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Norfolk Wherry Albion restoration is completed
By Nanette Aldous
BBC Norfolk

Crew aboard the Norfolk Wherry Albion
The Norfolk Wherry Albion is still chugging along at 112 years of age

A project to renovate one of only two black-sailed trading wherries has reached completion after 10 years of work.

Rescued in 1949 the Norfolk Wherry Albion, which is 112 years old, has been painstakingly restored to her former glory.

"It's a great relief really. It's taken us a long time to get here," said Paul Henry Gowman, skipper.

To celebrate the boat is offering free onboard visits during the summer.

The Albion has been in the care of the Norfolk Wherry Trust for 60 years.

"Each winter over the last 10 years we've been addressing all the faults and with a 112-year-old boat, there are many of them.

"It's expensive and time consuming. We do an awful lot of the work ourselves but when it comes to the technical stuff we use Maynard Watson, a master shipwright from Great Yarmouth."

Major works

Over the last 10 years, major works costing £200,000 have been carried out while she continues to take charter trips around the Broads during the summer months.

The restoration includes a hogged keel, the entire bow section and the large timbers that support the tabernacle and keep her 50ft (15m) mast upright.

"She's in the finest shape that she has ever been in since she was first built," said Paul.

"Albion will be back on the water this spring, as spruce and as beautiful as ever, providing a unique venue to celebrate a birthday or anniversary," he added.

Largest and oldest

Albion, one of the largest and oldest boats on the Broads, was built at Oulton Broad in 1898.

Measuring 60ft (18m) long, weighing 23 tonnes, and carrying 1,500 sq ft (139 sq m) of black sail, she was originally sailed by a man and a boy delivering coal and crops to Broads villages.

Crew aboard the Norfolk Wherry Albion
Members of the Wherry Trust and supporters have aided maintenance

She was rescued in 1949 by a group of enthusiasts who formed the Norfolk Wherry Trust.

Paul is on the committee for the Wherry Trust and is amazed at the foresight of those who originally rescued the wherries.

"For people to see that this type of craft was going to disappear from the waters and to think, 'We've got to save a boat, it's going to be hugely expensive, but we have to do it,' is truly something," he said.


The cost of maintaining the Albion comes from Wherry Trust members and also the money raised from chartering her.

"Our members and supporters have proven very generous over the years and we're extremely grateful to them," said Paul.

Trainee mate Peter Jermy admits the wherries are quite difficult to control when they're out on the water. After all, they have no brakes and can take up to 400 yards (122m) to stop.

"It doesn't matter how much pointing and shouting you do, the wherry will still go where it wants to!" said Peter.

Piece of history

Nonetheless, the remaining wherries are a feature of the Broads that Peter feels we must not lose.

"Without the Albion and indeed the pleasure wherries sailing up and down, there'd be a huge piece of Broadland history missing for future generations," he said.

Although the Albion is now restored to her original state, Paul hopes that the time when the boat no longer needs repair is in the distant future.

"The end, hopefully, is a very, very long way off. Each year, during the winter, she will need regular maintenance. Something else will crop up," he said.

"We've spent a great deal of money in the past and I'm sure we'll go on to spend a great deal of money in the future," he added.

The Norfolk Wherry Albion is offering free visits during the summer of 2010. It can be visited at the following locations:

  • Potter Heigham (Broads Authority public event) - 28 July
  • Horning - 10 August
  • Ranworth - 11 August
  • Potter Heigham - 17 August
  • Ludham on Womack Water - 24 August

Visiting times run from 10am - 4pm. For more information e-mail publicity@wherryalbion.com

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