Now seriously for sale, the majestic gaff cutter Alexa of London is an improved version of the iconic Royal Yacht, with great potential for long-distance cruising
Have you ever wondered what it was like to sail the first Royal Yacht Britannia? The 37.5- metre (123ft) gaff cutter Alexa of London – now seriously for sale – is built on the same beautiful classic lines as GL Watson’s iconic original, which was one of the most successful racing yachts of all time.
With the same immense sail area, similar displacement and better weight distribution, Alexa carves through the sea with the super-smooth, steady motion that Britannia was renowned for, rather than bouncing over the waves like a typical modern yacht. When fully powered up she pulls a dramatic displacement wave behind her like a vintage 12-Metre, which adds another dimension to the joy of sailing in a fresh breeze. The view forward from her helm, past the low deckhouse and across a huge expanse of flush teak decks with a graceful positive sheer, is just as elegant as her perfect silhouette when seen from afar.
The foredeck dining table is a spectacular setting for an evening with family or friends
Modern versions of famous classic yachts need to tread a careful line, authentically capturing the essence of the boats that inspired them while being much more efficient to run, with far lower maintenance overheads, than a real museum piece. Designed, built and refitted with a practical, pragmatic mindset, Alexa is extremely successful in this regard. ’The hull is laid in steel and modern materials and equipment are used,’ says Alexa’s long-serving captain, Ross Murray, ‘but the undeniable splendour and refinement of a true gentleman’s thoroughbred sailing yacht is present in every detail.’
She offers a more refined sailing experience than an actual relic from the late Victorian era, with the great benefit of modern sailing systems. The comfortable passenger cockpit is a secure place to relax at sea, safely away from all blocks and pulleys, lines and winches. Her centreboard gives a significant boost to her upwind performance and enables her to access a much wider range of harbours and anchorages. This also means she’s suitable for exploring shallow cruising grounds like the Bahamas, the Baltic and the coast of Maine, with a board-up draught of 3.5m. Hydraulic powered winches and furlers make her easy to manage, so there’s no need for an army of crew – she currently operates with five. Her spacious interior is airy and bright, beautifully finished in a timeless and uncluttered New England style, so she’s just as luxurious down below as any modern superyacht.
One of her most remarkable features is the feel and response of the helm. ‘She is amazingly well balanced,’ says Captain Murray. ‘The enormous mainsail must be counterbalanced with headsails and the centreboard fully deployed to its full seven-metre (22ft) length. In calm waters it’s literally fingertip sailing, with chain and cable direct to the steering quadrant. In any type of seaway Alexa is a very stable yacht, offering good protection to the helm and comfort down below in all manner of conditions.’
With both headsails powered up to balance her enormous mainsail Alexa’s helm is fingertip light and responsive
With 483sq m of upwind canvas and 636sq m when going downwind, this is a very rewarding yacht to sail. ‘With 8-10 knots of breeze we are sailing,’ Murray says. ‘Inner jib and staysail is a good combination upwind. She has a flying jib for off the wind; she won’t sail dead downwind so we sail the angles, depending on the conditions.’
‘There is a topsail which hanks on to a cable right to the top and this offers lift and balance,’ he explains. ‘This same cable could be used for a storm mainsail, which is great for anyone planning a circumnavigation or going round the capes. The mainsail has one reef point.’
The secure, comfortable guest cockpit is ideal for dining or relaxing under way
Aside from the rich yachting heritage of Britannia, Alexa has an interesting history in her own right. Originally conceived and commissioned as a sail training vessel, she was built in Gdansk for the Polish Navy and launched in 1992 as White Eagle. Back then she was the largest single-masted gaffer in the world. She was then acquired by the US Navy, renamed Caledonia and sailed many ocean miles up and down the eastern seaboard of America. Passing into private ownership, she was converted into a luxury blue water cruiser by the entrepreneur Julian Metcalfe, who sailed her until 2013 when her current owners upgraded her extensively in a two-year refit, investing in new machinery, electrical systems, galley and teak decks. She then made her début on the regatta circuit at St Barths in 2016, where she won the Spirit of the Bucket trophy.
‘Her purpose in recent years has been as a family yacht for cruising primarily in the Med and Caribbean,’ Murray says. ‘The raised gunwales make her feel very safe and needless to say that children love Alexa for her style and for the watersports we offer.’ Based in Palma and commercially coded for a 150-mile cruising range with guests on board, she has built up a notably successful charter business to help pay for her keep, easily attracting eight weeks of bookings in a typical season, with many charter clients returning year after year.
In charter mode, one of the keys to her success is undoubtedly the vast expanse of deck space on board, which really comes into its own when the anchor goes down, offering many different zones. A huge white canvas awning is rigged over the foredeck for shelter and shade, the bowsprit netting becomes a double hammock, sunpad cushions are fitted on the bow, sunbeds and classic teak reclining chairs are placed on the side decks and an elegant 10-seat dining table is set up on the foredeck with spectacular views all round. The passenger cockpit is a secure area for young children to play, with ample shade, and it’s an ideal place to gather for games, relax with a book or enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the gentle morning breeze. The air conditioned deckhouse is a comfortable indoor lounge with an excellent view and a direct connection to the passenger cockpit.
In a recent refit, Alexa’s interior was beautifully upgraded in a timeless, uncluttered New England beach house style with white paint and chrome details offsetting fine carpentry
The fold-out side boarding ladder is an especially nice feature which works well in all conditions, as Murray explains. It’s ideal for swimming from the yacht and also for transfers to and from Alexa’s Williams 460 jet RIB tender, which can run you ashore to a harbour or beach in minutes when she’s anchored a mile away. The centreboard provides exceptional stability and even when it’s raised in a shallow anchorage, her displacement ensures an easy, comfortable motion.
Down below, her spacious beach house chic interior – refitted in 2019 – is a welcoming blend of contemporary style and old-world charm. Polished chrome fittings and details, white-painted vertical surfaces and white headlining offset the solid hardwood joinery and traditional teak sole. She’s fully air conditioned, with state-of-the-art A/V systems throughout.
The full-beam lower saloon is a large, sociable space with U-shaped sofas in a cosy lounge area with a TV and surround sound system to port, while the starboard side has further seating and a large dining table, plus a cocktail bar. Traditional lantern skylights flood the whole area with natural light and there’s a good view out through four large portholes on each side.
Traditional lantern skylights flood the interior with natural light. The master cabin is a bright and sumptuous king size double
The lower deck layout offers four separate guest cabins, each with its own private en suite bathroom – a configuration that has made her popular for charter work, Murray explains, because it’s versatile enough to accommodate families, couples or groups of friends. The master cabin is a bright and sumptuous king size double with a spacious bathroom, copious wardrobe space, several portholes and deck hatches for ventilation. The other two doubles convert into twins, and with an extra pullman berth in the twin-bed cabin she can comfortably host up to nine guests on board.
While she’s proven her worth as a great family cruiser and successful charter yacht in the Med and Caribbean, Murray points out that Alexa would also be ideal for a much more ambitious sailing programme. Her steel hull and rigging, stout aluminium spars and carbon topmast are extremely robust. Twin 315hp engines and generators give full dual redundancy of propulsion and hotel systems; she has a vast amount of tankage for fuel and fresh water, plus a 180-litre per hour watermaker, so she’s very well equipped to cruise in remote areas with full autonomy for long periods of time. She’s offered for sale in turn-key condition, well maintained and ready for her next round of adventures.
‘Due to her 120-tonne steel hull, Alexa is safe, stable and very capable offshore,’ says Murray, who has skippered her across many thousands of ocean miles. ‘With her gaff mainsail and easily controlled headsails, this yacht is an ideal ocean passage-maker that looks after you well. Whether it be a full circumnavigation or a trip to the Caribbean for the winter months, Alexa is in her element.’ At £2,950,000 and VAT paid, what’s not to like?
Click here for more information on Alexa of London or call Alastair Shove on +44(0)7476888939
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