Pleasure boats plied their trade on the River Yare and at sea
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2010
For decades they were a popular feature of the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston river scene.
Some did sea trips, often to view the seal colony on Scroby Sands, while others cruised sedately into the Norfolk Broads.
Holidaymakers loved the so-called river boats, voyages on board them being a magical experience for many who probably envied our good fortune in living among most of them even if we rarely found time to take a trip.
Mention of their names is well-nigh guaranteed to bring a nostalgic smile to the faces of older residents to whom they were almost an everyday sight; they included the Norwich Belle, Yarmouth, Queen of the Broads, Pride of the Yare, Southtown, Resolute, Golden Galleon, Eastern Princess, Cobholm, Gorleston...
Some left their comfort zone in 1940 and undertook the life-or-death challenge of sailing across the English Channel with scores of other small ships to snatch 300,000 beleaguered British troops trapped on the beach at Dunkirk by superior German invaders.
After several post-war summers, some of our pleasure trippers were consigned to the scrap-yard when our visitors’ interest in sea, river and Broadland excursions waned as the Golden Mile’s bright lights and all-star shows proved more tempting.
A few of these pleasure trippers sailed to relocate in other parts of the country – the River Thames and Yorkshire seaside resorts, for example – or even ventured abroad.
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So I was pleasantly surprised recently to read in the fortnightly Yours national magazine a feature about our old friend the Coronia currently being in the marina in the Durham port of Hartlepool where new owners Pauline Field and Graham Beasley have taken on the daunting, painstaking and expensive challenge of restoring her.
The couple were familiar with her, having enjoyed pleasure trips on board with their children during her years in the Yorkshire resort of Scarborough.
But they noticed she was becoming dilapidated and heard she might be scrapped – and after long and intense discussion, they decided to embark on the expensive programme of restoration.
The 88ft Coronia was built as the Brit here at Fellows’ dock in Yarmouth in 1935 and at first took trippers out to see those Scroby seals before she was commandeered by the Royal Navy when war broke out and renamed HMS Watchful, based here.
She is reputed to have sailed to Dunkirk on the gigantic 1940 rescue mission and have plucked a total of 900 troops from the shore on three separate approaches, but apparently she was on none of the official lists of Dunkirk participants so her history has some question-marks after some recollections and claims were challenged.
But as I have often stated in my features, nostalgia is an inexact science; people’s memories can differ.
According to the 1997 book The Lady of the Rock by Mrs J P Carter, post-war the Brit did sea cruises, worked on the Thames, and in the 1950s moved to Scarborough under the name of Yorkshire Lady before resorting to the name Coronia.
Then, at 50 years old, a half-century after her launch, the Coronia was bought by a Gibraltarian and made the long voyage there to operate from the port dominated by the world-famous Rock.
She did pleasure trips round the bay in the warm sunshine so passengers could admire frolicking dolphins within sight of the distant African coast.
When I wrote here about the Brit/Coronia years ago, Caister reader Mrs Valona Thacker recalled: “In 1992 I went out from Scarborough on the old Oulton Belle (Regal Lady) on the Saturday and the next day on the Brit (Coronia).”
She had also enjoyed a jaunt on her during a trip to Gibraltar.
The previous year Mrs Thacker drove to Lowestoft to see the Brit on her return from Gibraltar, but the veteran pleasure tripper was looking the worse for wear and had to undergo extensive renovation before heading for Scarborough to resume pleasure voyages.
Her new owners have acquired a ship-load of history!