The history of Yachting architecture on the Norfolk Broads is a remarkable one. Throughout the 19th Century the waterways of Norfolk and North Suffolk were a breeding ground for experimental design, and radical excursion. Although some innovation was in the course of commerce, most was in the pursuit of speed and sport. From the late 1700s and perhaps earlier, sailboat racing was to the waterside communities of Wroxham, Stalham, Yarmouth and Lowestoft, a popular public sport. The best analogies today are soccer and horseracing. Whilst pursued by the few, they are followed by the many. So it was with sailing races on the Broads. Betting was rife, and leading yachts and skippers were fiercely supported by rival sections in various communities. 

 There are strong indications that Broads Yacht Racing began to evolve a more formal structure in the late Napoleonic period. With Britain forced to maintain a large (defensive) army, and much of that force billeted in coastal Britain, there was little for the officer class of such regiments to do other than wait for Bonaparte's long threatened invasion. In this limbo of phoney war, sport provided a needful diversion and in Norfolk the wetlands made racing yachts a better prospect than steeplechasing. The survival of cabin yachting today, as encapsulated in the River Cruiser Class, owes everything to these early days and one or two subsequent milestones in history.

Although commercial craft were adapted for this growing sport, the first pure Broads racing yachts to emerge were almost certainly the small, heavy, lateen and gaff two masted racers of the period 1815 onwards, of which the Paragon (later Maria) is the most famous survivor. By the mid 19th century these 19-25 ft, flush-decked hybrids were superseded by slightly larger cutters, of pure gaff rig, but minus the usual dual headsails, which were combined in one large jib.


By removing the heavy lateen pole mast from the stem of the boat, the chest (or Cod's Head), could be drawn finer, with subsequent easier entry. Counters began to evolve in this period in a bid to 'cheat' the current rating rule of measurement on the ram, attracting the attention of rating/handicap pioneers like Dixon Kemp, However the big boost to Broads cabin yacht design came, not from the racing fraternity, but from an entirely different direction. 

By the 1870s, Broadland was no longer a well-kept secret. Various yachting and sporting periodicals were extolling its virtues and leisure attractions, and the coming of the railways meant convenient access, but the emergence of a new form of leisure industry demanded the catalyst of a visionary. Wroxham provided one in boat builder John Loynes, who in 1878 opened the first hire yacht yard, catering to Victorian gentleman tourists. Others followed suit and the Broads boating industry was born. The low freeboard of the flush-decked inland waterways yachts offered little prospect for holiday accommodation, so cabins sprouted, doghouse style, from the decks. Lifting coach roofs with ingenious mechanisms effected luxury (for the time) accommodation and if there was no room in the forepeak for the hired professional crew, he camped in a tent on the riverbank.


Today's River Cruiser Class is largely made up of the survivors of the hire yacht industry and a number of custom-built Victorian and post-war (first and second) racers. To these have been added the produce of a variety of approved moulds, producing new craft of modern GRP hull construction. Each year, additions are built, some even in wood! and today there are over 430 listed; a unique collection of specialist inland waterway cruising and racing yachts, quite unlike any other to be found in the world.