Designed & maintained by Carol Gingell
© C.Gingell 2015 -
© Broadland Memories 2015
Designed & maintained by Carol Gingell
© C.Gingell 2015 -
© Broadland Memories 2015
Broads Hire Cruisers
The Evolution Of Their Design And Machinery
By Vaughan Ashby
I am now 60 years old and grew up from the age of 6 months on my parents’ yard, Hearts Cruisers at Thorpe, so I have seen quite a lot of the rapid advances in technology that have happened on the Broads, but it goes back a long way before that! I don’t suppose anyone can put a date on the first boating holidays here, but it would have been in the early 1800’s and maybe even earlier. The Broads first became known outside Norfolk as a paradise for wild-
While they were there it occurred to them that it would be rather pleasant (and a lot more comfortable) to bring the family and some friends and sail around the rivers. These were rich people, however, so they weren’t going to do it for themselves! At about this time the railways came and the wherries began to lose trade. The more astute among them recognised the tourist potential of their boats.It was a simple matter for a boatyard to strip off the cargo hatches, clean out the hold, lower in pre-
So now to the “bottom” (and much more commercial) end!
By the mid to late 1880’s the railways had come to Norfolk in force and the famous old Midland and Great Northern (or Muddle and Go Nowhere) Railway brought the factory workers of the midlands in their their hundreds of thousands for their week’s holiday on the Norfolk coast. This “captive” market naturally spread onto the rivers by pleasure steamers, and firms in places such as Potter and Wroxham were hiring half deck sailing boats for the day.
The first real cruising holidays were what we would now call Flotilla Sailing (even that is nothing new) where a party of six or seven half deckers would sail off for the day, to a pre-
The wherry yacht White Heather.
But this paper is supposed to be about design evolution, so let’s consider the Broads yacht for a moment because they are pretty well unique in the world. They are strictly a flat water boat and do not like any kind of waves. Given, however, that there are no waves, they carry much too much sail for a boat of that size, and so are very fast. In this they are much like the great “J class” yachts which were also designed in the 20’s and 30’s. Yes they were many times bigger, but the idea was quite similar. They carried an enormous amount of sail, but did not go “to sea!” They only raced in protected water such as the Solent, or in Chesapeke Bay. If they crossed the Atlantic, it was on the deck of a cargo ship. I am sure that Herbert Woods borrowed a lot from the J class when he built some of his famous racers, such as Evening Flight (ex My Lady) and Ladybird, to say nothing of the big “A” raters before the war, of which Madie is (I think) the last survivor.
They are very shallow draft for their sail area and tend to a round hull with a fin keel, where a sea boat would be deeper and more v-
In the cabin they were all much the same, with two berths in the forepeak, where an awning could be rigged on the foredeck at night, then two berths in the saloon with a table down the middle. A toilet compartment on one side, with a little galley on the other. For more space an awning was also rigged over the aft cockpit. Bigger boats such as a Leading Lady would also have a cabin forward of the saloon, and so would sleep six. (This was often known as the ladies’ cabin.) The cabin top could be lifted up the middle in the evening for more light and head-
The next big step was the auxiliary engine, usually a little single cylinder Stuart Turner “pop-
On thinking about it, this Seagull was a lot safer than some of the early petrol installations of inboard engines, where cooking was by Primus Stove (which was a sort of variable pressure Napalm bomb) and lighting was by paraffin lamps in gimballed brackets. Tilley lamps were also used and if badly used would become more like an anti-
Now that yachts had engines some people got lazy and simply did away with the sails. The first so called Motor Cruisers were in fact simply yachts, with a bit higher free-
The first real motor cruisers as we now know them were built by Jenners of Thorpe in (at a guess) around 1912. They had a transom stern, a high freeboard and most, importantly, a centre wheelhouse. This was only a little stand up platform, which was raised higher than the cabin floors since the engine was installed underneath, in the centre of the boat. This cuddy was protected by a “Surrey” type top (often with a canvas fringe round it) which could be swung back down onto the cabin top by four legs, when going under bridges. Inside it was still much like a yacht. A short high foredeck with a two bunk cabin and a toilet compartment. Aft of the wheelhouse was a yacht type saloon with two berths on either side of a central table. Right aft was the galley, usually with steps going up to aft doors and a sliding hatch.
Now here’s a radical statement – I suggest that the inland waterways holiday boat hire industry HAS NOT CHANGED SINCE THAT TIME.
Only the detail has changed. We now have fibre-
A Typical early motor cruiser, from Dawncraft of Wroxham, seen in 1939.
My parents on holiday on Easticks’ Royal Oak in 1946, whilst looking to buy a boatyard on the Broads.
I suppose the next big change in technology was the second World War, since the Broads virtually closed down for five years and the business had to be built back up again afterwards. So let us look at a typical motor cruiser, as hired by Hearts in the late 1940’s and early 50’s, from a technical point of view:-
Probably the best hire boat engine at that time was the Morris Navigator, a big, petrol, side-
We haven’t talked much about toilets or washing yet, have we? I don’t think they talked much about it in the old days either. I imagine a gentleman would wander off with his morning paper and his pipe and find some suitable spot further up the bank. A dog helps on these occasions since it has to be “walked”. Toilets were usually the “Baby Blake” which was a Victorian creation of brass pipes, valves, pedals and handles, with leather washers, looking like something out of “In Which We Serve”. But it worked! I have seen instructions for its operation which liken the job to “playing a slide trombone whilst riding a bicycle”. Last time I was on board the pleasure wherry Solace, she had a Baby Blake (large bowl version) with a Willow-
The saloon of the Five of Hearts, built 1920’s, looking aft.
Deck covering was brown Lino – the genuine thick stuff from their huge factory in Staines – long before Trakmark, and hirers were told to mop the decks down every morning in hot weather, to keep the planking “closed up”. That way, when it did rain, no leaks! Mattress covers were the same as you would see in a 2nd class railway carriage but we were starting to experiment with plastic seat covering, called Vydura, and galley surfaces began to be made in the new wonder product called “Formica”. The floors were also brightly coloured Lino which was polished, every week, by the cleaners. My mother had banks of flowerbeds on the island so that every boat went out on hire with a vase of fresh flowers on the table. Funnily enough, transistor radio technology was very advanced in those days and portable sets could be hired with the boats. I remember the “Sky Leader” which became pretty much the standard hire boat radio, using batteries which didn’t look any different to those on sale nowadays.
And so to diesel engines. My father installed the first one, in the “Knave of Hearts” in 1949. He commanded motor torpedo boats in the war and always respected the German E-
The first engine was a Turner diesel, a V twin with 2 separate injector pumps and was originally designed to power fire main pumps on ships. So the vibration, at low revs, was quite something. To say nothing of the noise! We later became agents for Coventry Victor and most Hearts boats in the 50’s had the “Vixen” engine, a flat opposed twin cylinder diesel , again designed as a ship’s fire pump, and whose vibration was enormous. Hirers had to be shown how to prime each cylinder with an oil pot when cold starting. But they were very economical and very reliable. Petrol prices, post-
An early Turner diesel, in the Ten of Hearts. Note the dry exhaust, and the various cranks connected to the gear lever.
A Coventry Victor “Vixen” horizontal twin diesel. The button in the middle of the block is the de-
When electric starting came in, this was often done by a “Dyna-
One big problem, that we soon discovered, was that the sparks from the commutator brushes of an electric water pump were enough to set off any petrol vapour that there might be in the bilges! Nowadays all motors for marine use, including the little bilge pumps, are flame proof. Surprisingly there were quite a few front drive, single level boats in the 50’s and Hearts’ version was the Seven of Hearts, a little 3 berth, very popular with fisherman because of its covered aft cockpit. In the fore cabin was a bunk on the starboard side and a high seat with the steering position to port. The gear lever stuck up out of the floor and was linked direct to the gearbox aft by a lot of levers and cranks. If you wanted to go astern you had to make sure the sliding cabin door was open or the lever wouldn’t go back far enough.
An early front drive cruiser. The Seven of Hearts, 1959.
One big innovation at this time was the fully opening, sliding wheelhouse canopy, and Hearts claimed, in a write-
The Ten of Hearts converted to fully opening canopy over a saloon, with “dinette” converting to a bed.
The galley of the King of Hearts, 1952.
The controls of the King of Hearts.
I suppose the best word to describe the late 40’s and 50’s is PRIDE. Enormous pride, on the part of every yard on the Broads. It is sometimes easy to forget how immaculate the boats were (and these were wooden boats – maintenance was enormous). I remember when Ralph Moore, of Wroxham, refused to wear the new Blakes emblem on the beautifully varnished bows of his boats since he considered Blakes’ published standards were not as high as his own. My father built one new boat every year and once it was finished, around the end of June, my parents and I would go out on it for a few days on the Yare. When we got back father gave a list to Russel Newby, the foreman, and the boat would be on the yard for another week while all last minute faults found were put right. Only then would he telephone Blakes to say they could “let” the boat. One of our regular customers, Mr Green, insisted every year on being the first to hire Hearts’ new boat, for two weeks. He became well known on the Broads because he always attended Barton Regatta, on the latest new boat. He would come back with his own list of details to attend to and after that, there was nothing wrong with a new Hearts Cruiser!
The brand new Princess of Hearts, on trials on the back reach in Thorpe, in June 1957. In my opinion one of the finest hire cruisers ever built.
Heartbeat, sister of the Princess, under construction, 1958.
So now we come to the 1960’s and this is when it really took off! So much happened, technically, in such a short time. The Broads were on a boom, we couldn’t build boats fast enough, but my goodness, there were lessons to be learned!
For engines, we were very lucky to have the Perkins 4107 and the BMC 1.5 (known at first as the Newage “Captain”) These 4 cylinder diesels became the backbone of the hire boat business and many hundreds of them are still giving as good service now as they ever did then. Yards tended to favour one or the other as a whole. (Hearts was a Perkins yard, but Herbert woods was BMC) They were coupled to “hydro-
With these new gearboxes one could also fit a single-
Another vital thing was that these engines were “marinised” by companies such as Duffields, with “indirect” cooling through a heat exchanger. This means river water is now pumped, not through the engine, but through a tube stack which cools the internal or “fresh” water in the engine. So no more erosion of the engine block with polluted, or brackish, water. One can use antifreeze, install a thermostat to keep the engine at the optimum temperature and one can also pipe off a feed to a “calorifier” tank which provides automatic hot water for showers and washing up. So no more of the quite terrifying gas “geysers”!
The only problem was that all of these engines were originally vehicle engines (both of them were used in London “black cabs”) and so they were designed to be worked on from underneath, with the vehicle on a ramp. You can’t do that in a boat bilge. Very few small engines (the Petter is one) were actually designed as marine engines. So we had to employ monkeys as well as mechanics. Seriously though, I don’t know what we would have done in those days, without the reliability and availability of these two famous engines.
Fridges. Oh dear, we had some trouble with those! Blakes used to have an ice bottle system which was marvellous. Boats had a cold-
David Millbank’s wife Sally, in the white dress, posing on a brand new Jenners cruiser for Blakes catalogue of 1960. Note the ice bottles which could be exchanged at any Blakes yard, to keep food cold on board.
And that was if you didn’t have a gas leak, which would produce the same effect. I have seen early fibreglass boats with the whole deck and superstructure moulding blown clean off the hull. My memories of the 60’s are full of fires and explosions. I greatly regret that something else we knew nothing about was carbon monoxide. If a fridge chimney was not flued out over the side of the boat (which they weren’t) and the flame was burning with a white tip (because the jet needed changing) and the boat did not have enough fixed ventilation (which they didn’t) then customers, in all innocence and happiness, would go to sleep in their holiday boat cabin, but would never wake up the next morning. I don’t know how many times it happened, but I remember one or two myself and each one was one too many. In fairness to us, we didn’t really know any better at the time. It is true of all safety standards and regulations, in any industry, that they came about as a result of experience gained after accidents. But that doesn’t make the accidents any less tragic.
So then came electric fridges, but they kept flattening the batteries. It is only very recently, in the last 10 or 15 years, that we have finally found how to balance the boat’s ability to re-
But on a lighter note, we had other things to think of, because Fibre-
At first it was just the hull that was in GRP and the rest of the boat was built just like a “REAL”, or wooden, one. I am sure you have heard the saying that if God had meant us to build fibre-
Nowadays it is considered that hydraulic drive is essential for any hire boat, especially if you are on a river or canal with locks, since the mechanical gearboxes just can’t stand up to the constant gear changing, or propeller fouling. Nowadays hydraulic drives are pretty well faultless and more or less maintenance free. (Thank you, Peachments). But it wasn’t always like that!
In the late 60’s some small boats were fitted with the “Fairey Drive” hydraulic system which was all very well but no-
Perhaps I should say a little about hull design, because most of our boats are not sea boats. The best thing for inland waterways is a “displacement” hull. This stays completely in the water at all times and displaces its full weight in the water. A “semi – displacement” hull, if you install plenty of power, will lift up out of the water and almost, but not quite, skim across the surface. A “planing” hull is shaped so that, with enough power, it will actually climb up on to the surface. This is known as going “over the step”. Hardly appropriate for a 35ft cruiser on the river Bure at Horning, although I know some who have done it, in the old days! Even in the dark! Semi displacement hulls usually have a hard chine, with a “deep vee” shape going down to the keel and are deeper at the front than at the stern. What we want on the rivers is more of an even depth along the length, shallow draft (obviously) with a long, pronounced keel to make it easy to steer in a straight line. This also means it can easily be hauled up a slipway into the sheds in winter. Proper Broads boats can happily support all of their weight on the keel when out of the water. This is why they don’t like gantry's or crane straps, which tend to put all the stresses in the wrong places.
Displacement hulls have a “hull speed” beyond which they will not go. If you put too much engine in them they will simply stick up at the front and plough along, making far too much wash, using far too much diesel and often accompanied by clouds of black smoke and swearwords from fishermen. I am sure you have seen these around! Speed through the water is directly related to waterline length (known as wetted surface) and so a long boat will go faster than a short one, without much more power being needed. So a 40 footer will glide effortlessly along at 5MPH hardly disturbing the surface while a 14ft day launch at the same speed will be ploughing along making a great deal of wash. One can see that there is usually more wash from the stern wave than at the bow. The best underwater designs tend to flatten out towards the stern and then curve upwards right up to the waterline at the transom, so the flow of water exits cleanly. A difficult design involving a lot of steaming of planks if you are building a wooden boat, but the results are well worth it. A perfect example of this was the lovely aft cockpit wooden “Safari” class built by Alec Hampton in the 60’s.
Another designer in Fibre-
The end of an era. Pumpout toilets have come to the Broads and Hearts boats have just been fitted with the Safari “Toplet” thunderboxes. The old faithful toilets are seen taking their last journey by water in the hands of the local scrap dealer. Date would be about 1971.
© Vaughan Ashby 2008
One of the most famous characters on the Broads in the old days – Simon Whitmore, landlord of the Surlingham ferry, complete with his post horn. If you came down river during opening hours and looked as though you weren’t going to stop, he would come out and sound it at you until you did. When he finally installed a Juke Box, it had a blank record in it, so that you could put in a sixpence and pay for 3 minutes silence.
Nowadays cruisers are hired on waterways all over Europe and as these are all bigger than the Broads, the designs can be higher and much wider. Andy Wolstenholme has done many beautiful and practical designs and traditional Broads boatbuilding is still turning out many boats a year from Yards such as Crown Cruisers, Porter and Haylett, Haines, Broom, and many others, as well as a large building programme for the Broads themselves. But when you lift the floorboards and have a look around the engine, there is really nothing much new. It is still the technology of the mid to late 70’s and why not? It has stood the test of time! It is an old saying that whatever you put in a hire boat has to be “hirer-
The ex trading wherry Chloe, converted for pleasuring.