Oulton Broad is maritime heritage hub for Norfolk and Suffolk

With historic boats such as the Lydia Eva, the wherry Albion, the Excelsior and the Mincarlo, Norfolk and Suffolk can be seen as a top haven for boating heritage enthusiasts.

And as the elegant craft are lovingly restored and maintained by volunteers and craftsmen, both counties have built up a well respected set of boat building skills

And now lovers of the region's rich history have reason to feel even more buoyant thanks to the creation of a new database at the International Boatbuilding Training College (IBTC) at Oulton Broad, near Lowestoft.

Yesterday saw the launch of the East Anglian branch of the national Shipshape Network hub scheme.

The network will operate by drawing together a database of historic vessel owners, skilled craftsmen, businesses, heritage organisations and training bodies.

It is hoped the network will help various historic boat trusts and owners across the region, such as the Lowestoft-based Excelsior Trust and Lowestoft-based Lydia Eva and Mincarlo Trust by providing a one stop shop of all things nautical, such as hardware, where to get the best insurance, restoration work information and slipway locations.

At yesterday's launch was Martyn Heighton, director of National Historic Ships UK, which has 1,300 boats on its registers and set up the Shipshape Network, which has four hubs in Solent, Thames Estuary, Bristol Channel and Mersey.

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Mr Heighton said he was delighted that the IBTC was becoming a hub for East Anglia as it was vital to the future of historic boats.

He said: 'This will be hugely important for East Anglia. We are lucky the college will become the heart of Shipshape East Anglia'.

Mr Heighton also praised all the people in the region who were 'concerned with the health and welfare of vessels'.

As well as the launch of the network, yesterday also saw the official opening of the new centre for the college's commercial arm – IBTC Heritage.

The centre, which is based at the home of the MTB102 Trust at the back of IBTC, has 10 staff and hopes to restore, maintain, build or rebuild up to 12 boats a year.

Currently 'moored' at the centre is a small flotilla of historic craft.

Among them is the 1940 seaplane tender ST377, now called the Zeta, which it is hoped can be turned into a river ferry.

There is also the Califa, a 100 year-old Great Yarmouth beach boat, the 1960s Celandine and a 1926 Walter Woods sailing cruiser.

Nat Wilson is the managing director of the IBTC, which was set up 37 years ago.

Describing the launch of the hub and the new centre he said: 'I am delighted.

'It is a recognition of the hard work and effort we have put in over many years.'

Waveney MP Peter Aldous helped to officially open the centre.

He said: 'Our heritage is absolutely vital, but the skills and work force that keeps it going is just as important for the future.'


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