Return of a Broads institution - Southern Comfort's back on the water

The Southern Comfort is back cruising the River Bure carrying passengers again after pandemic rules eased.

The Southern Comfort is back cruising the River Bure carrying passengers again after pandemic rules eased. - Credit: Southern Comfort

As pandemic restrictions ease this week comfort cruises and trumpets are back on the Broads, but missing one much-loved character, writes Paul Thomas

One of our most famous Broads tripper boats, Southern Comfort, is celebrating pandemic easing – enabling it to cruise with passengers again.

It comes as great relief for new owners who invested two-thirds of a million pounds buying her – then pandemic struck ending their income. Now they are also celebrating 35 years of the boat’s jazz band – and the oldest, longest-serving musician retiring at the great age of 93 to hand over to a new saxophonist.

The Southern Comfort, a Mississippi paddle-boat, carries up to 105 people under normal circumstances, and has been laid up since early 2020. But on May 17 there was great relief and passengers queuing up at her Horning mooring by the Swan hotel, to take a trip down river, albeit still with limited numbers.

From left to right, musicians Phil Brook, Martin Eaton, Derek Cubitt who has just retired - and band leader John Grant

From left to right, musicians Phil Brook, Martin Eaton, Derek Cubitt who has just retired - and band leader John Grant - Credit: Paul Thomas

Launched in 1977, the Comfort has been cruising The River Bure daily, visiting various broads at Salhouse, Ranworth, South Walsham and others – and typically does probably 5,000 -6,000 miles a year – which is, ever since she was built, about a quarter of a million miles. 

She has a bar, tea and snacks for all, seating outside and in, on decks giving spectacular views of our waterways.
David Dokerty and David Smith, with their wives Francesca and Rebecca, found more than £650,000 to buy the Comfort in November 2019 when her previous owners had wished to sell her and retire.

Then, little did the two Davids know that a forthcoming pandemic, plus a couple of winter months when they don’t cruise, would see almost no business in their first 18 months of ownership.

So both families, including their young children, are so happy at new life and business at last. That said, both Davids have been working on the Comfort, as skippers and other roles for many years. David Dokerty started aboard her doing the washing-up as a boy, Francesca often sings with the band – and David Smith and Rebecca had their marriage celebrations aboard her.

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All four have a great love for the boat – hence the adventurous decision to buy her when she came up for sale in autumn 2019. David Dokerty gave up his major role as a fire-fighting chief to become joint skipper and owner with David Smith – whose wife continues to run major horse activities as well as working on the Comfort.

Broads Chords

Eldest member of the jazz band celebrating 35 years service on the Comfort, 93-year-old Derek Cubitt, right, hands over his saxophone to Martin Eaton, a younger member of the Broads Chords band - Credit: Paul Thomas

Passengers can come as singles, families or groups, and typical cruises are 90 minutes during the day or three or four hours in the evenings. Or you can put groups together for private charter events including drinks, catering – and the great Broads Chords Cruisin’ jazz band which has been aboard Southern Comfort for 35 years.

This month has sadly seen the retirement of sax player Derek Cubitt, born in Gorleston, 93 years ago – and playing music for 77 years, 35 of them aboard the Comfort. 

He has handed over the saxophone role to Comfort colleague Martin Eaton of Norwich who is a mere 62, both men laugh.

Their fellow musicians are guitarists John Grant, leader of the band, and Phil Brook, who came down from Loughborough many years ago, including to board the Comfort and play!

Southern Comfort owners

Left to right: Rebecca, Francesca - and partners David Dokerty and David Stone. Past skippers and workers on the Comfort for some years, they bought the trip boat just before the pandemic - Credit: Paul Thomas

The Broads Chords perform about 30 gigs a season and calculate they have played about 3,000 to 4,000 hours cruising the Broads. 

They are now celebrating their 35th year, albeit with some even more aged predecessors before them. Derek Cubitt looks back at his days – and wishes his years-long apprentice Martin Eaton, 30 years younger than Derek, great luck in his musical future afloat.

Their 2021 celebration of 35 years, plus Derek’s retirement, had to be without audience but now they are ready and up for new parties aboard to enjoy playing great songs – typically Georgia On My Mind, Hello Dolly, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square and When You’re Smiling.

We Broads lovers applaud this great ship and her crew and band… anchors aweigh and cruise on guys and girls!

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