Lady Jane 2006
Thames A Rater: Lady Jane (2006)
Posted by Nick Fribbens, 9thMay, 2010
The crew of Lady Jane had an early casualty as our helm Kevin was withdrawn, under protest, by the ultimate authority, Sally. He was commanded to be in attendance and to undertake driving of a different sort, chauffeuring. So the hunt for a third member got underway. Miles accepted the invitation, but withdrew at the last minute with some feeble excuse of flying back into the country from the USA on Saturday and would probably be tired. We didn’t bung Tim enough beer to prise him from glory hunting with Martin, so Paul and I decided to share the driving (more of that later) while Patrick was sufficiently lubricated to accept the offer to join the crew.
We broke with tradition this year by breaking the mast before we got to Horning. Five days before in fact. We did a bit of tree surgery at Bourne End and broke our diamonds. We are thankful to Stuart for designing the repair to the diamonds with a mixture of metal tubing and jubilee clips. And now to the event itself ….
It started on a cracking day, sun, clear skies and a ‘bit of a breeze’. Four raters were taking part, Spindrift with a crew of Martin, Mark and Tim; Tara, crewed by David Frost, a friend of David’s and Karen and the local rater, Bonitto.
The start was at 12.35 and we kept Spindrift in our sights up until just before the river Ant. There was no sunken Reedling keelboat to see this year as its helmsman had been placed on a cruiser for his own safety, while his sister and her husband took the Reedling.
Ant and Fleet Dyke
We followed Martin’s route and went up the Ant to the turning point just below Ludham bridge and then onto South Walsham broad, being hotly pursued by Tara. Going up and down these narrow rivers and dykes is interesting to say the least, as they are considerably less than two boat lengths in width. This was compounded as the wind was building and there was a considerable amount of race traffic to either pass or avoid. Added to this was the fact that this was the first time that I had helmed Lady Jane this year. Very interesting! I really enjoyed it, despite my heart racing for about 45 minutes!
When we got back on the river Bure we ran down to Thurne mouth, with the only the minor panic occurring when we gybed with the back stay on! Our planned route was to go to Hickling and then down to Acle. As we entered the river Thurne I handed Paul the tiller. After two tacks he wisely handed it back as he felt uncomfortable in the now stiff breeze. At one stage our centre board got stuck in the river bed. Paul and Patrick leapt into the shallow water to push us off. Well it looked shallow until Patrick went in up to his armpits and began to sink into the soft peat. I was about to help but told firmly that someone needed to stay in the boat. I didn’t argue. With a quick shove we were off again, as Paul and Patrick scrambled into the boat. We often felt our centreboard ploughing a furrow in the silt, even in the rivers and channels. As we approached Potter Heigham bridges we had our first gear failure. One of the screws holding our brand new Harken jib track gave way and the track bent. Luckily we were on a broad reach and we planed the last part under main alone, while Patrick and Paul valiantly tried to move the jib car back into a stronger position.
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We moored and dropped the mast without incident. The jib track was nearly straightened, the car moved and successfully jury rigged. We paddled uneventfully between the bridges and then tried to raise the mast. We had left the jib attached, which with hindsight was a mistake as the windage it created made it almost impossible to raise the mast. This was exacerbated by not having a tight enough piece of elastic to keep the luff of the jib directly in line with the mast. This caused the jib to keep filling and pulling the mast backwards. After an exhausting time we raised the mast, hoisted the main and set off for Hickling. Unbeknown at this time one of the runners had come off!
Hickling and back
We tacked up to Hickling broad in increasingly heavy weather. It was basically survival conditions and we were over taken, all be it over about two miles, by a Yare and Bure One design. This was able stay on each tack longer due to its shallower draught. The official report, well that in the local newspaper, was that the winds were approaching force 4 on Hickling Broad. Well there were white horses of not inconsiderable size and if that is force 4 their anemometer needs oiling! On the river bank dogs were being blown off leads.
We rounded the mark at the top of the broad and Paul threw in our token into the bucket, only for it to bounce out! The reach back was spectacular. Fortunately we were on the tack where we had the one good runner. While the beat up to the mark had taken forever it took eight minutes to get back. As we left the broad there was an increasing amount of traffic and we had the interesting hail of ‘port to port’ by a small motor boat as I desperately tried to avoid it. We were too polite to give the standard Paul Browning reply to a hail.
We moored at Potter Heigham bridges to drop the main, jib and mast. While this was slow it gave us a chance to sort ourselves out. We put the runner back and heaved a great sigh of relief. As we raised the mast the rope forestay we were using to hoist the mast up broke, so we had to use brute strength to get it up. This we managed and we set off towards Acle.
Acle and beyond
The reach/run after Thurne mouth along a wide stretch of river called New Cut was fast and fun, although we weren’t looking forward to the beat back. The drop and raise at Acle bridge went well and we sped down to the Stacey Arms. We were in such good spirits that we allowed Patrick to call out our entry number to the guard boats. This was a mistake. Unfortunately his northern diction was not always understood by the guard boats, with 47 being mistaken as 37. Perhaps it was the guard’s ears that were at fault.
The rounding of the lower mark went smoothly and we set off on our journey home at 19:05. If all went well we would be home before lighting up time at 21:00. The drop and raise at Acle went really well but the wind began to drop. Hopes of having a beer before closing time remained. Then the wind stopped completely and we began to drift backwards with the tide, so we moored up by a pretty brick cottage. At which point the owner came out with her two dogs. Patrick immediately engaged her in pleasant conversation. Such was his charm that she even offered us coffee, wine or beer, but as we were racing we declined the outside assistance. However, Patrick was enjoying his moment of triumph and she showed him her eel boat! Luckily the wind picked up and we were able to drag Patrick away before anything untoward happened.
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The zephyr held for about half an hour before dying and we returned to the bank to moor. This became the pattern throughout the night, with zephyrs coming about every half hour and lasting about half an hour. That is until we reached Tall Mill Drainage Mill. We went past it at least four times before the wind dropped and we drifted backwards past it on the tide. It took us hours to get past it, let alone get it out of sight.
We managed to get to Thurne mouth and then moored in the company of river cruisers, keel boats and a merlin rocket until the dawn brought a light wind that we managed to use to creep back to Horning.
Just before the village we saw Tara ahead of us, having chosen to go to Acle before Hickling. She was in our sights, or so we thought, until she went round a bend and disappeared. We crossed the finishing line fifth at 8:22. In front of us were two Norfolk punts and Spindrift who had all finished the night before while Tara finished some minutes in front of us, making us fifth on the water.
Horning SC provided us with a full cooked breakfast before we went back to our hotel for a couple of hours sleep. We returned to get the boats out of the water, drop their masts and pack them up. Luckily Tara had over catered and we spent most of the time munching their leftovers, so a big thank you to David and Pauline.
The drive home was uneventful.
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