Page updated 13 October 2020
After the Llangollen Canal holiday, in 1963, that had for her been a major trial, Mother said "No more boating holidays!". However, whilst at Horning in Norfolk, in 1964, we made her look through the cabin windows of a boat moored in a boatyard there. I recall that it was called "Panther" and it made her see that boating needn't be the cramped nightmare that life aboard "Margaret" had been. Panther had a full sized domestic stove with an oven, and its beam allowed much more room to move around. And so it was that in the new year of 1965 the family was booked a holiday, through the Blakes agency, aboard "Siesta I" from Richardson's yard at Stalham.
We arrived at Stalham on a gloriously sunny Saturday, the 4 September for what was to be the last holiday that the whole family took together. For my brother and I, it was the last week before we returned to school. After 1965 we began taking holidays separately. Mum and my sister, Gilian, were with us all week. Dad, however, needed to return to work at some point during the week and left one day, staying a night at home, to return to the boat the next day.
Siesta I - I wish I could identify where she was moored in this photograph
When we arrived at the yard we were a little worried to be told that we needed to be careful as there was still wet varnish about. It was true that some surfaces were a little tacky and the boat still had the smell of new paint. Mum, however, was mightily impressed by the vase of flowers on the saloon table and generally the boat was immaculate.
The cabin plan of Siesta I
Dad was a senior civil servant, then serving as secretary to the Geddes Committee. This was to report the following year on the future of the ship building industry. I learned much later that he had given some kind of speech at a meeting at which many Norfolk boat builders might have attended. It was Dad's theory that they had made a special effort on account of his name on the booking form. The idea has some merit, no other boat seemed to have got the treatment that ours did for what was, effectively, the last week of the season.
The galley and main aft saloon of Siesta I
Siesta was relatively unusual craft for its day. While forward control boats had been around for quite a time. Most were small. Siesta was 32ft long with a 10'6" beam, relatively large for such a design at this time.
There may have been a handful of the then new Caribbean class of single-level forward control GRP cruisers around, but I remember it being 1966 that the Blakes catalogue first showed significant numbers of them. The norm, in 1965, was for aft and centre cockpit boats and the vast majority were, like Siesta, built of wood, although I do recall that Windboats, of Wroxham, were hiring a numbers of concrete boats, which was called "seacrete" in the brochure.
Inside Siesta all the cabins were lined in Formica, which gave a light and airy modern feel to the boat. I remember being especially impressed with the standard domestic light switches and, something that everyone takes for granted these days, full standing headroom.
The photograph of the galley appears to show a refrigerator, although at this time it was the norm for Blakes boats to have an ice box and the 1967 brochure reports that this is what was fitted to all the Siesta class. (You'd need to call daily at a Blakes yard and swap a couple of thawed ice blocks for replacement frozen ones.)
Unlike the Caribbean design, which introduced a stern-mounted transverse engine with hydraulic drive to the propeller, Siesta I's engine was a 1500cc BMC petrol engine which was mounted longitudinally, in the centre of the boat, driving a conventional prop shaft. This traditional arrangement has the benefit of allowing a low floor in the boat's aft cockpit. In Siesta this was small and had seats to each side and low aft doors, to allow access to a dinghy. The disadvantage was that there was a large intrusive box in the galley. Although not shown on the brochure's cabin plan, it is visible in the left foreground in the photograph showing the galley, and leaves only a narrow gap in front of the cooker. On the other hand, the daily maintenance chores of checking the oil and turning down the prop shaft greaser could be comfortably done in the warm and dry should it rain.
The forward cabin of Siesta I, showing its "ships wheel", long gear lever, and separate throttle
Compared to a modern cruiser, the forward cabin was cramped. This was mainly because Siesta had both the pointed prow of a traditional wooden boat and was without the forward cockpit of the Caribbean style of craft. This results in the cabin being set much farther forward in the hull than on its more modern equivalents, which would also be a couple of feet wider.
Other features of the fore cabin not likely to be found on a modern hire boat are the long gear lever emerging from the floor and the separate hand throttle mounted alongside the rudimentary instrumentation. (Siestas III an IV were diesel powered and had the now conventional single lever control.) The vertically mounted ships wheel, connected to the steering gear by a chain encased in yet more Formica faced board, is also unlikely to be seen today.
I don't remember it being especially breezy, during the excitement of stowing all our belongings on board. Perhaps the yard was reasonably well sheltered. Certainly, the river on the way down to Barton Broad is. However, once out in the broad we were certainly conscious of it. I recall that we spent our first night with a mud weight over our bows on Barton Broad. Initially, we dropped it fairly close to the main channel. We were half way through our meal when we were away that we were no longer in the same position.
Up on deck, we raised the mud weight, dropped it again, where we hoped it would sink further into the mud and let out considerably more line. At some point after that we spotted a large hire yacht in the reeds with its mast snapped off about six foot above the cabin. Yes, earlier we had seen it under full sail and things were moderately lively, but I certainly wouldn't have expected a great hunk of wood to shear in that way. As a crew they seemed to be under control by the time we noticed their plight, so we let them get on with things and didn't offer to help.
The evidence suggests that we spent Sunday and Monday making our making our way to Wroxham, perhaps going as far as Coltishall. I say that because we tended to explore as much of the rivers as we could and, as you'll read, we were to be found at Potter Heigham later in the week when we probably also visited Hickling Broad.
My guess is that this view shows us approaching the downstream exit from Wroxham Broad.
The photo suggests that we might be following "Her Majesty" which is the boat I suspect was the one that the family had taken a three hour trip aboard the previous year. And is that the wherry "Albion"? I think it shows us approaching the downstream exit at Wroxham Broad and that suggests we were on our way to South Walsham where we spent Monday night.
We spent the night in the centre of the broad a mud weight over the bows. On Tuesday morning, I was taking the following pictures. I know it was on the Tuesday morning as a note in my hand writing, on the page in the album in which the the following three photographs are stored, reads "'Morning Mist' on South Walsham Broad 7 Sept 1965". Indeed it is this note that fixes the starting and finishing dates of the holiday.
Surrounded, in the early morning mist, by other boats moored on South Walsham Broad
I remember it as a beautiful, still, and quiet morning, with not much more than the sound of bacon frying and the odd quack from a duck. The mist seemed to be sucked from the water as the sun began to rise. In spite of the apparent stillness what I found remarkable was how much the boats swung on their moorings. As can be seen from two of these photographs at one point we appear to be off the starboard bow of one of our neighbours and moments later, the port bow.
Star Première swings on her mooring and beyond another cruiser
Once the mist cleared, and probably after we had had breakfast, Mike and I were out on the dinghy rowing around the broad. Clearly, Dad is still aboard at this point. Both he and my sister have a worried expression on their faces that suggests I may have just been told to sit down rather than stand up when trying to take photographs.
The mist is gone, so I guess that it is after breakfast and I'm off to take more photographs
I know we were rowing as on the roof, in the next picture, towards the back of Siesta's cabin, you can see the the sails from the dinghy wrapped neatly round the gaff and boom. There's a story to tell about the dinghy rigging, but that comes later.
Siesta I, on South Walsham Broad, after most of the early morning mist had cleared
I think it was before eight thirty that men had arrived on May Gurney's dredger. It can be seen, in the picture above, in the distance beyond Siesta's bow. Smoke is already pouring from its chimney.
Gilian goes sailing for, perhaps, the first time in her life
It was probably after breakfast that we got the dinghy rigged for sailing and my sister, Gil, was actually tempted into having a go. She was a great reader of the "Swallows and Amazons" books in her youth, but I think that that trip from Siesta was probably the first and last time she every tried sailing, as she didn't like the way a sailing boat tends to lean a bit.
Was this dredger built on the hull of "Primus", "Secunda" or "Maud", old wherries known to have been in the May Gurney fleet?
The hull is clearly that of an old wherry. May Gurney are known to have taken over a fleet of wherries when they bought the company J Hoborough and Son, in 1940. The fleet included "Primus", "Secunda" and "Maud". I wonder if this craft is one of those. (If you know, Tell Me.)
From South Walsham it appears that we went south, making the crossing of Breydon Water later that day. My memory of when Dad left us is hazy. Dad, almost ninety three when I asked him about his memories of the holiday, was emphatic. He left us for London at Norwich and rejoined us at Potter Heigham. He had a clear memory of catching a bus from Norwich and feeling very out of place, both on the bus and searching for Siesta on the river bank at Potter. He explained it was his dress that did it, his best grey suite and carrying his brief case and rolled umbrella.
This bridge marked the end of the area reserved for yachts at the Yarmouth Yacht Station
In the first photograph we are passing on the bridge that, in 1965, was the first you came to in Great Yarmouth when approaching from the northern rivers. Compared with these days the numbers of boats at the Yacht Station seems vast, with the majority of the waterfront three deep in moored boats.
Just visible ahead is the tower of St Nicholas' church, the largest parish church in England
As the river curves to the right another bridge comes in view and then the third, and final, Vauxhall Bridge. As with the first, by 1965, Vauxhall bridge was also a disused rail bridge. Beyond it the vista opens up and you got your first sight of Breydon Water.
Once under Vauxhall Bridge you, at last, see the River Yare, with a hint of the expanse of Breydon Water opening up to the right
I remember being shocked to see a motor cruiser high and dry on the river bed. I never did work out whether it was moored there in the expectation of drying out, or by mistake. The last boat on the right looked as if it needed more than what second hand boat salesmen refer to a "in need of TLC". In fact, I don't think it even ranked "interesting project" status.
Not even the best yacht broker could get away with calling this a "project for the enthusiast"
Opposite the "project boat", was the epitome of a dirty British coaster with a salt caked smokestack. It really was British too! "Glas Island", registered at Stornoway.
Looking back at the Coaster "Glas Island" of Stornoway
Now we were about to swing out into the Yare and make our way across the open expanse of Breydon Water.
Mike is at the helm as we crossed Breydon Water
In those days there was no bridge upstream of the Bure's outfall into the Yare, so there was nothing to block your view of Breydon. You just turned right and saw ahead a vast expanse of flatness - not water as, in the furtherest distance, it was the mud flats you were looking at, but the boundary of water and mud was difficult to detect.
The Berney Arms Mill was not in the best of condition
To some the Yare may may seem a mighty river. It's some five times wider than the Bure at the point the Bure joins it. However, as a teenager with some experience of river trips on the Thames the difference was only that now we were the ones in charge of the boat.
Three hundred yards upstream the channel takes a left turn and the mud flats open out, first on your right and then, to a lesser extent your left. This was new, and now, as Breydon Water widened out to something over a kilometre, we truly did feel "at sea".
Once across Breydon we continued up the Yare at moored at the Bernie Arms. In those days the mill was not in the best condition. There were no sails and it looks as if the top of the cap may be missing. Certainly, it is covered with tarpaulin.
I've learnt, recently, that the mill was designed to grind cement clinker, rather than grain or, as I had assumed, pump water from the marshes. The clinker, I read, was brought by wherry from the cement works at Burgh Castle and from the local works, owned by T.T. Berney, the man who gave his name to the pub and hamlet nearby.
By the time I made my Cruise Aboard Jemima, in 1976, the mill was in far better condition and open to visitors.
A splendid old Dutch sailing craft at Reedham
After mooring and going ashore at the Berney Arms, we set off again and passed through Reedham.
I'm sure lots of people passing by will have photographed the splendid boat that we saw moored outside Reedcraft's yard. These days my interest is more with the building than the boat. That's because this was where my own boat, a SeaHawk, was built, probably in 1973.
I understand that, in 1979, the building was destroyed in a fire and has since been pulled down. The fire happened shortly after the company had sold the moulds, and rights to build the SeaHawk, to Moore's at Wroxham. The building had stood on the green, just east of the slipway that you now find on the waterfront. It seems that it has not been the only building to have gone since 1965. Judging by Google's satellite images, most of the buildings that you would have seen as you passed Reedham's waterfront no longer exist.
A little over half a mile upstream of Reedham, shortly before the ferry, there was a remarkable converted windmill on the north bank of the river. Perhaps, officially named Reedham Drainage Mill, for understandable reasons, it's also marked on some maps as "The Red Mill". It certainly, looked exceptional when we passed by on that September day in 1965. Once again, judging from Google's images, I'd say that the mill's gardener no longer works the same kind of magic.
The Red Mill's garden looked outstanding and this image probably didn't do it justice
We had to slow soon after the Red Mill to allow Reedham Ferry to cross the river. A Mini and a wonderful two tone Hillman Husky were crossing to the south side as we passed by.
On their way to the South Side at Reedham, a Hillman Husky and a Mini
The colour photographs in this collection were originally taken on Agfa CT18 transparency film. The slides had not survived being stored in an attic and garage for 45 years too well. What we have are the result of re-photographing the slides projected onto a white emulsioned wall and then digitally processed. Unfortunately, those taken facing into the late afternoon sun appear to have been especially subject to deterioration and the images could not be recovered to an acceptable standard.
Two missing images show us passing through Reedham Bridge and then following a River Cruiser, with the sail number 26, and four people aboard, on the River Chet. My memory is that we spent the night at Loddon, continuing our journey to Norwich on what would have been Wednesday morning.
Another poor, grainy, slide suggests that we moored for a mid morning coffee break at Langley Dyke. (The box containing the slides notes it as Langley Dyke, otherwise I could not have located it.) Swans are shown sticking their necks through the open doors of the aft cockpit.
The coaster Chérie overtakes us before Brundall
On later boating holidays it would become normal practice to cruise a short distance first thing in the morning and then to take a break. This would allow the engine to heat enough water for a shower. However, this would not have bee the reason on this occasion. You will have noticed that no shower is shown on the cabin plan of Siesta, and this was the norm for hire boats at the time.
That is why it comes as no surprise to see an advertisement in Hamilton's Guide which stated, "Marjorie Graves cordially invites you to The Red House". Features of the establishment included: fully licensed, accommodation, free mooring, hot and cold, and hot showers.
Chérie appears low in the water, with her scuppers nearly awash, even in the calm river waters
In the mid sixties the Yare was still a commercial river. My 1967 edition of "Hamilton's Broads Navigation Charts and Index" makes reference to the "port of Norwich", "quays used by trading vessels" and "moorings used by coasters, tugs and lighters".
Chérie slows before the tight bend at Brundall and gives us a chance to draw level
At other points moorings are not advised "within 100 yards of the corner owing to the swing of sea-going craft". Other cautions include, "There may seem to be sufficient water above these obstructions until one of the large coasters goes by and its wash lifts your craft and drops it down on the bottom". It all certainly made it feel that embarking on a cruise on the Yare would be a real adventure.
Then she speeds ahead again
Perhaps this was why I took quite so many photographs of Chérie. She represented much of that adventure.
I remember Cantley, with its huge sugar beet factory belching smoke and steam, as an industrial outpost in the middle of the otherwise rural Norfolk landscape. Now, in Norwich, it was truly urban. For a teenager who sometimes travelled north of the Thames on the Woolwich Ferry the buildings and quays seemed quite familiar, albeit on a much reduced scale. Perhaps the one thing I wouldn't have found on the Thames was a swing bridge.
The red flag indicated that the old Trowse Swing Bridge was not going to open or river traffic
I'm not sure at what stage we realised it, but at some point, when we were on the Yare, the dinghies sails went missing. I guess it was our fault. We had never had tied them on and we had to assume they had blown off the roof, although no one heard them go. Here, in Norwich, you can see that while boat hook and mop are on the cabin roof, the sails are gone. My brother reminds me that we managed to obtain another set before we got back to Stalham. I guess that we obtained them from a yard in Brundall, but I really don't know. I am sure that we didn't pay for them at the time we were given them. Perhaps father paid for them on our return to the yard. I recall that there was a wooden dip stick used to gauge how much fuel had been used that we needed to pay for before leaving.
Norwich was still a true port in 1965. Ships unloaded between the Carrow and Foundry Bridges.
Unfortunately, the photographic record stops in Norwich. I'm guessing that we moored overnight either at Rockland Broad, Reedham or Loddon before crossing Breydon on Thursday. These days it's difficult to imagine arranging how to meet Dad at Potter Heigham without the use of a mobile phone. Perhaps we made a phone call a Yarmouth Yacht Station. More likely it was simply arranged before Dad left us at Norwich and timing left completely vague. However it was done, it would have been so good to have been able to finish this recollection with a photograph of Dad wandering down the river bank in his full city outfit.
Whatever the regrets about this the incompleteness of this report, the one thing that this holiday did ensure was that I would return for more boating on the Broads. Sure enough, in 1966, I was back with my brother and some school friends, aboard Buzzard.