Archive | December, 2016

SEA HARMONY, Suffling and Woods History

8 Dec



When I became keeper of the 33′ Albert Strange yawl SEA HARMONY in 1999 I tried to find what I could about the Sufflings and Ernest Woods, as well as becoming increasingly interested in Albert Strange.  While personal information about Albert Strange comes mostly through a few photographs and knowledge of his associates, friends and family, his writings, paintings, and boat designs demonstrate his knowledge, skill, and accomplishments.  I say “increasing interest” because the more I have sailed Sea Harmony the more I have been impressed with her capabilities and the thought that went into her design.  Strange drew the lines for Venture and the sail plan in 1917 and died before completing any other elements of the design.

The story of the development of this design that I got with the boat was that the Suffling brothers, H. J. and N. R., had been cruising in company in smaller Harrison Butler boats and had ideas about a boat in which they could cruise together.  They began a dialog with Butler in Yachting Monthly into which Strange entered.  Butler suggested that the Sufflings get Strange to refine and complete their plan, which they did, with Strange completing what he did of the Venture design, at which point the Sufflings took over the story.

The bones of my reading of Venture’s story is that H. J. Suffling (who’s sketched lines for Venture were given to Strange) had VENTURE built in 1920, their new venture.  In 1922 N. R. Suffling had CHARM, a 33′ enlargement of Venture, built by E. L. Woods, charmed by Venture but wanting to cruise with more than just the two of them.  In 1925 Woods built a 40′ enlargement of Venture, Charm II, still charmed by their venture but wanting even more crew capacity.  In 1937, N. A. Suffling, who turns out to be son to one of the earlier Suffling brothers, had E. L. Woods build SEA HARMONY, going back to the 33′ length he knew to be harmonious in the seaway.

The Sufflings were described as timber merchants as well as serious cruisers, explaining the quality of materials in the Suffling boats, but barely.  That’s all I knew so I started looking on the internet and saw fishing, not timber.  I looked for people.  If you Google [Suffling] you will come up with many items on Canadian forestry and ecology carrying the name Roger Suffling.  I sent him an email.  He had no knowledge of the Great Yarmouth Sufflings but he had interesting input, saying that being fish dealers and fishing boat owners the need of fish boxes put you in the timber business.

Ernest Woods part in this story had it’s own mystery.  The Charms were built at Cantley on the Yare.  Woods built Sea Harmony at Horning on the Bure 12 years after Charm II, and mention of this change occasioned the comment, “Did he move?” as though this was unlikely and there was some mistake.  Over the years that I have sailed Sea Harmony I have periodically searched for more information and recently these questions have arisen again leading to yet more searching, and more answers.  On the Ernest Woods side, I found
“Around 1927 Ernest Woods followed the yachting to the North River and moved his yard to the outskirts of Horning.”  Simple.  Not the move I am sure, but it accounts for the change of location.

In 1909 and 1917, Yachting Monthly published designs for yawls, 34′ and 28′, by H. J. Suffling.  I suspect the 28’er of 1917 was the draft Albert Strange started with in designing the 29′ Venture.  In the website for the restoration on the yacht MEMORY [] I find this information from the Harrison Butler Association:

“1912 built by Ernest Woods of Cantley, Norfolk for H J Suffling Esq. of Marine Parade North, Great Yarmouth.  A member of the Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club and Great Yarmouth Sailing Club.”

I might wonder why, with this previous experience of working with Ernest Woods, H. J. (I have yet to find the names behind the initials) had VENTURE built by A. Wooden at Oulton Broad, maybe proximity to Lowestoft.  Not only don’t I know H. J.’s names, I don’t know when he was born.  In the 1871 census the father, Norford Suffling, auctioneer and fish seller, was 38 (born 1833) and Norford Reeve Suffling(N. R.) was 4 (born 1867).  I presume H. J. was not yet born.  In 1904 Norford Suffling (the father presumably?) was an Alderman member of the council of Great Yarmouth.  Something I saw today said in 1909 N. R. tried unsuccessfully to sell 6 fishing trawlers.  There is a vessel most recently known as GRETHE WITTING built at Lowestoft in 1914 as the Norford Suffling, a steam drifter, after WWII she became a sailing vessel most recently doing luxury charters in the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean until caught in a Romanian legal tangle, sunk through neglect, raised but essentially destroyed — presumably she was built for the Suffling family fishing business.

So, Norford Reeve Suffling had CHARM built by Ernest Woods in 1922, at Cantley.  Following their first cruise in CHARM, N.R. wrote a description for Yachting Monthly.  First he gives a description of CHARM, then a paragraph on VENTURE, built for his brother in 1919 which they cruised in 1920 and 1921.  “She (VENTURE) was quite large enough for two, but when a nephew left the Air Force and my son the Navy we needed a larger boat.  We were so surprised at the fine sea qualities of little Venture that I decided I could not do better than build from the same design, increasing the size to six tons.”  For the cruise “Lowestoft to Falmouth and Back in a 6-tonner” the crew was his brother, his nephew, and himself.

CHARM II (40′ expansion of Venture) is described as built for “Suffling and Partners”.  More mysteries, but on to SEA HARMONY starting with another mystery only partly solved.  In some previous writings I have seen the “N. A.” of N. A. Suffling questioned as an error but I now know that Norford Arthur Suffling had E. L. Woods build SEA HARMONY at his yard in Horning.  I also know that N. A. was son to one of the earlier Suffling brothers, I just don’t know which one.  It would be nice in some ways to think him H. J.’s son, crew with his father on that first CHARMing cruise.

A few years ago I got an email from a Scottish engineer asking if my Sea Harmony was the Sea Harmony his father in law had known out of Great Yarmouth when he was a teenager.  The father in law was having memory problems, but had fond memories of sailing in SEA HARMONY with his friend and his friend’s father, N. A. Suffling who had had SEA HARMONY built.  This information also had the sad note that the father had died quanting SEA HARMONY in the Broads.  I do wonder and suspect that the boys were aboard on that occasion.  The death of her husband broke the wife’s heart and she sold the boat.  Internet search finally, today, brought up the date of Norford Arthur Suffling’s death in the records of the steam drift trawler YOUNG JACOB YH68 of which he was part owner, August 13, 1953.

The 1958 Lloyds Register of Yachts lists the owner of SEA HARMONY as R. W. Hurst, kept at Chichester, having had a Stuart Turner petrol engine installed in 1954.  This fits the sale of the boat after August 1953.  When Lad Lavichka and Paul Jones bought SEA HARMONY in 1974 she was at Chichester owned by Mr. Hurst, a London lawyer who was said to have cruised SEA HARMONY with his wife to France for 2 weeks every summer.

That pretty well covers what I know of the history of SEA HARMONY up to 1974, when she was sailed away from England for her American sojourn.