along the windy seafront to watch the royal yacht
Britannia as it set sail for its farewell voyage around
The 400-foot ship glided onto a misty sea for its last
journey, her 44-year career of showing the royal flag on
every continent behind her.
Reports have said that Queen Elizabeth II herself vetoed the
building of a new royal yacht because many Britons view the
ship as too costly and opulent.
The aftermath of Princess Diana's death intensified an
already growing public disenchantment with the royals, and
the queen doesn't want to appear extravagant.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary George Robertson ended
a 300-year-old maritime tradition by officially announcing
the decommissioning of the yacht that was once a potent
symbol of the British Empire.
"We in the ministry have to justify every penny of the
taxpayers' money that we spend," Robertson said. "In this
case, I could not do so particularly -- as the queen has made
clear -- since a yacht is not needed for royal travel."
Britannia is tightly interwoven with Britain's post-war
history. The ship hosted honeymoons for four royal weddings,
including that of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
The yacht has circumnavigated the globe eight times and taken
the royal family on almost 700 overseas visits.
The ship also steamed out of Hong Kong's harbor this summer,
helping to draw the curtain on Britain's rule of the colony
as it returned to Chinese control.
For former crew members, who spent 25 or 35 years on the
ship, service aboard Britannia was not a tour but a calling.
"She's an ambassador for Britain -- she really is," said
ex-crew member Ellis Norrell. "She travels the world. People
admire her, see her. She's a lovely vessel."
Britannia's last voyage will include stops at several British
ports. Her future -- apart from her decommissioning in
December -- is uncertain. There has been talk of converting
the ship into a museum or a hospitality center.
Correspondent Richard Blystone contributed to this report.