Ludham boat fleet on crest of a wave
Twelve years ago, the 19 iconic yachts of the Hunter's Fleet looked to be sailing sadly into the sunset.The then owner Norfolk County Council was proposing to sell off the Ludham yard and all its boats as a cost-cutting measure and it was only a vigorous EDP campaign that finally saved the day, paving the way for a new trust to take over the historic fleet.
Twelve years ago, the 19 iconic yachts of the Hunter's Fleet looked to be sailing sadly into the sunset.
The then owner Norfolk County Council was proposing to sell off the Ludham yard and all its boats as a cost-cutting measure and it was only a vigorous EDP campaign that finally saved the day, paving the way for a new trust to take over the historic fleet.
Back then, the campaigners' main goal had been to preserve an important part of Broads heritage, and it would have been difficult for them to imagine quite what a success story the fleet would enjoy in the holiday hire market.
However, for the third season running, yard manager Vikki Walker has toasted a hire rate approaching 80pc for its cabin cruisers - and bookings for next year are already 49pc filled.
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In a season when other Broads boatyards have also reported a surge in business attributed to credit crunch 'staycationers', she said they had been additionally helped by the BBC Rivers programme, during which Griff Rhys Jones had taken a Hunter's boat on to the Broads.
Ms Walker emphasised the astonishing way the reputation of the fleet - now numbering 20 boats after the launch of four-berth cruiser Lucent two years ago - has spread around the world.
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She said: “We have had families coming here from Spain, Greece, France and Germany who have booked our cabin cruisers on the internet, and some of the holidaymakers taking advantage of out two-hour skippered sailings have come to Norfolk from places even further afield, such as Dubai, Tasmania, New Zealand and Brazil.”
While some modern motor cruisers on the Broads boast mod-cons such as PlayStations and even whirlpool baths, Ms Walker said it was the simplicity of the Hunter's boats - sailing back to the 1930s with no engine, no shower and only an oil lamp - that had such a strong appeal.
“People love everything about the boats. It is a unique experience on board and you really get a chance to relax and forget about everything,” she said.
Lucent, built as a millennium project and the first Hunter's boat to be launched on Womack Water since Wood Aven in 1949, has been the most in demand boat and is already booked up for next season apart from four weeks.
She said part of the holiday experience was walking around the boatyard where traditional boatbuilding skills were still displayed by craftsmen including Tom Grapes, 79, who has worked at Hunter's for more than 60 years.
“By the end of the month, the yachts will all be coming back in the shed again for repairs after a hectic season,” she said.
Next year, for the first time, the yard hopes to offer RYA-accredited sailing tuition courses.