My Life with Wherry Maud

Location : Norfolk Broads

Linda and Vincent took on the raising and restoration of the trading wherry Maud in 1981. Linda talks about the work involved and how The Wherry Maud Trust and many volunteers help to keep Maud sailing on the Norfolk rivers and Broads.

I was born in Faversham in Kent and when I was four we moved to a place called Westgate, which is near Margate. My father was a policeman and soon afterwards he left the force and took on a general store. Now families with general stores tended to have very little spare time. Our spare time was limited to Sunday afternoons; the rare occasion each week when the shop was closed. On Sunday afternoons we would go down on the beach in the summer and actually through into the late autumn. We would swim and play tennis, maybe go on the putting green; anything that gave my dad a real change from working in the shop.

Linda’s introduction to the Norfolk Broads and thoughts turn to wherry restoration

So I’m afraid there was no history of sailing in my early years. However, when I met Vincent Pargeter when I was 18 and we subsequently married, he introduced me to the Norfolk Broads. He himself had holidayed on them as a child and was very enthusiastic about the area, about the boats and the windmills. The windmills had by that time become his day job and the boats were still an enthusiasm. We had our first holidays in bed and breakfast accommodation on the Broads and my first introduction to boating there was learning to row on Rollesby Broad.

Subsequently we had our own 12ft 6 clinker dinghy that we trailed up to Norfolk and did a little bit of sailing in. At roundabout that time we had a friend, who was an antiquarian librarian in London and he decided to arrange trips on traditional sailing craft. The first, I believe, was on the wherry Albion and 12 of us got together and chartered the Albion for a weekend. We also had a trip on a Thames sailing barge. This gave Vincent the idea of restoring a wherry himself. He knew that he had the skills necessary. He had woodworking skills and metalworking skills. It seemed a shame that Albion was the only restored trading wherry, while the actual typical type of Norfolk sailing wherry was a clinker-built wherry. Clinker-built is with overlapping planks, whereas the Albion is carvel-built, which is smooth-sided with butt-jointed planks. The story has it that she was built that way in order to negotiate locks on the Bungay Navigation.

Discovering the Wherry Maud at Ranworth

So in 1979 we started looking for a clinker-built wherry hull that could be restored. So we asked various local people and we were directed towards Ranworth Broad. The inner broad at Ranworth had several wherry wrecks and Maud was actually visible at low tide and we could see that, although she wasn’t in good condition, the hull seemed to be intact and it looked as though we could pump her out and, hopefully, she would float. We continued to look round at other wherry wrecks that we were told about and, in fact, realised by 1981 that the best wreck we would find was the Maud.

We had to obtain permission to move her from Ranworth inner broad from the Norfolk Naturalist Trust, who were her owners at that time. So we had a river contractor, who I believe was Sonny Amis, who came along with his barge and his pumps and pumped her out and she did, in fact, float. The smell from the hull was quite terrible, having been sunk in the mud for about 15 or 16 years. We moored her up just near the Conservation Centre and people on craft going by were, I’m sure, absolutely astonished at the sight of such a smelly wreck. Then Paul Reynolds came with his boat from Upton boatyard, together with Tim Whelpton, and they towed the Maud round to Upton Dyke.

Maud 1981 pumped out at Ranworth (WMT)

Maud’s lift onto dry land at Upton Dyke

We then prepared her for being lifted out onto the bank. The hull looked quite sturdy, in spite of being rather evil-smelling, and measures were taken to strengthen her up ready for the lift. We had two of the largest mobile cranes that we could obtain and they positioned themselves suitably and strops were put under the hull of the boat and rigging was arranged to lift her out. I believe they said that she was on the limit of their lift; the way they had to lift her to take her from the water onto the bank and the weight was something in the region of 14 or 15 tons. They placed her gently down on the bank and Eastwood Whelpton staff, most likely headed by Paul Reynolds again, supported her on the bank and left her for us to roof over and get ready for restoration.

Maud 1981 waiting to be lifted out at Upton WMT)

Maud was actually built for the timber trade on the River Yare and the River Yare wherries tended to be larger than the others. She is approximately 60ft long, plus the length of the rudder which is about 8ft. She is approximately 16ft 9 beam, which is the width and she would draw about 4ft of water. That means that the hull would be 4ft under the water.

So having got Maud lifted onto the bank, fairly well supported, we had to make sure that the support arrangement was exactly right so that she would maintain her graceful shape. This was quite difficult on a piece of marshy ground. So for the next year or so, we spent quite a lot of time adjusting props. We also had to build a temporary roof over the boat and obtain some second-hand lorry tarpaulins to cover the roof, so that the inside of the hull provided a workshop.

Maud 1981 at Upton waiting to be covered over (WMT)

Assessing the framing and outside planking and the five year plan

The first thing then to do was assess the state of the framing and the outside planking. One of my jobs was to scrape the outside planking, to scrape the dried mud and the old tar off. This was not a very comfortable job lying underneath the boat, especially as any tar dust that got onto the skin tended to burn rather badly. So we tried various arrangements to cover up my face and protect it. For a while, I wore a hood with just a gap for the eyes and goggles over the gap. That really wasn’t very comfortable. Then I had an airstream helmet, which was battery-powered and a stream of air would come through the helmet, so that not too much dust settled on the skin. That was all very well, but the visor steamed up, as they do. Anyway it was done. Section by section, it was done.

The planking hadn’t looked too bad when we first lifted Maud out but, of course, it had been in the water for 15/16/17 years and as it dried out, gaps opened up. Eventually when it was almost fully dried, there were gaps large enough to pass a chisel through from the inside to the outside. Obviously the worst planks would have to be replaced entirely. The better ones, which were simply split in places, could be repaired but first the framing had to be replaced, so that the planking could be attached to a solid frame. We had a five year plan. The five year plan I’m afraid turned into a much longer process.

Timber for the framing and planking

Researching and obtaining the timber for the framing was quite difficult. We had to obtain seasoned 4 inch oak and cut the frames out of solid, following the grain of the timber. You can’t cut boat frames out of straight timber, because they’re curved and if you cut them out of straight, the grain would not follow round and the frames would be weak where they went round the curves. Timber yards do not often stock this timber these days, because they don’t have much call for it. Hence, we had to try and find ones who would cut curved oak for us and we would then season it ourselves. Therefore, we hadn’t got a ready supply of timber that we could use immediately. That didn’t matter too much, because for the first five years we were actually working on the framing, just the two of us, and we were taking one piece of timber home on the trailer, together with a pattern for that frame. Vincent would be cutting it out at home either in our garage, or in his workshop at work. We would then, a couple of weekends after, be taking that frame on the trailer back up to Eastwood Whelpton’s boatyard at Upton and endeavour to fit that frame.

Fitting the frames in the hold area is not too complex, but fitting them in the curved areas at bow and stern is much more so. Patterns had to be made up, and special gauges so that the frames could be exactly the right shape. So after five years, we had almost completed that process and we had to start thinking about how we would replace long sections of oak planking on the boat. Quite a challenge, because we couldn’t take patterns and take long sections of planking home with us to shape. Everything had to be done on site. So one of the first things we did was to look round for a boatbuilder, who would be willing to work on site with us for, say, six weeks every summer. Luckily, Colin Buttifant at that point was just starting up his own business, having trained in boatbuilding working for Broom’s.

So first of all, of course, before Colin could start we had to source the planking. Most of the planking came from a very large timber yard in Hull called Barchard’s. We bought several trees from them and had it sawn to our thickness requirements. From memory, the top plank either side on Maud is two and a half inches thick. The next one is two and a quarter inches. The rest of the hull planking is, I think, one and a quarter inches thick. We had to put it in stick, that is putting sticks between each plank, so that it would air-dry. We started the process of re-planking in due course and Vincent would get the planks ready and we would invite Colin Buttifant to come along and help.

We had to steam the planks that were curved and all the planks in Maud are curved to a greater, or lesser extent. The thick planking had to be put in Upton Dyke for a couple of days to soak well and it then had to be steamed. Rather than construct a steam chest, which would have taken up space, which we did not have, Vincent decided that tubes of tarpaulin material should do the job. So what we did was to take the planks out of the dyke, where they had been soaking, and to feed them into tubes of tarpaulin material on trestles. We then had small steam boilers either end and fed the steam in, cooked the planks for, from memory, only three to four hours and then took them out to fit them to the boat. This would have been quite amusing to an onlooker, because it was a very hot day I remember when we started this and we were swathed in thick sweaters and gloves, because handling hot planking that had just come out of the steamer was quite hazardous really.

The planks had to be offered up to the boat and then cramped in position with large G-cramps, so that they would assume roughly their shape that they needed to be. Once the planks had dried and cooled down, they were then taken off the boat and final shaping occurred. So all this took quite a long while; we did that for five or six weeks every year until the planking was completed.

Maud 1981 bows before restoration (WMT)

Maud framing in bows after restoration


Maud’s re-launch

There was some additional work on cabin sides and some of the framing of the cabin and the foredeck, before Maud was re-launched, but in 1995, I think it was, we decided that the hull was ready. It had been given a couple of coats of good, thick bitumen paint and the hull was lifted back into the water the same way she came out; again with presence from the local press and television and she was towed round to Colin Buttifant’s yard at Womack, the Swallowtail boatyard.

So at Colin Buttifant’s yard there was work to be done, which we didn’t have time to do ourselves. We did want to live long enough to see the Maud sailing. So one of Colin Buttifant’s men actually made up all the hatches for the boat and that was easier for them to do anyway, because they have a nice, large workshop and they were made very efficiently and they look really good; they do their job very well. They are, of course, quite heavy to lift as people realise when we have to take the boat out of the water. The hatches are made of oak ribs and boarded with softwood to make them a reasonable weight for lifting, but they are really heavy. While they were making the hatches, Vincent was framing the foredeck fully and boarding it and also building the cabin, making it, of course, long enough for himself to sleep in, because he was 6ft 3 and it was necessary that he was able to sleep comfortably, so the bunks were made accordingly. The cabin is very nice indeed, with cupboards either side of a wood-burning stove and additional cupboard space on the back wall. So very snug indeed, especially with the wood-burner going.

Maud relaunch c 1995

A new mast for Maud

So once Colin and Vincent had finished their work, so that Maud was pretty well complete apart from her mast, she was taken round to Eastwood Whelpton boatyard at Upton again for the mast to be shipped. Now the mast was a story in itself. We had got together with the other wherry owners and imported six baulks of timber from Central America, to make up masts for Maud and the other wherries. The baulk for our mast was taken down to the International Boatbuilding Training Centre at Lowestoft, where they shaped it according to Vincent’s plans and instructions. The major work was done by a team of apprentices. I believe there were in total about 18 apprentices involved. One of them actually came on board Maud for a trip two years ago. I hadn’t been in contact with him at all and he was able to write a story for our website of exactly how the mast had been constructed and to provide 18 photographs of the whole process. This was extremely interesting to me as, of course, we weren’t there when the mast was constructed; we simply visited to see what progress had been made.

Paul Reynolds and the Eastwood Whelpton crane lifted the mast on board Maud. It fitted beautifully, thanks to the skill of those involved, and the whole wherry was then towed again round to Womack where we’d negotiated a mooring with the Norfolk Wherry Trust, in the same shed as the wherry Albion. That was where Maud was finally got ready for her re-commissioning party and it was, of course, a bit of a cliff-hanger. Two days before the re-commissioning party, which was to be held on Wroxham Broad, at midnight we finally finished rigging Maud for sailing. The next day she was sailed round to Wroxham Broad.

Re-commissioning day

Sailing a 12ft 6 lug-sail dinghy on a few occasions really was the limit of our sailing experience. So sailing Maud on her re-commissioning day ourselves was not in question at all. We managed to find experienced wherry skippers and in the morning of the re-commissioning party we had Mike Sparks of Norfolk Wherry Trust sailing and in the afternoon Peter Bower of Wherry Yacht Charter. So she was sailed rather competently, which was lovely. We had press at the party and a good gathering of people who were there, either because their family history was part of Maud’s family history, or they had been involved with the restoration in some way or another. It was a lovely party; beautiful; one of our definite high spots in Maud’s story.

That day hadn’t dawned well though. We had torrential rain overnight and because we hadn’t had any hatch cover tarpaulins made up at that point, of course, the hold had plenty of water in by the morning and it hadn’t come from below; it had come from above. So our friends, including Paul Reynolds yet again, bailed everything out for us, tidied up the hold and made it ready for the sailing. All turned out well, however, and by the afternoon the sun was shining.

Wherries and keels

There were sailing wherries in other parts of the country but not of the same design as Norfolk wherries. Definitely rowing wherries on the Thames and on the South Coast.

The first trading vessels that we know about on the Norfolk Broads were called ‘keels’ and the Norfolk keels I believe existed from very early days. Certainly there are mentions in documentation of wherries in the 1600s and I believe before that, but on the Waveney in the 1600s there are mentions of wherries and keels together. However, the main cargo-carrying craft on the Norfolk Broads I think until maybe the early 1800s was the Norfolk keel. Wherries started to be built round about that time in equivalent sizes to the Norfolk keel and were better-adapted to carry cargo on the somewhat twisty rivers in the Norfolk Broads area.

The reason that the wherry was better-adapted was due to its rig, due to the positioning of the mast in the hull. The mast on a wherry is further forward in the boat. The keel masts were almost amidships I believe. The sail of a wherry is gaff-rigged and it is renowned for being possible to sail a wherry quite close to the wind. That is almost when the wind is blowing on the front of the boat. There’s a limit to how you can tack on narrow rivers with a vessel that’s 60ft long. So ideally you want to be able to sail quite close to the wind and a wherry was better able to do that than the keel. So eventually by I think the mid-1800s there were no keels left sailing, or very few. The wherry had taken over completely.

Maud’s history

Maud was one of the later wherries to be built, as she was built in 1899, a year after the Albion. Maud was built for a gentleman, who was working for Jewson’s timber yard in Great Yarmouth. He had started working for them when he was just about 20 years old and he had more than 30 years working for the firm eventually. In 1899, he already had his own small fleet of wherries that was private; nothing to do with Jewson’s, but they were built primarily to carry Jewson’s timber from their yard in Great Yarmouth up to Norwich. This gentleman’s name was Walter Christmas Bunn. He eventually became a director of Jewson’s. He was an entrepreneur. He was very much at the forefront of technology. He later had a steamboat built. He only owned Maud until 1908, when he sold her on.

Her history then was mainly with Henry Newhouse until about 1918. Maud carried general cargoes, apart from timber. She carried such things as coal and coke. In her latter days, say, from 1930 through to 1945, she also had cargoes of sugar beet. Later, unfortunately, as she went down in the world, she was carrying mud dredgings. The later owners were Hobrough’s, who were eventually bought out by May Gurney’s and so May Gurney became her last owners before she was sunk.

She was sunk in Ranworth in the mid-1960s, in a broad approximately where the Conservation Centre is now. May Gurney’s no longer wanted to use wooden wherries. They’d already had iron wherries built, which were a lot easier to repair; you didn’t need the skills and the materials were much more easily obtainable. We came along and rescued her and had her refloated in 1981.

Wherry terminology

As there were variations in wherries according to the rivers that they were designed or built to work on, there were also, I’m sure, lots of different names for various parts of the wherry. However, there are certain ones that seem to be fairly standard. For example, the mast support structure in a wherry, as in a yacht, is called the ‘tabernacle’. Why an ecclesiastical term should be used for that part of a traditional boat, I don’t know, except perhaps for the general shape.

The poles that are used to manoeuvre a wherry are called ‘quants’. I certainly get told off by wherry skipper Kim Dowe if I refer to them as ‘quant poles’. He insists that his dad and other wherry skippers always used to call them ‘quants’ and not ‘quant poles’. The deck edgings on a wherry are painted white, presumably for visibility at night, because wherries didn’t carry navigation lights. I call them ‘planceas’, because that’s what Vincent told me they were called. I believe he may have found that in books like the one by Coleman Green, who was an authority on the subject, and when he wrote his book he interviewed various wherrymen. Kim Dowe, I believe, calls it a ‘covering board’ and that is exactly what the function of that piece of timber is, because it covers the joint between the hull planking and the decking.

Then there’s the chimney, because wherries always carried a wood-burning stove in the cabin to keep their occupants nice and warm in winter. The base of the chimney is called a ‘Coburg’ and there’s a box chimney that sits on top of the Coburg.

So there’s the cabin. It seems logical to me to call it a cabin, but I notice that Kim Dow always refers to it as the ‘cuddy’.

There are, of course, words for the different blocks. There’s the ‘crane block’ at the top of the mast. There are the ‘sheet blocks’ for adjusting the sail from the steering position. There’s the ‘crutch block’ on the mast end of the gaff. There are the chains for adjusting the angle of the gaff. They’re called ‘spens’. I’ve never heard that term anywhere else. So I’m sure some terms are common with other sailing boats, but others are unique to wherries.

Wherry design

The wherry only has one sail, which is a gaff-rig sail.

The mast is actually about 46ft above deck level and when the sail is peaked up, that is when the sail is fully raised, with the piece of cloth called the ‘bonnet’ in use for light winds, laced onto the bottom, the peak of the sail; the very top of the sail will be higher than the mast.

Although there weren’t too many bridges on the Yare, the wherries were all built with a mast that could be lowered easily, normally by one man, or possibly two men. The procedure for lowering the mast is really quite straightforward, because it’s a simple rig and they needed to be able to lower sail very very quickly before a bridge and to raise sail again very quickly after the bridge. So the procedure to lower the sail would be to release the ‘forestay tackle’, which is the wire rope and two blocks that go from the top of the mast down to the very front of the boat, and then because the mast is counter-balanced (it’s got a big chunk of iron, or lead, on the base of the mast) the mast will then come down most of the way of its own volition, just being pulled down the final amount by the skipper in the steering well at the back. So that process can be done in just a few minutes. Once you’re through the bridge – reverse process – pull on the forestay tackle, raise the mast, put the mast gate across (the iron bar that ensures that the mast can’t easily come down again), put everything back together, sail away.

Maud’s sail then and now

Historically, I believe, the sails would have been made of some material like flax and they would have been treated with tar and herring oil, of course, that was acceptable for trading vessels. I’m sure tar and herring oil was rather a messy substance, but once wherries became adapted for pleasure use, which happened from the mid-1800s, then sails were left a normal, natural colour, white, rather than being tarred and made black. So it was only the trading wherries that had a black sail.

We, however, had a sail made in synthetic fibre; a fibre that looked the part. It really does look like a traditional canvas sail, but we didn’t want a traditional sail, because it would have been heavy to raise. It would probably have taken a while to dry out, when it got wet and because we were day sailing we wanted something that could be put away quickly and wouldn’t rot when it was folded up wet. We didn’t treat it with anything at all for about the first 11 years, because we didn’t really realise that it would be beneficial to do so. However, our sailmaker suggested some four or five years that we really ought to be giving it some kind of treatment, because UV does damage the manmade fibre. Also the sail is bound round the edges with manmade rope and that certainly does suffer from attack by UV. So our sailmaker suggested that we use Ronseal Fence Life in black, if we could obtain it, to treat the sail. One of the sailcloths was already fading and looking almost grey, so it didn’t look quite right. So we decided to take her advice and to try and obtain some of the Ronseal Fence Life in black. Luckily they do still make Tudor Black Oak Fence Life and three years ago I managed to raid several big DIY supermarkets and obtain enough of it to treat the sail on both sides.

So the sail was taken off and taken to one of our Trustees’ rather large lawns, spread out, we got washing up bowls full of Tudor Oak Fence Life, soft sweeping brush brooms and four of us, I think, went over the sail one side liberally treating it with this Fence Life and then, by hand with a paint brush, making sure that it had soaked in well to the rope round the edge. The sail was then allowed to dry and the following day we turned it over and treated the other side. The result of this was quite hilarious – when we folded up the sail, Neil had a beautiful outline of a wherry sail on his grass. No damage done though; after a couple of weeks of mowing it soon disappeared. This process enables the sail to regain the original stiffness of the canvas, because after a few years of raising and lowering it does tend to get slightly softer. We carry out this treatment every three years and, in fact, it is quite stiff and very black-looking at the moment , as it was recently done in August this year.

Sail painting August 2014 (N Thomas)

Maud’s skippers

When we started our research, it was in the Norfolk Record Office and also learning by word of mouth where there were descendents of wherry skippers, who we could go and interview. We found that the first skipper of Maud was a Methodist lay preacher, who went by the name of Ophir Powley. He had a very large family indeed and most of the men were wherry skippers. We did obtain the names of skippers of Maud also from census records and we could look at these and find who was listed as the watermen, wherrymen, or wherry skippers for other wherries. So we could gain an idea of family names. I’ve mentioned Powley. There were also the Farrows,and Powleys and Farrows formed most of the skippers, certainly in the years up to about 1920. Ophir Powley was followed by I think his son, Alfred Powley. There was also a William Powley. So those were the early skippers of Maud.

Later on when Maud was in the ownership of Hobrough’s and just before that I think Walter Cates was one of the skippers. He is certainly mentioned in the Cantley Sugar Beet book as skippering Maud in the 1930’s. Later on in Hobrough’s time and in May Gurney’s time, the Fox family skippered and we were able to speak to one of the Fox family, who was still living at the yard at Thorpe when we first started restoring Maud.

We also spoke to descendents of the Farrows. The Farrows were also skippers of Albion. There were Farrows, who skippered on the Waveney and Farrows, who skippered on the Yare. I suspect they were all related. One of our first Trustees was Joe Farrow, who believed that he was related to the wherry skipper Farrows.

Trading wherry crews

Traditionally trading wherries were operated by a skipper and a mate. This must have been a very very hard job, especially before the wherries had engines. Maud certainly did not have an engine when she was built. However, by about 1918/1919, Maud was no longer used under sail; she was fitted with an engine.

Operating a wherry without an engine meant you had to choose your tides and use them wherever possible to your advantage. You had to wait perhaps for a wind that was good for the direction you were travelling in. If you became stuck and you needed to move the wherry for a cargo to arrive in Great Yarmouth on time to meet its onward transport, say, to Australia, which did happen in the case of cargoes of barbed wire that Maud was carrying from Norwich down to Great Yarmouth, it would still have to get to Yarmouth by a certain time at all costs. So the poor wherryman might have to push the wherry by using the quants. Obviously going down into Great Yarmouth where the tides are strong, you couldn’t move a wherry by quant alone. You would have to get it within reach of Great Yarmouth and use the tide to take it down to the port. So quite honestly, sailing with one man and a mate must have been very very difficult; it must have been a very hard life.

Even when sailing in fairly favourable conditions, you do need a wherry skipper on the tiller and you need one or more people on the winch. One of our crew once tried to winch Maud’s sail up on his own; he did give up; it is just too difficult. We need two people raising sail. When we have members of our Trust out with us, we like to give them experience of raising sail and four people, four averagely fit people, will be out of puff by the time they’ve raised full sail. The wherry skippers were not big burly men; they tended to be small and wiry. How they did it, I don’t know, especially in winter when wherry decks were covered in frost, when you slipped on the decks as you were trying to push the wherry along with a quant. One tip I was given by the descendent of one old wherryman was he used to use coals, cinders from the wherry stove, to sprinkle on the decks when it was frosty to make them slightly less slippery. Amazing what they did, absolutely amazing.

Timber, ‘tar liquor’ and other cargoes

Maud was designed really to carry timber. Now timber is a comparatively light cargo, especially as it was softwood in the main that she was carrying; imported timber from the Baltic, and the softwood could be stacked in the hold and the wherry was able to carry much more weight than that. In fact, the Maud, was capable of carrying about 42 tons under sail. So in order to carry a heavier cargo of timber, they would take the hatches off, of course, to load the wherry hold with timber and then they would build the cargo up. Timber would be stacked on the side decks until it reached the level of the sides of the hold. Then timber would be stacked across the hold forming more or less a raft on top, so above the sides of the hold.

A slot would be left down the centre, so that the mast could be lowered to go under a bridge and the poor wherryman, who was manoeuvring with a quant, would actually have to be walking up and down on top of the timber stack. The wherryman, who was steering would have somehow to see over the timber stack, so I would imagine he would be standing up on the afterdeck and steering rather than standing down as normal in the steering well. The sail would have to be rigged in such a way that it was just above the timber stack. Two wherrymen surely couldn’t have operated under those circumstances, but there’s not too much documentation about how it was done. We do have some photographs and in one or two, you can just see exactly how the timber was stacked, which is very interesting.

One gentleman told us that he definitely remembered Maud and a couple of the other wherries being fitted with tanks to carry a by-product from the gasworks in Norwich down to Runham, near Great Yarmouth. The by-product was called ‘tar liquor’ I believe and they would have lowered a tank into the hold of the wherry and then filled it with this tar liquor. It would have been taken down to Runham and then pumped out there. Maud carried various cargoes, including sugar beet. However, unfortunately, at the end of her working life under May Gurney’s, it was cargoes of dredgings. Maud came at really the end of the trading wherry era.

Smaller wherries and a ‘slipping keel’

There were smaller wherries which used to go up shallower rivers, on the Bure, for example, and beyond Norwich on the Yare, and they tended to have what was called a ‘slipping keel’. The slipping keel was the normal keel of a wherry, but it was designed to be fairly easily taken off, and left so that the wherry drew less water and could go up the shallower reaches. Tradition has it that the keel was slipped, or taken off, left on the bank, and the cargo was taken up the shallower reaches. The wherry would return and then the keel would be fastened on again.

Skippering Maud after her restoration

After Maud’s re-commissioning party, as our sailing experience was severely limited, we decided that it would be prudent to ask wherry skippers largely from the Norfolk Wherry Trust to come out with us and take responsibility for skippering, while we watched and learned and until Vincent felt confident enough to skipper Maud himself. So people such as Mike Sparks, Paul Bowen and others came with us for certainly the first couple of years. After that, Vincent said right, it’s now or never; I must try and do this myself. So we sailed for a few years with Vincent being the main skipper. We took out groups of friends and we ranged mainly over the Northern Broads.

We didn’t go down to the Southern rivers too much, apart from on one memorable occasion, when we decided that we’d go through the bridge at Beccles and try and get up to Geldeston. That was not very well starred, because we went under the bridge from memory in early September and then the rains came. We weren’t able to get back under the bridge, because Maud has a fairly high tabernacle, the structure for carrying the mast, and we couldn’t get back under the bridge. In fact, we had to wait until January and it wasn’t a very pleasant trip taking Maud back through Yarmouth in freezing rain. We had a minor accident on the way out of Great Yarmouth, when we ran up onto the mud, because we were hit by a sudden squall and it took us a little while to get off the mud and to get her back to base. So we then decided that going up above Beccles was not a particularly good idea. So we did mainly sail on the Bure. One of the favourite trips was round to Ranworth Broad to show people Maud after her restoration, which was quite fun.

Vincent skippered Maud for quite a few years, but about 2011, he went back to his first love, which was restoring the windmills, and he had less and less time to sail Maud. So we tried to recruit other people, including some people who did not actually have a wherry skipper background. People like Jimmy James, who is one of the Hunter yard instructors and who had a lot of experience on large yachts. Jimmy took well to the task of skippering and so did a couple of other people. Joe Farrow, who had joined us very early on when he was only a teenager, came back and did some skippering for us and eventually it was quite evident that Vincent didn’t want to skipper. So we tried to recruit other people wherever possible, but he did still skipper occasionally when we needed him.

Securing Maud’s future

At this point we were both nearing retirement age and thought we ought to try and ensure that Maud had a secure future. So we decided, with a couple of other people, that we should form a Trust for Maud. Vincent and I agreed that it would be prudent to lease the Maud to the Trust and to retain ownership, so that we could make sure that the Trust was efficiently run and financially capable of ensuring Maud’s future.

So four of us set up the Trust as Trustees; Vincent didn’t want to participate in that. So it was myself, Joe Farrow, Nigel Gutteridge, who had a good background in volunteering for Wherry Yacht Charter and was very enthusiastic about the Norfolk Broads and also Neil Thomas, who comes from a local family, very enthusiastic about the sailing and very keen to learn to skipper a wherry. We decided we would invite membership of the Trust and would take members out on Maud, in order to generate funds.

We were also keen to generate funds in other ways, by attending local events, by supporting other wherry ventures and also other activities on the Broads; supporting the museum at Stalham, for example, and we have been there nearly every year to attend some event. Unfortunately in 2017, we weren’t able to do that, because it was the year for Maud’s out of the water maintenance, but we shall be back there next year. We’ve also started attending the Beccles Charter Weekend and we’ve done that now for two years running. We will do that again next year.

There have been various ways of showing Maud to the general public. We’ve had at least three opportunities for her to appear on television. She appeared in a series with Dimbleby, which I believe was called ‘Portrait of Britain’. We had an appearance on ‘Flog It’ with Paul Martin. Last year we had Larry Lamb on board; I think that programme was called ‘Disappearing Britain’. We support local windmills wherever we can, because that was Vincent’s main enthusiasm. We’ve taken her regularly to Hardley windmill on the Yare, where they have a very good friends group and we try to have joint events. We support the Wind Energy Museum at Repps and also try and have joint events with them too. In fact, any way we can of informing the public about wherries and windmills and getting the public on board for viewings and trying to invite membership. We’re always trying to think of new ways of promoting the Maud.

Maud sailing EACC 14.5.17 053 (Sue Hines)

So-called ‘five year plan’

The restoration actually took 18 years in the end, rather than our five year plan. It was largely financed by us; I stopped counting really at about £100,000. However, we certainly had grants from the Broads Authority in the first five or ten years. In those days grants were much more easily obtainable, but we were so grateful for those grants, because it enabled us to buy timber in advance. Without the grants in the early days, we probably could not have bought whole trees and had them sawn as we did.

As time went on and our progress was so slow, we both had day jobs and Maud was our main hobby, so we didn’t have holidays abroad; we spent our holidays working on Maud together with friends, who came along and helped and we were able to fund it like that. Aside from grants from the Broads Authority, there was very little other funding. We made up a small booklet, which we sold. That brought in a few pounds here and there, but aside from that it largely was out of our own pockets.

I mean a wooden boat is never really fully restored; there’s always some work to be done on her. Every three years we have an out of the water maintenance, when she has a thorough survey. The first few such maintenance sessions were quite minimal really, because she’d had a really thorough restoration and any parts of the boat that were likely to give trouble had been replaced. When you realise that she was actually re-launched after her major restoration in 1995, you’re talking 22/23 years back in the water, and it’s inevitable that some of the wood that was not replaced in the 1990’s would by now be coming to the end of its life. So three years ago, we had about 70ft of planking replaced.

This year the replacement has been relatively minor, because we now have a plan for the next six years and we will be doing some fairly major re-planking in three years’ time and in six years’ time and those planks will be the only remaining 1899 planking. So that’s the way it goes with a wooden boat.

In nine years’ hence, we might find that we are having to replace some of the planking that we originally replaced, because our English oak is somewhat variable in its nature. Sometimes you find that there are knots that eventually will result in further rot developing. A plank can be perfectly good on the surface and after a few years you will find that there was, in fact, a knot just under the surface and you have got rot under there. It’s just the nature of oak, unfortunately, but it is a very good boat-building timber, providing you get really good quality stuff.

So like most historic buildings, boats, etc., you’re never really finished and you always have to paint and take advantage of as many modern materials as you can, modern resins, so that you can fill a piece of timber rather than replace a whole section. You try and retain as much of the original boat always as you can, but modern wood preservatives are very good. However, they tend not to be as good as when we used really toxic products some years back, but the toxic products are no longer allowed to be used on the waterways, quite correctly. They were very good for the timber, but not so good for the water. So you’re constantly adapting your methods of restoring.

Vincent had been involved and has subsequently been involved in many many full restorations of windmills. Postmills are perhaps the most challenging; postmills (wooden-bodied windmills that revolve on a post) and smockmills (wooden-towered windmills). So to restore things like that and especially to restore the machinery, you have to be an extremely good carpenter and his carpentry extended to actually making patterns for gear wheels to be cast and that kind of thing. So he was a very skilled person in that respect.

Vincent’s only boat repairs prior to Maud’s restoration were on our 12ft 6 clinkered-dinghy, but he was a very keen observer and very good indeed at technical drawing. So what we did before we started the project was to go round and look at the only other wherries that were afloat, specifically the wherries built by Hall’s Yard. The remaining wherries today are the wherry Hathor, built by Hall’s of Reedham, the pleasure wherry again, Solace, built by Hall’s of Reedham. Those two still afloat, still very much the same design as a Norfolk trading wherry hull. The other wherry that was available for measuring and looking at the design of the various components at the time was the Lord Roberts, which wasn’t a Hall’s wherry, but was very much a typical trading wherry.

So Vincent was able to prepare detailed technical drawings of these and also a technical drawing of what he believed Maud should look like. We had her overall dimensions, of course, but what she should look like with her tabernacle, with the hold and the hatches and the cabin design. Everything like that was authentic wherry design and as far as we knew was Hall’s wherry design. So he did his best and I’m sure with his eye for detail that was the best that could be done.

Viking influence?

Wherry design definitely must have followed the same route as Viking ship design. Whether it was actually influenced by the Nordic countries; it probably was, because so much of our history on the East Coast is linked with the history of the Vikings that there must have been Viking influence there I would think. There is a super picture taken of Maud out of the water by Neil Thomas, my co-Trustee, and you look at that and you look at pictures of the Viking boats in the museums in Scandinavia and the likeness is very evident.

View of bows out of water July 2014 (N Thomas)

Viking influence?

Wherry design definitely must have followed the same route as Viking ship design. Whether it was actually influenced by the Nordic countries; it probably was, because so much of our history on the East Coast is linked with the history of the Vikings that there must have been Viking influence there I would think. There is a super picture taken of Maud out of the water by Neil Thomas, my co-Trustee, and you look at that and you look at pictures of the Viking boats in the museums in Scandinavia and the likeness is very evident.

Ensuring wherries sail into the foreseeable future

We now are in the situation where we have three Wherry Trusts operating on the Norfolk Broads. There is Wherry Yacht Charter responsible for three wherry yachts and two pleasure wherries. There’s the Norfolk Wherry Trust responsible for wherry Albion. Last but not least, the newest charity, our charity, Wherry Maud Trust just responsible for the wherry Maud and very much hoping still to be in existence in 100 years’ time.

We are hoping that the various Wherry Trusts can enthuse our young people, so that they are keen to carry on the traditions and to make sure that the wherries are sailing into the foreseeable future. We really do need the support of young people as well as the older people. Most of our wherry skippers these days are either retiring age, or nearing retiring age. There are a few people coming along, but we do desperately need young people to train as wherry skippers, to train as boatbuilders. There, we’re extremely fortunate with our boatbuilders, the Buttifants, because Colin Buttifant has trained his son Paul to be an excellent boatbuilder and wherry repairer. So we need youngsters trained in all aspects. We need youngsters enthused, so that our wherry history is not neglected and also the history of the whole context in which the wherries operated, the history of the rivers, broads and marshes of Norfolk.

Linda Pargeter (b. 1951) talking WISEArchive on 16th October 2017 in Tibenham, Norfolk

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