Historic plans for Hunter’s Yard in Ludham

They have been called Percy's lovely ladies as they glide elegantly around the Broads.

Now a new venture at the Hunter's Yard in Ludham is aiming to ensure its 20 classic mahogany sailing yachts - 14 cabin cruisers and six half-deckers - are still turning heads well past their 80th birthday.

The yard in Horsefen Road which has become a Mecca for lovers of vintage sailing boats from as far afield as Alaska and Australia is planning its first major development since Percy Hunter and his sons dug the first dyke off Womack Water in the 1930s.

If the Broads Authority planning committee gives the go-ahead next month, work will start after Christmas on a new dyke parallel to the existing one.

The �100,000 scheme, due for completion next April, will provide private moorings for 15 yachts and give Norfolk Heritage Fleet Trust which runs the yard an important new funding stream.

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The trust, which was formed in 1996 to save the fleet at a time Norfolk County Council was threatening to sell off what was then its county sailing base along with all the boats, has found the economic waters choppy in recent years despite the continued enthusiasm of yachting enthusiasts.

Trust chairman Bryan Reed said: 'When we started, following a huge public campaign supported by the EDP, we did very well in the first few years.

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'However, despite remarkably good hiring rates of around 80pc - this year it dropped slightly to 72pc - we have found it has become increasingly difficult to retain a surplus.

'The trustees were looking at how to retain profitability without increasing our rates which would hit our competitiveness.'

He said cutting costs would have been difficult as the yard only employed five full-timers including the manager, and while there was an economic case for expanding the fleet it would be hard to do without spoiling the character of the area.

'Digging a new dyke seemed the best solution as we have a long waiting list for the few private moorings we already have and this is an ideal place for private yachts with the Thurne, Acle and Wroxham all accessible,' he said.

Mr Reed said they had been buoyed by support from Ludham Parish Council although admitted there were some local concerns about a possible increase in traffic in narrow Horsefen Road.

The scheme has been delayed by a protected species survey and the design of the wooden piling will have to accommodate special holes to give access to water voles.

Mr Reed said while demand from school and youth groups had disappointingly dropped over the years - despite the trust giving them a 40pc reduction - the outlook looked good from the perspective of general hirers.

He said: 'This year we have had customers from Belgium, Switzerland, Poland and Australia and we get a good proportion of repeat customers; we get third generation hirers whose grandparents took the boats out in the 1930s.'

Encouragingly, a new stream of custom was coming from people who had successfully taken the yard's RYA sailing instruction courses introduced two years ago.

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