Registration number 1934
Status National Historic Fleet

Previous names

  • 1904 - 1910 Nathalie
  • 1910 - 1914 Madge


Function Leisure Craft
Subfunction Yacht
Location Wroxham
Vessel type Broads Yacht
Current use Private use
Available to hire No
Available for excursions No


Builder Collins, Ernest & Sons (Wroxham) Ltd, Wroxham
Built in 1904
Rig Gaff Cutter
Number of decks 1
Number of masts 1
Propulsion Sail
Primary engine type None
Boiler type None
Boilermaker None


Breadth: Beam
8.30 feet (2.53m)
4.80 feet (1.46m)
Length: Overall
43.70 feet (13.33m)
Tonnage: Gross


The Broads sailing yacht MAIDIE was built in 1904 by Ernest Collins and Sons (Wroxham) Ltd. She was once owned by Sir T Cook and was then raced for prize money by a string of wealthy owners until falling into disrepair in the late 1970s.

MAIDIE was gaff rigged when she was launched in 1904, to race in what was then a restricted class (via rating measurement) on The Norfolk Broads, where such boats were professionally crewed and raced by gentleman owners for significant prize money. This was racing in the Victorian and Edwardian A&B fleet of “Big Class” Broads racers and in terms of winnings, MAIDIE was renowned for recouping her build costs in her first season.

Originally launched with 1250 sqft of sail area, MAIDIE was quickly modified with the addition of another 400 sqft of sail to remain competitive, indeed dominant on what was then a semi professional racing circuit. She ultimately flew 1650 sqft overall with her “square headed” topsle, a massive sail area on a hull with barely 8ft of beam, but none the less achievable on the flat sheltered water of the Broads.

Professional racing ended abruptly here with the First World War and thereafter centred on the emergent “one Design” classes, which were strictly amateur with no professional watermen allowed to compete. The Broads “Big Class” rapidly became obsolete and withered away, as the prize money dried up and with it; the raison d’être for the continued building program that saw each successive build vie for supremacy over the last. That was the way with racing designs that were derived from a mathematical rating rule and locally, it simply mirrored what was happening on the international scene. Eventually it culminated in the end of the J Class when, in 1938, a consortium of American millionaires could barely afford to finance a further Americas cup defence.

It was said that one reason for the emergence of a level playing field with One Design racing, was that gentlemen owners finally tired of this continued race to build ever faster and consequently ever more extreme designs. In effect, it had become less about the skill of the helm, as a competition between builders and designers to outdo each other, with the owners picking up the bill. To put that into perspective; whereas MAIDIE won her build costs in her first year, it was alternatively not unknown for a boat to be broken up at the end of its first season if it proved unsuccessful. After all, one does not own a race horse because it looks nice, rather it often becomes dog meat if it doesn’t win.

MAIDIE raced on however, finally being laid up at the start of WW2, during which time her then owner, Sir William Mallinson died. His executors eventually sold the boat in 1946 to yachting magnate Herbert Woods, who was the foremost local exponent of the new “Marconi Rig”. He converted her to a Bermudan sail plan, selling off the old gaff rig in the process.  The alteration was controversial, because MAIDIE had been all but unsurpassed in the preceding 4 decades and the reduction of her sail area by nearly half, was considered by some to be akin to watering down best single malt.

Some 60 years on, it is possible to take a more balanced view. First and foremost, popular opinion tended to be influenced by perception of her local fame and racing reputation, however in reality, her racing career was by then all but over. She was designed to compete in a class that had since reverted to handicap racing, where you did not need to be first over the water to win the now nominal prize money. Although MAIDIE survived the transition, most of her racing contemporaries did not and in reality, the real competition had for the most part long gone.

Secondly, had the alteration actually done anything injurious to the boats speed or handling? The short answer is yes; it did affect boat speed, but not in a way that was necessarily unwarranted or unwelcome. MAIDIE was a fearsome thing to sail fully (gaff) rigged, which was all very well with a professional crew but difficult to maintain with an amateur crew, indeed just the owners family. She was now a little slower downwind consequent to the loss in sail area, but then she was quicker upwind consequent to the increase in efficiency of the new sail plan.

 The net result was a more consistent all round performance and taking that into account; it may be argued that Woods alteration was a success. In immediate terms, the change certainly rendered the boat much easier to sail, and this served to extend her usefulness, whereas by contrast her contemporaries were for the most part broken up. In the immediate post war era of “mongrel class” mixed handicap racing on the Broads, MAIDIE remained dominant as the fastest thing over the water against the newly emerging generation of cruiser racers of the time.

 She remained thus rigged, through a succession of owners until 1980. Yacht racing on the Broads is unique in many respects but most especially in regard to racing in very close quarters on such a restricted waterway, and moreover with yachts of such a disproportionately large sail area. Collisions are thankfully (indeed remarkably) rare here, through most helms being inured to the closeness of the racing as it simply being their normal stock in trade. A light clash of rigs aloft in a race on Wroxham Broad however, dis-masted MAIDIE and brought down everything above deck in 1981.

The then 40 year old hollow spruce and piano wire mast was shattered beyond repair and whilst the insurers were poised to contribute to re-rigging the boat, the question was; with what? Her then owner decided that since she was now the last intact survivor of the original Edwardian “Broads Big Class”, it would be an interesting exercise to re-rig the boat as gaff and this was how she re-appeared in 1983. The rig was re-created by simply scaling off her commissioning photograph, as it was the only reference available.

When MAIDIE reappeared under gaff rig, she had been transformed once more into a powerful, wilful beast and perhaps understandably, her new handling and crewing requirements were perhaps not fully appreciated when the decision was made to go gaff. In addition, despite being lovingly maintained over the years, she was increasingly out of shape and in somewhat delicate condition. The addition of such an increase in sail area served to hasten the requirement for major works, in short; she leaked like a sieve and the gaff rig was pulling her apart. She was offered for sale at the end of the season and languished thus for a full year before finally being sold.

The present owner bought her in 1984, with the intention of embarking on major works, though as is often the way of things with an old wooden boat, not perhaps to the extent that eventually became necessary. In the winter of 1985/6, MAIDIE underwent a full structural rebuild, with all material and method of construction following the original build.  Whereas suggestions were made as to laminating frames or creating a mock laid deck on marine ply, the decision was made to faithfully adhere to the original construction, so all frames were sawn from grown oak bends and the deck was properly laid with the original “secret nailing” technique. The work became a text book exercise in restoration rebuild, aided in no small part by the availability of the original builder’s half model and many old black and white pictures from the early years of the last century. The work took a full year to complete, but the boat eventually emerged in her original shape and in as new condition, in time for Oulton Regatta Week, August 1986.

The new gaff rig was of course a facsimile of that which the boat was originally launched with, but it was not the big “pot hunter” rig that she had flown during her racing heyday. The notion that the latter might be recreated, germinated with the discovery of her original Edwardian mast, remarkably still in storage from 1939. More remarkable yet, it was a McGruer hollow rolled spar in eminently retrievable condition. The method of construction for these specialist spars is now all but lost, but glued from veneer around an internal former that was extracted on completion; they exhibited unrivalled lightness and strength. Unusual uses predictably then included; the telescopic top masts on the pre J class racers and more curiously, the main spar on a First World War bomber.

 The McGruer mast was thus refurbished and returned to use to facilitate the further development of the latter day gaff rig, which saw the sail plan reach 1500 sqft in 1990. This was still some 150 sqft short of her Edwardian “pot hunter” rig, but with 10ft of bow sprit, 4 ft of boom overhanging the stern and some 300 sqft of unsupported topsle, this was considered to be the maximum practical sail plan that could be flown in present day terms. After all, instead of professional watermen, the crew now just consisted of a bunch of enthusiastic though none the less skilled youngsters from the dinghy fleet and it took no less than 6 of them plus helm on race day if there was any strength to the wind.

Latter day sail selection had to be done with care according to not only the conditions at the time of selection, fully one hour before the race, but also with due regard as to how the conditions were likely to change during the race, as there was little or no chance of meaningful change either up or down once the boat was away. Sail changes also needed to be synchronised as for instance in a rising wind, there is little point in dropping a jib size if it creates too much weather helm, such a change may need to reflect a related change in topsle or vice versa.  Lastly of course, this is racing not cruising, there is no point in going out under canvassed and to be competitive, sail selection for racing inevitably means sailing “near the edge”.

There was a steep learning curve as to what it was to campaign a boat rigged in this extreme fashion, and it revealed why in the Edwardian era, professional watermen were employed and moreover; had a significant effect on racing results. With such a cloud of cloth aloft, even minor sail changes can be critical and of course the sail area is not fixed, it is variable according to a combination of sail options. Whereas the boat now had one mainsail, 2 jibs and 2 topsles, her original crew had a wardrobe of many more sails to chose from, and might even be called upon to change a mainsail at a moment’s notice to one with a different weight cloth if conditions so dictated. You simply cannot do that if it also involves dragging the crew out of the bar, however the watermen that made up the original crew were of course on pay to do it, and this helps to explain the difference in maximum sail area on the boat between the two eras.

After 10 years of campaigning the boat in this manner, there was an emerging sympathy with the change that Woods had made 50 years earlier, the campaign effort was quite simply beginning to reduce the pleasure of competition. In 1995 a suitable Bermudan mast became available and it was decided to experiment again with conversion to Bermudan sail plan, in an attempt to introduce some greater consistency to performance. It was also to create an opportunity for further development, as pretty much all that could be done with the gaff rig, had been done.

So history repeated itself with the addition of another Marconi rig and once again, an attendant reduction in sail area, albeit that the spar was now aluminium and the sails Terylene. The result was pleasing enough as the boat was much more manageable and actually, the difference in speed consequent to the reduction in sail area, much less pronounced this time around, due to the use of modern sail cloth not available when Woods first experimented with her.  

The new Bermudan rig was installed in such a way that it could be taken back off at will and nothing was done to restrict or impede re-installation of the gaff rig if required. The gaff spars, sails and rigging were simply mothballed for the time being, as this dalliance with the Bermudan rig was after all, just an experiment. The intention was that in the event of a dismasting, the rigs could be changed out within 24 hours, if necessary whilst at a regatta.

The rigs were actually swapped again in 2004, as MAIDIE went back to gaff for her centenary year, really for exhibition purposes but actually “for the crack” too. It was a great season for the crew, with lots of effort interspersed with very few rewards other than one particular experience repeated several times during the year. That was of the old boat labouring close hauled in the usual struggle upwind to the first mark, but then bearing off downwind and spreading her wings, boomed out both sides presenting fully 56ft athwartships and leaving the opposition for dead, every time. As the Americans say of their V8s; “there’s no substitute for cubes” (cubic inches of capacity = power) and the same may be said of sail area when it is thus bought to bear.

MAIDIE was back to her latter day Bermudan rig for 2005 and as far as the crew were concerned, the gaff rig was packed away in long term storage, with any luck until her next centenary! The wisdom in maintaining the gaff rig ready for use was however, shortly to be underlined, as rather like Drake’s drum, it was hauled back out to counter an impending disaster.  A week before the biggest regatta of the season, MAIDIE was again dismasted. The boat was racing close hauled on a starboard tack with everyone hiked out on the windward side and everything in pretty much bar tight. Another yacht was ahead but some way to leeward and when it tacked off the lee shore, it momentarily disappeared from sight. The other vessel had tried but failed to bear off and pass behind on port, the rigs touched under great tension and both immediately collapsed. The yachts came to a stop some 100ft apart, connected together by their respective rigs, which lay flat in the water like a pair of broken swans. There was nothing to do but release the rigging and let the whole lot go to the river bed to be retrieved later; Maidie was once more cleared of everything above deck. The gaff rig was however; dusted off and put back on in time for the regatta, actually it looked to the casual bystander to be a matter of principle that she was re-rigged and sailing again within 48 hours of being dismasted.

Inevitably though, attention quickly turned to replacement of the Bermudan rig and this simply had to be in carbon fibre, not least because the existing aluminium extrusion was now obsolete and there was no light enough equivalent available. A crew member at the time was Martin Sellers, who was part of the British Olympic Tornado squad and knew a thing or two about carbon. He in turn approached a colleague working for an Australian carbon manufacturer for advice, and so it was that MAIDIE's new spar came from half way round the world, shipped in pieces encased in plastic sewer pipe for protection. Remarkably, it was cheaper to effect delivery by air than by sea, aboard a 747 specifically designed for freight and able to take a 6m “parcel”, which was the minimum length of the package with the various sections all taped together. For a moment one might muse what Maidies original designer would have made of that, since he was working on her design at the time the Wright brothers took to the air with the first ever powered flight!

The owners assembled the new mast from bare sections of carbon tube in a tiny workshop near the waters edge, the finished spar appearing as an ever extending black growth through a whole in the wall, until fully 65ft long. From there, it was a straight walk with all hands, across the marsh and onto the awaiting boat.

Aside from its comparative lightness in material terms, the big advantage of carbon in this specific application, was that for the same sectional shape as the old aluminium extrusion, it was 40% stronger fore and aft, and 70% athwartships. This increase in strength added a further significant weight saving opportunity, as it enabled the owners to reduce the over burden of rigging and spreaders aloft, that had given the original rig its “Marconi” sobriquet. The new mast configuration is by contrast, clean and uncluttered as well as a lot stronger and lighter, with the reduction in heeling moment allowing more power (sail area) to be applied.

Whereas the last Bermudan rig had been an assembly of different components from other boats (mast from one boat, boom from another and sail plan from yet another), all of which was then altered and adjusted until it worked, there was now an opportunity to rationalise the rig with a properly designed sail plan and integrated equipment. Specifically; a selection of graduated jibs were designed to interact with small graduated reefs in the main, so incremental changes in sail area could be made quickly and efficiently during a race, and on any point of sail. The net result is a much more competitive racing boat and out of a class of 400, MAIDIE remains around 3rd fastest over the water against much newer designs, a remarkable testament to her Edwardian builder.

The total sail area is now a fraction over 1300 sqft, so not far short of the last gaff rig and whilst this is by any standard, a massive amount of power to apply to such a narrow gutted vessel, it is much more manageable and immeasurably more efficient thanks to these modern innovations.

When MAIDIE was restored, if there was a “fault” anywhere in the work, it was that the boat was rebuilt with a lot more structure than she possessed originally, which increased her weight a little. It was however, a conscious effort to ensure longevity, born in no small measure from the experience of returning the boat to her original shape during restoration. When MAIDIE returned to Bermudan rig the second time around, one further consideration in a similar vein, was that the rig should not be left under tension when the boat was not being used. This was not least because, aside from “pulling” the hull around, there is bound to be some “give” in the wooden structure and this would tend to unload the rig from its pre-set adjustment. A hydraulic ram was therefore designed and installed under the mast foot for a single purpose, not to adjust the rig but to release the rig tension entirely between races. The system is non adjustable, it is either on or off and the rig can never be over tensioned in operating it. There is a very limited extent of piston travel (approx 30mm) and the rig is set up with the ram fully extended (ie at the end of its travel), so after racing the valve is unlocked to release all pressure and the shrouds become floppy again.

In her first year with the new carbon rig, MAIDIE sank whilst taking part in a race on Wroxham Broad, when she was hit by a sudden gust estimated at 25 knots. It was July 2008 and although the crew was obviously still getting to grips with the new rig, the incident was less to do with the wind and sail area, but more to do with the free standing area of water the boat was carrying. She had already shipped a significant amount of water, having absorbed a series of knock downs earlier in the race. It would be easy to observe that discretion would have been the better part of valour and that Maidie should have retired, found a quiet corner somewhere and pumped out, but with just 150 yards to the finish line on a 4 mile race, who was going to retire that close to the silverware? The boat was overwhelmed with blue water over the cabin roof and went down in less than a minute, the bottom being found at around 8ft.

MAIDIE was quickly retrieved by the crew when her owner, a fat 50 year old former saturation diver, free-dived into the cabin to release the halyards and drop the sails. He then dived again to the bottom of the Broad to put webbing straps under the hull, brought a Norfolk Wherry alongside, and then lifted the boat with the wherry halyard until the decks were just awash. Pumps then took over and she was back on her moorings no more than 3 hours after she had gone down. Nothing was lost, there was no damage at all and the boat sailed the next day, and won.

From a point of historical interest, MAIDIE was known to have sunk on one other occasion in exactly the same fashion, 100 years previously and remarkably, the owners have a copy of the original bill for recovery, which included hire of a horse and cart! There is commonality in both occasions; MAIDIE has barely 9” of freeboard, she is narrow gutted and is by design, over canvassed to an absurd degree. She was then and she is to this day, and of course this is racing not cruising.

You can see video footage of MAIDIE competing at Wroxham, Oulton and Breydon regattas 2012, here:

Maidie sailed several regattas and celebrated in 2004 her 110th birthday. Here the footage from the 2015 Oulton regatta:

This vessel is a survivor from the First World War. You can read more about her wartime history by visiting our First World War: Britain's Surviving Vessels website



1.      What is the vessel’s ability to demonstrate history in her physical fabric?

Evidence for designs, functions, techniques, processes, styles, customs and habits or uses and associations in relation to events and people.  How early, intact or rare these features are may impact on significance.

MAIDIE was built in 1904 as a gaff rigged racing yacht. Her design was cutting-edge and the history of the vessel is well told through her fabric, especially her rigging. She is significant for the large amount of canvas she carried for her 8 foot beam, originally being launched with 1,250 square foot of sail area, which was quickly modified to give her 1,650 square foot overall. In the 1940s she was converted to a Bermudan sail plan, but in 1981 MAIDIE was dismasted, losing her 40 year old hollow spruce and piano wire mast. She was returned to her original gaff rig although following a further incident the Bermudan rig had to be replaced, this time in carbon fibre.  

In the winter of 1985/6 MAIDIE underwent a full structural rebuild, with all new materials and methods of construction following the original build and specification. All frames were sawn from grown oak bends and the deck was laid with the original “secret nailing” technique. As a result of this work, only the lower planking and part of the deck remains original.  She was also rebuilt with a lot more structure than she originally possessed, which increased her weight. A hydraulic ram was installed under the mast foot to release the rig tension between races.

Her original Edwardian mast, a McGruer hollow rolled spar in excellent condition, was discovered in storage and refitted, but in 1995 MAIDIE was converted to a Bermudan sail plan with the addition of a Marconi rig, although the spar was now aluminium and the sails Terylene. The gaff spars, sails and rigging were kept in preservation, to allow her original rig to be replaced for special occasions such as her centenary year.

2.      What are the vessel’s associational links for which there is no physical evidence?

Associations with people or places.  Off-ship research.

MAIDIE was designed as a fast racing yacht by F.H. Chambers and, as one of the Victorian and Edwardian A&B fleet of “Big Class” Broads racing yachts, has strong regional significance to the Norfolk Broads.  She is unique today as being the sole surviving Broads yacht from the Edwardian era. During her racing career she had a series of well-known and wealthy owners who raced her for prize money. Her career began with victory in her maiden race and she was renowned for having recouped her build costs in her first season. She was owned for three years by Sir Thomas Cook, founder of the travel company.  MAIDIE is representative of social change in Britain during the First World War when professional racing ceased as many of the young men who crewed the yachts joined the services and vessels like MAIDIE were laid up for the duration.  After the war MAIDIE was once more raced for prize money by a string of wealthy owners before being laid up during the Second World War.  Her then owner, Sir William James Mallinson, 2nd Baronet (1879–1944), a Deputy Lieutenant of Essex, died and the vessel was taken on by yachting magnate Herbert Woods, the foremost local exponent of the new “Marconi Rig”. MAIDIE has been recorded on the National Register of Historic Vessels since 2002 and is part of the National Historic Fleet.

3.      How does the vessel’s shape or form combine and contribute to her function?

Overall aesthetic impact of the vessel, her lines, material she was built from and her setting.  Does she remain in her working environment?

The shape and form of MAIDIE were perfectly matched to her function of achieving maximum speed on the waters of the Norfolk Broads. Her freeboard was barely nine inches, she is narrow gutted, and she was at times over-canvassed to an absurd degree. She has great aesthetic appeal and is regarded as a smaller version of the J-class yacht SHAMROCK III. Her fine lines, her faithful conservation and her motion through the water present an elegant and graceful appearance. The retention of her original rig and spars allow her to adopt her original form for special occasions and she continues to be sailed on the Norfolk Boards where she was originally designed to be raced.

Source: NHS-UK team, 23 March 2016. 

This statement was developed as part of the Heritage Lottery funded First World War project.


Key dates

  • 1904

    Vessel built by Ernest Collins & Sons Ltd., Wroxham, Norfolk, and named NATHALIE

  • 1904

    May - Racing career began at Oulton Broad with victory in her maiden race

  • 1910

    Sold to Sir Thomas Cook and name changed to MADGE

  • 1913/1914

    Purchased by Sir William Mallinson and name changed to MADIE

  • 1946

    Converted from original gaff rig to Bermudan rig

  • 1981

    Dismasted in a collision on Wroxham Broad

  • 1984

    Purchased by a syndicate

  • 1984

    Spelling of MADIE was altered to MAIDIE

  • 1985

    Underwent complete rebuild and restoration in her old boat shed at Oulton

  • 2004

    Centenary year marked by re-instating the vessel’s gaff rig

  • 2008

    Sank in Wroxham Broad whilst taking part in a race, but raised by owner

  • 2008

    May - New carbon fibre mast fitted


Classic Boat: Maidie Heaven, December 2004

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