Flying Dutchman: Swallow (2010)
Posted by Roger Garner, 5th June, 2010
We travelled down from Coventry on the Thursday morning, setting up camp just outside of Potter Heigham. Once the tent was up we launched the boat outside of the pilots office, but by the time we had fully rigged the Flying Dutchman (FD) it was too late to sail.
Friday morning arrived, and with a certain amount of persuasion I managed to get the eldest daughter, Stacey, out of bed. My plan was to sail to Horning and call in at a few other places along the way. We provisioned the FD for the day and set sail down river. Once clear of the riverside bungalows at Potter Heigham we settled down to a gentle sail.
I had intended to head down to Acle, but with the wind as light as it was we chose not to make the journey down river, instead we headed for Ranworth Broad. On arrival at Ranworth we found a fair breeze blowing, so decided to have a dash about the broad. After a few runs across the broad Stacey voiced her opinion, so we went about and headed out of the broad back to the main river. We arrived at Horning at approximately 2.30p.m. and started to look for a suitable mooring, as my plan was to moor the boat, and then get a bus or taxi back to our camp site at Potter Heigham. Lots of boats were milling around, and on a number of occasions we were asked if we were taking part in the three rivers race.
Just down from the Swan Public house we came across a lovely 1930's sailing cruiser that was crewed by a number of young guys. We hailed them, and they kindly offered to allow us to moor alongside, and to look after our boat while we went back to our camp-site, as they themselves were taking part in the race. We unloaded the boat and went looking for some mode of transport back to Potter Heigham. The time was now just about 3.00p.m. and it was becoming clear that the local bus was going to be our chosen method of transport to the camp-site. We caught the bus on the main road just outside Horning, but the bus only took us as far as Ludham village, from there it was on foot to Potter Heigham with my daughter moaning most of the way.
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The race morning arrived and we made our way to Horning, I was not a popular father as I had woken my daughter very early. I wanted to be in plenty of time this year as the year before we had only just arrived in time for the 10.00 am deadline. We arrived at Horning at 8.00 am, off loaded all our equipment and food, and stowed it under the front, rear and side decks of the FD. Then we took a short walk over to the sailing club to book in. Now it was time to sit and wait, boats and people were coming from all directions and the village was filling up quickly with crews and spectators alike.
By this time we were the second boat in a raft of five boats so, as competitors arrived, we were guiding them over our boat as the decks of the FD are only designed to be stood on in certain areas. Twenty minutes before the briefing began a very nice lady wearing a florescent jacket and clip board in hand asked, “Are you in the race?” to which I replied with a big smile on my face, “yes”, “right” she said, “Name and race number?” we will also do an equipment check!”, so out came the neatly stowed gear, and everything was checked to ensure that it worked, and that it was to the correct standard.
By now the 10.00a.m. deadline was upon us, so with everything re-stowed under the decks we made our way over to the sailing club again for the briefing. As we walked over the bridge to the island it became clear that there were a lot of people here, it was standing room only, and tight at that.
With the briefing over we all headed back to our boats. On our return to the FD my daughter noticed that someone had stood on the front deck and split the panel on the starboard side. Had I have known who had done it they would have gone for an early swim, as I was not a happy bunny. This was a bad start, and I started to wonder was this a bad omen as well? Both crews of the boats either side of me rushed to my aid, as this was a major problem due to the front deck contributing to the starboard deck strength, especially around the stay.
The guys in the 1930's sailing cruiser offered to tow us up past the x-zone so we could carry out repairs. They released us just before the slight bend prior to the entrance to Hoveton Broad. With thanks said, and good wishes exchanged, we paddled over to the reeds. A hire cruiser called May, which was making ready to get under way, kindly allowed us to come along side. Fortunately within the spare boxes I had some pre-cut and planed water proof ply and some araldite epoxy, so a quick repair was carried out but by now the first start gun had gone. We were in the 11.30a.m. start with the Norfolk Punts again, and It was my intention to get a better start than last year when we had been left behind before we had even started.
With the repair patch in place we made ready for sail. The wind was light so we raised the main, and unfurled the jib, before letting go of May. Once clear of the mass of boats on the far bank we headed up river for a short while. With the wind as light as it was I was worried we would not get back to the x-zone in time for our start, so we went about and headed down stream to the start line. Progress was slow, by now the time was 11.20a.m. and we were still 500 plus yards to the start of the x-zone. We could see the Norfolk Punts crossing back and forward across the river waiting for their start. All of a sudden the wind picked up and we started to make good progress down towards the start line. The wind held until we reached the x-zone and then, as before, the wind dropped away to hardly nothing. We crept towards the starting line and even the Norfolk Punts were making slow progress.
We now found ourselves in the middle of the other boats from our start time trying to make headway. As the clock ran down I heard the crew of the Punt next to us say “10 seconds”, we had managed to position the boat with a clear run to the line, the starting gun fired and we were off. The wind picked up slightly and we all headed for the bend. We tacked and headed towards the inside of the bend, but, as we went about, the dagger board hit the bottom, we lost way and then, with the wind blowing against us, we finished up stuck firmly on the mud. Out came the paddles and up came the dagger board and rudder, and, with a certain amount of pushing and paddling we were off, down went the rudder and centre board, and we were off again.
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The wind was directly down the river so we had no alternative but to tack our way down stream. The plan this year was to head for Ludham, and then South Walsham, up to Hickling Broad, and then the long run south. Our journey to the mouth of the Ant was relatively uneventful this year as I made sure we were always clear of the larger sailing cruisers as they made their way through the different starts.
As we approached the River Ant's mouth I was surprised to find it relatively quiet. We tacked to the centre of the Ant mouth and then went about, heading up the Ant. The wind was on our starboard so it was a nice change not to be tacking all the time. We headed up river towards Ludham Bridge. On our way up stream we passed a number of boats heading down river. As we rounded the final bend we were greeted with a river full of sailing boats, either heading for the turn mark or making their way from it. Things now became very hectic, and water was at a premium, but we managed to thread our way through the fleet of manoeuvring boats.
We were concentrating so much at threading our way through the boats that we arrived at the turn mark without realising it. All of a sudden a man's head popped over the side of the moored cruiser and shouted, “you can turn, what's your number”? I frantically called out our race number “49 no sorry 149” then stupidly I called out “Have I cleared the mark? Can I turn?” to which the reply came “yes you can turn”.
A quick look behind me and over went the tiller, we spin round and now find ourselves heading down stream into a mass of sailing boats. We start to run out of water as more and more boats are coming up river, we managed to squeeze between two sailing cruisers, but this blankets our sails, we loose momentum and slow to a crawl. I look behind and find a 6ft bowsprit of a large sailing cruiser heading straight for us. Thankfully we find the wind again, and we start to pick up speed. A quick look behind and, to my horror, find the bowsprit I had seen earlier 6” from our stern. We thread our way between two further sailing dinghies and there ahead of us is clear water. We sheet in and pick up speed, we round the bend in the river and the wind is now off our port bow, another look behind and the bowsprit is still there but further away. Now is our chance to leave this very large bowsprit attached to an even larger sailing cruiser well and truly behind. Sheeting in hard the FD came alive. She loves to sail to windward, and few boats can stay with her. We keep close into the bank and pick a course as straight as possible. I look back and see that the large sailing cruiser was falling behind rapidly. We start to relax and enjoy the speed of the sail down river. We reach the mouth of the Ant with no further incidents and, as we re-join the river Bure, we meet up with one of the Norfolk punts that had been in our start, we exchange niceties, he heads up river toward Ludham Bridge and we head south.
After the confines of the river Ant the river Bure feels like a lake. Traffic is quite light with only a few sailing boats heading down river. We now head for South Walsham as I had decided to stick to my plan. With wind directly down the river we were back to the tacking. It was at this point I started top get some stick from my daughter, as we were tacking with one short leg to one long leg. My daughter was persistent that both legs of the tack should be of an even distance.
After a short while we reached the mouth of Fleet Dyke. We tack to port, and went about, and head straight down the middle of the dyke. The wind is now coming from our port beam so it’s a nice sail down to the first bend, here we meet a number of sailing boats heading out after making the turn. We continue making our way down toward the broad without really any problems, until we turned the tight bend in the dyke where the trees are very tall, and the cruisers were moored. We had just negotiated the bend when an Enterprise decides to try to squeeze between us and the bank, unfortunately for both of us, the Enterprise was wider than the width of water between us and the bank, so inevitably we came together with a bit of a crunch. Apologies were exchanged, and we both went our separate ways. After a quick inspection of our starboard side we now found ourselves coming up to the buoy.
I positioned our boat to port side of the buoy and, as we cleared some of the trees on the left hand bank the wind found us once again. The FD picked up speed very quickly and I found myself rushing towards the buoy. It was at this point I said to Stacey, “are you ready with the token?” to which the reply came back, “What token?” By now we were less than 20 yards away from the turn mark. It was at this moment words of encouragement were given to my daughter, “find it now! It’s in the pack under the port side deck”. With all the fuss about the lack of the token I had moved off line and now found myself far too close to the buoy. Instead of a gentle controlled turn around the buoy I found myself heading straight for it. By now Stacey had found the token but we were less than 10 yards to the buoy. I pushed the rudder over to starboard moving the boat to the left of the buoy, we were close now and totally off line from where I had wanted to be. With the buoy passing down our starboard side Stacey lent out and dropped the token into the basket. We then went about rounding the buoy to starboard, called our race number and headed back up the dyke. Compared to the inbound passage the outward bound was uneventful. We settled down to a gentle sail back to the main river, we even managed to break out the drinks.
Once at the mouth of Fleet Dyke we turn to starboard and headed for Potter Heigham. We were now heading back into wind, so again we made progress along the river with a series of long and short tacks. Progress was quick as the wind had picked up and the FD was flying windward. We reached the mouth of the river Thurne, now do we stick with the plan and head south down to Acle?
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We stuck to the plan and headed up river to Potter Heigham. Our progress was steady and uneventful so we settled down and broke out the stores. As we approach the outskirts of Potter Heigham we caught up with a group of sailing boats who were all in the race, and were all threading their way through the variety of holiday river traffic. As Herbert's Wood Yard came into view we were greeted by a sight that would not of been out of place in ancient Rome when the gladiators entered the Colosseum. Every inch of bank, road and boat top was filled with people all waiting for the unsuspecting sailor to get it wrong.
The FD was not designed to get the mast down in a hurry so we had already decided that we would moor and then drop the rig. As we neared the bridge we headed for the leeward bank, boats were everywhere lowering or raising their masts. As we looked around for a place to moor, a boat left the bank just outside the pilots office, we eased the sheets and head for the space. Stacey jumped ashore and tied the bow line on while I scrambled out of the boat and secured the stern.
All of a sudden a spectator jumps out of the watching crowd and asked “what's your race number?” “149” I replied. My daughter jumped aboard and started to furl the jib and lower the sails. Then the same spectator who had asked for our race number then shouts “you are not a sailing cruiser!” “That's right” I replied, “we had to change boats at the last minute” “why was that” asked the inquisitive spectator, I tried to explain as quickly as possible why we had to change. The jib was now furled, and the main was now down and secured to the boom. The FD was never designed for the mast to be lowered quickly, so in comparison to the more traditional broad sailing boats we were taking an age. With the boom disconnected and moved to the side, and the stay adjusting leavers released, my daughter laid on the front deck, and with her hands through the forward hatches removed the securing pin from the fore stay.
Now it was my turn for the balancing act, I had to lower a 26ft mast and keep myself upright and in the boat. Slowly, with the help of my daughter we lower the mast gently down into the cradle. With the mast down we secure sails, stays and ropes to the mast with elastics, out came the paddles and we released the mooring lines. Before we pushed off we fixed the tiller in a central position with another elastic, now we pushed off from the mooring and made our way to the bridge arch. Boats were coming and going, but we had a clear run up to the bridge arch. As we entered the arch a sailing cruiser had to hold position to allow us to travel through the bridge, once through the old bridge we headed for the New Road bridge. We were paddling with the tide, but it was still a hard slog. It was only when I returned to work after the race that I found out why it had been such a slog even with the tide, photographic evidence was shown to me by a work colleague who had travelled to Norfolk to watch the race. These photos showed that out of the two crew members only one was paddling in earnest. It appeared that my daughter in the stern was on a Sunday afternoon row around the boating lake. Once through the new road bridge we headed for the right hand bank and moored up there. Once secured we stepped the mast and raised the sails, we had difficulty in getting the mast heel into the heel fitting but on the fourth attempt we succeeded in seating the mast. With everything squared away we set sail and headed up stream towards Hickling Broad. We made our way steadily up stream with a flotilla of boats all spread out across the river. We stayed as close to the left hand bank as the wind was coming from our right hand side so we were on a beam reach.
As we neared Martham Boat Yard the trees thinned out, and the wind was able to fill our sails a little more. With the wind now building we picked up speed and started to pull away from the flotilla of boats we were with, by the time we reached Martham Boat Yard we had clear water in front and behind us. We turned to port and headed up Candle Dyke. The river was full of many different types of sailing boats all making their way either up or down stream. The wind was roughly behind us, so it was a nice easy sail. As we headed into the more open water of Heigham Sound we were warned to stay out of the centre of the channel as two boats had run aground. We kept starboard side of the channel well clear of the centre but even with our swinging dagger board we still felt the bottom touching its lower edge.
Once past the turn for Meadow Dyke we move more to the centre of the channel. The trees now closed around us once again, and the river veered slightly to the left. The river was well sheltered here so we move as far over to the windward side of the river as we could to try to hold some wind in the sails, but even this didn't help us much. Eventually we cleared the trees and found the wind again. Our speed picked up and we entered the mouth of Hickling Broad. Now the wind had a clear path and filled the sails of the boats around us. As we headed further out into the broad the boat picked up even more speed and we settled down to a steady sail down to the northern end of the broad. After the experience of the shallow water in Heigham Sound we didn't venture out of the marked channel however some skippers were braver than I and did.
As we neared the northern end of Hickling Broad we could see a number of boats jostling for position to round the marker buoy, we joined the melee and moved slightly to port to allow us to come in tight around the marker buoy. Two sailing cruisers were close together and trying to out sail each other to make the turn first, however, in their haste, both cruisers had gone too close to the buoy and when they made the turn, both went wide. We cut in close to the buoy and made the turn and called out our number. We were now on the starboard beam of both the sailing cruisers that had been fighting for position, but both were having difficulty in setting their sails. We were now close hauled and the FD was once again in its element. We gathered way very quickly and headed back the way we came. We stayed on a starboard tack until we reached the buoy opposite Catfield Dyke where we went about, and headed back toward the mouth of Hickling Broad. All the way up the broad we were picking off various sailing boats as we managed to come closer to the wind than some.
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As we reached the mouth of the broad the wind dropped as we were once again shielded by the trees, what wind there was now we find on our starboard bow. We made our way down to Heigham Sound tacking back and forth across the river. As we came up to the turn for Meadow Dyke we came upon two more Sailing Cruisers aground in the centre of the channel, their crews were all standing on one side of the deck to try to break the hull free. We continued down river heading back toward Martham Boat Yard but, as we rounded the bend in the river by the eel sets, the river became very congested, short tacks and tight turns were the order of the day until we once again reached the Thurne. We turned south and kept close to the right hand bank as we headed down river back to Potter Heigham. The wind was blanketed from our sails by the trees and bungalows, so the trip back to Potter Heigham was a gentle sail.
As we approached the new Road Bridge at Potter Heigham we headed for the left hand bank as this was the Lee Shore, by now the daughter had become very quiet and remarkably obedient. We head for the bank and Stacey coiled the bow rope and got ready to jump ashore. As we got within a few feet of the shore we let go of the sheets and drifted into the bank. Stacey jumped ashore and made fast the bow rope and secured the stern. We furled the jib and lowered the main once more. With the sails neatly stowed and the mast lowered, all in all the whole process took us about 20 minutes. Once the mast was down and all the stays and sheets were neat and secured we released the mooring ropes and paddled off down the river. The tide was with us so it was not too difficult to make way down towards the old bridge. The number of spectators had thinned out now compared to earlier but some of the more hardy still sat on their picnic blankets watching the proceedings.
The river was now a lot quieter than it had been three to four hours earlier. We cleared the old bridge with little effort as the tide was with us. We headed to the bank just outside the Pilots office, but this time no man was there to question our race number. Once again Stacey jumped ashore and secured the bow line and the stern. We set about stepping the mast once more, however this time we had problems getting the heal into the healing socket, if we tried once we tried four or five times, either the stays got caught around the rudder, the tiller or the hull. Eventually, after some colourful words of encouragement, we finally managed to get the mast up and secured. Both of us were really tired from the physical effort stepping the 26ft mast so the raising of the sails took a while longer than the previous time.
We push off from the bank and head down river. The wind was easing, and with the bungalows blanketing the sails we slowly head down stream. We now had company as a traditional broads half decker had cleared Potter Heigham bridge just as we had pushed off from the bank, where we had taken 20 minutes plus to raise our mast and sail. The broads half decker had raised their mast and sail in less than 5 minutes. We both make our way down river through the bungalows. They were moving faster than us and then, after a short while, were level with us. We continued down river side by side and as we sailed along with the steady evening breeze we chatted with the crew on the half decker. Slowly the traditional broads boat drew ahead, and with words of good luck ringing out we settled down to have something to eat and drink. We were sailing on a broad reach and I was watching the half decker pull steadily away from us.
Suddenly Stacey says “I thought you said this was a fast boat!!!” I tried to explain that the half decker probably had more sail above the bungalows than we did, to which she replied “or they can sail better than us!!”. “You wait until we are close hauled, we'll catch them then” I replied. By now the half decker was 200 yards ahead and had cleared the last riverside bungalows. Even from where we were we could see the half decker heel over slightly and pick up speed. In contrast we were slowing down as we had just gone behind some trees. Eventually we passed the final bungalows and we started to pick up speed. The half decker was now 400 yards plus out in front of us. We stowed the food and drinks and set about closing the gap. We passed the entrance to Womack Water and we were still a long way back. A further half a mile down river the river curved to the left and the wind was directly down the centre of the river, I could see the half decker tacking back and forth across the river, now was our chance to close the gap. We could see Thurne Mill in the distance and a number of sails heading up river.
We sheeted in and hardened up the sails and set about making the FD fly, and fly she did. Keeping the turns smooth and maintaining our speed we found we were catching the half decker. By the time we had reached Thurne Mill we were only 50 yards behind and closing. We passed Thurne Mill and the river bared away slightly to the left enough to allow us to head down the Thurne mouth close hauled. We were now level with the half decker and more pleasantries were exchanged. Dusk was now upon us and I realised that were the only boat on the river not displaying navigation lights, we fitted the light and switched them on but with all the messing around we had been doing we had gone wide and the half decker had pulled away from us once again.
The river Bure curved slightly to the left and back into the wind, once again we found ourselves tacking back and forth across the river. Dusk was turning to dark and we settled down to the task in hand. We eventually caught up with the half decker once more and followed her back and forth across the river. As we passed Black Mill the river veered slightly to the left allowing us to sail close hauled, we sheeted in hard and sailed past the half decker once more. As we neared Clippesby Mill the river swung to the right back into the wind, again we tacked back and forth across the river making steady progress down stream. We were now well ahead of the half decker as we could see its navigation lights travelling back and forward across the river.
As we passed Oby Mill the river once again swung off to the right allowing us again to sail close hauled, we rounded the final bend and Acle Bridge came into view lit by the road lights from above. As we neared the bridge lines of moored motor cruisers came into view, some were in total darkness, while others had lights and televisions showing. We sailed silently along the moorings, gradually moving nearer to the left bank. We headed for the mooring outside of the bridge store, we were concentrating so much on where we were going to come alongside we missed the guard boat, a voice rings out “Number please!” we call out our number and head for the moorings.
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Stacey released the jib sheets and got ready with the bowline. The bridge is lit, but the bank is in darkness and it was difficult to judge where the bank was, all of a sudden we were upon it. We fended the boat off the bank and slowed to a stop, Stacey leapt ashore and tied on the bow rope. I held on to the bank and passed the stern rope to my daughter who tied it securely, as she said, “she would hate to lose me in the dark!” However I don't think that was quite true!
We lowered the main sail and furled the jib, once the main was secured to the boom we put on our head torches and set to work lowering the mast. Releasing the fore stay in the dark proved to be more difficult than we thought, however with Stacey laying face down with her head torch stuck in one of the access holes she managed to release the pin. Now all we had to do was lower the mast without stepping on anything or falling in. Taking care not to tangle any of the rigging we lowered the mast, once down we secured the ropes and the shrouds with luggage elastic to keep everything together. We untied the bow and stern ropes, pushed off and switched our head torches to red light so we retained some of our night vision, and set off paddling down toward the bridge.
We stay close in towards the bank to stay out of the main flow of the river. We paddled through the bridge and passed the old abandoned boat yard just on the south side of the bridge. As we came out from under the bridge we had started to look for a suitable place to moor and raise the mast. Fifty yards down from the bridge, on the same side as the old boat yard, an old wooden stake with a large painted sign saying “No Mooring” could be seen. “Well we can't moor there” said Stacey, “now what do we do?”, we were drifting with the flow, but we couldn't make out any other potential places to moor. “Come on Stacey head for the No Mooring sign” so we paddled over and moored along side the old sign that was once designed to keep us away. We set to and raised the mast and sails once again. We made sure the paddles, elastics and head torches were all secured below the side decks and push off out into the main stream of the river.
I couldn't see the burgee in the dark, but I could feel what wind there was on my face, we rounded the bend and found ourselves heading back into wind, we sailed slowly down river past the moored boats on the right hand bank. Back and forth across the river we went slowly, making steady progress, as we headed across the river, one way then the other, it was difficult to see where the water finished and the reeds, or bank, began. We had just pass Commission Mill when I miss judged the turn, and we finished up in the reeds and mud. Eventually after much pushing with the paddles and pulling on the reeds we managed to free the boat. We set off again but this time Stacey was not leaving me alone to judge when we should go about, from now on it was like a count down for a NASA launch as we sailed near each bank she would call out 10 yards to the turn, 5 yards to the turn, go about now! This in fact worked out well as it allowed me to feel for the wind a little more and trim the sails. After about the fourth or fifth commentated tack we could see a number of navigation lights heading up the river. Most were keeping well out of the centre of the river as the tide was still going out. We sail through the North bound fleet and continued our journey. As we neared Stokesby the night sky was lit by a yellow glow from the lights of the village. We passed a Sailing Cruiser coming up stream so I took this opportunity to ask where the lower buoy was. “Hello there” I call, “where's the lower buoy?” “Not far now” came a voice from the dark, “it’s just passed the pub, good luck” “Good luck to you and thanks” I call back.
We rounded the final bend running into Stokesby, I made sure I stayed well to the centre of the river this year, as we had run out of water in 2009 due to cutting the corner too tight. As we sailed gently down river we basked in the yellow glow from the lights of the Village. I looked up to the top of our mast as I could now see the burgee and it was hardly moving. To our left we could now see the guard boat and just past the Ferry Inn was the lower buoy flashing out its greeting.
We called out our number as we passed the guard boat and carried on slowly down toward the flashing light of the buoy. As we drew nearer the buoy we got ready to make the turn, unlike the buoy on Hickling Broad where we were mixing it up with a couple of Sailing Cruisers, here we had the river to ourselves.
I remember glancing at my watch and was surprised to see it was 23.50. We could clearly see the buoy now angled slightly back with the flow of the out going tide. We stayed to the left allowing us room to turn and cut in tight around the lower marker. As we neared the buoy I pushed the tiller over, to my horror nothing happened at all. At this point Stacey hadn't realised there was a problem. I pushed the tiller fully over but still we kept going straight down stream, we glided past the buoy and it was at this point Stacey shouted out “Have you fallen asleep?, turn!” “It wont turn” I said. “What do you mean it won't turn” Stacey replied. “Nothing is happening” I said. It was then the penny dropped we were blanketed from the light nights breeze, by the trees and bushes to starboard and we were not making any headway through the water but travelling with it. I could see the surface of the water rippling with the nights breeze but this was a good 70 to 100 yards past the buoy. Stacey was still not best pleased we had not made our turn but I explained what the problem was, but I think from the look on her face it would have been more understandable had I told her I was really from Mars and I was not really her father but some form of alien.
We finally reached the rippling water and sure enough the boat responded, we sheeted in came up close hauled. We were now gathering way but heading directly for the opposite bank. I didn't want to turn too quickly as I needed to make sure we had enough way on her to take us through the turn but if I ran out of water we would be right in it. Ten feet from the bank I pushed the tiller over and around she came, we were now heading back up stream but the wind was so light, and the tidal flow so strong, we were hardly making any speed over ground. We kept close into the bank to try to stay out of the main tidal flow, but we were still only just moving forward. Finally we passed the lower buoy and the time was now 00.40a.m. It had taken us nearly a whole hour to round the lower buoy. We edged away from the lower marker but it was so slow. Eventually we left the yellow pool of light that the Village cast across the river. As we rounded the bend where the old candle making shop was a Sailing boat came silently out of the night, it passed us moving rather quicker than we were as the tide was still on its way out. I glanced at the silhouette and realised that he was the half decker we had followed out of Potter Heigham.
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Slowly we made our way back up river, the light wind was coming from our port quarter so it allowed us to stay close to the bank. We had retracted the dagger board by nearly three quarters of its depth to allow us to get in close to the bank without grounding on the bottom, even though we felt it drag a couple of times. As we made our way back up towards Commission Mill a Sailing Cruiser came down stream heading for Stokesby. We were close into the left hand bank, I could see the navigation lights getting closer. All of a sudden Stacey called out “they've not seen us!!” She was right, all of a sudden we heard a voice from the cockpit of the cruiser shout, “there's a boat in front of us”. I expect they put the rudder over but as we had found at the buoy nothing would of happened, we couldn't move as we had nowhere to go. I sheeted in to bring the boom inboard and waited for the crunch. When it came it was more of a glancing blow but as we slide down each others hulls our spreaders caught their shrouds, our boat kicked and freed itself. As the Sailing Cruiser past a voice called out from the dark “sorry!”
We continued close in on the bank and as we got nearer the old mill we could see a number of white stern lights. As we got nearer we realised it was a group of boats, but we hadn't released at this point what the problem was as we were still moving forward. As we passed Commission Mill the river bears left and narrows, as we rounded the corner 20 - 30 boats were all holding station, or in the reeds. We managed to pass a number of the boats as we still had the breeze in our sails but 50 yards from the bend we stopped moving forward and started to move backwards. Nothing we did would make any difference, we even changed sides of the river to see if that would help, but we finished up travelling further back down stream. We were going nowhere until the tide turned and the wind returned.
I let the boat drift into the reeds on the right hand side of the river, and broke out the camp cooker we had brought with us. Hot soup and sweet coffees were the order of the day. As I lit up the stove and put the kettle on I realised how cold I had become. Stacey had wrapped herself up in the coats and snuggled down in the bow. Once the soups were made we both settled down to hug a mug and snuggle down in our coats in silence. The time was around the 2.00a.m. mark and I was surprised that I didn't feel tired. As we sat quietly I could hear other crews talking about the lack of wind and that the tide had not turned at the time it was supposed to. I put the kettle on again and asked Stacey if she would like another drink, no reply was forth coming, somehow she had managed to fall asleep curled up in a ball. Two further coffees later some of the other boats started to try to get moving. Ten yards in front of us a debate took place between a crew of a Sailing Cruiser and the crew of a dinghy regarding the finer points of “did they push off the reeds or forward from the reeds!”
The wind was starting to return as gentle puffs disturbed the reeds, this was like a starting signal as the majority of boats started to try to make their way up stream. The time was now around 2.45a.m., I woke Stacey and packed the cooker and food away, ensuring I re-stowed everything back under the front and rear decks. We pushed off from the reeds and trimmed the sails for the light breeze. Slowly we started to make headway up river, I moved to the centre of the river and our speed increased slightly with the incoming tide.
We managed to squeeze passed a number of larger boats that were still not under way. Gradually we left the other boats behind and found ourselves on our own once again. All of a sudden the wind started to build very quickly and before we knew it we were sailing in an out and out storm. I'm not sure exactly what time the winds came but it must have been around 3.00 am.
Stacey was starting to get worried, and I could understand why, the wind had changed direction completely and I had no idea which way it was coming from as I couldn't see the burgee .The whole rig was shaking with the gusts of wind and, as we went about, the sails were banging and the whole boat was rocking. I could tell from what Stacey was saying that she was really worried. Stacey was not in her harness, as she had taken it off so she could get comfortable during her snooze, so she could not use the trapeze. We had to dump wind as much as possible, but even then we were still flying. I must admit tacking back and forward at full tilt in the black of night was a little worrying for a start. But after a short while we got used to it.
The sail back to Acle was a lot faster than the south bound journey. By the time Acle Bridge came into view the wind had started to die down. It had been a short but furious storm. It was still dark, with not even a hint of dawn as we headed for the old wooden staithe again. We came along side the mooring and Stacey jumped ashore securing the bow and stern ropes. Down came the sails and mast once more using the well practised routine. We pushed off and paddled under the bridge keeping in close to the bank. We had just cleared the span of the bridge when a small power boat came towards us. “Where's your navigation light” came a voice from the dark. I look, and sure enough we had lost them in the boat as they had slid up the shrouds. I tried to explain what had happened, but the voice was having none of it. “you must show your lights at all times” I knew I was onto a loser so I shouted my apologies.
Once through the bridge we headed for the mooring just outside the bridge shop. We tied up and got to work raising the mast and sails for the last time. We were both feeling tired, and re-rigging the boat took longer than before. As we were raising the jib a gaff rigged sailing cruiser moored up behind us. There was a flurry of activity and orders being shouted out to members of the crew to get the mast raised in as short a time as possible. Handles were being turned and orders were being given. All of a sudden there was a loud bang followed by a splintering of wood. A few moments later a voice from the darkness uttered the dreaded words..”Well that's it, we're out!”. What a shame to travel so far, and to have to retire at the last bridge on the homeward bound journey.
By now we had the sails raised and everything was stowed away. We pushed off and silently headed up stream, it started to get light and we could see clearly across the river in the dull morning light. The funny thing was we had the whole river to ourselves except for the sleeping motor cruisers moored along the banks. We left the lines of moored boats behind and settled down to sailing the boat as quickly as we could. The river swings to the right in a long sweeping turn, and it was as we came around this bend that we came upon a sailing cruiser tacking back and forth across the river. The night before we had tacked down to Acle, and now because the wind had changed we were having to tack back up from Acle as well. We kept the tacks smooth and close to the wind. After about ten minutes we caught up with the sailing cruiser, for a few tacks we followed her round. Once we had closed right up on her stern we tacked short and managed to pass her.
We now settled down once again to cover as much distance on each tack as we could. In the distance we could see a small flotilla of boats tacking their way up stream. The rain had started and on went the waterproofs, however putting them on while travelling back and forward proved more difficult than we anticipated. Stacey was fine as I could look after her jib sheets while she got dressed but I was a different story, I tried but in the end I gave it up as a bad job.
By now we had caught up the small flotilla of boats. There were around ten boats grouped together following each other back and forward across the river. We tagged onto the end of the line and followed the last boat in front of us through with a number of tacks. I wanted to see who was doing what so we held our position by slacking off the sheets. The rain was coming down, but the wind was holding steady, after about the fourth or fifth tack we started to make our way through the flotilla. Judging our turns and keeping clear of the other boats was warm work and kept our mind active. After around 20 to 30 minutes we finally cleared the leading boat of the flotilla and once again settled down to covering as much distance on each tack as we could.
Half a mile up river we could see another larger flotilla of boats all heading home, making steady progress tacking back and forward across the river. We finally caught up with the other boats just before Thurne mouth. As we neared the mouth we could see sails heading down river from Potter Heigham, all heading for home. We turned left following the Bure and now the wind came from our starboard quarter giving all the crews a rest from the relentless tacking that had been required to make the passage up from Acle. We passed the ruins of the old abbey’s outer wall and found ourselves in the middle of the group of boats. The wind was gusting, and every time it did we accelerated, quickly catching and passing the other boats of the group. We were a light boat so we accelerated faster than the others but once the wind eased we also slowed quicker allowing the other boats to catch up.
As we passed the Fleet Dyke the wind picked up and held. By the time we passed the mouth of the river Ant we were once again alone, as we had managed to thread our way through the remaining boats. We passed the turn for Ranworth Broad at a steady pace, but after this we slowed to a crawl. As we passed the water works we came upon two boats both trying to snatch every cup of wind from between and above the trees. We were now suffering the same, slowly we made our way up stream. As we rounded the bend just before the Ferry Boat Inn we found the wind again. As before, we accelerated quickly moving ahead of the other two boats, but the wind soon became lost behind the riverside houses and we slowed once more to a crawl.
One of the boats we had managed to pass was a traditional half decker. As we slowed they managed to maintain their speed and caught up once more. We round the final bend in the river and we could now see Horning Sailing Club. Stacey was already thinking of her cooked breakfast, her comment as the club house came into view was, “will I be able to eat what I like, and will I be able to have seconds?”. We pass Southgates Yacht Station and headed for the line. We had dropped back slightly and were now level with the half decker’s transom. We settled down to cross the line in this position but, as we came out from the shelter of the house by the green the wind increased briefly, and it found our sails. We accelerated just enough to manage to edge in front of the half decker. We crossed the line less than half a boat length in front of the other boat. We had done it, over nineteen hours, but at least this year we had completed the course. We moored up, lowered the sails and headed for the club house. As we walk along the water front my legs felt like they no longer belonged to me.
We handed in part two of our race card, and, in exchange we received the coveted race badge which would take pride of place on my boat. Stacey got her breakfast, and she had as much as she wanted, myself, I can honestly say that the cooked breakfast was the food of the gods and I have never tasted anything so nice. Would we do it again? Of course we would!
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