An end of season charter on the Norfolk Broads proves just the ticket for a relaxing family boating holiday with inexperienced crew…
Growing up around Plymouth, boating has inevitably played a significant part in my life, from sailing dinghies in the Sound to family days out sailing the Tamar on my father’s Hurley 22 yacht.
Thankfully, my wife likes to be near the sea too and as a youngster had enjoyed boating on the Broads. However, she’s not one for the bumpy stuff so, back in 2007, when we were looking for a family holiday, we booked our first Norfolk Broads boating holiday from a Wroxham-based yard and loved it so much we have returned several times since.
Our most recent booking was in September 2021 aboard Norfolk Yacht Agency’s Moneypenny, a Haines 42 offering six berths, with all the facilities we’d need, including three cabins (two doubles and a twin) and two separate heads compartments with showers.
There’s full standing headroom throughout, a swim platform at the stern and a large upper deck, complete with a bimini cover, fridge and sink, all of which became very useful as the weather warmed up.
The one drawback of this particular boat is that it is quite large, with an air draught of nearly nine feet that prevents it from accessing certain areas of the Broads due to low bridges. In addition, the tall topsides and shallow keel make it prone to being blown about by the sudden breezes which seem to whip up from nowhere over the open Norfolk landscape.
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After a comprehensive handover from Terry at NYA’s Brundall base and a quick accompanied trip to ensure we were all happy with the way the boat handled, we headed off to our first night’s mooring at Norwich Yacht Station in the centre of the town.
Although it can get a little noisy here, as it’s near a busy road and close to the city’s clubland, it makes for a very easy and convenient first overnight location.
For the new boater, the two-hour trip up the Yare to Norwich is a great opportunity to acclimatise to your craft while enjoying a condensed summary of what a Norfolk Broads boating holiday is all about; stunning rural views with plenty of wildlife, lovely riverside pubs, and total peace and quiet, save for the engine burbling away beneath you.
Before long all the stresses and strains of everyday life melt away and you find yourself adapting to the slower pace of boating – the speed limit is a relaxing 6 knots across most of the Norfolk Broads so there’s no point rushing.
As a result passages are almost invariably calm and tranquil with only the occasional wakes from other boats to disturb the still water, making a Norfolk Broads boating holiday ideal for crew members prone to seasickness or nervous about being on the water.
The approach into Norwich is full of interest, passing under several low bridges, the lowest of which carries a railway line. If you time your transit under this metal bridge just as a train is passing overhead, the noise is quite impressive, so much so that on a previous trip my ever-encouraging shipmates thought I had collided with the bridge!
With nearly 12 tonnes of moving boat and a solid object only a few inches overhead, it’s vital that sensible safety measures are taken, with everyone kept out of harm’s way. Again, thorough preparation, including removing the flag from its holder, prevented any damage and, with the bridge successfully passed, we headed upstream to our berth.
Just beyond the Yacht Station is the historic Pull’s Ferry, where the river widens a little making it easier to turn a long boat in a constricted space. As always, it’s recommended to moor against the river’s current but our boat’s responsive engine, coupled with both bow and stern thrusters, made docking the boat a simple enough task even for a relative newcomer.
In high summer, the Yacht Station gets very busy but in September we had no trouble finding a space and, with the assistance of the rangers, were soon safely moored up. The Station also provides hot showers, black water pump out facilities and fresh water supplies.
The boat’s batteries and engine will run most of the essential electrics on board but shore power outlets can be found on many quays too and usually require the use of a pre-paid card, purchased from the charter company.
After an enjoyable stay in Norwich, we started making our way to Wroxham, the self-styled ‘capital of the Broads’. By road, Wroxham is just over eight miles away, but, by boat, we were first heading towards the sea at Great Yarmouth and then heading back inland up the River Bure, a total cruising distance of more than 50 miles and a journey time in excess of ten hours.
Far from the madding crowd
Being early September, the volume of river traffic was much lower than we had previously experienced in high summer so we soon slipped into a lazy routine of motoring for a few hours, stopping for lunch and then heading onwards to our planned overnight mooring without fear of not being able to find a berth at popular locations such as at Horning or Ranworth.
Bear in mind that hired boats are not meant to be moving in darkness, so if you can’t find an overnight mooring alongside a quay, it might be a case of dropping your mud weight anchor in one of the bigger Broads.
Although this means foregoing the amenities of a shoreside berth, stopping in a quiet location can lead to a happy time gazing at the stars with only the sound of the night-time wildlife and water lapping against the hull for accompaniment.
Having a boat with a relatively high air draught meant that we needed to time our transit through Great Yarmouth very carefully due to another low bridge and a high tidal range.
This part of the journey can catch out the careless. At any time other than slack water, the current races past Great Yarmouth’s Yacht Station and progress can be hard going against the tide or difficult to control if travelling with a rapidly falling tide.
As we passed the station, I called out to one of the rangers to check if we’d fit under the low Vauxhall Bridge and, suitably reassured, we headed on, only to find another boat racing directly towards us in the narrow channel.
Careful use of reverse to slow our progress and judicious use of the bow thruster avoided an incident and we were soon on the vast expanse of Breydon Water.
The heat is on
After an overnight on Oulton Broad, near Lowestoft, we continued to head towards Wroxham with a lunch stop at Somerleyton. By now the promised heatwave had fully arrived and we soaked up the sun with a gentle cooling breeze rustling through the reeds and grasses.
Having plenty of food onboard, complete with the essential liquid refreshments, gave us the flexibility to stop when we fancied but others may prefer to plan around the many well-known eating or shopping locations.
A key benefit of a Norfolk Broads boating holiday is the support infrastructure for boaters which has developed over the years so, if your travelling companions become restless, it’s easy to moor up and take a walk or visit one of the area’s sights, such as the ruins of the medieval St Benet’s Abbey.
Wroxham is a favourite location of ours with an attractive approach, first through thick woodland and then past some beautiful riverside homes, many with their own boat docks.
The lack of river traffic meant the water was clearer than on previous trips, so we could see the long fronds of the aquatic plants waving in the sunlight. Easy, free mooring, followed by a short walk through the warm evening air to an excellent Thai restaurant, meant we all ate and slept well, ready for the return leg back to Brundall.
Heading back down the Yare, we stopped for a picnic lunch close to the Berney Arms Inn, once Britain’s most remote hostelry only accessible by foot or boat. Crossing Breydon Water again, we broke up our journey with a stop at the Stracey Arms Mill, visiting the donkeys and making suitably touristy purchases from the store.
After an overnight stop at Reedham, we were soon back in Brundall, where we reluctantly moored up after what had been another thoroughly enjoyable spell aboard Moneypenny.
Norfolk Broads boating holidays may not be as glamorous as the Med or as exciting as a high-speed RIB, but it is an excellent way to get a first taste of life aboard a motorboat and see if your whole family shares your enthusiasm for life afloat. In my case, the answer has been a resounding ‘yes’ and we all look forward to our next adventure on the water.
First published in the July 2022 issue of MBY.