White Boats

Yare and Bure One Design

This graceful sailboat was designed over one hundred years ago and the class is still growing.  Many of the early boats built are still competing extremely well against the youngsters that have just left the yard.  The 'White Boat' as they are fondly named, with their large gaff rigs and huge mainsail are designed to race on the inland waters of the Norfolk Broads. They are comfortable boats to crew and with a good wind they pick up their skirts and  plough through the water at high speed. Fleets of them can be seen every weekend in the summer all over the Norfolk Broads, either racing or available to visitors who want to hire them for a day out on the Broads.

In 1907, the Yare Sailing Club was already thirty years old when members agreed to change their club’s name to the Yare & Bure Sailing Club in recognition of an increasing amount of sailing on the North River. H.L.Clarke lived in Rivercroft, Wroxham and was managing director of the Maid’s Head and Royal Hotels in Norwich and had been their energetic Commodore since 1906. His daughter Cristobel raced the Norfolk 14 foot restricted class dinghy Bubbles that is still going strong and his son, Reggie Clarke became a stalwart of the Norfolk Dinghy Class. His motorcycle business still carried the name R.O.Clarke on the fascia in Ber Street, Norwich until quite recently.

In the early years of the twentieth century the one design principle was gaining acceptance and provided good, level racing and for most a welcome relief from the rapidly escalating costs of open competition. Linton Hope had designed a successful and versatile half decker for the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk YC and Walter Woods, then manager of the Norfolk Broads Yachting Company at Potter Heigham built a specialist, inland half decker for the Great Yarmouth Yacht Club. In 1907, Commodore Clarke approached Walter Woods’ younger brother Ernest to produce a one design for his own club. Ernest Woods had a yard at Cantley, where he served his apprenticeship with the Norfolk Broads Yachting Company. Initially he worked in partnership as Newstead and Woods although the partnership had been dissolved by the time the first Yare & Bure Fritillary came off the stocks in 1908. No trace of the premises remain.

The half model Woods built of his new one design still shows the pin holes where he balanced the hull and rig. The boats were built from softwood, which lasts better in the alkali water of the Broads but looks best painted. White hulls became part of the class rules early on but the insistence on butterfly names seems to date from the late 1930s. Number 4 Sonia carries the only surviving girl’s name in the fleet but number 5, now known as Lycaena was originally launched as Babs and by 1932 known as Niawing. Yare & Bure number 7, now Silver Washed was called Corona at least up to 1932. As late as 1935, Y&B number 42 was launched as Eileen, and recorded as such right up to the last Y&BSC handbook in 1938. 31 was called Goldcrest whilst number 52 was built as Hennenin.

With the advent of personal transport and more effective public transport, the migration of Broads yachting continued to the less commercial North Rivers continued. Bath White was the last White Boat to be built at Cantley and was originally owned by the Morris family, who spent their summers touring the Broads regattas with their counter-sterned wherry Sundog. Stewart Morris unkindly referred to the family Whiteboat as “the Bathtub” but was almost certainly the most successful small boat helmsman the Broads has ever produced. He took a Gold medal at the 1948 Olympics and won the Prince of Wales Cup for International 14s on a remarkable twelve occasions – a feat now unlikely to be equalled.

Around 1927 Ernest Woods followed the yachting to the North River and moved his yard to the outskirts of Horning. Buff Tip was the first to be built there. Major Basil Mallender was an investor in the business and Ernest Woods built him a double sized White Boat and the Broads River Cruiser Sunbeam lived in a specially cut dyke at the yard. Sunbeam provided a good example of how doubling proportions rarely proves successful. She didn’t sail very well, her teak laid decks leaked onto the bunks below and the engine wasn’t too reliable either. She sprang a plank crossing Breydon on a trip to Oulton, yet incredibly after his father’s death, Dick Mallender had her sailed to Waterford in Eire. The thought of crossing St. George’s Channel in anything resembling a White Boat fills me with trepidation. Years later, Mike Barnes found Sunbeam on a farmyard in Ulster but she was lost in a fire on her return trip.

That Ernest Woods original design has been largely unaltered over a century is a great tribute to the designer. The class has retained its appeal despite several attempts at modernisation. A Yare & Bure’s standard rig is 279 square feet, a little less than the Great Yarmouth One designs that seemed to be having it their own way in light weather. In 1935, Ernest Woods produced two ‘improved’ White Boats with a massive 350 square feet of sail and a larger keel on a Yare & Bure hull. Privateer enjoyed great success, sailing in 13 races and taking eleven firsts, a second and a third. The development failed to win popular support when one capsized and filled. One was converted back into the class but Privateer herself is still sailing on the Broads.

In 1938 Major George Power was given permission to experiment with a bermudan rig on number 24, then known as Essex Skipper. One of the few changes to Woods’ original design has been an option for the balanced rudder that is now almost universally accepted in the class. The alteration seemed to make the boat go marginally faster but some certainly considered that the ‘feel’ had departed.

Before the Second World War, Broads sailing clubs rarely had a clubhouse and moved around the Broads organising regattas at historic or convenient locations. The Yare & Bure Sailing Club houseboat was available to all clubs to hire as a mobile clubhouse and starting box. Several clubs arranged to run their regattas in the same place on consecutive days – a reminder of this is the various local clubs that run racing during Oulton Week and once at Wroxham week. When the opportunity to take over the lease of Wroxham Broad arose in 1937, the Yare & Bure Sailing Club were one of four clubs that agreed to merge into the Norfolk Broads Yacht Club and establish a permanent base. Wroxham Broad became home to the Yare & Bure One Design and is still home to the largest fleet. The following year W.J.Garrod of Steam Mill Lane, Great Yarmouth was the approved class sailmaker. Fifty three Yare & Bure one designs had been built by 1939 but the Second World War swiftly reduced the fleet when a stray incendiary bomb hit Southgate’s Horning yard during the opening months of the war. Fritillary, along with number 8, the first Painted Lady were lost in the ensuing fire.

The Great Yarmouth Yacht Club’s Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup, now almost universally known as the Gold Cup has been central to competition amongst local one designs since 1911. Post-war, Jimmy Clabburn had his first Gold Cup win in Purple Emperor at Oulton in 1946, an event that coincided with Standley Bushell’s twenty first birthday. In his eighties, Clabburn went on to become the oldest winner in 1990. Lady Mayhew (Beryl Colman) wrote to congratulate him:
“I remember it so well when Alan won it in Orange Tip - it must have been in the late ‘30s I think, because the next year I was rung up at Felthorpe to see if by any chance he’d parked it with me. Eventually our dear butler, Mobbs found it in the safe at Crown Point, just in time for next year’s regatta. … Do it again next year. Beryl”

The class has not been quite oblivious of the march of technology. In 1950 tanned sails permitted and the following year wire luffs were allowed in jibs. Eight years later ‘Terylene’ sails were approved. When Ernest Woods retired in 1963 Herbert Woods yard at Potter Heigham took over as class builder. Their first boat was number 70 and the yard built 24 boats until the cost of building in wood became prohibitive. Only cost prevents building in wood today and an epoxy sheathed, strip-plank cedar certainly sounds attractive. As popularity increased, the use of butterfly names had to be extended to cover moths in the mid-sixties.

As the cost of wood construction and maintenance increased, Kingsley Farrington took a GRP mould from Sam Horner’s Butterfly in 1981. The first glassfibre White Boat was number 94 Seraphim. All subsequent new boats have been GRP and the following year, the class reached a milestone when Mike Batson launched number 100. The availability of plastic hulls has enabled Ernest Woods design to be used to build little Thurne one designs with a cabin and a number different half deckers.

The racing community felt the original glass fibre hulls to be less than successful and commissioned a new mould. The first boat to be built from the new mould was Iris number 124 finished by South River Marine in 2005 and the two new boats launched this season brings the class to 130. The oldest surviving White Boat is number 2, which was extensively rebuilt by South River Marine in 1998. She was originally known as Red Admiral but renamed Scarlet Admiral after her rebirth. After a century, the Yare & Bure One Design Class is healthy which probably reflects a preference for Broads sailors for families to sail together, as much as a reluctance to become involved with money-no-object competition.

Twenty years ago, HRH the Princess Royal visited the Norfolk Broads Yacht Club for the eightieth anniversary celebrations of the class, when she sailed Alder Kitten number 90. The class is flattered to be able to welcome the Princess back to the Broads to help celebrate the centenary.

(Plans) White Boats are twenty feet long and their bowsprit extends two feet over the bow. Waterline length is eighteen feet and the class draws two foot nine inches. Minimum hull weight is 600 kg and the class carries 279 square feet of sail.

‘Bey’ Clabburn and Ernest Woods together in July 1965, photographed by the Tyrell family on board their Freeman motor cruiser Farina.

In 1911, the Great Yarmouth Yacht Club’s Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup was altered to enable competition between the three local One Designs. White boats have dominated the competition since the Second World War.

In 1911, the Great Yarmouth Yacht Club’s Diamond Jubilee Challenge Cup was altered to enable competition between the three local One Designs. White boats have dominated the competition since the Second World War.

It unusual for a Yare & Bure to capsize. Sometimes a grounding turns out to have been the cause but by the time the long boom has hit the water, spilling more wind from the mainsail becomes impossible. White Admiral, Silver Washed, Silver Skipper and Zephyrus all sank within seconds of each other during a ‘roger’ in June of 2003. All were successfully salvaged.

Jimmy Clabburn won the Gold Cup in 1946 sailing 3 Purple Emperor. His twin sons were photographed beside the trophy. James (left) became Commodore of the Norfolk Broads Yacht Club in 2006. John (photograph below) still sails his father's boat,Thecla No.39.

(C) Article & Photographs by kind permission of Jamie Campbell