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A truly fine old lady readyto sail again

PUBLISHED: 23:24 04 January 2002 | UPDATED: 11:08 03 March 2010

SHE was built in 1898 for a firm of maltsters and set sail from the north bank of Lake Lothing for a career in trade and pleasure cruising.

But decades of sailing on the Norfolk Broads have taken their toll, leaving the distinctive black-sailed symbol of the county's heritage in dire need of repair.

SHE was built in 1898 for a firm of maltsters and set sail from the north bank of Lake Lothing for a career in trade and pleasure cruising.

But decades of sailing on the Norfolk Broads have taken their toll, leaving the distinctive black-sailed symbol of the county's heritage in dire need of repair.

Now, more than 103 years later, the wherry Albion is set to be relaunched from a spot just a few yards downwater from where she was constructed.

The only sailing trading wherry still afloat on the Norfolk Broads has spent the last two months undergoing extensive refurbishment at the Excelsior Yard at Lake Lothing, Oulton Broad.

And this week, the smell of tar wafted across the boatyard as contractor Kim Dowe applied the final daubs of pitch to the historic vessel.

Albion cost £455 to build in the 19th century but the price of the repairs made to see her safely into the 21st century has swelled to £25,000 – a sum that has left owners Norfolk Wherry Trust needing donations, especially if a further £20,000 of repairs planned for next year are to be undertaken.

Timber from three English oak trees has bolstered the 58ft boat – structural frames and 300ft of hull planking have replaced rotting wood.

Trust treasurer Warren King explained that this had cost £5,000 above the original estimate but he was confident it was money well spent.

"This work will outlast our generation, that's for certain. The restoration has been very extensive and the problem has been that when work began, we found that she needed even more repairs than originally thought."

Donations came in from around the world after the trust appealed for money at the end of October to save Albion.

People from the United States to France and across Britain, many of them holidaymakers who had enjoyed a cruise on the wherry, sent money to help pay for its refurbishment.

But while the wherry is one of the best-known and most often-used images of Norfolk's history, only a fraction of the cost has come from the coffers of local firms.

Well-wishers and charitable trusts contributed nearly £8,000 but the small charity, staffed by dedicated volunteers, had to dig deep into its savings to pay for the rest.

Mr King said: "The concern is that our funds could be depleted to the point where we have nothing left for contingencies."

The famous black sail should again be ghosting across the Broads from April, when Albion will embark on its six-month season of carrying tourists and local enthusiasts on day trips and week-long chartered cruises.

And while the wherry is once again ready to take to the water, still more work is needed.

"Part of the structure in the forward part of the boat still needs extensive repair," said Mr King. "This will be dealt with at the end of the 2002 season and could cost another £20,000."

If this sum is to be reached, he said, money would need to be found from sources closer to home.

N Norfolk Wherry Trust is based at Womack Water, Ludham, and is always looking for donations to help it preserve Broads history.

Anyone wishing to contribute should contact Warren King at 32, Amderley Drive, Eaton, Norwich NR4 6HZ.

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