How new magazine helped keep Norfolk afloat

Boats

As the magazine progressed from just the Broads to sea - the magazine introduced Cruises in Company. Here is the first cruise, down the east coast, with Paul's Norfolk Beauty in the centre. Ultimately up to 18 boats took off, to France, Belgium and Holland - Credit: Archant

Journalist Paul Thomas looks back at how he helped create a magazine that grew into Anglia Afloat

Life was changing. After nearly half a century of journalism, my own publicity company, its sale and worldwide growth, then film-making, I wanted to get back to writing and printing “today’s news”. And, lo and behold, at the tender age of 63, suddenly the opportunity arose.

In 2003 a top editorial man from Archant, developers of the future of what had been Eastern Counties Newspapers, an employer and client of mine in the past, rang me.
Would I come and talk to them about starting a magazine?

“Yes, yes, yes,” I said, because it was to be about boats and called Norfolk Afloat, one of the great loves of my life.

I said: “It’s a great idea but it should be Anglia Afloat because it shouldn’t be just about the Broads and Norfolk, the whole east coast is boating – our marine industry in this region is the second largest in the UK after the south coast. Boats are right down to Burnham Crouch, a huge sailing area.”

But they insisted it had to be Norfolk Afloat so off we went.John Lawson was the first editor, I was guiding him a bit – and writing a lot. After a couple of years, the Anglia opportunities did ring with them (I refrained from saying I told you so) and Anglia Afloat it became.


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The first edition of Norfolk Afloat was April 2003. One of the many changes that had happened in my Broads-loving time, half a century since my first holiday on a boat there, was the balance of holiday hire boats and private craft.

At the hey-day of my PR company’s work for client Hoseasons, the number of holiday hire boat was 2,000 – 3,000 operated by several score boatyards with Hoseasons and Blakes the two big agencies marketing the holidays… and only several hundred private boats owned by people sailing them on the Broads, and at sea.

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By 2003 when we started Norfolk Afloat the balance was swinging the other way – with many more private boats and a big decline in hire craft.

Today the holiday hire fleets on the Broads are down to approx 900 and weekend and short-breaks very popular as well as the original week-long hires. Today there are many more day boats running too. Private boats ownership and operation has swelled to several thousand, particularly thanks to the sales operations of Norfolk Yacht Agency, Norfolk Boat Sales and others.

Going back to when we started Norfolk Afloat, one yard, Brooms, was successful in both hire boats but also building and selling private boats. The first edition of NA included a review I did of Broom’s super new 450, then an ocean-going twin engined six berth motor cruiser aiming at international waters. Price then – £445,000 – today probably a million!

For me, Brooms had always been special. When I had been about 12 or 13 my parents hired a Broom boat. I, of course, was still in short trousers – and met Martin Broom, only just in teenage maturity and learning the family boating business like I subsequently got into publicity. Over the years we became friends.

Later my wife Mary and I bought and enjoyed four Broom boats over decades – indeed via the old sailing boat Bessie Bell who had introduced us. She had been built by the Broom-run Norfolk Broads Yacht Company way back in 1910.

Reedham

Reedham, where Paul's boating started in th 1950s. Half a century later, Norfolk Afloat featured it as just one of the major mooring places of interest. It is also on the way from Brundall and Norwich to the sea - Credit: Archant

Then we had purchased the Broom Cider Apple in the mid 1980s, so enjoyed her – and after 11 years cruising and much time aboard, invested in the new Broom 38, calling her Norfolk Beauty.

Then into yet another Broom, the 39 which took over the Beauty name. The Cider Apple swap to Norfolk Beauty had been with an exchange valuing the Apple at what we had paid for her a decade before – that was how good trading was. Paul Pardon of Brooms did the sales and in every case we had liaised with Martin too.

A magazine feature which I wrote, was my sad decision that after more than 30 years of sailing and racing her, my wonderful Broads yacht Bessie Bell was to be sold – for my family was by then into international cruising, not so much just the Broads any more.

Writing as Norfolk Afloat, of course we’d highlighted the Broads. But with our ambitious private boat owners and readers, they were keen to see us go to sea – with them! So we created the Cruising In Company concept, as many of our friends did already, usually solo – but there was an opportunity for the magazine to take a dozen or so boats together – a safe, social group with qualified help aboard.

I dreamed up a format and coverage and with the support of James Fraser and Norfolk Yacht Agency, Norfolk Afloat and subsequently Anglia Afloat took it aboard – or more correctly to sea. They became very successful, even earned a bit for the magazine. They were great fun, had to be carefully planned and run. Subsequently John Lawson decided he was moving to Texas USA and I took over as editor.

Orwell

Anglia Afloat had stories and pictures about boating up and down the east coast. Here a Thames barge sails beneath the Orwell Bridge near Ipswich - Credit: Archant

The task was freelance but great. Since the age of 11 I had loved boats, from the Broads and sailing dinghies up through yachts and now powerful motor boats, lots of friends cruising the UK coast – and abroad. The east of England, the area we now covered was producing the second highest turnover of marine business – which was booming, albeit becoming very international and changing in various ways.

Anglia Afloat became a great success.

We trialled vessels, sailing yachts and motor boats – including those built locally, several models by Haines Marine who were growing fast and very successfully including thanks to sales by NYA – and others nationally. We wrote about clubs, boat shows, events, eating places, pubs, history, the future - and lots of owners and users.

We also started fashion featured boating clothing, shown off beautifully by Sarah Hardy, then the international model Rebecca Fraser, James’ wife.
By now my freelance writing was not only for Anglia Afloat, but also national newspapers seeking content on boats, and also international destinations. Broads hire fleet numbers had dropped substantially – but private boat ownership had almost trebled and East Anglian readership was increasing, advertising too.

Our CICs as cruises in company became known, grew from local, then down the coast – and then internationally, to France, Holland, Belgium. Some became very exciting, including a lifeboat out once for a near shipwreck. Always successful, sometimes a little hairy for a boat or two – but never any disasters. I was involved, much time as editor, for 10 years, then “retired.”

Sadly, I know not why, a few years later the magazine ended. But by then I was into more writing, ashore and afloat, different destinations, worldwide. More in my next features.

Paul’s biography, My Life, My Way, telling much of Norfolk business growth over two thirds of a century, is available from £10.75 including post and packing from: paul@paulgwynthomas.co.uk


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