Wherries were a type of boat used on the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. They were designed to navigate the shallow waters and narrow channels in Broadland. All had a distinctive ‘gaff rig’ of a single, high-peaked sail and the mast stepped well forward.
The ‘Trading Wherry’ was double-ended with a black hull and white nose to aid visibility after dusk. The sail was also black as it was coated with a mixture of tar and fish oil to protect it from the elements. The mast tops and wind vanes were often painted or shaped to identify the wherry’s owner. A traditional design is a ‘Jenny Morgan’, after a folk song character.
Wherries were able to reach larger boats just off the coast at Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. They transported these cargoes inland through the broads and rivers. Sizes varied, but many of these vessels would carry around 25 tons of goods. The last trading wherry, Ella, was built in Coltishall in 1912.
The ‘Pleasure Wherry’ evolved as railways began to carry the cargo that had supported the traders. Wherry owners converted their boats to carry passengers, who arrived by train on holiday. Early examples simply featured hammocks and a stove in the hold of a trader, but boatbuilders soon began to make craft specifically for pleasure sailing and holidays, using the same hull and rig design and incorporating living quarters instead of a cargo hold. Some were fitted out to a very high standard like Hathor, which was built for the Colman family (of mustard fame). It features highly detailed marquetry in Egyptian designs below decks.
For some holidaymakers, the distinction between the working boats and pleasure wherries was not strong enough, and the sleeker and more genteel ‘Wherry Yacht’ was developed. The main distinguishing features are a smooth, white yacht-like hull and a large counter-stern which provided a quiet seating area at the back of the boat.
We have a great project here for you! Make your own wherry, based on the trading wherry, Albion, from items found in your home. Then sail it on the water. See the video below to find out more.