Legendary Operation Raleigh tall ship Zebu sets out on new adventure - with the help of a Yorkshire GP

The world’s first electrically-powered tall ship is on her first sea trial between Liverpool and Bristol – thanks in part to a Yorkshire GP. Chris Burn reports.

Sally Anderson on board Zebu.
Sally Anderson on board Zebu.

Back in the 1980s, Sally Anderson was among the hundreds of young people fortunate enough to enjoy an international adventure aboard the tall ship Zebu. Now 36 years later, she has played a part in a major project to restore it to its former glory which has seen it set sail this week on a groundbreaking journey between Liverpool and Bristol as an ambassador for the initiative.

In her early 20s and coming towards the end of her university degree, then-24-year-old medical student Sally Anderson from Scarborough spotted an article in The Yorkshire Post that was to change her life. The item was searching for two people to participate in Operation Raleigh, a scheme encouraging young people to set sail on ships around the world to develop leadership skills and build self-confidence through a combination of adventure and community service.

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She got a place on board the tall ship Zebu, with sponsorship coming from The Yorkshire Post. She headed out to Australia for a three-month mission as they worked on excavating the wreck of another ship called Zanoni, which had been used on the East India trading route and sunk close to the coast of Adelaide in 1867.

The Zebu at full sail.

After what she describes as a “trip of a lifetime”, she ended up living in Australia for a couple of years and working in a hospital before going on to take part in another Operation Raleigh mission in Central America.

Sally eventually moved back to England and became a GP in Driffield and started a family, going on to have three children.

Her interest in Zebu was reignited by an extraordinary coincidence 30 years on from her voyage on it as she took her children to Liverpool for the weekend in 2015. As part of the trip, the family went down to Albert Dock where they saw a partially-sunk ship in the water. Incredibly, it turned out to be Zebu.

Six weeks after she sank, Zebu was raised from the water and in January 2017, the ship came under new ownership, husband and wife Gerrith and Suzi Borrett.

Sally Anderson on Zebu in 1985.

In October 2017, the couple secured a grant of £99,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for feasibility work on their aim of starting an ambitious new chapter for Zebu to turn the vessel into a unique floating museum which will travel around the British coastline to engage with local schools, colleges, universities and the general public.

Sally went on to join the board of the Community Interest Company involved with Zebu, which last October was granted £458,400 from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund.

Colonel John Blashford-Snell CBE, Tall Ship Zebu’s Honorary Patron and the man who helped establish the Operation Raleigh programme with Prince Charles, said at the time of the award: “Zebu has had some amazing adventures, and positively changed the lives of hundreds of young - and not so young - people since her involvement with Operation Raleigh in the 80s.

"This backing and funding from the Cultural Recovery Fund means that once again Zebu will bring heritage to the forefront by engaging communities, schools and educational outreach groups with the ship as the platform for sail training, whilst promoting environmental and sustainability awareness, as well as UK maritime and cultural heritage.”

Sally Anderson has been part of the long-running efforts to restore Zebu to its former glory.

Zebu is now the world’s first historic tall ship to have an electric auxiliary propulsion system. She has swapped her old engine for a state-of-the-art electric flux motor that is lightweight and compact, and is powered by environmentally friendly rechargeable batteries.

Now Zebu has taken its first voyage in its new guise, setting off from Liverpool earlier this week to a temporary new home at Bristol Docks, where she will remain until the end of June.

She will then set sail again to tour along southern waters making appearances at festivals and events this summer.

Anderson says: “Despite Covid, we have managed to get to a point where she can leave Liverpool. This is the first time she has left the dock. It is really exciting.”

The ultimate vision is for Tall Ship Zebu to sail across the world to promote Zebu’s historical and cultural heritage internationally.

In addition, Zebu will draw awareness to global maritime environmental issues, conservation and sustainability via exhibitions and events onboard.

Built in Sweden in 1938 Zebu originally carried cargo for many years around the Baltic Sea ports. There are personal testimonies that suggest she smuggled refugees out, and supplies in, for the Polish resistance during the Nazi occupation between 1939 and 1945.

Zebu continued as a cargo vessel until the 1960’s before being converted into a recreational sailing vessel and relocating to the UK during the mid-1970s.

Between 1984 and 1988, Zebu successfully sailed around the globe as the Operation Raleigh sail training expedition vessel, teaching traditional sailing skills to an internationally diverse group of nearly 500 young people throughout the voyage.

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