The Broads is synonymous with boating, but yacht operators have suffered in recent years. A small group of businesses is hoping to change that.
A consortium of sailing companies operating on the Norfolk Broads is clubbing together to turn the tide for their niche industry.
Eastwood Whelpton Sailing Holidays at Upton, Martham Boats at Martham, Hunter’s Yard at Ludham, Swallowtail Boatyard at Ludham and Oliver’s Sailing Holidays at Martham Ferry have formed the Broads Sailing group to revive the cabin yacht hire business and better promote opportunities for sailing in the area.
Half a century ago the miles of winding waterways were teeming with yachts from more than 40 operators – but the five companies now claim to be the only remaining cabin yacht hire firms on the Broads.
They have set up a new website, Broadssailing.com, to provide a single booking platform for all five companies and support their marketing activities.
Andy Hamilton, of Eastwood Whelpton in Upton, said the new brand would give the companies a “single, stronger voice” in the local tourism market, as well as boosting national and international promotion.
They plan to capitalise on the Broads’ designation last year as a National Park, which they hope will help bring more holidaymakers and hobbyists to the area.
Mr Hamilton says: “We have come to the conclusion that it is more important for us to be promoting Norfolk and the Broads as a sailing destination rather than competing with each other. If you compete and you have got a diminishing market you all suffer.”
Declining distribution of holiday brochures from the likes of Hoseasons, which often included several pages “dedicated to sailing on the Broads”, had dealt a significant blow to advertising for the pastime, Mr Hamilton says.
He adds: “We are setting out as a group to promote the Norfolk Broads as a sailing destination because we don’t think people are doing that any more and through the website we are making it easy for people to find what they want.”
Four out of five of the Broads Sailing companies only rent yachts, while Eastwood Whelpton and Hunter’s Yard are fully accredited Royal Yacht Association training centres.
Mr Hamilton said a secondary aim was to get more people into sailing, with hopes the sport can ride a wave of enthusiasm from Olympic successes similar to the cycling boom after London 2012.
“Over the last decade there have been people who have done a little bit of sailing, but don’t realise the opportunity for family holidays in a safe place where you can learn as well as teach kids,” he says.
The Broads Outdoor Festival is running until May 13. Find out more at www.outdoorsfestival.co.uk.
The Broads: A brief history
Comprising more than 200km of navigable channels, the Norfolk Broads make a haven for sailors.
From the traditional Norfolk wherries to yachts and motor cruisers, boats of all sizes and propulsions have – and still do – cruise the waterways.
Broads Sailing estimates there were 40 companies offering cabin yachts for hire on the Broads in the 1960s.
But the increasing popularity of motor boats led many boat rental companies to change their stock.
Sailing clubs which formed through the 20th century as the Broads become a more popular destination, such as Horning, Hickling Broad and the Norfolk Broads Yacht Club at Wroxham, also help keep the tradition alive.
The Broads were only revealed as a man-made phenomenon in the 1950s, when research found the sides of the deep lakes were vertical rather than naturally sloping. It was concluded that they were the result of inundated medieval peat diggings, known to have been a common fuel.
A literary link
The Broads hold a special place in literary history thanks to British author Arthur Ransome.
Several books in his Swallows and Amazons series, which captured the hearts of generations, were set in or featured the Norfolk Broads, most famously Coot Club and The Big Six.
As a child he and his family – which had East Anglian links – regularly holidayed in the Lake District, which inspired his children’s tales of adventure on the water.
A story was planned to unite his characters from Norfolk and the Lake District, where Swallows and Amazons and other books were set.
But Coots in the North, as it was titled, was abandoned after just a few chapters.
Swallows and Amazons was made into a feature film in 2016, overseen by Norfolk producer and passionate sailor Nick Barton.
Fans of Ransome’s works can take Swallows and Amazons adventure trips on the Broads, which begin in Wroxham.
Story from Bethany Whymark in the Eastern Daily Press.