The Excelsior Trust was formed as a registered charity in 1983, by Mark Trevitt and John Wylson, under the Chairmanship of the Rt. Hon. Lord Somerleyton, to restore and maintain the Lowestoft smack "Excelsior", and to provide traditional sailing for everyone.
Between 1985 and 1989 the Trust completed a total rebuild of their 77' (23 m) smack "Excelsior", back to original sailing condition. George Prior Engineering Ltd. kindly made the necessary facilities available in one of their yards, and a labour force was established under a Manpower Services Commission work-experience scheme, supported by many other companies, organisations, and people from the local community. The project was very successful as, apart from completing "Excelsior", 117 people went through the scheme - the majority going on to full-time employment.
"Excelsior" was commissioned by the Princess Royal in 1988. Since then the Trust has established a proven track record in ship management and the provision of sail training for young people. In 1999 the Trust ran two vessels for a short time, operating "Andrea Jensen" (a Danish seiner built in 1939) in addition. By 2001, their ships had sailed 75,000 sea miles, taking 5,000 people to sea from all walks of life, many for the first time. Countries visited range from Norway to Portugal and Ireland to Russia.
In 2000, faced with a decline in the availability of maintenance skills and facilities, no permanent operating base and nowhere to slip and refit "Excelsior", the Trust purchased a redundant local shipyard, with help from many bodies, including the European Regional Development Fund and the East of England Development Agency. The aim was not only to establish a permanent refit and operating base, but also to provide work experience in a genuine industrial environment, to help keep alive the skills that are needed for the ongoing maintenance of traditionally-built vessels, such as "Excelsior". By bringing this yard facility back into full working order, a valuable asset was created which not only helps to defray "Excelsior's" running costs, but brings other commercial work to the port of Lowestoft. Between 2002 and 2005 the Shaw Trust, supported from the Single Regeneration Budget, were able to modernise many of the facilities, including covered training areas and facilities for the disabled, helping to ensure a steady throughput of trainees.
In 2003 the Trust joined NorthSEAfaring, a consortium of similar organisations from around the North Sea Region, to take part in a spatial planning study of redundant water frontages, under the auspices of Interreg IIIb. Funded by the European Regional Development Fund and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, this led to the creation of berths giving visitors access to the yard from the water.
Between 2005 and 2010 the Excelsior Trust was in a working relationship with the Cirdan Sailing Trust. However, exclusive operation of the ship has now reverted back to the Excelsior Trust.
A major part of the work of the Excelsior Trust is fundraising, to bridge the gap between what income the sail training and charter market will generate, and what it costs to maintain an historic sailing vessel in tip-top condition.