Sailing Cruiser: Imagination (2009)
Posted by Ian Ruston, 4thFebruary, 2010
Before the start
Got up early and had breakfast of toast and marmalade - I had made a list of things to take and loaded the car, 3 life jackets (one in case of accidental inflation), a spare paddle, a cool box with cheese and some ham rolls, milk, 3 x 1.5l bottles of flavoured water, suntan lotion, hat, sunglasses, spare clothing, waterproof clothing, the list seemed endless. Text Greg to say I am en route and off to Horning. I found Greg moored by the Swan pub with the boat moored up on its own, with boats nearby all being tied up at least 4 deep, strange. All the gear transferred and the car parked. First job was to modify the nav light mounts, the genoa fouled the mounting positions so off they came. Cable ties to the rescue and they would be fitted later when it went dark.
Then booking in, forms handed over and we were no 128. All the papers stowed on the boat and then the official briefing, it took a long while and we heard some words from quite a few people but the important information came in about two minutes at the end, the weather and where we were going to on the lower leg of the race, Stracey Arms.
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Back to the boat, up with the sails and off past the start line where we nosed the boat into the side, our start was 12:15 more than an hour away. We had a drink and admired all the boats tacking back and forth waiting for their start to arrive. The broads cruisers were putting up colossal amounts of sail very high up to catch the winds above the trees and looked very impressive.
At last our time came and we pushed off, a few runs up and down and we made a reasonable start. The run through Horning was very crowded and there were some very close manoeuvres. I found the big bow sprits a few inches away very intimidating! We overtook a few boats that had set off 5 mins before us so weren't doing too badly but were left behind by a couple of boats.
The genoa could catch more wind but it wasn't sheeted properly so the boat would not point as close to the wind as it should. We later discovered a way of sheeting the sail inside the shrouds and it worked much better then. One phrase I seem to remember trying to lightly counter was "This is an absolute disaster!!!" most times when we tacked. (I still think the genoa was a good idea - although it does need sorting so the boat will 'point' better - and perhaps a little change of technique.)
Eventually we made our way out of the fluky winds and the wind picked up. We were doing well, until Ant mouth just after the first guard boat. We went for a tack but the genoa had been banging against the shroud fitting and had managed to undo the knot. We couldn't tack and we were against the reeds. Greg tried to fix the knot quickly but we were quickly aground on a lee shore in the reeds. That gave time to effect a proper retie of the knots but we had to get off. Out with the mud weight, throw it as far from the bank as possible and I pulled on the rope attached to get the bows into the wind while Greg got the boat sailing again - phew.
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We sailed into the river Ant and only a short distance in, were rammed by a hire cruiser coming the opposite way. It tried to pass between our port side and the bank where there was no room but instead of slowing and waiting opened its throttles and forced its way through. Sailing up to the mark at Ludham was refreshingly easy, much fewer boats, the wind on our beam so no more tacking. In a few moments we were at the guard boat and shouting 128 before a return sail back to Ant mouth.
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Left, out of the Ant and only a short distance before a right towards S Walsham broad. Another easy sail along the river with the wind again mainly on our beam. Then the guard boat and this time a trick manoeuvre to drop a token into the basket on the buoy. I had the helm and guided the boat, keeping the buoy to starboard while Greg leant out and dropped the token in the basket. I wonder how many miss? Another easy sail saw us back on the Bure heading for Potter Heigham.
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Hickling via Potter
No trees so a fair bit of wind. We tacked our way up the Bure and then left at Thurne mouth past another guard boat and into the river Thurne. We made steady progress until we got between the buildings at Potter, then we slowed. There were a lot of boats, many were hire cruisers, all battling for small expanses of water. As we approached the bridge we saw it covered with spectators all watching the spectacle. I had the helm and - oops - ran into the back of a big cruiser that had stopped to decide which gap to try for, it was so close I couldn't stop! The woman in the cockpit gave me a look that could have turned me to stone! Then past that boat and we made for the right hand bank. We both went to the tasks we each had, to drop sail and down it came, unfortunately Greg cut his finger on some sharp bit of rigging, so I gave him my recently washed handkerchief to stem the blood (it makes a mess of the nice white sails). We were off, paddling for the bridge, there were boats going in both directions under the bridge with cruisers and day boats adding to the mayhem but we made it through. Then it was the long paddle to the next bridge, moor up, raise sail and away. To add to the task Greg changed to the smaller jib, much easier to manage but not as much power. So off we romped. Most of the journey went fine but just before Hickling the trees cover both sides of the river and it was very slow going. A GP14 that had been with us for some time really lost forward motion at this point.
It's at this point I feel I must mention coffee. Greg went below and made coffee on the way to S Walsham on the Bure and again at later times. At the time he put the very hot coffee into insulated mugs with lids designed to stop most spills. As it was hot, I had to put the coffee down prior to tacking. The flailing sheets with a figure of eight knot on the end knocked my first coffee over and spilt most in the cockpit. Greg's drink went over due to the amount of heel first and later with the sheets. I managed to drink very little coffee in the early stages of the race when the wind was up. TIP - don't put sugar in coffee, your feet will stick to the cockpit floor afterwards!
Out onto Hickling Broad was a delight, a steady wind and open water, but where was the guard boat and the mark? I eventually spotted it at the far end of the broad and later was able to make out the mark. Again it was my task to round the mark while Greg dropped the token in, there were a lot of tokens in the basket! Back again with a steady wind. Greg remarked that it did not feel like the 15mph forecast but a look at the wind farm blades going round on the horizon confirmed the forecast. We passed the GP 14 almost where we had left it struggling to make any forward motion. Back to Potter and sails down as before, the crowds had gone now and it was going dark so we fitted the navigation lights before sailing on. As we did a hail from the bank and the skipper of an Enterprise that Greg had shadowed at Stokesby last year told us he was now retired due to damage inflicted by a bigger sail cruiser. A short time later we came across a Flying Dutchman moored with two people on the bank. It was now dark. We had a conversation, where the skipper explained that one of his crew had mutinied and he had to retire, as you have to finish with the same crew - a sad end.
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The Final Mark
Greg called out our number to the guard boat at the Thurne mouth and we slipped into the Bure. This is a very wide river at this point and although the wind had dropped, we were making steady progress with few tacks needed. Greg went below and was soon breathing very deeply - asleep? I passed a number of boats going the opposite way. A 'hello' was exchanged a few times with crew members I could not see, despite a half moon giving some light in the completely clear sky. Eventually I spotted the guard boat at Acle and woke Greg. There were quite a few boats raising or lowering masts so we found a space and I steered us in, while Greg tied us up. Down came the mast again. I had put on my LED headlight which was excellent at illuminating exactly the thing you were looking at, a really worthwhile bit of kit. Under the bridge, up went the mast and we pushed off, and stopped. We were in the winds shadow and Greg was getting very concerned that we would drift into the bridge but after a few anxious minutes a whisper of wind had us going ahead, phew!
The wind had almost died away completely and we came across a part of the river surrounded with trees casting shadows hiding almost everything. Total silence. We could see nav lights and initially couldn't work out what was happening. As we got closer all the boats were stationary against the banks. None could make headway against the tide with almost no wind and it had become a graveyard of boats, again we exchanged pleasantries with disembodied voices. Unreal.
In the distance we saw what looked like a fairground lit up. As we got closer it morphed into a pub, the Ferry, at Stokesby. Such a bright landmark visible for miles in the blackness now the moon had set. The guard boat was moored right outside. Onward into the gloom until the Stracey Arms guard boat and the mark with a small marker light atop it. They said they were waiting for only one more boat! 2am and now the journey home started. We came across a cruiser, Violet, stuck in the bank. A crew member related how they had lost their quant pole overboard and another competitor had snatched it and made off with it and could we report their problem to the next guard boat. By now the sun was starting to have an effect and although not sunrise, light levels were rising. Violet came past us a little later with mast lowered under power, now retired.
The sun came up and we were still making little headway in the mist when the wind started to return. Speed increased all the way up the Bure, until Thurne mouth, now with the wind behind us. Now we were moving well! Then we were back into the trees. We ran aground on some logs at the side where someone had cleared a few trees and disposed of their trunks in the water! Quickly up with the centreboard and we were off again. Then came the buildings, it seemed to take forever through Horning village. We crossed the line to finish at 0903. I wouldn't turn the boat round until we had passed the marker on the port-side shore, as it was a diagonal finish line and did not want any issues of not having properly crossed it. Then around we came and moored exactly where the boat had been the day before, with cruisers moored four abreast with us directly against the bank, strange.
I stepped ashore, my legs wouldn't work properly, my brain telling me that the ground was moving. This feeling lasted several hours. We went to race control and handed in the race card. We were issued with tokens for a cooked breakfast each, very welcome indeed, with a coffee that didn't fall over. I made some toast while Greg made and received lots of text messages.
Then it was back to the boat, unload and put the kit into my car, back home, a really welcome shower and four hours of much needed sleep.
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