About 1930 when I was seven years old my father took me and my older brother, he
was about twelve, for a weeks holiday sailing. We started from Oulton Broad and I
always remember the first night, we moored alongside at Somerleyton, during the night
a train came rattling across the railway bridge waking me up. We then went on through
Haddiscoe Bridge, paying a shilling, I think at that time.Of course at that time
very few sailing sailing boats had engines, if any, so we always had to do a lot
of tacking and hoped we would have a favourable wind through the "Cut'. Power boats
were rather looked "down upon" among the sailing fraternity in those days! At Reedham
we had to wait for slack water so we could sail through the bridge, we would throw
a small piece of paper into the water to see how strong the tide was. Then on to
Coldham Hall where we enjoyed ourselves, my father knew everyone there.
Then to Bramerton Woods End and to Thorpe and Norwich. My father had to go back to
Lowestoft by train for a few hours to attend to some business. Before he left he
told my brother that should a suspicious looking man come near them, he was to pick
up an oar and threaten him. Later a man came along and spoke to us, my brother picked
up an oar and shouted "Go away or I will hit you with this." The man quickly retreated
looking very puzzled. When my father returned we wasted no time telling him what
had happened. He laughed and said "I asked him to keep a eye on you" then we all
It was the summer of 1939 when everyone knew that before long we would be at war
with Germany. My friend’s father had a sailboat, about 20ft long, sloop rigged with
a small cabin and painted black. It had a full keel, not the usual fin keel of the
typical Broads sailing boat, a sturdy little craft that liked a good breeze of wind.
He must have known war was not too far away. He said, “You two take the boat and
go sailing for a week all over the Broads.”
And that was what we did, most of it anyhow.
It was a long time ago. My friend and I were sixteen at the time so I can’t remember
all the details I’m afraid. We set sail from Oulton Broad and sailed to St. Olaves,
across Breydon Water to Yarmouth. We were aware of the strong tide at Yarmouth so
we were very careful to work with the tides. Arriving at Yarmouth under the full
ebb tide could be difficult with a sailboat with no engine. Once whilst sailing through
Yarmouth with my father, we were going too fast with the tide. He said, “We must
tow a bucket to use as a drogue to slow us down.” I threw a bucket over the stern
attached to a line, and “snap”, all that was left was the handle!
Getting back to my story, we sailed up to Acle, Potter Heigham, to Hickling Broad
and to Horning. During this time our resources were limited, the cost of staying
overnight at the yacht stations was too much for us. Some times we would stay just
long enough to get some food and a cheap meal and then take off again before we had
to pay. We would tie into the reeds overnight whenever it was possible. We then sailed
back to Reedham and Coldham Hall and finally Oulton Broad.
War did break out in September. I remember vividly that Sunday morning when Neville
Chamberlain declared war. That Sunday my father and I went over to the Commodore
boatyard and pub where he kept his boat. His friend was the owner. He went into the
pub, the radio was on, I sat in the car and could hear the radio, then at eleven
o’clock war was declared. I knew that would be the end of sailing for a long time
to come. Later the Navy seized a lot of sailing boats and anchored them on the rivers
and broads to prevent the enemy landing there by plane. My friend’s father’s boat
was taken, we did not know where. My father’s boat, a 20ft sloop, was also taken,
the Navy moored it alongside a jetty and it got caught under the piles and was sunk.
We then went to refloat her using pumps and buckets and brought her back to The Commodore
where she was hauled up for the war. No damage was done to the hull fortunately.
After the war my friend’s boat was returned to him.
Ken Harrison 2008
Memories of 1930s Broadland
My grandfather had kept his houseboat at Thorpe during WW1. There was a grocery store
at Thorpe by the name Frosts, we went there my father knew them from the past (I
wonder if the store is still there). Time was running out, we had to be back by the
weekend, alas the wind dropped of on the way back, we managed to get a tow from a
kindly owner of a power boat. Who said anything about engines! A good time was had
Ken’s older brother, Mowbray Harrison, contacted Broadland Memories to add the following
information; “The friend's sailboat he refers to I think must have been the 'Rella'
(probably miss-spelt but sounds like). I remember he and his friend asking me to
help them take it out of Lowestoft harbour for a sail. But when outside I was not
happy about how the boat behaved or, perhaps, about my competence so soon took it
back. That night I was told the trip had opened the boats seams and the two friends
sleeping on board woke to find themselves floating in water.”
Mowbray also included the two photos below of himself and Ken which were taken whilst
on a sailing holiday with their father in the 1930s.
More Memories of 1930s Broadland
About 1936, when I was thirteen my father had a chance to buy a sailing boat about
20ft long lying at Coldham Hall. It was in need of some repairs and fitted with a
lug sail. A typical fin keeled Broads boat, it had a two berth cabin and a lifting
top. He decided to buy it. He said we would fix it up and change it to a sloop rig,
jib and mainsail. We didn’t like the lug rig. This sounded very exciting to me and
I was looking forward to it all. My father had arranged to have it hauled out at
St. Olaves and put into a shed so that we could work on it during the winter, carry
out the repairs and change to a sloop rig. My father and I drove over to Coldham
Hall and met the two owners of the boat and made final arrangements to purchase the
boat. After all this was done he said, “Go along with these two and sail to St. Olaves
and I will meet you there”.
So that was what we did. On the way we put our bow into the reeds and had lunch.
We then carried on, they let me take the helm all the way to our destination. We
were lucky and had favourable winds. The boat was then hauled out. It was late in
the sailing season and it was time to decide exactly what repairs and alterations
we had to do. The decks needed recovering and the toerail and rubbing strake needed
to be renewed also. The cockpit seats needed to be rebuilt and, of course, the change
from lug sail to sloop rig. I remember it was quite exciting to do all this and my
father was also very keen.
We had to change the mainsail to a gaff rig and purchase jaws for the gaff and a
gooseneck for the boom, a new mainsail, mast hoops, main and peak halyards and also
a new mainsheet, blocks etc. Also we had to fit a new bowsprit, jib halyard and jib
sheets for the new jib. We also fitted new standing rigging of galvanised wire. I
found a rigger in one of the local boatyards who told me how to splice wire.
Then there was all the work to be done on the boat. We went over every weekend during
the winter months and renewed the deck coverings with linoleum (as was the practice
at that time) and new toe rails and rubbing strakes. One time my father was so keen
to find out if we had the right size wood for the rubbing strakes, we went over to
the boat in the dark and lit candles to see if it was the correct size.
Eventually all the work was done, the hull painted and the bottom coated with antifouling.
The mast and spars had been sanded and varnished and the new sail bent on. All was
ready to try her out. The weekend came for the trial. It was cold, cloudy, very windy
and it felt as if we might have some snow flakes, but we had to go. My father and
I started out. He took the helm and mainsheet and I looked after the jib and was
handy for anything else.
We took off down the river at top speed, but we had to tack back against a strong
wind. As we were tacking the mainsheet got twisted and a blast of wind put our decks
under and water in the cockpit. However, we soon sorted that out. My father was a
very experienced sailor and we were not bothered with it at all. We had the boat
for many years after that. It gave us a lot of enjoyment and fun. He gave it to me
eventually and bought a bigger boat for himself.
Ken Harrison 2010
Ken Harrison later became a Naval Architect and Surveyor, and went on to design three wooden cruisers for the Richardsons fleet between 1947 and 1951. His original plans for those boats can be found in the archives Paper & Ephemera section, listed under Boatyards & Boats.