When coasters ruled the Yare

Having managed to get a bit of free time to myself last week, I took the opportunity to take stock of some of the photos that had been sent to me over the last six months or so which will eventually make their way onto the main Broadland Memories website. Amongst these are a collection of photographs taken by Mick Middleton over the last fifty-five years.

Mick has been boating on the Broads since 1958, initially as a hirer and later as a boat owner. I’ll try to post a few more of his  photographs on the blog over the coming weeks but for now I’m going to concentrate on two which, I discovered, tie in with an old newspaper cutting I have within the archive. There was a time when almost every set of holiday snaps which featured the southern rivers contained at least one photograph of a coaster making it’s way along the River Yare into, or out of, the Port of Norwich – in fact there are many fine examples to be found within the gallery pages of Broadland Memories. We didn’t get to explore the southern rivers until long after the last coaster had made it’s way out of the city, but I can appreciate what an impressive (if somewhat scary) sight they must have been. The guide books and maps of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s always came with warnings against mooring on the bends of the Yare because of the risk of being caught by one of these mighty beasts as it rounded a corner.

It wasn’t just the bends on the open river where problems could be encountered though – various old newspaper reports show that mooring at Reedham could also be a risky business! The news cutting on the right is one such example (click on it to enlarge), reporting on the damage caused to the chain ferry at Reedham by the coaster A. King 1 in July 1976.  Heading upstream towards Norwich, the coaster had rounded the bend as it approached the ferry but failed to straighten up, it’s bow catching a motor cruiser and a yacht before colliding with the ferry itself. The ferry was put out of action by the damage caused. The owner, David Archer, planned to have it towed to Lowestoft for repairs and hoped that it would be back in action within a fortnight. The motor cruiser, one of F.B. Wilds Caribbean Major class, suffered some damage but was deemed to be safe for the unhurt, but rather shaken family on board to continue their fortnights holiday. The yacht was not so fortunate, sustaining major damage as the bow of the coaster crushed it against the quay heading. The family of four on board were helped to scramble ashore as the unnamed, private sailing cruiser began to sink, one of the party sustaining a gash to the head during the collision but thankfully, and possibly miraculously,  all survived. This frightening event was one of several similar incidents which were reported by local newspapers over the years.

Amongst the photographs sent to me by Mick Middleton were a series of images showing the recovery of a sunken river cruiser at Reedham during the summer of 1976 which he recalls being told at the time was caused by it being hit by a coaster. On checking the dates, it transpired that Mick had actually captured the aftermath of the incident which had been reported in the news cutting above. The first image below shows the initial stages of recovery, with little other than the mast showing above the water.

The second photograph (below) shows the river cruiser being craned out of the water, the damage sustained in the collision is clearly visible.

The registration number A636 identifies this as being one of the 28ft, 4 berth Brigand class, built by Alfred Pegg and Sons of Wroxham c1933. Although Brigand was originally available for hire through the Pegg boatyard, she later became part of the fleet run by the Norfolk Broads Yachting Company before being sold into private ownership c1974. The image below is the entry for Brigand from the 1935 edition of Blakes Yachting List.

The incident in 1976 wasn’t the end for Brigand – on checking back through my own photographs I discovered this image of her taken at the start of the Three Rivers Race in 2009.

It was rather interesting to discover that Mick’s dramatic photographs corresponded with that original news article – my thanks to him for sending them to me. The events of that evening in July 1976 must be forever etched in the memories of those involved. The possible outcome could have been so much worse. It’s also good to know that this wasn’t the end for Brigand, she was obviously restored to her former glory and, nearly 40 years later, is still going strong.

Update 5/11/2015: One of the most interesting asides of running the Broadland Memories website and blog is the occasional email I get from people who have stumbled across an article or photograph which relates to their family history. At the time of writing this blog post, I thought it coincidence enough to have discovered photographs which corresponded with a newspaper article held within the archives, but I was recently contacted by John Ranson whose family owned Brigand at the time of this incident:

I was in the sailing cruiser Brigand when it was struck and it was my Mum grabbing me in her arms that kept me safe while probably contributing to her being unable to avoid clouting her head as we were thrown across the cabin by the impact. I was four at the time and, understandably, it’s one of my earliest and most vivid memories. In the days following the incident, my Dad (now no longer with us) salvaged what he could while the rest of us went and had a beach holiday at Overstrand. I think that’s him in the photo, clambering about on top of the boat. He pursued the coaster’s owners, A King Steel Merchants (I believe) and won compensation which enabled us to get back afloat in Blue Peter II (RCC no.14). We still have the original (well from the 70s at least) transom nameplate. It was one thing my Dad salvaged as a memento.

It must have been a terrifying experience for all involved and not surprising that the memory stuck with him. John went on to say that the wreck was purchased by someone in Essex who planned to convert Brigand into a houseboat, but two years later she was apparently still sitting on a driveway, untouched and in a very sorry state. He presumed that that was it for her and wondered whether RCC 390 was in fact the sister ship. Having double checked the entry for Brigand on the Boats of the Norfolk Broads database, the registration number of RCC 390 certainly matches that seen on the 1976 photograph, so I can only assume that she was eventually restored and brought back to the Broads. If anyone can add to her history I’d be delighted to hear from you. My thanks to John for updating the story.

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