Narrow port entry meant drifters jostled for space

The Harbour's Mouth, a squeeze for jostling herring drifters returning to port probably in the 1920s

The Harbour's Mouth, a squeeze for jostling herring drifters returning to port probably in the 1920s but far too narrow for vessels the size of a liner even after the wooden pier was replaced in the 1960s. In 1930 the leading drifter, the East Holme (YH22), was inspected by the Prince of Wales during a visit to Yarmouth to open the new Haven Bridge. - Credit: Archant

Yes, I fully admit that it was all wishful thinking and idle speculation, and could never have become reality. But it slotted perfectly into the “if only” or “just suppose” category.

Port or starboard? Yarmouth Mayor Bill Davy and his wife Olive at the wheel of the Veendam anchored

Port or starboard? Yarmouth Mayor Bill Davy and his wife Olive at the wheel of the Veendam anchored off Yarmouth. - Credit: Archant

The catalyst was reading about the 900ft cruise liner Arcadia temporarily abandoning her planned Baltic itinerary and ten-day schedule because of severe weather off Norway caused by Storm Barbara. Instead, her master decided to sail across the North Sea to calmer conditions, dropping anchor off Lowestoft on Christmas Day - in calm and sunshine, I recall.

The P&O liner spent more than ten hours there before resuming her interrupted voyage, returning to her home port of Southampton three days after Christmas. During her time anchored off Lowestoft, the port’s lifeboat paid her a courtesy visit, ferrying out Santa Claus, a gesture much appreciated by the liner’s 2780 passengers and crew.

All that Christmas Day unplanned activity led me to ponder - without letting inescapable facts spoil the day-dream - if the Arcadia’s captain, seeking respite from the storm, ever contemplated a possible refuge a few miles up the coast from Lowestoft... in Yarmouth’s outer harbour!

If feasible, that would have allowed passengers the opportunity to set foot on dry land, albeit briefly, and sample Great Yarmouth although, to be realistic, neither the seafront nor the town centre would have been very welcoming because it was Christmas Day and almost everywhere would have been shut.

The cruise liner Veendam anchored in Yarmouth Roads in 1973.

The cruise liner Veendam anchored in Yarmouth Roads in 1973. - Credit: Archant

Perhaps the lure of their liner and Christmas meal and celebrations would have persuaded them to remain on board.

Presumably the port authorities, and Customs and Immigration personnel, would have been mobilised at short notice to handle not only the arrival of the ship but also the passengers wanting to set foot on dry land for a while after their experience in the storm-tossed Baltic in previous days. Coaches and taxis would have been required, another problem.

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Of course, it is all a flight of fancy - and old news now, nearly a month later.

It is well-nigh impossible to glimpse the occupants of our Outer Harbour, apart from the towering selection of metalwork visible from various parts of town; the facility specialises in the offshore energy industry.

Would there have been room for a liner to nose in for a few hours of respite from the weather among the offshore paraphernalia? It is a moot point, a topic for a mardle among harbour aficionados.

And anyway, even if our Outer Harbour had been empty and the Arcadia contemplated seeking a few hours within it, the liner is surely too large even to squeeze in.

According to Peel Ports’ Outer Harbour website, its facility can accommodate vessels with a maximum length of 200 metres (614ft). That rules out the Arcadia which is 950ft long. However, at 32ft the water in the Outer Harbour is just deep enough for the Arcadia’s 26ft.

That pleasurable bit of speculation about the arrival hereabouts of a liner casts my mind back 44 years to the summer of 1973 when a cruise ship - the Holland-America Line’s Veendam - dropped anchor half a-mile off Yarmouth’s harbour mouth to allow her 350 passengers to be ferried ashore to visit our town.

For the record, her length was 614ft - exactly the maximum size that can negotiate the Outer Harbour which was only a pipe dream then! The Veendam was far too large to attempt to steer into the existing old harbour through our twin piers and then negotiate the tight Brush Bend - and anyway, she needed 27ft of water beneath her.

Because of haze, the ship was often invisible from the shore, and vice versa. But those passengers wanting to go ashore were ferried into the harbour by the liner’s boats plus the Yarmouth pleasure tripper Norwich Belle, disembarking at the Fishwharf.

And a civic party, led by the Mayor and Mayoress of Yarmouth, Bill and Olive Davy, sailed out to the Veendam for a reception, lunch and a tour of the liner to view its luxurious facilities.

On board the Veendam, Holland-America’s UK managing director Fred Mountier, told me: “We wanted to get away from visits to familiar ports so we are arranging calls at attractive English resorts like Bournemouth, Torquay and Scarborough, all places where we can drop anchor near the shore.

“We decided to include Yarmouth because this part of England has something unusual to offer and it is now well-known to many continental tourists.”

At the Fishwharf, coaches awaited to take the cruise passengers to Norwich and the Norfolk Broads; those who preferred to stay in Yarmouth were disappointed to find that many shops were closed because it was a Thursday, early-closing day!

In 2010 Mrs Peggotty and I decided to sample a week’s cruise, flying out to join a liner visiting Italy and Greek islands, a wonderful experience we followed up the following summer by another into the Mediterranean. We sailed from Majorca into a severe gale lasting for at least 24 hours but seeming like days on end.

When it subsided, the master told passengers it was the worst storm he had experienced in 30 years of sailing in the Mediterranean, small comfort to those who suffered on board.

Although it was far from funny at the time, later we laughed as we recalled the hours we spent in our cabin during the storm, a sensible refuge because trying to walk around the ship meant clinging on to rails and furniture.

As the liner heeled to one side, the drawers along part of one side of our cabin flew open on their rollers. When we rocked the other way, they slammed shut but the wardrobe and cupboard doors opposite were violently flung open, a pattern persisting hour in, hour out.

Although we enjoyed our subsequent ports of call, the magic had gone and we were relieved to return to Palma and fly home. We have not cruised again.