Lady Jane 2008
Thames A Rater: Lady Jane (2008)
Posted by Nick Fribbens, 9th May, 2010
Well, this year’s Three Rivers race started off more calmly than last year’s. We had learnt our lesson from last year about lack of preparation and arrived a day early, together with all of the additional equipment required for the race, including cosmetics, for the first time. We had our now traditional meal in Taps with the crew of Tara and had a good night’s sleep in the Ferry Marina apartments.
There was a change of crew this year, as Mel had joined our syndicate and ousted Paul Armitage as jib hand. She had spent the last six months being both excited and daunted by the race. By Friday night the excitement had given way to abject fear! We naturally encouraged her, ensuring that she had everything that she needed, while suggested a few additional items! She went white when she was told that she needed a spare pair of sailing boots, in case she lost one or more in the mud, while pushing the boat out of the reeds. After recognising that she was so gullible we decided not to play on her sensitivities; much.
The race started well for us, as we came in from the windward side of the line, gybed round with speed just as the gun went to lead the other five raters across the line and round the first bend. Despite being on a run we kept our lead all the way through Horning village and for the first half hour of the race. We were three meters from the bank when we ran aground. We pushed off, the boots stayed on, but the other raters were closing on us and our 200m lead was fast disappearing. Then we ran aground again. This time is was because we pushed onto the bank by an indeterminable dinghy, probably a wayfarer, leader or kestrel. This time both Osprey and Spindrift went past us.
We followed them down the Bure. Spindrift opted not to go up the Ant, too much traffic, bless, and sailed on towards Thurne. We followed Osprey up the now crowded Ant towards Ludham Bridge. This turned out to be a beat, which became exceedingly interesting as the river is only as wide as one and a half raters and there were numerous other half deckers beating in front of us, completely blocking the river. Fortunately gaps miraculously appeared between them when needed and we got through without any incidents. Going up and down the Ant took us 15 minutes! South Walsham Broad was next. The lead in to it was surprisingly easy, without too many dead patches. Hand – eye coordination was good as we rounded the mark and I slam dunked the token in the basket and we sped on towards Thurne Mouth. We arrived at Thurne Mouth two hours after the start, which was considerably faster than previous years. Here we stuck tour game plan and went south towards the Stacey Arms.
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As we approached the bridge we saw Osprey in a strange position. She had apparently decided not to take the mast down to negotiate the obstacle. However, the crew panicked at the last minute and leapt into the water just as the helm decided it wasn’t such a good idea and spun the boat round.
Then it all went horribly wrong for us. I didn’t throw the main halyard over the side; the mainsail was difficult to drop. We moored, finished dropping the main and dropped the mast, promptly loosing the burgee in the process. We cast off only to find that we were approaching the bridge stern first. Momentarily we turned adversity into triumph by paddling backwards through the bridge.
The problems took on a Graham Bartholomewesque nature, that is they resurfaced. The mast was difficult to raise, as we had a shroud caught around the tiller. The tiller proved to be the weaker and promptly broke. There were problems raising the mainsail, the halyard was catching at the top of the mast. By careening the boat we were able to unjam the main halyard. We hoisted the sail, lashed the broken tiller to the stock and sailed off towards Stacey.
The journey to and from the lower buoy was uneventful, so much so that we were able to have a bite to eat and Melanie was able to apply some ‘lippy’. As we approach the bridge from the downstream side the main got stuck again. We freed it by reattaching the cunningham and pulling down. This worked, but we got ourselves in an awful muddle as we reversed out from the shore towards Tara, mast to mast. Fortunately we avoided a tangle, paddled through the bridge, raised the mast, hoisted the sails, applied ‘lippy’ and headed towards Hickling. Two Norfolk punts were in hot pursuit. They could point significantly higher than us, barely having to tack to get up the river.
At Thurne Mouth we came across three wherries, Hathor, White Moth and Albion. I have never seen three wherries together before. Albion was taking up two thirds of the river. Somehow Kevin squeezed past her and we pulled away from the punts as we went from a beat to a fetch.
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The second highlight of the day took place as we approached Potter Heigham bridge. The main slid down beautifully, the mast was dropped with aplomb and we had forward motion as we began paddling. But as with the start, it would all go wrong.
The main would not go up the final 30cm, it would not come down either. It was totally stuck! After struggling for a few minutes we decided to sail on with it as it was. This had the effect of lowering the boom at the outboard end, destroying the sail shape and rendering the kicking strap useless. This was not a quick set up, especially when we tried to beat up the channel on Hickling broad. It was here that two punts came past us.
We rounded mark, managed a second slam dunk with the token and headed back towards Heigham Potter bridges. The only way to get the sail down was to careen the boat again. The halyard was wedged tightly beside the mast head sheave. We didn’t have a knife to cut the halyard, we couldn’t unjam the halyard. After a lot of faffing Kevin and I sent the only practising diver on our boat into the water to release the cunningham. Fortunately Melanie only had to go in up to her chest! With the cunningham released we could pull the sail up by hand, release the tension on the halyard and release the halyard.
The boat was righted, but we struggled to get off the lee shore. The only way to get the boat off the shore was to get Kevin to push us out, but this resulted in us leaving him ashore as we paddled under the first bridge. Kevin was retrieved and we paddled under the second bridge. We moored and started to raise the mast. It got to about 30 degrees then stopped. We had caught the tiller again. With the shroud freed we pushed again, only to find that a runner was under the boat and wrapped firmed around the rudder. The rudder wouldn’t come out as the lashing we had used was the stern painter and still attached to the stern. The solution was actually quite simple; we didn’t even need a diver! We undid the rope from the runner and it immediately sank and freed itself. The mast went up! We careened Lady Jane again and pulled the sail up by hand before tying it to the mast head.
We righted the boat, applied ‘lippy’, well only one of us did and headed for home just as Tara came through the bridge. The sail home was without further incident. The temperature dropped markedly at about 6:30 and we donned warmer clothing. We were lucky enough to see two tawny owls and a barn owl. As we came to Horning we caught up with the punts, but weren’t able to overtake them.
On the drive home we avoided the house opposite with the mast, but caught the trailer mud guard on a bollard. This caused the mud guard to rub on the wheel. Luckily we have enough tools between us to remove the mud guard and straighten it sufficiently to give greater clearance than it had on the way up to Norfolk.
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