Two Broads boats, Ardea and Spark of Light, turn 90
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016
Two very special Broads boats celebrate their 90th birthdays this year; the wherry Ardea and the cruiser Spark of Light
There are few sights on the Broads more evocative than a Norfolk Wherry gliding along under blue skies and full sail.
Andrew Scull’s love affair with these classic craft began when he and his wife Sandra had a memorably wonderful trip on the wherry yacht White Moth; they loved the experience and Andrew subsequently became involved in the Wherry Yacht Charter, the charitable trust that provides a base for the boats at Wroxham.
But it didn’t end there. A while later he had a call; White Moth was for sale. Was he interested?
“Sandra was as cool as a cucumber when I told her I’d re-mortgaged to buy the boat,” recalls Andrew. “Her reaction was; ‘when can we go on it?’”
Somewhat ironically, given his love of the boats, Andrew, a lawyer specialising in the chemical industry, doesn’t sail or even come from a sailing family: “I am occasionally entrusted with the tiller and given strict instructions not to move it!
“It is enough for me to meet people and be involved in these beautiful boats,” he said. “I describe it as an antidote to reality.”
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Two years later, In 2014, Andrew doubled his antidote when he bought the wherry Ardea. It had been offered to him by the owner who wanted the vessel to go to someone who knew and loved the boats – and Andrew fitted the bill.
“They are beautiful relics of the past, working antiques. It is spectacular to see them in their natural habitat and they have a ‘wow’ factor which affects everyone from five to 75. I get the same feeling when I see a Spitfire flying overhead, the sound, the shape... wonderful.”
Earlier this year Andrew, who lives in Nottingham and makes regular trips across to the Broads, became chairman of the trust, which now looks after Olive, Hathor, and Norada, as well as Ardea and White Moth.
“Our primary tasks are to get the boats out on the water ,” he said, “and we need to train new skippers for them - they can be tricky boats to handle. We also have an employee now, Dean Howard, who is a magician with wooden boats and who works full-time on them.”
Dean, 24, manages the small base, carefully maintaining, repairing and updating the boats and directing a small cohort of volunteers who work with him. He became interested in wooden craft when he started working in a boatyard at the age of 13 and he later went to Lowestoft College to learn about general boatbuilding and the skills of the traditional shipwright.
The college found him an apprenticeship at the trust and he hasn’t looked back since. “I love working with wood,” he said; “I used to work on fibreglass boats but it was a bit like being a kitchen fitter. It’s far more interesting working with wood and you learn new skills.”
As an example he showed a wooden hoop he had made, steaming and bending ash to make a perfect circlet to go on a wherry mast, a beautifully-crafted original to replace the utilitarian metal loops currently in use.
Much of the labour around the boats is carried out by the volunteers who give up their time to sand, paint, lift and carry things under Dean’s guidance. Some also act as skipper or crew on the vessels when they take to the water in late spring.
The trust is working hard to put the boats out as much as possible, but keeping such impressive craft afloat and in pristine condition costs serious money. They’re looking to the corporate sector as a possible source, hiring the craft out for special events or for team-building and have enlisted the help of professional caterer Tracy Cole to provide a new offering; fine dining aboard Ardea with a five-course meal for up to eight people to enjoy in the sumptuous, polished wood-lined dining cabin.
The WYC is also looking at ways of introducing a younger audience to the joys of wherry sailing. Andrew recalled a time last summer when he took a group of young professionals out on the boat; initial reaction was of disengagement with phones out, conversation at a minimum. As the evening went on, though, the mood shifted and phones gradually disappeared into pockets and bags and interest grew.
“At the end one of them said; ‘this is better than a relaxation spa’,” said Andrew.
The Wherry Yacht Charter
The WYC began in 1985, created as a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to preserving these wonderful boats and making them accessible to the public. The trust, largely staffed by volunteers, looks after the vessels in Wroxham. Olive, Norada and White Moth are available for charter for days or longer stays. Hathor is used for scheduled sailings and educational visits and Ardea will be available for corporate bookings.
The sailing season runs until October; full details are available at www.wherryyachtcharter.org
A brief history of Ardea
Built in 1927 at Leo Robinson’s yard in Lowestoft for millionaire Howard Hollingsworth. Uniquely among surviving wherries she has a varnished, not painted, teak hull.
She spent the next 30 years on the Broads being chartered for holidays.
In the late 1950s she was sold and taken to France.
She was then used as a houseboat in Paris until 1974 when she was bought by Philippe Rouff.
She then travelled on French, Belgian, Dutch and German waterways as a charter boat.
Sold in 2005, she was returned to the Norfolk Broads and restored by Maynard Watson.
She was then bought by Andrew Scull, her present owner.
Her name comes from the Latin for heron and she has a metal representation of the bird on her vane.
The 90-year-old boat, Spark of Light, is going back to work on the Broads
When Herbert Woods, founder of the Broads boating firm that still bears his name, built the Spark of Light near Potter Heigham in 1927 he might have wondered how long she’d be cruising around Norfolk’s waters.
Today, 90 years on, he might be surprised to see her white paintwork still gleaming in the spring sunshine, but he’d certainly be delighted.
The Spark - also known at different times as the Spot of Light, Shimmer of Light and Cherrie – is a rarity on the Broads, a full wooden construction cruiser with a hull made from close-grained Siberian Redwood so robust that only a short single plank has ever had to be replaced.
She is a boat well-known to one of Herbert Woods’ current partners, Michael Whitaker, as she was the family boat for nearly 30 years from 1971. He has fond memories of spending time aboard the craft. “She steers amazingly, holds a straight line and just feels lovely and relaxing,” he said. “You just go on it, breathe in and smell the wood. Lovely.”
He has slightly less fond memories of taking the boat to sea. Cherrie, as she was then, rolled alarmingly in even gentle waters. “We got about as far as Yarmouth Bar,” recalls Michael, “then turned back.”
A fair amount is known about Spark’s life, including her war service, when she was lined up with Herbert Woods’ other cruisers across Hickling Broad to prevent enemy seaplanes landing. She almost certainly suffered damage from being strafed and, like many others, was rebuilt after the war.
She was also the private boat of Herbert’s successor as chairman, Lindsay Cutler, who fitted her out to go to sea and regularly motored to the Isle of Wight in summer in the 1950s.
Later, after her spell as the Whitaker family boat, she was sold in 1999. Michael still kept an eye on her and in 2011 decided to buy her back and restore her to her full glory.
“She looked a little sad, but was sound,” he said. “Dennis George, who was then head boatbuilder, sorted her out. She has been modernised - we sadly had to replace the Baby Blake toilets - but the engine is still original.
“We have brought her up to spec, but we have been careful. We’ve re-upholstered her in high-quality, art deco-style fabric and sourced appropriate crockery for authenticity.”
With her beautiful mahogany coachwork gleaming under many fresh coats of varnish, Spark of Light will re-join Herbert Woods’ 140-strong hire fleet this month, though, as one of the oldest Broads cruisers still afloat, will be available to experienced boaters only.
The full story of the Spark of Light, including a charming 1930s home movie of a family holidaying on her, can be found on the Herbert Woods’ website www.herbertwoods.co.uk