Born aboard the wherry ‘Bramble’ (1940)

Jayne was born aboard the wherry ‘Bramble’ in 1940, whilst her father was away at war. She remembers her early childhood on the Norfolk Broads, first living aboard ‘Bramble’ and later living ashore, but spending many happy days learning to sail and exploring the Broads with her brother. She remembers racing dinghies with her father in the many Broadland regattas and the Great Wherry Race in 1951.

The year was 1940. I was born whilst Father was away with the Army, but when war broke out he was already the owner of the Leo Robinson built cruising wherry ‘Bramble’. She was to become my home for the duration of the war where she lay by the quay at Beccles. When my brother was born, two infants afloat became just too hazardous for my mother though.

My hazy memories of those blissful days were the marvellous scent of varnished mahogany, where the sun struck the hatches and steps; the ingenious washbasins in each cabin that tilted upwards against the wall for storage; Mr. Thurgar, the Beccles harbourmaster, rescuing me from the water after I had rocked my pram just once too often and overbalanced it on the foredeck, rolling into the water between wherry and quay heading.

I feel sure it was in those days I first got to know Charlie Goody, who subsequently taught me to sail my father’s traditional Broads One Design or Brown Boat as they are known on the Norfolk Broads. She was called ‘Tern’ and was No.9. They are still a very active racing fleet on the Norfolk Broads.

Norfolk Brown Boat 'Tern' Photo: Jayne Tracey
Norfolk Brown Boat ‘Tern’ Photo: Jayne Tracey

After the birth of my younger brother we left the hazards of living aboard Norfolk wherry ‘Bramble’ and moved ashore. The rest of my childhood was spent in the Norfolk riverside village of Brundall on the River Yare just outside Norwich. Idyllic for two youngsters. We would pack our sandwiches, don our lifejackets and jump onto our bikes and race down the steep hill over the railway line to where we kept our rowing pram dinghy. We’d row across the river to the mysterious Rockland and Surlingham Broads, where the skeletons of old wherries poked above the water’s edge. To us it was the Amazon jungle, with every floating log an alligator or python. Lifejackets were only removed on pain of death, and we knew it and stuck to the rules.

Summer holidays were spent racing Father’s Norfolk Broads One Design – an old one design class which has just celebrated its centenary. It seemed as if the sun shone endlessly and there was a Broadland regatta for every week and weekend of those long glorious summer holidays.

After the war Father sold ‘Bramble’ to Beccles Sailing Club for use as their clubhouse, in order to team up with friends to set up the charity the Norfolk Wherry Trust to keep the last of the trading wherries, ‘The Albion’, sailing. During the war all her sister wherries had been taken out and sunk across the Norfolk Broads by the government, in order to prevent enemy seaplane landings. My Father and his friends recognised that an important part of Broadland history would disappear if ‘Albion’ were not kept sailing for posterity.

In 1951 the Great Wherry Race took place on Breydon Water between ‘Albion’, ‘Dragon’ and ‘Hathor’. There was much excitement with ‘Albion’ breaking her mast and ‘Hathor’ going aground but the day was saved by Father jumping waist deep into the water and pushing her off to become the eventual winner!

Norfolk wherry ‘Albion’ breaks her mast Photo: Jayne Tracey

My old home ‘Bramble’, whose mast became the starting line for races at Beccles, later became a houseboat at Martham, firstly afloat and then ashore. She was sadly burnt out in the 1980s when a paraffin lamp overturned. I had no idea she had survived so long, and missed photographing her in her last days, but I am glad to say that the Norfolk Wherry Trust website has photos of her sailing in her heyday.

Contributed by Jayne Tracey, East Coast OGA member

Norfolk Wherry Trust