Reviving a fine tradition

STEPHEN PULLINGER It was a sight veteran boat builder Tom Grapes thought he would never live to see again.As the gleaming mahogany sailing cruiser Lucent slipped gracefully into the water at Ludham's Hunter's Yard, he, along with a crowd of sailing enthusiasts, appreciated the significance of the moment.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

It was a sight veteran boat builder Tom Grapes thought he would never live to see again.

As the gleaming mahogany sailing cruiser Lucent slipped gracefully into the water at Ludham's Hunter's Yard, he, along with a crowd of sailing enthusiasts, appreciated the significance of the moment.

For Lucent - created almost exactly to the lines of her sister ships Luna, Lustre and Lullaby built in the 1930s - is the first traditional wooden Norfolk Broads yacht to take to the water in nearly 60 years.

And the date of Saturday's launch marked exactly 10 years since the Hunter's fleet was saved by the formation of a trust when the then owner Norfolk County Council had threatened to sell it off as a cost-cutting measure.

Mr Grapes, who still works part-time at the age of 76 and helped to apply the seven coats of varnish to Lucent, making her sparkle in the sunlight, said: "I had just arrived as a young apprentice when the last cruisers were built here, Wood Anemone in 1947 and Wood Avens in 1949, and back then I was just trusted with the odd little jobs such as putting in nails."

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He confessed it was a proud moment when the 14th in the line of Hunter's cruisers, begun as a Millennium project, was christened by guests of honour Sir Timothy Colman and his wife Lady Mary.

The yard's team, including Mr Grapes's son Ian, was supervised on the work by chief boat builder Graham Cooper, 60, himself a Hunter's veteran of 36 years.

He said: "I have no idea how many hours it has taken us for we fitted it in around all the maintenance work on the existing hire fleet.

"The last ones to be built would probably have cost less than £1,000 but as a rough guess Lucent would be valued at £80,000."

Mr Cooper said the construction methods used on the 29ft four-berth cruiser had been almost exactly the same as those employed when Percy Hunter and his sons started the business in 1931.

Planks of mahogany, sourced from West Africa, have been fixed by copper rivets to steamed oak frames.

Mr Cooper said: "We have used the design of Lullaby, Luna and Lustre, but one problem facing us at the outset was that the original plans had long since disappeared.

"I had to take the lines of Luna during the winter of 2000/01 to produce a new set of plans."

The 800-strong Friends of the Hunter Fleet held a competition to choose the name Lucent, which means shimmering light.

Philip Bray, secretary of the Friends, said: "Hunter's has been about preserving traditional sailing on the Broads and thousands of people of all ages have hired the yachts.

"But we were also determined to preserve traditional boat-building methods, which was the idea of our Millennium project."

Yard administrator Lynda Sharples

said Lucent had yet to be fully fitted out and rigged to sail, but she would be joining the

hire fleet some time next season. "She has aroused tremendous interest among our customers who are keen to try her," she said.

Mrs Sharples said the traditional sailing experience offered by the Hunter's Yard - with only oil lamps and no engines on the boats - continued to grow in popularity.

"This season we had an 84pc take-up on our cabin yachts, 4pc up on last year, and we have customers all over the world. This year we even featured in the Toronto Star," she said.

As well as running as a commercial boatyard, Hunter's also continues the work of the county council, offering subsidised sailing to schools and youth groups.