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Against a background of ongoing restrictions to navigation and with tolls for leisure craft increasing by an aggregate 23 per cent over the last two years, Peter and Elaine Ward, active members of the Broom Owners Club, ask whether it is any longer worthwhile keeping their boat on the Broads.

For the last twelve years we have kept our ocean-going motor cruiser on the Broads, traditionally a safe inland haven with practical access to and from the sea via the Broads’ rivers and the ports of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. 

After a lifetime of holidays on the Norfolk Broads, in 2012 we bought our first ocean-going boat - a 1978 Broom Ocean 37 called Ocean Belle. In 2014 we joined a Norfolk Yacht Agency novices’ cruise to Lowestoft and Southwold for our first cruise at sea.   A cruise to Wells-Next-The-Sea in 2015 with our new friends at Broom Owners Club was the catalyst for an upgrade to a more modern and faster boat, Pelican Buoy, a 2004 Broom 39.  In 2020 we exchanged Pelican Buoy for a 2001 Broom 42, which we have named Ocean Belle II. From our home mooring in Brundall, we have enjoyed the Norfolk Broads and numerous sea cruises on the East Coast, plus a trip to London in 2016, two cruises to Northern France and subsequently a 500nm cruise to the South Coast and Isle of Wight.

Moored Broads Boat
Ocean Bell on her mooring at Brundall (credit Peter Ward)

We are members of the Broom Owners Club, a leisure membership organisation open to owners of Broom boats, a marque of motor leisure cruisers originally manufactured at the Broom factory in Brundall, Norfolk. The Club has some 600 members throughout the UK and Europe, of which around one-third are based in East Anglia and have permanent moorings at the various marinas within the Broads network.

For many, the Broads has been the ideal location for leisure boating, combining the natural beauty of the Broads’ 125 miles of navigable waterways and wide range of visitor attractions with the opportunity to venture further afield and enjoy the often-understated East Coast and its scenic Rivers Deben, Orwell, Twizzle and Blackwater – all within reach when access to and from the North Sea is possible.  Likewise, the 50 nautical miles from Great Yarmouth to Wells-Next-the-Sea is a popular coastal cruise for a weekend or longer, as is the 18-mile voyage to Southwold.

From our permanent mooring in Brundall, there are two options for getting out to sea, assuming all bridges and Mutford Lock are operational. The shortest and quickest route is via Great Yarmouth.  This is a distance of 18 miles and, at river cruising speed, a journey of around four hours to the sea at Gorleston Pier.  It requires navigation via Reedham railway swing bridge, Breydon Bridge and Haven Bridge.  If any of these bridges are out of service and unable to open for navigation, we are severely restricted.  Bridges can be passed under at low water, but the canopy and radar mast must be lowered.  At Breydon and Haven bridges, however, this is not a safe operation as downstream of Haven Bridge there is no layby mooring where the canopy and mast can be lifted and made fast for the impending sea passage.  Leaving the helm in a fast-flowing tidal river to perform this two-handed operation is not an option.

The alternative is to transit via Oulton Broad, Mutford Lock, and Lowestoft. The distance and journey time from Brundall to Mutford Lock are similar to the Great Yarmouth route but can add an additional 24 hours to the passage to sea due to Mutford Lock's operating schedule and the coordination of the lock passage with the timings of the Carlton Railway swing bridge and the Lowestoft Bascule Bridge.

Transit to the sea via Lowestoft most often requires an overnight mooring at either Oulton Yacht Station or Haven Marina, or the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club when travelling inbound.  As well as the additional cost of moorings, such delays curtail the time available for the overall excursion, thereby rendering a weekend or short cruise down the coast impractical.

Another ‘risk’ of the route via Lowestoft is the dependence on a swing of the railway bridge at Somerleyton, which for most sea-going craft cannot be passed under at any state of tide and is known to be unreliable.  Broads Authority data reveal that in 2023/24, Somerleyton Bridge was not operational on 17 days.  This downtime would have been caused by a mix of  mechanical breakdown and non-opening due to heat expansion, the majority of closures occurring during the hot summer and prime boating season.

Clearly, transit via Great Yarmouth is the preferred route.  Unfortunately, this has not been possible for the past three years due to the extended closure to navigation of Haven Bridge.  The bridge was taken out of action for a necessary and long-overdue upgrade of its vintage mechanics, and the works were unexpectedly delayed beyond reason due to the pandemic and other factors.

Broom Boat at Sea
Ocean Bell at Sea (credit Peter Ward)

For three years we have agonised over this restriction, the only access to sea being via Lowestoft; and in common with many friends in the boating community we have consequently suffered the inconvenience and encountered widespread frustration.

For the last two years our main summer holidays aboard Ocean Belle II have started badly with delays at Somerleyton Bridge.  Two years ago, in the company of other BOC members, it took four days to exit the Broads for our long-planned two-week cruise to the Blackwater.  It is disappointing, to say the least, to be waiting around whilst consuming valuable annual leave.

brooms crusier
Ocean Belle on the River Yare (credit Peter Ward)

Despite these infuriating circumstances, we have maintained a degree of positivity, particularly with the news late last year that Norfolk County Council had, at considerable expense to the local taxpayer, completed the works at Haven Bridge.  Reverting to the favoured route to sea via Great Yarmouth was finally in our sights! With rekindled optimism, we looked forward to the new boating season, renewed our annual mooring, gave the boat its spring maintenance and servicing, and paid our Broads toll (now well into four figures following a 23 per cent increase over the last two years).

In January, Peel Ports, which manages Great Yarmouth port, announced without any prior consultation or notice, that the lifting of Haven Bridge would be restricted to twice daily at fixed times, together with the introduction of a new and unprecedented Transit Fee of £20 each way. Shortly afterwards, a further Notice to Mariners from Peel Ports advised that the lifting of Haven Bridge for navigation was suspended indefinitely, due to an impasse between bridge owners Norfolk County Council and Peel Ports as the sub-contracted bridge operator. Clearly, our optimism was false hope, and now we’re back to square one!

The challenges of safe, secure and timely navigation between the Broads and the sea have not relented, and the cost of keeping a boat on the Broads has significantly escalated.

As a consequence, there is evidence of some boat owners either forsaking their hobby entirely or moving their boats from the Broads to other locations with safe and reliable access to and from the sea.  This potential exodus is clearly a risk to the local economy of the Broads.

Various studies have estimated the economic value of the privately-owned boats on the Broads to be circa £50m per annum.  Given the number of private boats on the Broads, the figure is unsurprising to us when we consider our own outlay on mooring fees, maintenance provided by local engineers and supporting industries, and our annual expenditure on hospitality and other leisure activities in the area.

On average, we spend around one hundred nights per year on board the boat and consider ourselves a small contributor.  With a passing thought for the businesses, jobs and livelihoods we support, according to our peers with boats on the Broads, we are not alone in asking - in the immortal words of The Clash – “should I stay or should I go”

If you share these views please write to Rt Hon Brandon Lewis, MP for Great Yarmouth.  Broom Owners Club has called for government intervention to resolve the current stand-off and closure of Haven Bridge, which is a breach of statutory legislation.

Disclaimer: This article is written by guest authors who are sharing their personal perspectives and experiences. The views expressed are their own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the society.

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2 comentarios

Interesting article -thank you

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I sympathise with the thoughts expressed in this article, the matter should be resolved ASAP ,the question of the bridge opening I suggest would be quickly resolved if commercial craft were involved. There is no doubt that rising water levels and ancient bridges are restricting navigation

as already large sections of the broads themselves are not accessible

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