Lady Jane 2012
Thames A Rater: Lady Jane (2012)
Posted by Nick Fribbens, 14thJune, 2012
As usual we planned our route in January. As the race would take place just after a spring tide we thought that we should make use of the flood and ebb to the best possible advantage, dependent on wind direction and strength. I carefully entered the tide data for Horning and Potter Heigham, which are co incidentally the same, into my watch. Our preferred route was Ludham, South Walsham, Hickling then Acle, irrespective of wind direction.
Again this year we had our usual mast problems. This year the top six feet of track separated from the mast during first race of Bourne End Week. We survived that race and the next, before dropping the mast and sticking the track back on with brown bathroom adhesive/sealant. We arrived at Horning on Friday afternoon, put the mast up and struggled against the wind to manoeuver the boat round the island, past the bows and bowsprits of rebels, reedlings and white boats, to the far side of the island. We decided against putting our change of clothes on board as there was a strong possibility that the race would be cancelled due to the high winds.
This year there was a deficiency of raters for the Three Rivers Race, due to prior commitments of the baby sitting kind at Junior Bourne End Week, the expectancy of strong winds and the local boat not getting its act together. Only two crews, together with assorted supporters, sat down for the start of the traditional pre race meal in Bure River Cottage Restaurant. After texts and telephone calls made from a virtually mobile coverage free village the crew of Wings deigned to join us for late main course and left before dessert. There was also a deficiency of Dugdales, which we later learnt was due to ‘sail for gold’ commitments, although not much sailing was done.
We went to bed with the wind bending trees. We woke up to the wind still bending trees. Old ladies had been advised to stay indoors to avoid being blown away. The warning was obviously heeded as we didn’t see any. Gingerly we went to the island to listen to the briefing. Courageously Colin Facey decided to delay the first start of the race from 11:00am to 16:00pm, as the wind was due to drop from 20 gusting 30 knots to 16 gusting 20 knots and settling down to a pleasant 10 knots through the night. The course would also be shortened, with the lower Bure turning point put above Acle Bridge. This would mean two less mast drops and raises than usual. The mark would also be replaced by a transit to avoid a gybe too. The Hickling buoy would be in Candle Dyke
We rushed to consult our tide tables. A change of route was required. Hire boats would be coming down the Ant in force with first day drivers. Maybe we should leave the Ludham turning point to last. We also decided to go to Acle first rather than Hickling. At the 15:30 briefing we were told that there was to be a further hour’s delay. Back to the tide tables! Then we checked and re checked the navigation lights as usually we were home well before lighting up time. That was not going to happen this year.
Three raters were on the start line. Tara was crewed by family Frost, David as jib hand, Nick as mid hand and Rosie as the helm. Wings had Negla as jib hand, Patrick as mid hand race with race novice and antipodean Adrian Mickleson helming. Lady Jane had her traditional line up with Parmy as jib hand, Kevin as helm with me in the middle as mid hand.
We took to the water first and found that the conditions were eminently manageable. With only three raters there was plenty of space and time and we enjoyed the pre start commentary. As the commentator said, ‘It’s the rater start’, we gybed and hit the start line at full speed as the gun went. We shot off down ‘the Street’ will an exceptional lead. Kevin and I were sailing flat out while Paul kept looking behind for the opposition. There was none. Then we saw Tara approach the line but turn back. The penny dropped. W e had started on the five minute gun, not the start gun. We turned round and sailed back to much humorous applause from the spectators. However, our ‘practice’ start stood us in good stead for the real start, when we repeated our gybe and hit the line at full speed as the gun went. We ran through the village and overtook a boat after five minutes, despite it starting fifteen minutes in front of us.
As we left Horning the wind increased and we had one or two ‘interesting’ gybes as we flew down river. From then on we all sat very still when we gybed and let the boat settle onto its new tack. We were able to glimpse at least two marsh harriers before we came to the Ant after only 40 minutes. It took us eight minutes to go up the Ant turn and get back to the Bure. On the way back we passed the resplendent Moonshadow being excellently sailed by Chris Bunn, as you would expect. We were flying, but Moonshadow was staying with us or maybe even going faster!
We crossed our first punt as we went down Fleet Dyke to the South Walsham buoy. We left the buoy to port as per sailing instructions and I had no trouble depositing the token in the basket. Again we crossed Moonshadow on our way back to the Bure.
At Thurne Mouth we turned south and headed towards Acle. As we ran and reached down the Bure we noticed that few other boats had come south first. Perhaps we had got it wrong. We turned at the transit before the bridge and headed towards Potter Heigham. Then Moonshadow’s sails appeared, coming towards us. Maybe we had got it right.
We overtook punt 81 before we reached Potter Heigham. Our drop was close to exemplary and we began the long hard paddle through the old bridge to the road bridge. We were given some splendid encouragement by a punt trying to come the other way, which helped urge us on, although there might have been a hint of self interest!
After the road bridge we raised the mast without going ashore with only one or two minor snags of rigging on deck fittings. Then we were off to candle Dyke with the wind dropping. The sunset was spectacular and although Kevin passed me his camera I was unable to get a clear shot in. We crossed Tara on her way back to Potter Heigham. She had gone north and not south at Thurne Mouth. We progressed slowly up Candle Dyke and heard a cuckoo calling. This caused great debate in the boat in front as to whether this was a cuckoo or an owl, not country folk. At Heigham Sound there was no sign of the buoy or the guard boat. Soon there were no boats coming the other way either. Then the buoy appeared at the very end on the sound near the entrance to Meadow Dyke, while the guard boat was tucked into the reeds on the left.
We rounded the mark, I dropped the token in and we headed for home. Now we were riding the ebb rather than punching it. We glimpsed a bittern in the distance on our way out of Duck Broad. It was a beat from Candle Dyke to Potter Heigham. Starboard tack took us across the river while port tack was the gaining tack. Light wind beating in a rater is its forte. This would help us open a lead over Moonshadow, with just the punts to worry about. We seemed to overtake some kind of boat each time we went onto port tack, but still no further sign of the punts.
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The stern light went on as we approached the bridge. The mast drop was good and the paddling between the bridges a lot easier with the tide. Raising the mast into the light breeze was less demanding, the mainsail was hoisted and off we went. The port and starboard lights went on and we reached for the sandwiches that we had promised ourselves. However, the wind picked up and sandwiches had to be put on the floor as our speed increased and time between tacks decreased.
We passed the point where we had spectacularly capsized the previous year and went on down to Thurne Mouth. At Thurne Mouth we asked the guard boat how we were doing and got the reply, ‘quite well’. What did that mean? Paul glimpsed an otter but it dived out of sight before Kevin and I could see it. We tacked back up the Bure and saw no sign of any other competitors as the wind began to die and the light fade. The gibbous moon rise was pretty, but the moon offered very little extra light.
We were also punching the ebb. Hopefully the ebb would be far stronger for those boats that had gone to Hickling first and were now trying to get back from Acle. As we approached Fleet Dyke the silhouette of a boat emerged from it. At first we thought it was a punt, but as we caught it up we saw that it was the star. Those on board told us that there were two punts ahead of it. The star then turned up the Ant we continued on towards Horning and glimpsed a punt in the distance. We caught up with it as it passed a guard boat, who told it that it was the first punt.
Our rounded hull made our tacking much smoother than that of the punt and we soon overtook it. John Parker in the punt questioned where we were getting our energy from in order to roll tack so smoothly and I replied that it came from the 174 years of experience that we had on board. They had a mere 130 years on board, but they were only a crew of two.
Slowly we pulled away and then we were on our own. The wind had almost died completely and we had to work hard to keep the boat moving and make full use of every zephyr. It was too dark for Kevin to see the bank from the back of the boat so Paul and I had to call when to tack. As we reached the outskirts of Horning the tide finally turned and we completed the final leg in slack water and at slightly more than drifting pace. Approaching Horning Sailing club we heard excited voices proclaiming that a boat was coming. We crossed the line first, but had we done enough to beat the punt on handicap? We walked down to the New Inn to cheer Rosie on as she brought Tara in one hour and twenty minutes later to be second boat on the water, a fantastic accomplishment. We estimated that in an eight hour race we had to beat the punt by c100 minutes to win on handicap and went to bed not knowing the corrected results.
In the car park the next morning a gracious John Parker told us that Moonshadow was second, Zingara third and that he was fourth and we had won. I am ecstatic! We have seven prizes to collect!
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