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Rebirth of a Nautical Legacy: Crafting the First Norfolk Trading Wherry in Over a Century

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Rebirth of a Nautical Legacy: Crafting the First Norfolk Trading Wherry in Over a Century

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They epitomise the quintessence of the region, an elegant emblem of a bygone epoch preceding the advent of mechanised dominion.

However, an audacious blueprint has now emerged to construct the inaugural Norfolk trading wherry in over a century—resurrecting its cargo-bearing legacy.

A boatwright has embarked on an audacious six-year odyssey to craft a pristine vessel, mirroring the archetypal design of the traditional craft that once navigated the waterways, disseminating their goods across the Broads' myriad nooks.

The final trading wherry materialised in 1912, with merely two surviving relics, the Albion and the Maud—neither of which can transport cargo—alongside a smattering of wherry yachts and pleasure wherries. Don McDermott, the visionary behind this endeavour, intends to commence construction on the new vessel later this summer, having already christened her Lady Garnet, a homage to Sir Garnet, the wherry immortalised in Arthur Ransome's Broads-centric tomes, *Coot Club* and *The Big Six*. Mr. McDermott, an American expatriate, honed his craft at Lowestoft's International Boatbuilding Training College during 2021-2022.

Currently residing in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, he plies his trade at a boatyard on the River Thames, where the 59-foot (18-meter) oak Lady Garnet will take shape. He envisions her, upon completion, as a cargo-carrying vessel under sail, akin to the wherries of yore—a vocation abandoned since the Albion in 1972.

"She was a singular anomaly, as all other wherries ceased trading before the Second World War," Mr. McDermott noted.

"But this paradigm is poised for transformation. My wherry will accommodate approximately 15 tonnes (15,000 kg) of cargo, and I aim to integrate her into the burgeoning sail cargo movement." Regrettably, for local enthusiasts, the Lady Garnet's trade route will traverse the Thames rather than the waters of Norfolk and Suffolk.

Her design, inspired by the Albion, will diverge in that while the Albion is 'carvel planked'—featuring a smooth hull—Lady Garnet will be 'clinker planked', characterized by overlapping planks.

True to the heritage of trading wherries, she will boast an expansive, striking, black gaff-rigged sail. Mr McDermott, who has crewed on the Lowestoft fishing smack Excelsior and serves as a trainee mate for the Albion, chose the name due to the profound impact Arthur Ransome's books had on him since he first delved into *Swallows and Amazons* at the tender age of seven.

"The books kindled a passion for sailing and boats, ultimately guiding me to Lowestoft's IBTC," he reflected. "As a tribute to Arthur Ransome, I opted for a similar name for my wherry—and since boats are traditionally referred to as 'she', Lady Garnet seemed a fitting appellation," he explained. Mr McDermott has meticulously plotted the project for two years, intending to finance the initial phase through crowdfunding and personal savings, supplemented by a YouTube series documenting the journey.

He has initiated a GoFundMe campaign, acknowledging that "any contributions towards the preliminary expenses will be deeply appreciated."

"I’m launching an initial fundraiser for £15,000, which, combined with my savings, will cover the early expenses. The remaining funds will be raised through a comprehensive YouTube series chronicling the construction process."

The project has garnered significant momentum following the release of the first video in late May.

To support, visit the Building Lady Garnet - Early Funding GoFundMe page.

These vessels trace their lineage to the 17th century, evolving from an antecedent type, the Norfolk Keel, which they eventually supplanted.

In their zenith during the 1800s, over 300 wherries plied the Broads, facilitating trade between waterside staithes. Their sails, blackened by a protective amalgam of tar and fish oil, were a distinctive feature. The last trading wherry, the Ella, constructed in 1912, did not endure as the fleet was systematically dismantled or left to founder, with the transition of trade away from waterways, causing their numbers to dwindle to near extinction by the Second World War. However, pleasure wherries and wherry yachts experienced a renaissance following the late Victorian tourism boom, and some have persisted.

The wherries' heritage endures in various village insignias, the names of pubs, enterprises, beers, the Wherryman's Way long-distance footpath, and a railway line.
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