Sunday, 3 May 2009

The Southern Belle - Queen of Breydon Water

LET me introduce you to the "star" of Chapter 13. He's Steve "Tug" Wilson, the skipper of the Southern Belle.
For the last three years Steve's converted steam boat has been running river trips from Great Yarmouth. I've often seen her distinctive red and yellow livery as I've walked the Wherryman's Way, but today was the first time that I've stepped aboard.

The Southern Belle is a grand old lady approaching her 85th birthday, but after a painstaking restoration by Steve and his son Colin, she looks in very good nick. Steve took us on her regular Sunday outing; across Breydon and then up short chunks of the Waveney and then the Yare.

In the process I saw this beautiful tidal estuary in an entirely new light. Wrecks of wherries loom out of the spray; traditional sailing cruisers heel dramatically in front of you. Steve's mate George stands on the prow pointing furiously as yet another tripper forgets the rules of the river and then lurches to starboard. For more photos go to flickr.

On board it was good to see local passengers; people who had lived in the area all their life but had never quite got around to seeing Breydon properly before. Steve reckons they account for at least 50 per cent of his trade.

You can get black and white photos from the 1920s and 1930s which show boats like The Pride of the Yare and Doris laden with passengers out for a jolly. It's fair to say that Steve doesn't quite pack them in like that yet. But if there's any justice in this world he should be. Go on, give it a go.

* The Breydon Water Explorer runs every Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday at 1145. For more details of other trips call Steve Wilson on 07906 020225.

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