Lady Jane 2009
Thames A Rater: Lady Jane (2009)
Posted by Nick Fribbens, 9thMay, 2010
The Three Rivers race starts in about October for me as we put the boats away and start thinking about the next season. It is at this time when I work out the tide conditions for the race, store them safely on my laptop and forget all about them. There was a record entry of 135 boats this year, five of which were raters, Spindrift, Osprey, Lady Jane, Bonito and Tara. For the first time in our adventures we had the same crew as last year, Kevin, Mel and I.
The drive to Horning was a nightmare, taking Liz and I taking five hours. Kevin and Mel went via Bury St Edmunds, while Liz and I went via Brandon. The last bit of A11 dual carriage way can’t come soon enough! I usually get to Norwich in under three hours when I go up to watch the football. We also made a slight detour to buy some navigation lights and a proper green flag on the way through Hoveton, from Jeckells.
Having left early we still had plenty of time to put the mast up, prepare the boat and stow all our spare equipment away. I used my local contacts to talk to last year’s winner, her husband, her children, her mum, her mum’s friend and her mum’s friend’s dog. I didn’t manage to glean any useful information apart from who in the family was sailing with who, against whom, which I must admit baffled me. Far too incestuous! We had a brief debate about when to go to Ludham Bridge and South Walsham broad. “Shall we leave the dykes until last?” “No”. Decision made!
We had the usual pre race meal in Taps with the Tara crew and assorted other halves in the shape of Jackie, Alison and Paul, who was on loan to Osprey this year. The remainder of the Osprey crew arrived about an hour after we had started eating, ignored us and sat on a table with Mr Dunn major. They missed out on our usual banter and good spirits, not to mention a few bottles of well chosen wine by David.
We learnt that some people hadn’t booked any accommodation, so we kindly let an assortment of vagrants, bog trotters and people from Ashtead to sleep on our floor. However, Dunn minor decided that there was a limit to our hospitality when he woke himself up snoring and graciously retired to his car!
We woke up to find Mel in the zone. Not sure which zone in time and space it was, but she hardly said a word, made eye contact or ate breakfast. Perhaps this was our lucky day? It took a real piece of ingenuity to bring her back in the race from wherever she was, it wasn’t pleasant, it was noisy, but more of that later.
We went for a quick sail before the start to test our new rig set up. We thought that we weren’t pointing high enough at Bourne End, so we raked the mast back and moved the jib tracks forward. It was fantastic going up to Black Horse broad and being the only boat on it. The rig looked good so we sailed back to Horning sailing club to hear the briefing and watch the earlier starts.
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The rater start was won by us, with Bonito a close second, however, she tacked first to take the lead into ‘the Street’. Tara had retired to the shore to make amendments to her mainsail with had been troublesome for some time. We stared with awe and some humility as Spindrift delayed tacking and cut the corner opposite the club. We watched her run aground, as we knew from last year’s finish that the corner is shallow, but our humility was soon replaced by other less generous emotions!
Lady Jane shot past Bonito and were amused to hear the helmsman grumble, “we’ve got to work this boat as a team”. What else does one do?
Up the Ant and down to South Walsham
We lead the raters to the Ant, with Spindrift and Osprey in hot pursuit. However, as we arrived at the Ant Osprey didn’t have a clew! They had a cringle attached to the boom, but no clew. This was the last we saw of them until we crossed between Thurne Mouth and Potter Heigham Bridge. We later learnt that they poked a hole through their sail, tied it to the boom and were able to complete the race!
Spindrift sneaked past us on the way out of South Walsham Broad and gradually began pulling away. We clawed some time back by shooting the Bridge while the Spindrift lightweights, despite having Mark ‘the weight’ Staite on board, made for the shore in order to drop their mast. They saw us coming, abandoned their pursuit of a cup of tea and got on with the race.
Again they pulled away and lead round the lower buoy the Stracey Arms. However, they were the only team to wimp out of the gybe and tack round the mark. The rest of us gybed round it in the proper seaman like fashion. At last we had put the majority of the beating behind us. Everyone had found this to be a hard and strenuous race. The tide was now at full flood and it was great not to be battling it for a change.
Under Acle Bridge
We caught up a bit on Spindrift on the return under Acle Bridge, where we were cheered on by the crew of Tara who had stopped for tea and cake! We dropped our mast to shoot the Bridge again only for it to momentarily stay at a jaunty 35 degrees off the deck. The boom was still attached and holding the mast up. We rectified this and completed the drop paddle and raise without further ado. This was to be the end of Tara’s race as she found the conditions too trying and sensibly went home to fight another day.
As we reached back to Thurne Mouth Kevin and I decided that it was time to get Mel back to earth. This was achieved by surreptitiously holding her pig tail while she was hiking out. It wasn’t pleasant, it was noisy, it was necessary! Mel started by squeaking, then squealing, then muttering a few oaths before finally talking and smiling again, although Kevin and I did have broader smiles! We had to apologise to a Yeoman that we were passing for the noise pollution created in the process of bringing Mel back. This was back to her usual self, waving to anyone in trousers that came into view and being disappointed when they didn’t return her advances.
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Drama & Excitement
At Thurne Mouth we were cheered on by a posse of people, lead by Dunn major and Sue aboard the wherry White Moth. These were people unable to get crewing position for the race or sailing groupies. Most encouraging.
Our worst nightmare came true. We had to beat all the way from Thurne Mouth to Potter Heigham Bridge! We fell into silence again. However, when we got to the Bridge we could see Spindrift moored up. We dropped our mast to shoot the bridge again only for it to momentarily stay at a jaunty 35 degrees off the deck. Then there was a loud bang, gasp from the assembled throng on watching from the bridge and the mast dropped the last three feet. The jib cunningham had snapped.
We paddled furiously between the two bridges and caught up with Spindrift. Her crew were muttering darkly about their mast head sheave being pulled out and replaced by a sandwich? Anyway we took full advantage, raised our mast, repaired the jib cunningham by tying a reef knot and sailed off towards Hickling Broad.
The reach across Hickling was spectacular! All three of us fully hiked out and Lady Jane flying! For the second time in a row I managed to put the token in basket. It really is a simple manoeuvre and I can’t understand why a certain other boat didn’t manage to leave the token in the basket!
We stayed inside the red channel markers on the way back, but still managed to get the centreboard to plough a channel through the bottom. The rudder even touched in a couple of places.
At Potter Heigham disaster struck. We dropped our mast to shoot the bridge again only for it to momentarily stay at a jaunty 35 degrees off the deck. The reef knot would not go through the block and we were slow getting the mast down. Paddling back between the two bridges was a real struggle against the tide. By the time we moored to sort the boat out Spindrift came past us. The pattern of the closing stages of the race was now set. We would close the gap on Spindrift, then Spindrift would pull away.
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We saw a sail in front as we came back into Horning village of Spindrift. It was our deadly rival, a Norfolk punt, line honours were at stake! The handicap gives these boats 20 per cent time advantage. Spindrift slipped past it, then we followed suit. The next target was to finish in less than seven hours. The record was held by Osprey, being seven hours and 35 minutes. With three minutes to go it looked unlikely. However, we finished a fraction under seven hours, the fraction being one quarter of one minute. Spindrift beat us by exactly two minutes to take line honours and set a new record time of six hours, 57 minutes and 45 seconds. Well done!
We were home in time to take the boats out of the water, go back to the flat, have a shower and then go back to the Swan for supper at 8:00 pm! It was great to have the majority of the rater sailors together after the race and enjoying each others company. We were back home and in bed/on floors by midnight!
A Splendid Weekend
On Sunday we all sat down together for breakfast in Horning sailing club. They cook over 440 breakfasts for the Three Rivers competitors, starting when the first boats comes home to the end of the 24 hour time limit. That is no mean feat!
Some people went off to sail at Wroxham Broad, a couple went to Oulton Broad and I just chilled in Horning. Having got rid of the vagrants, bog trotters and people from Ashtead, as well as Kevin and Mel, a vagabond and his wife requested a place to sleep! How could we refuse?
When they arrived we put the roof down on my car and cruised around a few country lanes to Neatishead. Paul and Karen had experience of the hostelries there from previous trips, so we had a drink in the White Horse, which is a no frills pub serving wonderful wherry ale before going across the road for a sumptuous meal at Ye Olde Saddlery. This could start a new tradition, providing a marvellous end to a splendid weekend.
The trip home took less than three hours!
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