Lady Jane 2011
Thames A Rater: Lady Jane (2011)
Posted by Nick Fribbens, 18thJune, 2011
This year we started planning earlier than usual. We dispatched Paul to walk the course in preparation. Well he drove to South Walsham and got out of the car saw a few trees had been cut down and went home. This was vital information.
Kevin’s limbs were showing their age, so we decided to send him for a quick service twelve weeks before the race. This involved having a hip replaced. We got him back in such fine shape we will probably send him for an annual service; second hip, left knee, right knee and anything else that appears dodgy.
We scrutinised the tide tables, noting that the race was going to be one day after springs, so the tide would make a significant difference this year. Using our previous timings around the course it looked as though we would sail the majority of the race, ie the Thurne Mouth, Hickling and Stracey legs in the ebb. However, if we left Ludham Bridge and South Walsham turning points to last we could ride the last of the flood up to Hickling and then the ebb would take us down to Stracey. Now there were less trees around South Walsham going later in less wind would be balanced by the fewer boats sailing on that stretch and the Ant would take care of itself.
We arrived at Horning sailing club, replaced the main halyard, changed the rig tension block for a bigger one, to allow the rope to slide through it more easily, put the mast up and launched Lady Jane all inside 30 minutes. Meanwhile Osprey were trying to work out how they rigged their rig tension which also controlled the raising and lowering the mast. They finished just in time to join us for supper. In the end it was a marvellous feat of engineering brought about by some of the finest minds in the fleet. More of that later ....
We had our usual pre race meal with our fellow athletes and wags from Tara and Osprey in the Bure River Cottage Restaurant. This was the restaurant that David had disparagingly called a posh fish and chip shop. The food was excellent and we shall be there next year. However, the lack of chips reminded us of the Great Bourne End Potato Famine of 2011.
We slept well, breakfasted better and went to listen to the briefing. This was a much shorter affair than last year although slightly more hazardous as the Race Officer was constantly whipped by her resplendent multi colour hair and her husband, not to be out done, fell off the table he was speaking from. Luckily only pride was injured.
There were six raters again this year, Polar Explorer II with Martin Hunter, Jamie and Stait the Weight, Tara, with Nick, David and Karen, Kingfisher made her first appearance with Martin Collen, Clive and Quentin, Osprey, with Paul, Justin and Bart, Bonito, the local boat with Damien marshalling his crew and Lady Jane with Kevin, Parmy and me.
We were in prime position on the start line and hit it at full speed as the gun went. Then the second gun went. Were we over? We turned to go back, only to hear Tara’s number called so we carried on, but we had lost our advantage and slipped to fifth.
However, we worked our way up to the front of the fleet only to be overtaken by Osprey near the Ferry and then Kingfisher. We clung onto Kingfishers coat tails for some time before they too disappeared around a bend. We were all alone. At this point we got a beautiful view of a marsh harrier being mobbed by a gull. Then we rounded the next bend and onto a reach that was directly to windward. We found what seemed to be all of boats that had started before us. There were bank to bank boats as far as the eye could see, well to the next bend, tacking to and fro. We were held up by a couple of half deckers when Bi Polar Adventurer, with Martin H showing his consummate skill in tight manoeuvres, slipped past. However, he got caught by four boats all tacking across the river in the same direction blocking his path and we moved ahead of the ‘Milk Tray box’ again.
We arrived at the entrance to the Ant only to find Osprey moored on the windward bank making temporary repairs to their ropey rig tension system. They had learnt not to moor on the leeward bank from two years previously. Fine minds were put to work again and the tail of the jib halyard used to replace the broken rope.
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We sailed on and there was a bit of a breeze as the banks became clear of trees. Cows were having trouble standing up and sheep were being blown around like tumbleweed. We got into rhythmic tacking that only stopped when my world went green, watery green. I had missed the toestraps completely and elegantly somersaulted backwards out of the boat with consummate grace. You usually know you are in trouble when your feet are higher than your head, but this happened so quickly that I only realised what had happened when I was fully immersed in river water. The recovery was exemplary and the people on the cruiser we passing requested a repeat performance, but I courteously declined.
Bart was cock a hoop that I had missed the toestraps, an honest mistake and occupational hazard for a midhand. He falsely believed that this would distract my attention from his act of cowardice in abandoning Osprey a couple of years earlier. While doing some foredeck dancing, he leapt from the boat as he thought it was going to hit Acle Bridge. The dancing and leap were totally devoid of artistic merit.
When we got to Thurne Mouth we turned left towards Hickling as planned. We were told that we were the fourth boat. Just as we thought, we had to beat for most of the way up to Potter Heigham and it was a great relief when the bridge hove into sight.
We did a late drop, mainly due to the main halyard being stuck, and serenely shot the bridge to rapturous applause. Even with the wind against us, paddling with the tide was easy. We moored, hoisted the sails and set off for Hickling, leaving a Star trying valiantly to get its rig back up. Only two boats in front of us now. The beating continued and then we turned left into Candle Dyke and eased onto a reach. Our speed increased rapidly, as did our excitement. This was tempered with apprehension as we saw the white horses on Heigham Sound.
We fetched across Hickling Broad, discussed leaving the channel cutting the corner and decided not to. Well Paul and I did, but Kevin had other ideas and headed straight for the guard boat. His plans were somewhat curtailed as we began to plough a furrow with the centreboard. We edged back towards the channel with no further mishaps.
At this speed getting the token in the basket was not going to be easy so we decided to sail past the basket, insert the token then tack. This seemed a good plan. However, Kevin had other ideas tacked round the basket, but great reflexes and fast hands allowed me to slam dunk the token. And it didn’t bounce out this year. I wonder what part of Kevin we’ll have serviced next year? The time was 14:10. We planned back across the broad and got back to Candle Dyke in less than six minutes, overtaking a wayfarer en route. Only one boat in front, punt 102 which we had crossed on the broad. Although our reach across the broad had been exhilarating, it limited our wildlife spotting to a couple of silhouettes of marsh harriers in the distance.
The gybe out of Candle Dyke into the Thurne went well and we ran down to Potter Heigham. At the bridge we headed up, dropped the sails and mast before paddling swiftly between the bridges.
We moored and hoisted the rig and sails. Here we learnt that Bonito had retired and the rig tension system in Osprey had failed again, fine minds that hadn’t learnt the ropes. We left the shore just ahead of punt 102. Now we were the lead boat taking this route.
Leaving the bank was not uneventful. Paul decided to go for speed and pointed the bows downstream with a downwind for a bear-away start. With the wind now howling this was never going to happen, so we adopted our alternative plan of leaving bank in an upstream, up wind direction. We bore away and had to gybe immediately to avoid a white boat coming in the other direction. We pirouetted beautifully, more artistic merit, and put the boat on its ear. We were all on the wrong side and the only things that the spectators on the bank could see of us were three pairs of hands and three horrified faces peering over the gunwales, like three ’Wot no’s. We got the boat under control, gybed and set off dead down wind and dead downstream to more rapturous applause.
The wind was oscillating, bouncing off the houses and funnelling through the trees. Three or four times we tried to gybe as the top of the sail came across, but the bottom section wouldn’t. We lived dangerously and then it happened. A squall hit us and we healed to windward. We avoided a punt coming the other way as our mast missed the top of their mast by millimetres. The bows headed for the bank as the mast hit the water and at the last moment the stern lowered the bows rose over the bank and we stopped. That is apart from Kevin, who decided that he would show off his new hip and emulate superman by flying out of the boat. Great artistic merit. Then disaster happened. Our mast went under a moored day boat and despite the tide drifting us back up stream we could not free ourselves so we dropped our mainsail in the water and accepted assistance. Game over.
We righted Lady Jane, licked our wounds and prepared to limp home full of water and under jib alone. Our apologies go to the gentleman who valiantly fought to stop us damaging his property and our thanks go to the lovely lady who made us tea and coffee and gave us biscuits.
We sped down the Thurne under jib alone and the bailers emptied us of water in a matter of minutes. It would have emptied faster if the bailers hadn’t kept getting clogged with soggy sandwiches and assorted fillings. We heard and saw reed buntings, but it was too windy for other birds to get up. We made it past the dyke leading to Ranworth Broad on the jib. A passing cruiser, who had started the race but only made in it to Thurne Mouth, offered us a tow home, which we gratefully accepted.
It was a tiring adventure for all the rater sailors, most notably for Martin Hunter, who is notoriously quick on water and slow on land. He was walking even slower than usual and despite his young years would have benefitted from a mobility scooter. We all benefitted from a late second breakfast and some good beer in the Swan.
Well done to Chris Bunn and his White boat crew in winning and the two Wayfarers who finished second and third. Kingfisher completed her first three rivers and a special mention to Tara who completed the course courtesy of their ‘granny’ rig.
And a final thanks to Horning sailing club. I always enjoy coming home to sail.
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