Sailing is what I do

Location : Norwich, Norfolk Broads

I was born in South London, but my parents moved to Suffolk and then to Norwich. In 1956 we had a new house on Eaton Rise, most of which was just open land then, and I can remember playing there with a tent which is actually still in my garage. Used to go and steal lost golf balls from the golf club, all the sort of things that young children would do!

Early days sailing on the Broads

I first went sailing on the Broads then, I guess as a six-year-old. Mainly it was on Wroxham Broad. My father had a friend who had a river cruiser and we used to go with them. Father thought he’d have a little motor boat. He had managed to find what was really a small plywood outboard motor cruiser, which my mother didn’t like at all. In those days we’d just finished the war and imported wood was not easy to get hold of. We had a season or two on that, which was quite fun. Then in 1962. father bought a sailing cruiser of his own. It was Clipper Six out of the Chumley and Hawke hire fleet ‑ they’d decided even then that maybe sailing boats weren’t quite the best way of making money. So father took it to Leslie Landamore, spent double what he’d budgeted on it, and she came out looking absolutely lovely. A very pretty little boat, still sailing today.

She was called Corsair then. My father had been in the Fleet Air Arm and there were destroyers that had names that all began with ‘Co’ so most of his boats, their names began with Co. Contest, Consort, Corsair were three of them.

Corsair on Landamore’s slip, having shed her hirecraft clothing.

That was the boat that I won my first race sailing as a 12 year old. It was a Chinese handicap, at the Norfolk Broads Yacht Club at Wroxham Broad. There wasn’t any wind at all, we started off first because we were slowest. And I think for half a round I crawled over the line and won it.

Although we moved briefly to King’s Lynn we were effectively weekend commuting to Wroxham from North Runcton. I was then boarding at Glebe House School in Hunstanton. I was there in short trousers, with no heating through that ’63 winter which was a great pleasure, when the sea froze and there was ice on the inside of the dormitory windows!

I sailed with my family in the summer at Wroxham. Eventually I went off on a racing course at Filby Broad which was a Norfolk schools thing. It was run by some quite remarkable school teachers – Patricia Landamore, Les Gee, George Southgate, Alex Humphries – who set a large number of us off on a wasted lifetime in small boats, if you like. That’s where for me the whole thing started. Leslie Landamore designed quite cleverly this Bittern dinghy for schools use, not unlike a slightly shorter National 12, and that’s what we were sailing.

Rowing my first boat. I still have it!

Sailing was part of the school curriculum. I played hockey and rugby for Norfolk schools and I sailed for them. I can remember doing the schools championship at Brancaster where I now live, in 1966. That was the week that England won the World Cup. I can tell you that because I watched the final game in a pub I wasn’t old enough to be in. I was fortunate that certainly at Gresham’s we had an active sailing section. I was eventually captain of sailing at the school, as was my son later. But that enabled me to continue competitive sailing, which I’ve done all my life. In fact I’ve spent 25 years racing internationally. But it is an odd place to start off to do that, Norfolk.

You have to travel to get better at sailing

I always say the Broads are a great place for old men and children and I somewhat regret filling the former category. Yes, you have to travel to get better, you must do open meetings, get out, experience different conditions, different people, all of that, and that’s what I did. Initially in Enterprises around the Broads. (Jack Holt’s influence as a designer cannot be overstated). I then went off into 505 dinghies which are the most beautiful dinghies in the world. If God has a sailing dinghy it will be a 505. For ten years we took those all over Europe and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

505 World Championship 1978

I fleetingly had a go in a Flying Dutchman, which was then an Olympic class, without any great delusions of getting to the Olympics. Then competition was carried out in the Corinthian manner, you had to get time off work and you paid your own expenses. There’s none of this squad and cheque-writing thing, which is probably destructive of the sport in itself. Then when work brought me back to Norwich I sailed Dragons at Lowestoft. There is no longer a Dragon fleet at Lowestoft, but they are elegant boats, if wet. And we towed those all over Europe too.

Winning the East Coast Dragon Championship. c 1982

Something completely different

I spent 30 years running filling stations. I joined the National Benzole company, in their sales, promotion and advertising department. Which was a great place to be for a young man in the late ‘60s. We were dealing with on a daily basis all sorts of central London advertising agencies. These incredibly smooth men would drift in with proper made-to-measure suits, looking smart, perma-tans, the whole lot. The fuel market was growing every year, everyone was happy. Today we don’t have an independent filling station sector. It’s supermarkets or oil companies, that’s it, all gone.

Sailing is what I do and I’m identified with maritime heritage

I’ve always sailed. It’s what I do. As I got older I became more interested in maritime heritage, and East Anglia is particularly rich in that. Certainly my connection with Excelsior and the big old fishing smacks. She’s a hundred tons of oak. That’s a big vessel, that doesn’t stop in a hurry. But beach boats are actually quite remarkable. All over the country very different boats developed for fishing off beaches. There is nothing that looks remotely similar to me between a Yorkshire Coble and a double ended Sheringham crab boat, yet they developed to do the same job.

We had these magnificent East Anglian beach yawls, that were anything up to 70 foot long and incredibly fast off wind. All the way around this coast we have an outer bank of sandbanks which protects us and sailing boats that want to shelter from the worst of the weather. It was a point of honour from the skippers of these beach yawls that they didn’t go round banks, they bounced over, flat out. Some of them would go along with their leeward rail 18 inches under the water. So one job was bailing! One day I hope we’ll manage to build another one here in East Anglia.

I guess people would identify me with maritime heritage, which is a selfish activity really. I only do it because I’m interested.

‘The man who found the Broads’

My first book was about George Christopher Davies who wasn’t a Norfolk person, he came from Oswestry. He was Clerk to Norfolk County Council, a solicitor with an office in London Street. The title of his biography was stolen from Charles Carrodus’ obit – he called him ‘The Man Who Found the Broads’. He was the first Broads photographer and the first prolific Broads writer. He might have actually paid Jarrolds to publish a lot of what had his name on it.

Cliff Middleton said to me ‘I’ve got all these photographs, I think there’s a book in this, I’ll do the photographs’. I said ‘Okay, I’ll do the work’ and did all the research and tried to assemble lists of everything, for example that Davies had written.

We found a lady called Christine Svenson who was his granddaughter who lived in Bradford on Avon and still had her grandfather’s library. There were these wonderful books, absolutely fantastic. I suspect that the library has been broken up and sold because I bought a couple of books with Davies’ plate in the front and I suspect that’s where they must have come from. He owned Burnt Fen Broad near Horning for a while. Great enthusiast, great shooter, great sailor, designed boats and had them built, which is a sort of Victorian thing.

Getting to the bottom of changes on the Broads

From Davies’ time to now, the major change in the Broads has been the landscape. Put simply, trees. We’ve not yet seen the end of social changes of the World Wars. Since the second war it has become increasingly difficult, or uneconomic to farm the marshes. People don’t drive large volumes of cattle to London on their hooves anymore and they don’t need to fatten them up on grazing marshes, so the grazing marshes aren’t used.

And reed isn’t used to the same degree for thatching or whatever it is they use sedge for. The end result is that the marshes grow over, the reeds get turned into alder carr. The shadow from the canopy kills the reed. Reed’s a great place for wildlife to breed in. Trees are bad for the wildlife and ruin the view and the sailing incidentally. You used to be able to see for miles. I’ve got Victorian pictures. One of the Victorians wrote they used to be able to see three churches from Barton Broad – you can’t see one at all now. Just trees grown up everywhere. The Broads are a manmade landscape: if man doesn’t look after it, they’re going to lose it. Nature will conspire to revert to peat bog seems the likely outcome.

We are trying to look precisely and to get dated photographs between Victorian ones without trees and what it is today. Alby Cator took down a lot of trees in Woodbastwick about 12 years ago. It was all flat and suddenly you could see from the river and it looked lovely. There were hills and things rising up. But they’re all back where they started now because it’s just not looked after. What we’re trying to do is establish some records of what it used to look like and what it looks like today. It ought to be part of any Broadland conservation movement to get rid of these damn trees.

The trees are the root of the problem. The canopy kills everything that’s underneath them. You have to work the marsh and harvest it, and the trees are the result of not doing that. And if you remove the trees, you still have to harvest and work the marsh, if you don’t the trees just grow back. In the case of Woodbastwick they grow back really very, very quickly.

I’ve got to say the whole dredging thing is how to turn a drama into a crisis frankly. For most of our inland waters we have peaty, muddy bottoms. And dredging consists of picking up mud from the bottom of the river and putting it back on the side where it started off. Which doesn’t seem to me to be rocket science, or in any way to quantify it as industrial waste, which is how it’s defined now. If there is an impurity in dredging spoil then you can deal with it, but to quantify it like that it ridiculous. If you don’t maintain the Broads, you will lose them.

I don’t have a lot of time for the Broads Authority. I don’t believe they’re doing enough to dredge it. They had the capacity, they’ve had the investment. In my view it’s not a well-managed body and it entirely lost track with local residents, people that use the river, who frankly very often have a great deal more knowledge.

I don’t think they’re interested in navigation. I think they’re a reluctant Harbour Authority. They once tried to shut what was a statutory navigation committee. Sorry you can’t do that, it’s what it says in the Act. They make consistent attempts to try and downgrade the navigation. My personal view (and it wouldn’t be a popular one) is that it’s not a national park either. The way the Broads Authority is structured means that it doesn’t actually fit very happily or precisely within the National Parks structure because river tolls fund half of it. The people who are paying half the money, which is supposed to maintain the rivers, ought to have some kind of say in how that’s spent. Because that’s taxation without representation, which I think came from the Boston Tea Party originally. But Boston’s across the Wash!

Actually the Broads Authority might be a better fit as a harbour conservancy rather than a quasi-National Park body. Then it would be in a group of bodies, many of whom are responsible for large ranges of SSSI’s [Sites of Special Scientific Interest] and all sorts of remarkable wetlands, but are doing the same thing. It may be more sensible just to call it a harbour conservancy and forget the rest.

A historical perspective on dinghy sailing on the Broads

Before the Second World War, and right from Victorian times, Broads yachting has been money no object, which drives development. In Victorian times and thereafter the Broads had been very much in the forefront in the country. The first Victorian Skimming Dish, this boat that was meant to go over the water and not through it, was built in Brundall. And it was a year before the Thames caught up, so we were well ahead of the game.

Up to the Second World War we had a particularly remarkable dinghy sailing team based about International 14s, that mainly sailed at Oulton Broad under the aegis of Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club. In 1936 the Prince of Wales Cup, which was a principal event for International 14s, was considered almost the only dinghy sailing trophy in the country. That year the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk put out a team to race against the Canadians that consisted of 19 winners of the Prince of Wales Cup! It also included Uffa Fox’s team manager who was an outstanding 20th century designer and Peter Scott, who also chaired the International Yacht Racing Union, and helmed an Americas Cup challenge. It was an inordinately talented group of people.

And then the war came and effectively the country was bankrupt. I qualify as a baby boomer and when we were growing up things weren’t in quite such ready supply. When I was first married we were quite happy to have a couple of chairs in a corner somewhere. If you needed a table you could put in an orange box. But against this background and rationing and short supplies, walked in this guy Jack Holt.

Dinghy sailing owes Jack Holt a huge debt of gratitude. In 1949 he produced the Hornet and the GP14, very successful plywood dinghies. You could get plywood because it was being used for aircraft manufacture and they were still producing it. The prime fleet was an International 14, and to buy an International 14 in the mid 1950s would cost you £350. Quite a lot of money. They were beautiful, absolute works of art. The Uffa Fox boats had tiny thin Canadian rock elm timbers on two inch centres all the way through its 14 foot length. Two thicknesses of a quarter inch Honduras mahogany with oiled silk between them. There were 7,000 copper fitted fastenings in these boats, they were exquisite. But very expensive for an elitist few. Dear old Jack Holt in Putney wasn’t a boat builder, but a cabinet maker by trade, which meant that he wasn’t troubled by the three dimensional curves boat builders have to deal with. He was producing cheap plywood boats and in 1958 my father bought his first Enterprise. He paid £100 for it; I’ve still got the receipt. It came with a trailer and two sets of cotton sails – racing and cruising.

An Enterprise dinghy (mine!) on its trailer ready to go off to compete in an Open Meeting

Now you’re discovering the supply and demand curve. The cheaper you can get something, the more you sell of it; arguably what he was discovering, was anybody can give it away. But dinghy sailing exploded, because people still had fuel rationing till 1956. From 35 International 14s a year, Jack Holt was producing 28 Enterprises a week. Suddenly people could have a boat. They didn’t have a continental holiday in those days, but they could have a boat. (Mother probably called it a yacht!)

I can remember Horning weeks having to race in three or four fleets of Enterprises. Everybody did it, it was really good fun, because we were all teenagers together, having an absolute ball. My father would give me a fiver at the beginning of the school holidays and I’d go off in the cruiser with the dinghies at the stern, and actually you had to win races otherwise you got awfully short of beer by the end of the holidays!

We’d spend all the summer holidays going from one regatta to the next. It was new and it was vibrant. All to the pirate radio stations in the background and everybody felt it had never been done before. Nearly all due to Jack Holt, the cabinet maker in Putney who just happened to be in the right place at the right time and with his partner Beecher Moore became the most successful small boat designer in history.

The problem with dinghy racing now is that you still can’t get away from supply and demand curves. The more expensive you make the equipment the better performance it gives. That’s true of just about everything from ponies for children for gymkhanas to motorbike racing. Now we teach the children what makes a boat go faster and they all want to go for the expensive kit. I tried to get some relativity from my father of this before he died. I asked how was his £100 Enterprise relatively and he said he could deal with it out of a month’s salary. Today somebody who walked into a sailing club with two or three young children wanting to buy a new boat, go sailing, teach the children how to sail, probably wouldn’t have much change from £20,000, with all the kit and the clothing and the life jackets. Now relatively it’s all got much more expensive, which is why it’s a declining sport.

Also, Jack Holt’s growth was a baby boomer activity, of which I’m included. At 69 I don’t think I’ve got 20 years of active small boat sailing; if I’m very lucky it might be ten. And when we fall off, there will be a gap behind us. I expect sailing clubs will close and merge. I think golf is also a declining sport. Sailing today is much more expensive. And there are many more options for young people today. I know we thought wind surfing was a great adventure but there are many more divergent attractions today. Actually if you’re going to race seriously you’ve got to need to win, it has to be the most important thing in the world. It’s not ‘Oh I’ll go for a sail. Oh, we all did rather well there didn’t we?’

Books about sailing and the environment in East Anglia

I’m one of these people who think most logically when I commit something to print. I’m happiest when I’m writing it down. Obviously it’s much easier now it’s done on a computer. I’ve produced a number of books about the Broads. I spent ten years writing a publication called Hamilton’s Navigations, which I sold. But Hamilton’s was the most detailed Broads guide ever. It splits the entire navigable Broads into half mile sections with a chart and a note on each one, lots of photographs. That was great fun, and you really have to be on the river to live it, to do it. I also published tide tables at the same time which gives you an additional knowledge of the whole thing.

I produced A History of Norfolk Punt Class, which is still around somewhere. I’ve normally got three or four books unfinished or started on my machine. In my view the best one I’ve ever produced is The History of the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club, which is certainly the most detailed history of Broads yachting. The Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club is actually a Broads club that happens to have premises beside the sea. It is the oldest established club that’s still running from 1859.

Jamie Campbell 2019

Jamie Campbell (b. 1950) talking to WISEArchive in Norwich on 22nd March 2019

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