The incomplete tale of a Norfolk racing launch

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Rocinante at Reedham

Keith Johnston has kindly written in with some photos and the story of a boat that’s often moored at Reedham on the Norfolk Broads. It’s an intriguing boat that looks like a Thames slipper launch, but which nevertheless has a completely different background. I’ll let Keith tell the story:

We were approaching Reedham on the Norfolk Broads when I noticed a boat which looked rather like a slipper launch and, as I had just finished building one, I decided to make enquiries because this appeared to be a boat out of its normal habitat.

There are two boat yards at Reedham so it didn’t take a lot of searching to find the background to this good looking vessel. I found Steve Sanderson at Hall’s Old Boatyard and he was kind enough to tell me the story of this particular boat.

Rocinante as her reincarnation is called, is not a slipper launch at all but a 23ft Norfolk racing launch, the original of which Steve found on a Yarmouth demolition site in an extreme state of dereliction – and about to be burnt.

However, being a proper wooden boat enthusiast he decided that the boat should be restored or at least saved. He brought the remains to his boatyard in Reedham and he began talking to his friends and neighbours about the boat in general.

On the way back to Wroxham I found the other hull, now fully fitted and moored in Horning. From the river and with a cover on she looks virtually identical to Rocinante – however, I am told that she has been fitted with an American marine diesel engine of 4.8 litres, which should put this launch very definitely back in the racing category!

I did some research and found that launch racing started on Thursday 23rd August 1903; the inaugural race was during Oulton Broad Sailing Regatta Week that year organised by the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club under the auspices of the Norfolk Automobile and Launch Club. Six boats competed in a single heat, and the race was won by a steam launch named Monarch – but by 1910 there were big changes. There’s an interesting club history on the website

For more on this no much more complete story, click here.

2 thoughts on “The incomplete tale of a Norfolk racing launch”

  1. Dear Sirs.

    I was interested to read your the story of the slipper launch shown above and to learn for some of the classes early history.

    However, I feel that some of the facts you have been given are incorrect.

    Rocinate is owned and was built in its entiriety by my Father, Richard Farrar. The original hull was indeed once owned by Stephen Sanderson but was passed to my father upon the sale of the property where it was stored. Unfortunatley any restoration work which had taken place had deteriorated greatly. In any case, my father's intentions had always been to take a fibreglass mould from the hull. This he did himself at his home just outside Cambridge. Two mouldings were laid up, one of which, as you rightly said, was passed to a friend (the new owner of the property whence she came). He than proceeded to fit a small diseal engine and to complete all the bright work etc in Rocinante himself. My parents have enjoyed taking her on a voyage down the Soane and across the Etang du Thau into the Canal de Midi in France. We are very proud of my fathers achievements in building Rocinante on which we have had many many hours of pleasure. I just wanted to set the record straight.

  2. Further to Mel Farrars response above; I am the owner of the "other" boat called "Hazard" and I confirm that her account is pretty much the way it occured. I was privilaged enough to be able to buy Holly Farm from Colin Sanderson and family when they moved in 1995, the original launch was left in the garden when they went and so its remains became mine. It had indeed been rescued by Steve Sanderson from the river bank at Yarmouth where it would surely have soon ended its days, it had not however been subject to any works at all thereafter and if there was an engine with it then, it had quite literally fallen through the bottom and dissappeared by the time we found it. My company has restored many wooden boats a lot older than this, so I can say with confidence that it was beyond repair with one caveat – had we been able to find any provenance, there might have been some reason to retrieve it but as with so many old launches like this, they spent very little time in original use/ownership and very many years as hire/day craft where much originality was lost. Dick (Mr GRP) Farrar approached me with a proposal that essentially he take the remains and would try to repair and reinforce it to a fair enough shape to be able to take a mould off it. If he was succesfull, I would get use of the tool for one moulding and if he was unsuccesfull, well he would save me the trouble of disposing of the wreck. Dick made a fantastic job of saving the hull shape and fairing the remains, and I was very pleased to take a very clean moulding out of the tool. Dick completed his boat first, very much like a slipper launch in layout, with the engine up front under the foredeck and one large cockpit with Lloyd Loom chairs. At Dicks suggestion (I suspect to preserve the uniqueness of his own boat!), I went a different route, with the engine mounted dead amidships under deck hatches and with two small cockpits, one in front and one behind the engine. The engine is a Chevrolet 6.5 litre V8 diesel of c200hp, which "pushes it along nicely". All construction was done in my worksphops at home (where the original boat was), between myself, Alan Lee and Maynard Watson. Aside from the hull, all construction is teak, selected by me in India and being mostly the offcuts and scraps from the restoration of the Wherry Ardea that my company was performing at the same time. Many people have complimented me on the finished artical but to save anyone asking, Dick Farrar has never given permission for any further copies and I doubt he ever will! Regards, Mike Barnes. Managing Director Norfolk Broads Yachting Co

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