self catering holiday cottage accommodation, Wroxham, Norfolk Broads
Wherry, 25 Peninsula Cottages, Wroxham, Norfolk, Norfolk Broads

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Information and description of Wherry
Albion wherry sailing on river Bure, Norfolk Broads
Wherry boat sailing on Norfolk Broads

A wherry is a shallow single sail boat indigenous to the Norfolk Broads. The hull of a wherry is generally clinker built (overlapping planks) out of oak. Its rarity nowadays is attributed to the design. The remarkable low depth of the waterways required the hull to be similarly shallow, and the single mast was tall, holding one edge of its vast sail to catch the breeze above the trees. To enable the wherries to pass under tight bridges, the mast is counterweighted and can be gently lowered. No sailing vessels can be found like them in the world, the closest being the colourful Dutch boats built to sail the dykes on the flat reclaimed land. The wherry, however, is the only sailing vessel of its size or carrying capacity that can cover almost all the waterways on the Broads, including the odd secluded dyke.

Right up to the middle of the 19th century and the coming of the railways, as many as 300 of these distinctive craft carried  goods along the rivers of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.

Their distinctive, almost square shaped, gaff sails probably evolved from the Viking influence that was strong all along the east coast, and is particularly effective on the broads, where tree lined sections of river would allow very little wind to power a  vessel with the more usual triangular sail.

With a good wind the wherry was a very fast vessel, capable of sailing close to the wind.  However, when the wind was from the wrong direction or - rare occasions, on this flat coastal region - when it stopped completely, the boats had to be "quanted".

Quanting, is similar to punting on the river. A quant is a very heavy, very sturdy pole about 24 feet (7.3 metres) long which was dug into the river bed at the bow of the boat. It would then be necessary to walk the entire length of the vessel pushing hard against the pole in order to move it on. No time or space was wasted on the wherries and they would make a trip to, say, Norwich, up the River Bure, laden with reeds for thatching and return equally laden with coal, grain, timber and even horse manure to spread on the fields. With the coming of the railways, demand for the transport of goods by wherry declined sharply.

Happily, the railways brought salvation for the wherry, in the form of tourists. So the shrewder owners, quickly converted their vessels to carry passengers, rather than merchandise.

Today, a total of seven vessels of the wherry species survive through a combination of niche marketing, private ownership, charity and dogged determination. There are two traders. One is Albion, built in 1898 at Oulton Broad, Lowestoft, and the only trader ever carvel built. The other trader is Maud, built in 1899 at Reedham on the River Yare.

If you would like to know more about the Norfolk Wherry Trust and view videos of the Albion then just click here to go to their web site.

All about Norfolk wherries