Wandering Rose 2005
River Cruiser: Wandering Rose (2005)
From The Norfolk Broads Forum
Posted by Pizzalover, 6th June, 2005
One Saturday in 2005, I arrived at Horning Sailing Club, and reported aboard a River Cruise Class racing yacht to crew for my first Three Rivers Race. We went through various preparation tasks, and I was pleased to be assumed of as a useful chap who knew something. This was probably a mistake. We were towed out onto the river... we did have an engine - and outboard - but it was clamped to the table leg. We tied up to one of the bungalows (all "no mooring" signs are waived for competitors).
Then we raised the main, and it was flapping. We then set about rigging the topsail. The first time that I’ve fought such a beast. I was on the cabin roof, laying the beast out, to ensure that it wasn't tangled when it went up. And then I got full marks in the dumb-amateur competition. As always with these things, I'm not sure what happened... but I suspect that someone in the well leaned against the tiller. But we came away from head-to-wind, and the mainsail filled. With me on the cabin roof. The boom set about sweeping me into the river. I grabbed it, as it swung well out over the water. So there I was, hanging like a monkey - hands and legs - well out from the boat. I was hanging quite happily... but wondering for how long - and, if I dropped, thinking about the fun of getting changed and re-arming the life-jacket in time for the start. Not to mention the embarrassment. Fortunately, the skipper pushed the tiller over and hauled me in.
↑ Goto top
Fully rigged, we set off for 20 minutes of tacking on Horning Reach, waiting for the start. The wind was behind us for the start. We were thundering down to the line. I had set my stopwatch. We were first in our class. I counted: "Five, four three two one." BANG. The starter on the bank announced that we were over the start line. No point in appealing. A swift bit of work had us heading back across the line. The starter was kind... and quickly called that we were clear to restart. But we'd gone from first to fifth. We reached through Horning with the crowd on the bank cheering - and made up two places. Wow! First port of call was Ludham Bridge - we reached up the Ant, passing the racing dinghies in the class ahead of us going the other way. We rounded the marker just before the bridge, and something went wrong – we didn’t totally round the mark and instead ploughed into the bank. There were dozens of spectators on the bank. This was a Good Thing, because several burly and knowledgeable men rushed to push us off and round. We reached back down the Ant, passing the boats behind us (this race is insane... heaven knows what it's like doing the Ant in low wind, or one when you can't reach both ways.) Next was South Walsham. The wind was strong, and we rocketed down the dyke. On the broad, you have to round a buoy with a bucket on it... and drop a token with your number on it into the bucket. I was given this unenviable task, and dropped it neatly in as we tacked round. Back down the dyke and out onto the Bure.
↑ Goto top
St Benets to Acle
We'd gained and lost places. Some boats were saving the Ant and South Walsham until later... so any idea of position is lost. We passed a dinghy, sunk with sails still up. Apparently they had a spinnaker up and it buried their nose in a wave. Just past St Benets the topsail came adrift. We nosed into the reeds to bring it down - but it had its own ideas, and completely detached, landing in the water behind us. If there had been anyone in its path, they’d probably have been hospitalised. We recovered it, and there was an almighty squall. I tell you, folding and stowing a topsail in 25mph winds with violent rain lashing you is no easy task. Then a forestay shackle broke. I'd barely finished lashing the topsail and I was repairing rigging. We had a cracking sail down to Acle.
At the bridge, we got to within 30 yards, where we dropped the sails with the wind almost behind us! The mast came down in seconds, then we paddled through the bridge (paddling a yacht is HARD work.) As soon as we were clear, up came the mast. Lots of things snagged, but with 5 people on board, it took seconds to get it up. A quick whizz to Stokesby and back, and we did the bridge again - this time with the tide against us (paddling a yacht against the tide is VERY hard work.)
↑ Goto top
Up to Potter Heigham and Hickling
Mast down in seconds as we approached. There were hundreds of spectators, giving a round of applause to each boat as it went through. A long, long paddle between the bridges. Mast up again with relief and we sailed up to Hickling. Out on Hickling, there was strong wind… strong enough to make waves. I was given the task of dropping the second token into the marker bucket. We were approaching on a beam reach, heeled over, with me struggling to stay on the boat, with waves lashing the gunwale. I think the optimum time to chuck the token is about half a second, and I missed it by a quarter. So the token floated in the waves. We tacked around to pick it up and try again, but it was gone. We thrashed back down onto the Thurne. We'd been sailing for 9 hours.
↑ Goto top
It was getting dark. As the light went, so did the wind. And so, everyone came to a standstill. Some boats "rested" while others - including us - hunted every breath of air. We passed Martham Boatyard a dozen times - half of them going backwards. We spent a good hour just tacking on the same 20ft of river. But eventually, the reeds got excited, and there was enough wind to move us. We had a long patient tack down the Thurne, and into the Bure - with the tide against us, but enough wind to make progress.
Just before dawn, we saw a gaggle of boats just above the waterworks, becalmed by trees, and we had no choice but to join them. In the end, there were about 40 boats in the pack. It was quite frustrating for everyone, because it felt that the only thing that made passage impossible was the presence of all the other boats. I'm not sure how long we were there... but it was hours... 40 boats in the space of 100 yards. If you picked your moment, you could walk across the river, and probably walk some way up it too. The funniest moment of the race happened here.
A motor cruiser made its way slowly to the pack. Faced by a wall of boats 4 wide and 10 deep filling the river, the cruiser's skipper gave four toots on the horn. Laughter spread across the water, and then the cruiser guy asked, "What is your intention." But he knew his stuff, and drifted his way through us nicely.
↑ Goto top
The Race to the Finish
Over the space of about two hours we demonstrated that we were very good at working our way to the front of the pack. And that we were very good at reversing back through it. I have no idea why we could do both so well. Eventually, two things happened at once - and fortunately happened at the same time. The wind picked up, and we'd just finished making our way to the front for the fourth time. So instead of reversing back through the group again, we broke free. The sail up past Cockshoot and through Horning was lovely. The sun was out. There was a good breeze to work with. People were waving and cheering.
↑ Goto top
Our end bell rang at 09:00 - about 21 hours after we had started. We dropped the mudweight on Horning Reach, tidied the boat and paddled back to the sailing club. Every competitor gets a cooked breakfast as part of the entry fee. Hard working committee wives must be on call all night to bang out bacon and eggs for each finisher. It has to be among the most memorable breakfasts that I've eaten.
So my first. Would I go again? Without a doubt, yes... if someone will have me. But it's going to be a long time before I sign my name as Skipper on the form.
|↑ Goto top|