The Norfolk Broads: Sailing Paradise On Our Doorstep
Whilst I have lived within an hour (if not closer) to the Norfolk Broads all my life. I never really put two and two together and placed sailing on one of the most beautiful spots in the UK. Day Boats of mis-behaving families or me on a canoe, perhaps – but not really sailing.
There are a number of large broads with reasonable mass of water, alas when most of us think dingy sailing, we of course think about being on the coast. But if you want truly technical sailing and the ability to learn how to tac and jibe in the shortest time as possible, inland UK waterways (including the Broads) have to be right up there. Trust me.
After 3 days sailing and having to tac up the River Bure in a 25 feet sailing yacht on a river no wider than 40 feet, there really isn’t a much quicker way to cut your teeth. At the peak it was probably a tac every 10 – 30 seconds (depending on the wind angle) and something like 45 tacs to travel some 500 metres. That’s a lot of work!
Now of course, don’t let that put you off – There are good size broads which offer superb wind on most days and enough room to have some real fun sailing across decent stretches. And given how they are spaced out, no matter where you launch or hire your boat from then you are bound to find something pretty close. We opted for Eastwood Whelpton Yacht Station who have a variety of boats for hire from day sails, to 4 berths you can hire for a week or more. Some of the beauty is that most of the sail hire boats you will see on the broads, aren’t actually new. In fact many will be some of the original broads boats dating back maybe 100 years. Of course they have been updated with many featuring a motor if things get tough and of course electric to recharge your Instagram snapping smartphone.
Norfolk Broads History
The original sail boats were used for carrying local supplies such a fruit and veg, whilst the very first sailing Wherry first set sail back in 1898. There are still three known to be working in the world, one which still sails along the broads every day during the peak season and makes even today’s super yachts look rather small as you can see. When you bear in mind this thing weighs 23 tons and only has sail as it’s power. That is a fair bit of difference when compared to the likes of the 5 ton, 40 foot yacht we will be racing in Cowes Week.
Soon after came more pleasure sailing for the wealthy and the Broads was very much in it’s element. Boats such as the Waveny were likely to be original smaller cargo yachts before then being converted for pleasure sailing during the warmer months. And even by today’s standards, then still have what it takes as we found out below.
You don’t need to be on the latest boats to have masses amount of fun. The most interesting bit of kit I have had on my my year of sailing with Helly Hansen has actually been on a 97 year old wooden yacht. No, seriously. Whilst I am sure most parts have been replaced multiple times – akin to Trigger and his famous broom – the design, history and techniques haven’t changed a touch.
The Waveney designed boat (a Half Decker, called Rockin Robin pictured below), was a pure joy to sail – very light and minimal, with no cover or even storage. But push it too far and that low bow just gives you wet feet before a likely capsize! There really are very few ways to be so close to the water, imagine a go-kart on the road and the Rockin Robin is very much the equivalent. Close to the ground and very much as receptive and as much fun as you dare want it to be.
A variety of boats are available to hire throughout the broads, but even something steeped in as much history as the Rockin Robin will come in less than £100 for a days hire. That’s less than your average day hire boat!
For more information on sailing on the broads there is the Norfolk Sailing School, or with some experience you can hire directly with or without lessons / help from Eastwood Whelpton Yacht Station.