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Celebrating 90 years of seaside boat trips

PUBLISHED: 09:23 19 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:07 19 July 2019

The Wash Monster returns from a trip as sun seekers pack the beach at Hunstanton   Picture: Chris Bishop

The Wash Monster returns from a trip as sun seekers pack the beach at Hunstanton Picture: Chris Bishop

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A popular tourist attraction is celebrating 90 years of sea trips.

William Searle, who runs Searles Sea Tours  Picture: Matthew UsherWilliam Searle, who runs Searles Sea Tours Picture: Matthew Usher

Searles Sea Tours first set sail in 1929, when Geoffrey Searle and his school friend Jack Tibbett splashed out on a speedboat. Visitors were soon queueing up to go on board for a 1/6d trip.

"My father was born in Nottingham, alongside a canal so you could see where his love of boats came from," said William Searle, 68, who now runs the business. "Father saw the potential for having a speedboat."
After the war, Mr Searle Snr spotted something else with potential. So-called Ducks, DUKW amphibious landing craft were sitting idle after the end of hostilities. The cross between a lorry and a boat was used during the D-Day landings.

The view back to Hunstanton from the Wash Monster, as it sails to Seal Island  Picture: Matthew UsherThe view back to Hunstanton from the Wash Monster, as it sails to Seal Island Picture: Matthew Usher

"He could see that DUKWs could be a big attraction for the holidaymakers if only he could persuade the War Department to sell him a couple," said Mr Searle.

"They needed a lot of persuasion but eventually they agreed but only on the strict understanding that if hostilities were to break out, they would take them back."

Willie Searle's new Wash Monster making its way along the A47 at King's Lynn. Picture: Ian BurtWillie Searle's new Wash Monster making its way along the A47 at King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

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War did not break out again. And with a few modifications, the DUKWs were soon a familiar sight running up and down the beach, or out to see on seal spotting trips.

Harold Payne, on the DUKW he has spent £35,000 restoring. Picture: Chris BishopHarold Payne, on the DUKW he has spent £35,000 restoring. Picture: Chris Bishop

In 1981, Mr Searle Snr died and his son took over the business. He fished for cod all winter and ran summer trips using the DUKW or his boat Sea Lion.

In 1991, the firm bought a 60-seater catamaran which could sail two-hour 14-mile trips to the centre of the estuary. Ten years later, the biggest craft of all came roaring onto the sands.

D-Day veteran Ernie Covill scatters roses at sea from the restored DUKW Picture: Chris BishopD-Day veteran Ernie Covill scatters roses at sea from the restored DUKW Picture: Chris Bishop

Soon to be named the Wash Monster, the LARC (Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo vessel) was used by the US Marine Corps in Vietnam. In 2013, the original Wash Monster was joined by shipmate Wizzy. Both craft operate at peak holiday times.

While the DUKWs retired around 2009, Mr Searle did not want to see them rust away. Two years ago, he sold them to Lincolnshire hotelier Harold Payne, who spent £35,000 restoring them.

"I wouldn't let them go to anyone unless they were enthusiasts who were going to restore them," he said.

The craft have since been back to D-Day. Recently, one made an emotional return to Hunstanton, when it carried D-Day veteran Ernie Covill out see to scatter roses in an act of remembrance.

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