Lady Jane 2007
Thames A Rater: Lady Jane (2007)
Posted by Nick Fribbens, 9th May, 2010
Preparation for this year's Three River's race started in the usual way. Kevin and I reviewed the Broads' tide table as soon as it was available in February. We worked out that it would be full-on spring tides as the race took place on the day of the full moon, although at this stage we didn't know that we wouldn't see the moon or stars. Our strategy depended on the wind strength. We would go to Ludham and South Walsham first, then, if it was windy we would go towards Acle, if there was little wind we would head towards the wilderness that is Hickling Broad first.
In keeping with tradition we broke our mast, as with last year, before we went to Norfolk. This time it happened while sailing in a bit of a breeze at Bourne End week. We were reaching downwind when the gust hit. The mast bowed forward, creaked a bit and carbon fibre burst round the foot under the extreme pressure. Our thanks go to Roland of Kingfisher who helped us make good with an overnight carbon fibre repair, aided by the now obligatory jubilee clips! We were back racing the next day!
We arrived in Horning on Friday and enjoyed a wonderful pre-race meal at Taps restaurant, in the company of the Tara crew and their partners. Normally we are cool, calm and collected on race day. We get inspected first thing then relax. We don't do stress. That is unless we realise that we haven't brought the paddles from Surrey. We were in Wroxham at 9:00 am to buy two new paddles. Nor had we allowed enough time to get us all to the boat to be inspected and we didn't have a torch. We didn't have all necessary kit with us, including Paul's sailing gloves. When we do stress we do it properly! However, our shore party, in the shape of Liz stepped up to the mark and collected Paul and his gloves from the flat with him only having to run half the distance, about a mile! Both Kevin and Paul had torches and we got inspected just in time. Next year we will take our checklist with us!
Our crew this year reverted to its original formation with Kevin helming, Paul on the jib and me as mid hand. Patrick, who at the end of last year's race vowed he would never do it again as he had been completely outside his comfort zone, decided to re challenge himself and formed a crew with Stuart and Negla in Osprey. Four other Raters appeared for the start. These were Martin, Mark and Jamie in Spindrift, David, Karen and John in Tara, Wings and the local boat Bonito.
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The start, Ludham and South Walsham
The winds were a variable force two with the bias on the start line altering every couple of minutes. We elected for a port end start and ended up in the middle of the rater fleet through Horning village. By this time we had begun to catch the fleet ahead of us, although they had started at least 20 minutes before us. Soon we only had Osprey ahead of us with Spindrift hot on our heels. We passed Osprey and held Spindrift off until we did one bad tack to let her through. We remained just behind Spindrift until she pulled away from as we both elected to do the short legs first and turned up the Ant to head for Ludham.
We lost further ground to her going up and down the Ant. Spindrift decided to use one of their secret weapons on the way to South Walsham Broad. Well, that is if you can call a white 350 square foot spinnaker secret! I am sure that we were more pleased with it than they were as we began catching her despite our lack of such a sail. However, after rounding the buoy on the broad and me successfully putting the token in the basket we began to lose ground to them when we got back to the River Bure. Their second secret weapon, the trapeze worked more in their favour than the spinnaker and they were able to leave us as we were overpowered in a couple of gusts. Despite thinking 'heavy' we were overpowered for the only time in the race.
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Acle and Stacey Arms
At Thurne Mouth Spindrift turned left to go to Hickling Broad. We decided that there was sufficient wind for us to go to the Stacey Arms turning point first. At Acle Bridge we dropped the mast without too many hitches, paddled under it, lifted the mast, hoisted the main sail and set off for the Stacey Arms. We asked the guard boat a Stokesby how far to go to the how the turning point. The answer we got was ten minutes sailing time there and ten minutes back. I am not sure what he is used to sailing but it took us a full twenty minutes in each direction and the raters were the fastest boats in the race! We passed a Norfolk punt and Osprey going in the opposite direction before we got to the buoy.
The dropping and raising of the mast went well as we passed back under Acle bridge and we began to chase down the punt and Osprey. We went past Patrick's favourite eel boat and glided past Tall Mill drainage mill which had haunted us for so long last year. We caught up with the punt just after Thurne Mouth and although it could point higher than us it had nowhere near the speed we had and we got through it after half a dozen tacks.
Potter Heigham and beyond
We passed Spindrift going in the opposite direction as she came back from Hickling and began the tacking up towards Potter Heigham. There are two bridges here, one old narrow one and a modern one about 100 metres up stream. We dropped the mast and Paul and I began paddling. Kevin initially aimed for one of the small arches which is about three feet wide and two feet high. When queried he made up some cock and bull story about keeping out of the wind and the tide, before heading for the larger opening.
The paddling against the tide and wind was exhausting. We made it however, moored to avoid being swept and blown backward, as we raised the mast and sails. We set off to Hickling Broad. This is a magnificent wild place. There are reed beds in all directions. The bird life is spectacular, with an almost constant view of harriers hunting, the sound of warblers, together with the odd cuckoo and loads of water fowl. There is very little sign of human activity. It was here that we got Osprey in our sights. We did not know it, but Negla was having a 'Patrick' moment. The kind of ‘where are we, how do we get out of here, what happens if anything goes wrong’ etc type of moment, girls, both of them! At the buoy at the top of the broad we were just seven minutes behind Osprey.
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We came out of the broad we passed the punt entering the broad and it was an hour's sailing behind us by now. Then it disappeared, as did everything else behind us! A mist was blowing in off the North Sea. It may well have been a full moon, but we didn't see it. The water was flat without any sign of ripples and we feared that the mist would kill the wind. However the wind held and balls of mist guided us to where the most pressure was. We caught Osprey and over took her before turning back into the River Bure on our way home to Horning. We had come all this way to race and the most joyful feeling we had was the one that we were on our way home! Where was Spindrift, ahead or behind? Then our race changed. The guard boat told us that we were the first boat to pass them on the way back to Horning. We were in the lead! Osprey disappeared in the mist behind us and then went into South Walsham Broad. She had got ahead of us by missing out this leg on the outward journey.
I kept peering into the mist behind us, expecting to see Spindrift bearing down on us. The guard boats would tell Spindrift how far ahead of them we were, but they could not tell us how far ahead of Spindrift we were. This wasn't fair! Every time the wind dropped I was sure it was going to die. I soooo wanted to paddle! Stress twice in one day just isn't on! Our nerve held and we kept moving all the time. The visibility was down to less than 50 metres and we tried to call the bends in the river and if they were to the left or to the right. I was amazed at many twists and turns I could remember. Those that I didn't know Paul was able to call. The wind held through Horning village and we crossed the finish line first at 11:20.
Spindrift came in 50 minutes later and we were one hour forty five minutes ahead of the punt in an eleven hour race. This wasn't enough though and the punt beat us on handicap by seventeen minutes, so we were first on the water and second overall!
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