90 years afloat
The wherry Ardea and cruiser Spark of Light are celebrating
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.”
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.
Andrew Scull on the pleasure wherry Ardea, which will be 90 years old this year, moored at the Wherry Yacht Charter site at Wroxham
Above (top to bottom): A clock with its key; The mast pulley block; The plaque commemorating the export of teak used in the restoration
Top left: The dining table laid for dinner in the saloon, with the named directors’ chairs
Top: The Trust’s operations manager, Dean Howard, at work refitting the galley on the wherry yacht White Moth
Above: The master cabin