Stranded Britannia at centre of international dispute. David Glenn reports 11/8/06
The eagerly-awaited launch of a replica of the G. L. Watson-designed royal yacht Britannia, built by a yard near the northern Russian port of Arkhangel’sk, has been stopped by a dispute between the yacht’s Norwegian owner Sigurd Coates and the yard’s Moscow-based share holders over the value of the yacht.
The extraordinary black-hulled replica of the famous royal cutter built for Edward Prince of Wales in 1893 and later raced by King George V, should have been launched months ago, but now finds herself sitting outside the Solombala yard at the centre of a row involving alleged death threats following instructions from the yard’s owners to stop the launch.
Coates and his skipper Esben Glad recently moved the yacht out of the yard to pre-empt what they claimed to be a move to bankrupt the company and possibly sell the yacht to another client for a higher price.
This has been strongly denied by Solombala’s commercial director Vadim Volotstoi who told Yachting World that an audit of the company is underway, which includes the 12 years it has taken to build Britannia, and until that is complete the yacht cannot leave. A majority shareholding was sold to the current owners eight months ago. “The story of the bankruptcy is not correct – Mr Coates is the owner of the vessel,” said Vadim Volotsoi. He also strongly denied that the yacht might be sold to another client.
But Sigurd Coates also believes the directors of the company want more money, the difference between what he paid for the yacht under contract and the current market value of Britannia which he said: “Could be between £2 and £3 million.” Sigurd Coates would not confirm what he paid for the yacht originally, but it is thought to have been about £1 million.
The Norwegian embassy in Moscow is now involved as is the Norwegian consul in Murmansk and Russian diplomats in Oslo. Not surprisingly, the situation has attracted TV coverage from Russia, Norway, America’s CNN specialist sailing channel and a front page article in the Bergen Times. Coates has filed for breach of contract in the local court in Arkhangel’sk and until that is heard Britannia is unlikely to be going anywhere.
When Sigurd Coates turned up at the yard three weeks ago to take delivery of the 120ft yacht, which has been a life’s work for him, everything including the two floating cranes needed to lift her into the Dvina River appeared to be in place. Then as work began for the launch an instruction from the yard’s owners forced the workforce to effectively down tools. According to Britannia’s skipper Esben Glad, “We were informed that the local yard manager had been threatened by his life if he did not stop the launching.”
Although the yard was satisfied that everything had been paid and that all the paperwork needed to move Britannia from Arkhangel’sk was in order it appeared that the launch would have to be halted.
The delay meant that one of the two floating cranes due to launch Britannia had to leave for another contract in Siberia so reducing the chance of getting the yacht into the water before weather and ice conditions begin to deteriorate in September and October.
Today (August 11), Sigurd Coates told Yachting World there was still a chance that Britannia would be launched this year possibly by extending the railway upon which she is currently sitting and running her onto a barge. She would then make her way to Moss, south of Oslo in Norway with the lower section of her mast stepped and the remaining spars including boom, bowsprit and gaff stowed on deck. She would then be rigged and prepared for a voyage south where, it is hoped, she might eventually be united on the race course with the likes of Lulworth, Cambria and Eleonora (a replica of Westward).
For a more detailed story see Yachting World, October issue, on sale September 14.