Yachting on the Norfolk Broads

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Blake recognised that both visitor and yacht owner alike were losing out, as if it were easier to hire a boat then they would let for longer each year, hitherto the season was only 6 or 8 weeks long. So he first approached Ernest Collins the proprietor of the yard where he had hired his boat from and made him a proposition to the effect that, "if you let me be your sole agent, I will double your letting figures". In 1908, the first "Blakes" charter catalogue appeared featuring all of Collinsí yachts and Harry Blake did exactly what he said he would. In fact so successful was his letting agency, that by the time of the First world war he represented all of the big yards and the hire business as we know it today was born.

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Origins in racing

The origins of the Norfolk Broads Yachting Co are however very firmly rooted in yacht racing. The Company was founded by a man called Frank Harding Chambers in around 1898 and its inception co-incided with, indeed contributed to what today we recognise was the zenith in racing yacht development on the Broads in the last century. With wide open stretches of flat water and a long heritage of boatbuilding almost omnipresent here, the Broads became a quite unique area of yacht development, both for cruising and racing yachts which locally have always been closely related. Even today by far the biggest local fleet of racing yachts is the "River Cruiser Class" with over 400 boats, many of them over 100 years old both cruising and racing alongside newly built boats.

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It is indicative of the influence yacht racing had on the area as a whole when you consider that the Yare Sailing club (of Norwich) was in 1880; the biggest yacht club in the country (indeed the world!) with over 600 members. By 1900, local yachting regattas attracted so much commerce to the place they were held, that the nearest town council such as Wroxham, Oulton or Yarmouth would often themselves put up prize money.

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Financially it was indeed a serious business, when by the end of the Victorian era wealthy gentlemen had racing yachts commissioned simply to race for prize money and betting wagers. To put this into a modern day perspective, the 1st prize for a single race was the equivalent of between 1 & 2 times the average weekly wage of the time. That is equivalent to several hundred pounds today, and whilst there is no record of what money changed hands between the gentlemen owners in wagers, it was likely to have been rather more than the official prize. It was not unknown for a good boat to annually earn in winnings, a sum equal to its build cost and by contrast, an unsuccessful boat might be simply broken up at the end of its first season. Many of the boats were professionally crewed too, the owner might come along but he rarely steered, with that sort of money at stake the helm went to an experienced waterman who spent his life on the river and instinctively knew every wind shift on the racing course.

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To see more pictures of Yacht racing on the Broads 100 years ago, go to the "Yacht Racing in the Victorian and Edwardian era" Gallery, but donít forget to come back and read the rest of the story!

About Frank Harding Chambers

Chambers designed a string of very successful racing yachts, including the "Raters" Grey Friar, which was raced by Sir Thomas Lipton (of Americaís cup fame) and Caprice, which dominated the results here in 1900 earning all her build costs in that season. He also designed the racing cruiser Nathalie in 1904, which was one of the most successful Broads yachts ever. She still exists to this day (now called "Maidie") and there is an account of her restoration included here in one of the Photo Galleries, look for this when you have read the rest of the story!

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