A TRIP ON THE ALBION

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1 A TRIP ON THE ALBION Last Christmas my children gave me a special Christmas present they had chartered the Wherry Albion for a day. We hoped to get as far as Wayford Bridge, but this was a little bit too far to get there and back in a single run. This proved to be a very emotional trip for me, as there were many parts of the route that I hadn t seen for about 60 years. Some of you will have read my book On a Norfolk Boatyard, detailing my early years on my father s boatyard, where we built and hired out traditional (mahogany on oak) broads sailing craft. The previous owner of the yard was William Hewett (Bill, or Old Man Hewett ). He was elderly then, and I used to visit him regularly in his shed, where he made model boats, wherries in particular; there is one of his models in the Museum of the Broads at Stalham, and another at Norwich Castle Museum, There was one, I believe, in the Science Museum in London, but old man Hewett complained bitterly that it wasn t..rug right I spent many hours with him, his description of shooting a bridge, lowering the sail and mast, just drifting through the bridge, raising the mast and sail and sailing on without mooring. He had his first wherry when he was twelve.

2 To start, I had better give a description of a Wherry. This was a sailing cargo craft, used for all sorts of cargo, grain, typically barley (some delivered to the maltings next to the boatyard at Wayford Bridge, coal, and, of course, Norfolk reed for thatching; this would be stacked up to ten feet high above the decks! The sail would, of course, be reefed up well to clear the deck. I have seen a wherry at the port of Norwich, with a load of grain, and a load of coal, I have also seen a wherry with a cargo Norfolk thatching reed. There are now no wherries used for cargo duties. A wherry does not have a loading line Bill Hewett loaded till a sparrar can take a drink from the deck Some details about the Albion: Size: 58ft. x 15ft. x 4ft. 6ins. Rudder: 7ft Mast: 42ft weight 3 tonnes It is worth noting that the mast does not have shrouds, the ropes holding the mast upright, ther would have been a major interference when quanting. There is a fore-stay, but only really used to lower the mast. Sail: 1200sqft An absolute pig to handle I once helped furl a wherry sail when a wherry arrived at the boatyard with a group school group, or similar, and had to furl the sail. Tarred canvas is very stiff. Built: 1898 Built where: She was built at Lake Lothing, between Oulton Broad and Lowestoft in the yard of William Brighton. Her "shed" was an old ice house which was demolished after she was launched. 2

3 Cargo weight: registered at 35 tons, but known to have carried 42 tons, it was not unknown for the deck to be below water level! A wherry is an incredible sailing craft. At one time there were a great many wherries, now only two trading wherries exit, The Albion and Maud, though neither of them are used for cargo any more. There are several Wherry Yachts, though I don t think these really count, as they have a clipper stern, and were built for passenger use; they do have, however, the same distinctive rig. The Albion has now has the cargo hold fitted out for a cargo of people a large table with benches, a galley, including a working cooker with an oven, and about twelve bunks for parties who don t mind sleeping in a cosy group! My father calculated that wherry could within 4 of the wind! A very useful feature as tacking a vessel of this size on the narrow twisting rivers of the broads would not be easy. See my comments below. The Albion is stationed on Womak Water, near Ludham. 3

4 4

5 THE TRIP We had arranged to stay in a Holiday Let Cottage at Hickling; a very nice base, well equipped and comfortable. The hope was to get as far as Wayford Bridge, though this was quite a long journey. We had arranged to start the trip at 9 O clock, and just made it by nine, the clear directions were not as clear as we had hoped, we repeatedly finished up at Hunters Yard, a traditional Broads sailing craft hire company, just next door the Norfolk Wherry Trust. Two rabbits came too We all donned life jackets. Polly had a special child s one, it was a bit bulky and she hated it! For much of the trip she spent her time in the hold, just sticking her head out to wave at passing boats. First we met the crew, Skipper, Mate and able Seaman. We then had the obligatory safety talk, what not to do or touch, then what to do when someone fell overboard. Then it was cast off and away. Using a quanting pole, we left the mooring and onto Womak water. The mast was already up, but now was the time to put up the sail. The Crew There is a winch, just forward of the mast for this purpose, there is, of course a strict procedure for using the winch, the OK from the Skipper to engage the handles, responded with Handles on, then the OK from the 5

6 6 Skipper to start hoisting. A two man job, though in our case two children and two men. The forecast was for a medium high wind, so the sail had been reefed before we started. The sail soon began to pull, and we made our way towards the River Thurne. Shortly after this we approached the River Bure and turned upstream towards Horning and Wroxham. This was to be my first attempt at steering a wherry. A very interesting experience. The rudder, as stated above, is very large (7ft long), which makes steering very heavy, for some maneuvers you need to have your feet on the cockpit coaming and push very hard. Despite this the wherry is very responsive. The first noticeable difference is the way a wherry responds to the wind. A wherry is incredibly stable; a sailing boat heels over with a side wind, thus presenting a curved hull shape in the water, that tends to turn the boat into the wind. A wherry is so stable, it hardly heals over at all, a stronger wind just makes you go faster! The other factor that was strange to me was using the Main Sheet (the rope that controls how far out the sail goes, and thus its angle to the wind), the adjustments here were minimal, when sailing I was always checking the setting of the sail to get the best out of the wind.

7 We passed St Bent s Abbey, a much photographed attraction. Incidentally, it was interesting to note how often we were photographed, a sailing wherry is quite a sight! We soon approached the River Ant, and turned north towards Barton Broad. This is lovely stretch of water. I had forgotten how many wind-pumps there were on this stretch. Soon Ludham Bridge came into view, and it was all action, lowering the sail, then the mast, and using the dinghy with an outboard motor, and went through the bridge. Obviously the top of the bridge was lined with onlookers. Soon we were through, and the mast raised, the sail hoisted, and on our way again. Given very little wind a wherry has an impressive turn of speed. Soon How Hill came into view, with its Nature Reserve, and lovely gardens (not that we stopped to look at them!), there were a lot of people there. Then it was through Irstead and Barton Broad came into sight. This was real sailing now, we had an excellent wind, and the Albion fairly belted along. By now it was lunchtime, so out with the provisions. We were expected to feed the crew and had prepared enough for all. The Able Seaman was a bit surprised to find the food was vegetarian (more than half the family are vegetarian) and was by trade a butcher! He really enjoyed my vegetarian sausage rolls! 7

8 Unfortunately it was decided that we hadn t time to travel to Wayford Bridge, it is so many years since I approached the boatyard from the river, however Barton Broad brought back so many memories; it was a regular Sunday trip, with sandwiches and a primus for a pot of tea. We did a turn of the broad, I was disappointed to see that the tree on the island had gone, however, it was over 40 years since I last saw it! Now for the trip back. There were many more other sailing craft on the way back, despite being out of season, there were many motor cruisers using the river on the way to Barton Broad, but now it was time for the sailing craft, out for a Saturday afternoon sail; perfect sailing weather, with a steady easterly wind. It was lovely seeing all the places again from a different angle. By a real coincidence, my sister Frances and my nephew Joe had been on a walk and happened to be on Ludham Bridge as we approached (5 minutes either way and shee would have missed us!) By the end of the trip everyone had had a go at steering, even Polly hung on to the tiller while Marleen did the work. Henry was the most keen and spent a long time steering. Eventually we made it back just on 5 O clock, perfect timing. Then it was back to Hickling for a delicious supper. 8

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