New owners relaunch £650,000 Mississippi paddle-boat after 18-month wait

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: Paul Thomas

Two couples who fulfilled a dream by buying a Mississippi paddle-boat to run Norfolk Broads cruises are finally launching - after an 18-month wait.

 David Dockerty and David Smith, and their wives Francesca and Rebecca, found more than £650,000 to buy the Southern Comfort Mississippi Paddle Boat in November 2019, when her previous owners wished to sell her and retire. 

Little did they know that a forthcoming pandemic, plus winter months when they do not cruise, would see almost no business in their first 18 months of ownership. 

But on Monday, there was relief for its owners and passengers, who were queuing up at its Horning mooring by the Swan Hotel, to take a trip down river - albeit still with limited numbers.

The boat, which operates from Horning, has started up its river trips after being forced to stop.  

The boat carries up to 105 people under normal circumstances and has been laid up since early 2020. 

Rebecca Smith, Francesca Dockerty, David Dockerty and David Smith. 

Rebecca Smith, Francesca Dockerty, David Dockerty and David Smith. Mr Dockerty and Mr Smith are past skippers and workers on the Comfort for some years, they bought the trip boat just before the pandemic. - Credit: Paul Thomas

Launched in 1977, the Comfort has been cruising the river Bure visiting various broads, Salhouse, Ranworth, South Walsham and others – and typically does around 5,000 to 6,000 miles a year.

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Mr Smith and Mr Dockerty have been working on the Comfort as skippers and in other roles for many years. 

Mr Dockerty started aboard the boat doing the washing-up as a boy, and his wife Francesca often sings with the boat’s jazz band. He gave up his role as a fire-fighting chief to become joint skipper and owner. 

The eldest member of the jazz band celebrating 35 years service on The Southern Comfort trip boat.

The 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

Mr and Mrs Smith also had their marriage celebrations aboard the Comfort. 

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 Broads Chords Cruisin’ jazz band which has been aboard Southern Comfort for 35 years. 

A jazz band on The Southern Comfort trip boat.

Musicians Phil Brook, Martin Eaton, Derek Cubitt (who has just retired) and band leader John Grant. A jazz band on The Southern Comfort trip boat. - Credit: Paul Thomas

This month has also 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. 

For public trips or private hire: www.southern-comfort.co.uk or call 01692 630262.