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
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