An angler has described the eerie moment he found the deserted boat of a missing 65-year-old man, with a plate of food set on the table.

Jim Butcher spotted David Cubberley's 20ft cabin cruiser drifting in the reeds in Candle Dyke, just off Hickling Broad, while on a fishing trip.

Mr Butcher, who was in his own boat with his son and brother-in-law, raised the alarm after finding the abandoned vessel in an extremely remote area of the broads on Saturday.

The discovery sparked a huge search operation which was continuing today.

The fisherman, who lives in Hickling and knew Mr Cubberley, said: "We pulled alongside and looked through the open middle cockpit as the canvas door was flapping around in the wind. There was food on the table. Strangely it was onions".

North Norfolk News: Police and search and rescue crews search of David Cubberley's boatPolice and search and rescue crews search of David Cubberley's boat (Image: Sonya Duncan)

Mr Butcher added: “I knew of David and his story. I knew he was in a bit of trouble in life.

“We went past his boat in the morning and clocked it was in the reeds and thought it was strange.

“We didn’t think much of it until we came back at about 2pm to move to a different fishing location and it had moved 100 yards up the reeds. 

“It was in a new reed bank which was built a few years ago in Heigham Sound [a stretch of water off Hickling Broad]. 

“We noticed it had no ropes or anything attached and it was just adrift. 

“The wind and tide was pushing it into the reeds and it was following the reed line along.”

North Norfolk News: David Cubberley's boat at Potter HeighamDavid Cubberley's boat at Potter Heigham (Image: Sonya Duncan)

Mr Cubberley’s boat - a Weston 670 cabin cruiser - was previously moored at Hickling’s Pleasure Boat Staithe, but locals said he moved it to the more remote Candle Dyke - which links Hickling Broad to Heigham Sound and the River Thurne - around six weeks ago.

“We went to have a look and it was deserted,” Mr Butcher said. 

“We didn’t physically get inside but I went alongside it and looked inside both cabins and it was an awful mess. 

“We put a mudweight down to secure it and I then contacted my neighbour as a few people in the village had helped him out when he was moored on the staithe at Hickling where I live. 

“I thought it was strange because there was no way of getting off the boat at that point. It was completely deserted, although there was fresh food in there and a few bits on the table. 

“It was a completely isolated bit of reed bed.”

North Norfolk News: David CubberleyDavid Cubberley (Image: Norfolk Police)

Mr Butcher contacted the Broads Authority control room to make staff aware of the location of the boat, Fun 4 Us 2.

“In the evening after getting back from fishing the police asked me to go to Martham staithe to help identify where the boat was because I had a drone up that night,” Mr Butcher said.

“We couldn’t see it on the drone. At around 8.30pm I received another call to go back out on my boat to identify where it was. The boat was gone. 

“What had happened was I believe the pilot or the boatman at Potter Heigham had heard about it being adrift and had gone and fetched it to take it to Potter Heigham.

“That’s why it was no longer where I had secured it.”

North Norfolk News: The search has entered its third dayThe search has entered its third day (Image: Sonya Duncan)

Mr Cubberley’s boat remains at Potter Heigham where it is being searched by police and search and rescue crews.

Police have said that the last sighting of Mr Cubberley was on February 11, a week before his boat was found, on Saturday.

A few hours before the boat was discovered, his dog was found wandering on nearby land by a member of the public. The animal has been taken to a vet.

Police have said there is a "real possibility" that the missing man has entered the water.