Shortly after the end of World War II, my father and mother decided to leave London and make their home on the banks of one of the main rivers that make up the Norfolk Broads. So the three of us soon settled in a bungalow called Leaside, quite close to Potter Heigham on the River Thurne. It was a mile south of the Potter Heigham bridge and therefore comfortably in range for my father, the Major, a retired military man, for his daily visits to the bar of the Bridge Hotel.
Handsome young man!
It was there I discovered my love for sailing boats of any size or type and we soon had young Jolyon’s very own fleet. The first boat was a Snipe, a hard chine one-design of about 15 feet overall. Meanwhile, Dad bought himself a Waveny Class Half Decker with a rather large gunter rig main sail. My mother busied herself hanging curtains and making Leaside into a comfortable home only a couple of feet back from the River Thurne. Dad was known for his efforts at fishing and soon had made friends with a very large white heron named Dafty. My escape was to take off in my Snipe down to Thurne Mouth where it became part of the River Bure. I soon made friends with a young married couple, Eric and Norma Smith, who lived on the opposite side of the river. Eric worked for the sail-making firm Jeckells & Son of Wroxham, still there to this day. He had a bluff-bowed dinghy called Ballerina and as soon as he got home in the evening we would launch the dinghy and tear up and down the river that separated our homes. Ballerina was built along the lines of a 14 foot International and in the early days I thought she was probably the fastest thing in the world but it was not long before I had graduated to a 12 foot National, designed and built by Uffa Fox and known as the Uffa King. It was a wonderful boat that seldom came off the plane. Soon, despite my mother’s adamant disapproval, I entered the annual Potter Heigham Regatta in the 12 foot National Class. Of course Rainbow and I came a very forlorn last which I immediately blamed on both my parents and even dear old Eric. So I sold Rainbow and persuaded Mother to buy another National 12 which was only fractionally faster. But my days at the back of the fleet were naturally forgotten and in other Potter regattas I worked my way up to about 30th!
Jol and his beautiful crew
Then I saw a Merlin Rocket that appeared to be as fast as Ballerina or faster. I was now hooked on sailing and started a Club with my father (and Dafty) called the Potter Heigham Snowflakes in direct competition with the Norwich Frost Bites, a winter sailing club which normally raced Norfolk one-design dinghies on another river entirely. By now aged 14 or 15, I had to get a Merlin Rocket and somehow I did. Designed and built by Alex Simpson, she was bluff-bowed and not very fast, but I thought she was beautiful. Her name, I think, was Snow Bunting and we won our first race (in the middle of a snow storm) and I was entirely sold on the Merlin Rocket Class. Soon I graduated to one of my favourite boats of all time, the Merlin Rocket named Carol Ann. She was just as happy being upside down as she was being the right way up. Suddenly I was winning and I have to say it was one of the happiest times of my life.
Then I met the Baker Boys who owned a Thames-built Rater called Slipstream and worked out a deal to buy the boat. She was 25 feet long and once she was up on the plane she was faster than most motor boats. As the years went by I became the Yachting Correspondent for the Eastern Daily Press which required me to go to nearly every regatta on the Norfolk Broads. Luckily there was always an All Comers Class which, at the end of the first year of owning her, Slipstream won quite handily. I lived, dreamed and did little else but think about Slipstream. My job with the Eastern Daily Press meant that I was paid to do the one thing I really loved, sailing.
Jol and Jenny performing during the journey to Antigua
At that stage, little did I know that when I left to come to the Caribbean Slipstream would become the prototype for a class of Raters built in Potter Heigham.
Article written by Jol Byerley.Photos compliments of Jol Byerley.
Editor’s Note: Jol Byerley arrived in Antigua in 1957 to Captain Vernon Nicholson’s schooner Mollihawk. Since that time he has captained and owned many boats and has made Antigua his home. Jol is widely known as the voice of English Harbour Radio which has been broadcasting the weather forecast on VHF Channel 06 every morning for as long as we can remember. Jol is exceptionally well known in the Caribbean yachting community and in 2004 he was awarded a G.O.M. (The Most Illustrious Order of Merit - Grand Officer) by the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda for his years of service and his many contributions to the yachting industry. Watch this space for the rest of the story about Jol’s love for sailing and his adventures after his arrival in the Caribbean in 1957.