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.