Lady Jane 2015
Thames A Rater: Lady Jane (2015)
Posted by Nick Fribbens, 24thJune, 2015
I thought that I was going to miss out on the Three Rivers this year, as I had sold my share in Lady Jane. However, her new owner casually mentioned that I could borrow her this year, so I jumped at the chance. The crew would be totally different from previous years as Lady Jane’s new crew volunteered to sail with me, which came as a complete surprise since they’ve known me since they were at primary school! This would be their first Three Rivers race. At least they would add youth and vitality to the crew, but ruled out the chance to retain the Hickling Trophy, average age over 55.
I looked at the tides in April and first glances led me to believe that the best route would be to do the turning points at Ludham Bridge and South Walsham Broad in the light and probably with maximum wind strength, before going north to Hickling against the weakening ebb then south to Stacey. Hopefully we wouldn’t have to punch too much of the flood and could ride it home after turning at the lower buoy.
The trip from Upper Thames sailing club, where the Thames A Raters had been competing for the Thames Championship and the Queen’s Cup went horribly wrong as my car flashed emergency gear box service needed! I made it to Beaconsfield service station and the waiting began. Volvo assist sent a pickup truck, whose driver nearly died laughing when he saw the size of the dinghy and its 45ft mast. He could take the car, but not the boat. I rang a friend, Patrick, who immediately offered to lend me his XC90 for the trip. The plan was my car to Leatherhead, Sue, my partner, Lady Jane and me to Surbiton, where Patrick lives. The Volvo assist man called for assistance. This duly arrived in the shape of a Citroen van, with a tow bar three inches off the ground. The boat would get knocked off when we went over the first bump. The logistics were not getting easier, nor the traffic lighter as it was now approaching 2:30 on the Friday before a Bank Holiday and we still had the M25 to negotiate. The crisis was averted when Patrick said that he could drive to Beaconsfield as long as the man with the Citroen could take him to Upper Thames where one of his other cars was, don’t ask, and this would be doing him a favour. So my car set off for Leatherhead on the low loader, Patrick arrived at c15:20 and Sue and I set off for Horning.
We arrived at about 18:30 and with a little help from the Thames Sailing Club exiles together with those nice boys who sail on Kingfisher, we got Lady Jane’s mast up, put her in the water and Parmy paddled her round to the far side of the Island. We were just in time to have our traditional pre Three Rivers Race dinner in the Bure River Cottage restaurant. We were in the company of Tara’s crew, David Frost, Karen Armitage and first timer, Mark Gould. David and Karen were accompanied by their other halves, Alison and Paul. We were also delighted to have Tim Carpenter join us. Sue and I spent the night in a wonderful B&B in Neatishead before setting off for Horning on the Saturday morning. The rest of the Lady Jane crew, namely Sam and Dicken were driving up from Surrey that morning. I had a few anxious moments wondering if they would arrive in time and a few more when they immediately disappeared for breakfast until about 30 minutes before our start!
So after nearly a page of pre-amble we get to the start. There were three Raters this year - Tara, Kingfisher, with Martin, Clive and Quentin on board and Lady Jane. Tim, Sue and Parmy were entertained by Mike Barnes and family aboard his motor boat. We would frequently glimpse them around the course. True to form they always had a glass in hand.
We had great difficulty getting the luff rope into the mast track. This was a new mast and an old sail and this combination hadn’t been tried before. For a minute or two it looked as though we might not be racing after all, then Dicken managed to slide it in. We chose to start at the club house end of the line that looked favourite until the wind died and we drifted over the line behind the other two. Tara shot into the lead and David really got the bit between his teeth as Kingfisher tried to go between him and the bank, where there appeared to be absolutely no room from where I was sitting. This distraction allowed us to sail past them and we were never headed by a rater again.
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We went past the Ferry and further before we caught up with any of the other competitors. This was most unusual as we usually manage to pass a few through the village. The westerly breeze wasn’t helping our overall chances. We like a good beat, as the Thames A Raters tack faster and point higher than any of the other boats, especially the cruisers. With a westerly, beating would be at a premium.
We turned left up the Ant and negotiated the river without incident until we got to the turning mark with a cruiser trying to gybe around it. This was proving difficult, as the mark was quite close to the shore. We gybed smartly between the bank, cruiser and the buoy before continuing on our way. Dicken and Sam had their first taste of sailing down the Ant with cruisers coming in the opposite direction, sporting as much sail as they could get away with. Not for the faint hearted when the boat you are sailing is 26 feet long and speeding along.
The passage to South Walsham was slower, as ever, due to the tree lined banks, but we rounded the mark successfully, with Sam grinning from ear to ear as he had got the token in the basket!
At Thurne Mouth we turned left and headed up to Hickling. We were approaching our first bridge.
As soon as Potter Heigham Bridge hove into view Sam and Dicken began preparing for the drop. Their anxiety grew as we got closer and closer with the sails still up. The noise in the boat increased. Perhaps they were just thinking of the new carbon mast that Adrian had put on the boat? Then c50 yards from the bridge we threw the main halyard overboard, not in a vain attempt to slow the boat but to let it untangle itself. The mainsail flew down, but we left the head in the track as it had proved awkward to get into it before the start. The mast dropped perfectly and we shot the bridge with no trouble at all.
Raising the mast was effortless, well for me it was, that’s why we brought Sam with us! The sail to Hickling was uneventful, with only the calling of a cuckoo breaking the silence. We decided to stay well within the channel on the broad as it was low water and the Raters have deep centre boards and Lady Jane has hit the bottom before. Sam’s hand eye coordination got the token in the bucket as we turned and headed for Stacey Arms Mill. We watched hopefully as we crossed Kingfisher cut the corner going up to the turning mark, but their luck held! It was on Hickling that we saw our first and only harrier, maybe this was because I was jib hand and not in my favoured mid hand position.
We were munching through supplies of bite sized nibbles. If anyone wants to know the way to Dicken’s heart it is through a combination of Waitrose meatballs and chicken tikka.
The drop at Potter Heigham went smoothly, but raising the mast did not go according to plan. The mast would not go up. First the main shrouds were caught on a backstay shackle and then they got caught on the three legged stool that we use to support the mast when it’s down. After a bit of faffing about we raised it again and off we went.
We crossed Tara, who had gone to Stracey first just before we reached Thurne Mouth, which probably meant that she was ahead of us. They joyfully told us that John Parker was well ahead of us on his way to Stracey.
We performed another near perfect mast drop and lift under Acle Bridge and sailed off down to Stracey Arms Mill. The tide was beginning to turn against us. It seemed like a long time since the turning mark was so far down, but we got there in the end, turned and headed for home.
Our last drop and raise went smoothly again as we set off for Thurne Mouth. The effect of the tide under us was now becoming quite noticeable. As we got to Thurne Mouth I managed to persuade Dicken to turn left into the Bure, despite his desire to do the leg to Hickling again.
Every so often we would catch sight of Kingfishers sail above the trees and it seemed that she was steadily catching us. We finally passed John Parker at the entrance to Salhouse Broad. He hadn’t done either of the two short legs and we didn’t envy him in the dying breeze and fading light.
We just about managed to keep forward momentum for the rest of the race, finally losing sight of Kingfisher as we entered the village. We were the first boat home at 22:10, which allowed us to have a ‘breakfast’ and a quick pint in the Swan as they called last orders. Final note, my car need a gearbox oil change and is now running perfectly! Anybody want a 5 year old Volvo C70?
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