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New life for decaying historic yacht

PUBLISHED: 09:10 22 November 2008 | UPDATED: 21:52 05 July 2010

ONE of the country's oldest racing yachts rescued from a Norfolk harbour is undergoing major restoration and its new charity owners hope that within months it will be taking local youngsters out to sea.

ONE of the country's oldest racing yachts rescued from a Norfolk harbour is undergoing major restoration and its new charity owners hope that within months it will be taking local youngsters out to sea.

Enthusiasts have set up a Trust to restore the historic 42-ft sail boat Leila which for the past 20 years has been languishing on a mooring in Yarmouth.

The graceful 15-tonne vessel was built by a London boatyard in 1892 for a wealthy barrister, a member of the Royal Temple Yacht Club, who kept the gaff-rigged cutter in Ramsgate harbour.

But now the Trust urgently needs £50,000 in order to make the Leila seaworthy and put her to good use as sail training yacht for schoolchildren and college students from East Anglia.

And there are already ambitious plans for the yacht with a young local crew on board to enter the 2010 Tall Ships Race in the North Sea.

Since 1961 the classic yacht - considered one of the oldest on the National Historic Ships Register - has been owned by the Alison family of Lowestoft and kept at the town's Fisher's Quay.

The wooden-hulled Leila's condition had been deteriorating and there were fears for its future when two Southwold men with close sailing connections discovered the yacht and put together an ambitious plan to save it.

Now with the help of grant from the National Historic Ship register David Beavan - a qualified RYA yachtmaster instructor who has skippered historic boats and smacks along the east coast for more than a decade - and trustee Rob Bull, a Southwold architect and experienced sailor, have moved the yacht to Southwold harbour where it is now on dry land and under cover.

Much of the task will be carried out by experts who are volunteering their services and thanks to David's links with Kirkley High School where has also teaches part-time, pupils will work on the boat as part of technology lessons when it returns to Lowestoft in the spring.

Pam Alison widow of the previous owner has generously handed the boat over to the Trust and £2,000 and an initial grant from the register paid for it to be lifted out of the water - a delicate task undertaken by Harbour Marine Services.

The Leila - which had been moved for the first time in 12 years - made the voyage south extremely slowly.

"We had some mechanical problems because the engine hadn't been used for some time and we had to fit a new fan belt half way down," said David who will run the sail-training courses for the youngsters.

"We had a pair of porpoises for company as we neared Southwold and got in just before the spring tide high water which was good omen."

Now the Trust is asking the National Heritage Lottery Fund to help with the restoration of the boat - one of the most urgent tasks is to find the £5,000 needed to replace rotten planking on the hull and £5,000 for a new set of sails.

A further £5,000 will have to be spent on safety equipment including a life raft and lifejackets and a similar amount to make it habitable below deck for the seven crew it will carry.

In addition the Leila will be fitted with the latest navigation and radio equipment which will add another £4,000 to the final bill.

When completed the Leila will also be chartered out by the Trust for around £5,000 a week to help pay its way.

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