She was repaired and at the outbreak of the Second World War she was requisitioned as a barrage balloon platform protecting south coast harbours from aerial attack.
After the war, timber was in short supply for building pleasure craft and she was snapped up by a buyer who may have planned to break her up, but who also saw the potential for selling her on as a gentleman’s yacht. Only three months later in 1949, she was sold on to a keen yachtsman and solicitor, Harold Owen.
He changed the original tiller steering to a wheel and installed a deckhouse and a paraffin-driven engine. But he sadly did not have long to enjoy his investment. Harold was drowned off Le Havre while sailing his motor yacht Solange with his son Peter. The day after his cremation, Vigilance herself was badly charred and smoke-damaged in a mystery fire.
It has been speculated that Harold’s wife may have been behind the blaze as a means of discouraging her son from setting sail in her again, but the truth will never be known.
Now Vigilance suffered another period of sad neglect, tied up in Shoreham were she was used for storage and as a pontoon. Much of the valuable and movable items ‘disappeared’ from her decks and she became a sorry sight. When her next, Australian, owner decided he was going to sail her ‘down under’ he set out with a tarpaulin jury-rigged as a mainsail. He didn’t get far; he was intercepted by coastguards who declared him a hazard to shipping and towed him back into Littlehampton.
This was a stroke of luck. The Australian employed Ken Harris, a local cabinet-maker and keen dinghy sailor, to do some repairs to Vigilance’s interior and also borrowed money off him for materials. It came as a shock to Ken to turn up for work one morning to discover the owner had disappeared without trace, leaving the trawler to him in lieu of an £80 debt!
If Vigilance is going to celebrate her centenary in 2026 it will be a huge tribute to the love and care bestowed by Ken in his 42 years as owner. He lived aboard and devoted 14 of those years to restoring her to proper seaworthiness. He hand-forged one and a half tons of galvanised metal fittings and used 19 tons of British oak to renew frames, deck beams, dog house and bitts. He fitted an old engine from a Leyland truck. ((He had a knack of ‘acquiring’ things: the bottom of the mizzen was replaced with part of an old landing-light from an old airfield in Hampshire.))
Ken signed her up as a training vessel in the Cutty Sark Tall Ships Association. In 1974 she won the Solent Old Gaffers Race and later with an all-women crew took prizes in the Tall Ships Race sailing from Dartmouth to Weymouth and on to St Malo – coming in third overall and first-placed working boat. Between 1986 and 1988 she spent some time in the Arctic as a survey vessel off Greenland.
By 1997 Ken’s health forced him to live ashore. Vigilance was berthed in Peel on the Isle of Man when a former Brixham fisherman Bill Wakeham heard about her. He had a dream to bring a Brixham-built trawler back to her home port and entered into negotiations with Ken.
Bill said he had got a group of local enthusiasts to club together to buy her and sail her back home to Devon. In fact, he had raised only £15,000 of the £60,000 asking price but made the down payment as a deposit promising Ken the balance in Brixham if he helped sail the boat back.
He recruited a crew of eight who motored back, pumping the bilges all the way.
When she sailed into port sporting canary yellow topsides, she caught the imagination of the local population and eventually 50 shareholders pledged £2,500 each to buy and restore her. The Vigilance of Brixham Preservation Company Ltd was formed.
This was a group of fishermen, doctors, bank managers and the like with varying degrees of expertise but all united in their enthusiasm for bring a tangible piece of trawling history back to the port.
Since the summer of 1998 her red sails have become a familiar site doing her thrice-weekly visitor sails around Tor Bay.
Now she is regularly joined on the towns Heritage Pontoon by the oldest surviving Brixham Trawler, Pilgrim BM45 built in 1895 in the same yard as Vigilance. She was also brought back to the port by Bill Wakeham but in need of major structural repairs paid for by a National Lottery grant. She now operates with a paid skipper. Two other sailing trawlers Provident BM28 (1924) and Leader (1892) and a smaller gaff-cutter Golden Vanity all built in nearby Galmpton, are also based in Brixham.
Vigilance takes pride in being not only the most ‘authentic’ trawler – her engine and other mod-cons notwithstanding – but also being the only boat of her type crewed entirely by volunteers. She is also now supported by Friends of the Vigilance, a recently formed registered charity raising money to fund her preservation and support the aims of the Company, to be self-financing, keep the boat in sea-going shape in Brixham and sail her regularly, involving the community and youngsters as much as possible.
In the summer of 2019 she clocked up 70 days sailing. She carried more than 360 passengers on her regular trips and private charters. But without a doubt for her crew the highlight of the summer was racing over the finish line in the Heritage Rally to lift – once again – the George V Cup!