Pilgrim is charity operated by the Pilgrim Heritage Sailing Foundation


Torbay Trawler Days Sail
Photo courtesy of Steve McMillan


About Pilgrim BM45 and the Pilgrim Heritage Sailing Foundation

The Pilgrim Heritage Sailing Foundation was formed in 2017 as a registered charity to take on the conservation, operation, maintenance and protection of the heritage sailing trawler Pilgrim of Brixham BM45.

Pilgrim was built at the yard of J.W. & A. Upham in Brixham in 1895 and is the oldest surviving sailing trawler that was built and rigged in the port. She was one of several hundred Victorian sailing trawlers that worked out of Brixham in the late 19th century.

The history of Pilgrim is a fascinating story of endurance and survival that sees her approaching her 129th anniversary still sailing in the traditional manner and out of her home port. That survival is due in no small part to the incredible work of the Pilgrim Preservation Project (PPP) which was a private not-for-profit company. PPP was instrumental in her restoration and return to sailing. That restoration was only possible with massive support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and many others who contributed time, money and energy to the project. During this period there was a ‘Friends of Pilgrim’ group which then became the PilgrimBM45 Trust. They provided a huge amount of support over many years with fundraising and community outreach.

In 2018 the shareholders in PPP transferred the vessel and assets of the company to the newly formed charitable Foundation to provide the best possible platform for her long term preservation and operation. The Trust merged into the new charity at the same time.


About Pilgrim BM45 today

Every year Pilgrim sails the coasts of Devon and Cornwall and across to the Channel Islands, Brittany and out to the Isles of Scilly. Her programme includes day sailing experiences as well as weekend adventures, short breaks and complete holidays. She is licensed by the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency for a total of fifteen passengers and crew and is original above decks and fitted out to contemporary standards below decks. There is passenger accommodation for up to 10 in two cabins plus modern heads, showers and a well-appointed galley. Cruising itineraries can be tailored to suit youth groups, family and corporate charters as well as a public programme of sailing adventures to suit all tastes and durations. Guests are always encouraged to get involved and help sail Pilgrim guided by our mixed professional and volunteer crew.

Dartmouth Departure
Pilgrim sailing out of Dartmouth in September 2018


About Pilgrim BM45 Volunteers

Our volunteer teams work hard, year round, to support the sailing and restoration programmes:

The sailing team are essential to help crew Pilgrim and to provision, clean and manage turnarounds. With a busy April-October sailing programme this is always a ‘big ask’ of the volunteer sailing team. Most of the turnarounds are in Brixham but some are in Falmouth. The Falmouth turnarounds support our Cornwall and Isles of Scilly cruises and our participation in the annual Falmouth Classics Regatta and Sea Shanty Festival

No matter what the task, the maintenance team are the people who keep Pilgrim in good repair.  We make our own masts and spars in our Brixham workshop which we share with another heritage sailing trawler. The maintenance team also look after the rig, sails and all of the boats timbers, mechanical and electrical systems.  We only use professional contractors when the skills required are unique to the requirement and not within our volunteer group. 

Pilgrim Open Day
One of our Pilgrim Open Days 2019

The events team look after public access activities like Open Days, School Visits and Fundraising functions.  Every year the Foundation stages a sequence of Open Days so Brixham locals and Torbay visitors can come aboard and learn about Pilgrim’s story and her capabilities. There is also an education programme working with local schools and colleges to create an understanding of Brixham’s fishing community heritage.

Our three teams are complemented by individual volunteer activity in areas like charity management, reservations, finance, marketing and social media.


Pilgrim’s Incredible History

She was built in 1895 at the yard of J.W & A. Upham in Brixham Devon, for 10th Generation fisherman  Silas John Pine, the purchase price was £669. 7s 6d.  (excl Sails and Tender)  and Pilgrim was given the Port number DH394 at the time as there was no Brixham Registry. That became BM45 in 1902 when Brixham was able to register fishing vessels. 

Pilgrim joined the fleet of over 300 large fishing trawlers working in Torbay, with the majority of these based in Brixham. She fished out of the port under Silas Pine’s ownership until 1912 when she was sold at auction in Plymouth. She was purchased by a Lowestoft dealer and was subsequently sold to new owners in western Sweden. This was common practice for Brixham trawlers when they were retired as they we used for seasonal herring fishing in the North Sea. Over the following 87 years she  stayed in the Nordic Region under a long series of different owners. Pilgrim, then named ‘Pilgrimen’, was used as a fishing vessel, a cargo vessel, a private home and as a sail training vessel. She had wartime exploits during the two world wars and was extensively modified. This story is told in the Pilgrim Book available in our online shop. It seemed like her life might end at the close of the 20th century but some people had other ideas!


About Pilgrim BM45 and her Restoration

In 1999 an agreement was reached between Pilgrim’s then Danish owner and some enthusiasts from Brixham to create a company to facilitate the return of Pilgrim to Brixham for restoration She was 104 years old and in a poor state of repair. The owner, Johan Skibdahl, gave up his ownership in exchange for shares in the company.

A group of experienced people was assembled to form a crew to bring her back. She was not fit to sail and had no main mast. The passage back to Brixham from Denmark was made using her engine. After passing through the Danish archipelago they transited the Kiel Canal and made their way along the Dutch and English coasts until they finally returned her home to Brixham. It was the first time she had been back in 87 years. 

In 2003 Pilgrim was taken to be dry-docked in Tom’s Yard in Polruan, Cornwall to have a steel shoe fitted to her keel and new rudder and propeller. Unfortunately, on the passage back to Brixham the propshaft failed and she was towed in by Torbay Lifeboat! Although early repair and restoration work continued it became clear that a major survey was required to establish her long term viability and to identify and schedule the work needed. Throughout this period fundraising activities continued at a pace.

During 2004, Pilgrim was taken to Mashford’s Yard in Cremyll, near Plymouth, to be protected and to wait for the raising of sufficient funds for a full marine survey to be commissioned. The following year the company was awarded a £50,000 “Project Planning Grant” by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). This enabled the survey to be done and for a restoration specification and schedule to be drawn up.

At the same time the herculean task of preparing and submitting an HLF grant application for a major restoration project got underway. The company amended its constitution to become “not for profit” to meet the qualification criteria for an award. After a huge amount of work, a full restoration grant of £950,000 was awarded in 2008. A further £450,000 was still needed to be raised through fundraising and ‘in kind’ volunteer labour. That Autumn, she was moved to Butler’s Yard in Old Mill Creek, Dartmouth and beached to await the remaining funds. The HLF agreed to break down the grant into three parts permitting work to start on each stage when sufficient match funding was in place.

Butlers Yard Old Mill Creek
Pilgrim undergoing restoration 2010

The company was also delighted to receive further funds from South Devon Coastal Local Action Group to help fund her engine room. Pilgrim then moved into a floating dry dock where she was stripped for work to commence in earnest. During 2010 the keel and ribs were replaced and the hull was fully restored under close scrutiny of an HLF and National Historic Ships UK conservation monitor. Finally, in 2011 the Maritime and Coastguard Agency certified the restored, bare hull, to enable it to be taken back to Brixham for completion of the rig and fit-out.

Work on the rig and fit out continued until 2013 when Pilgrim was successfully registered with the Registry of Shipping and Seamen and coded by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as a ‘Small Commercial Sailing Vessel Category 2..  This was the culmination of a massive volunteer effort over an extended period of time.  It was estimated that in excess of £700,000 worth of volunteer labour can be attributed to the restoration at this point.

That year, Pilgrim participated in the Brixham Maritime Heritage Regatta and we were privileged to welcome the then Prince of Wales on board for presentation of the King George V Perpetual Cup. This was presented to the port of Brixham by his Great Grandfather for an annual competition between the sailing trawlers. Pilgrim was 118 years old!

Prince Charles
HRH Prince of Wales presenting the King George V Cup to Pilgrim in 2013

In 2014 Pilgrim was the proud recipient of “Restoration of the Year over 40 feet” by Classic Boat which recognised that the rig and deck was “as close a feasible to original build”. She has been busy sailing throughout each summer season ever since.


About Pilgrim BM45 and our Future Challenges

There are considerable challenges to maintain the charity’s activities and we have to strive to create a sustainable long term financial basis for future operations.  There is a continuing requirement to plan, resource and undertake regular refits consistent with our long term preservation obligations and our operating requirements.  At the same time, we have to continue to develop our governance and management while addressing issues of volunteer recruitment, training, retention and succession.