Gunning punts in Norfolk and Essex

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Gunning punt at the Museum of the Broads, Stalham

Gunning punt at the Museum of the Broads, Stalham Gunning punts at the Museum of the Broads, Stalham Gunning punt at the Museum of the Broads, Stalham

Gunning punts at the Museum of the Broads. The smaller boat is styled after
a gun punt but is too small for the purpose.

Intending to pick up on another recent theme from Chris Partridge’s Rowing for Pleasure weblog, I took some photos of gunning punts at another of my favourite small boating museums, the splendid Museum of the Broads at Stalham.

So imagine my surprise when I found he has only today put up a series of photos virtually identical to mine. Ah well… Great minds and all that. I trust he won’t be offended if I put mine up also.

The folklorist, antiquarian and scholar Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould lived at Mersea in Essex for ten years, and Hervey Benham quotes Baring-Gould describing the business of gunning like this:

‘At a former period wild-fowl shooting was largely practised by the [Mersea] islanders, who had their punts painted grey… In these shallow boats they lay for many hours at night and contracted both ague and rheumatism. My impression was that generations afflicted with these complaints acquired in the marshes had lowered the physique and mental development of the islanders. When the east wind blew the wild ducks and geese came in flocks near the coast where they were surrounded and shot.’

Call me a pessimist, but I can’t help thinking this tactic of surrounding and shooting the birds must have led to some nasty incidents in which some of the boatmen must also have been injured.

In a way, gunning punts are still used in Norfolk on a regular basis – for they were adopted for racing and developed into the scary Norfolk Punt, a high-powered sailing racing machine still sailed regularly on Barton Broad. But that’s another story that I’d like to tell one day.

PS There’s an interesting postscript to Chris’s Rowing for Pleasure post on gunning here.

A sailor for all seasons


Charles Stock is a national treasure to those of us who sail around the coasts of the UK, particularly those of us on a small budget.

Stock, you see, has sailed over 70,000 nautical miles in Shoal Waters, a little gaff-rigged 16-ft centreboarder he built in 1963 using a hull designed by Uffa Fox and hot-moulded by Fairey – and all without an engine.

Like the good farm manager he used to be, through it all he has kept a meticulous log of his voyaging and his costs, and written one of the best and most endearing manuals of small-boat cruising that I know: Sailing Just for Fun. This book is simply bursting with good advice and encouragement for owners of small sailing boats, and could not have been written with more authority. From the first page you know that Stock has been there and done it, and knows exactly what he’s talking about – 70,000 nautical miles in a small boat like Shoal Waters adds up to more days sailing than most people could pack into several lifetimes.

It probably goes without saying that in his home waters on the Essex coast he long ago became a legend for sailing almost all year round, often in conditions that send other, much larger boats scurrying home.

For Charles Stock’s website:


Shoal Waters