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Norfolk Broads Weekender 2017

It had been quite a few months in the planning, but Friday 20th October saw 16 members of Weir Wood Sailing Club set off for the inaugural Norfolk Broads Weekender. We had two 36’ yachts booked out of Martham Boatyard, America with Mike Summers as skipper and Lapwing with me as skipper. These two broad’s yachts, although only around 15 years old they were built to the traditional broad’s yacht design. The accommodation in the yachts can only be described as bijou, I’ll let Patrick Jiscoot explain! “On arrival, we were greeted by the sight of Mike and Chris struggling to find storage space for victuals for 8 in an unknown boat of ‘traditional’ design. Nargis took one look at the ‘cosy’ accommodation and heads/shower compartment and promptly decided that sleeping in a B&B was the better option. All good: more space for me in the port side forepeak”

It took a while to get everything packed away, have our briefing from the yard on how to lower the mast etc. and for us to get underway. (Patrick continues) “Our party of 15 between 2 Gunther rigged traditional Broads yachts stripped the covers and set off under engine before dusk fell heading for Hickling and dinner at the Pleasure Boat Inn, with Cap’n Birds Eye (alias Mike Summers) at the helm, fending off all questions with ‘I dunno; I’ve never been here before either!”

The motor to Hicking Broad up the River Thurne and Candle Dyke gave us plenty of opportunity to familiarise ourselves with our yachts, and so we got our first brief taste of the winding channels of the Broads and, as importantly, the numerous pubs that dot the landscape. Having reversed into the staithe by the pub and moored up without major mishap for the first time, covers on, we marked our initiation in traditional manner with tea, cake and beer before dinner in the pub.

It was an early start Saturday morning as we needed to be at Potter Heigham Bridge by 08:45 to use the low tide to get under the bridge. The old bridge dates to 1385 and looks it! You need to have a pilot take you under, it has a clearance of only 6’6”, funny enough the same height as Lapwing our yacht. To get under the bridge everyone crams into the forepeak cabins, to lower the bows and enable the mast and tabernacle to just about slide under this ancient monument with the tolerance of a Rizla paper! Once under and moored to the bank again we set about raising the mast and reefing the huge main sail. The forecast for Saturday in fact the whole weekend was for winds of 20kts gusting 30+kts, thanks to Storm Brian. Whether in fact we would get a chance to sail was debatable. Nargis re-joined us here for the day as she was at a B&B in Potter Heigham.

Heading south down the Thurne and then turning to starboard into the Bure, before turning Starboard again into the meandering Ant towards Ludham bridge, the river was getting much busier now with holiday makers driving their motor boats like cars not quite sure which side of the river they should be. At each bridge, there are designated moorings for yachts to lower and raise their masts, however as we found not every motor boater or fisherman is able to read. Ludham Bridge has a luxuries height of 8”6’, which allowed us to tackle this one on our own. Ludham bridge is rather inconveniently on a bend and you cannot see what is coming through the other way until your semi-committed to go under, but after a couple of aborted attempts we were both under and moored in the right place raising our masts. This gave us the opportunity for tea and cake while we were entertained by other fellow boaters jousting with each other as the made passage under the bridge.

The crew of America found their Jib was damaged and waited for a replacement to be delivered by the boatyard while we in Lapwing set off for Barton Broad. We now had plenty of opportunity to experience the wonders of the broads and its wildlife, including Ducks, Moorhens, Grebes, Coots, Kingfishers and we are told Otters. Would we get to see an Otter!

Barton Broad is not the largest of the Broads, but probably the best for sailing on as it is pretty much deep enough across whole board. As we approached the entrance into Barton Broad we have beautiful blue skies, sunshine, but sadly still too much wind, at 24kts. You might be thinking you’re in a yacht 24kts is perfectly manageable. But with a boom of around 32’ long, even with two reefs in your carrying a vast amount of sail and we agreed not risk it. Besides we still had plenty of rivers and creeks to explore. It was during one exploration we found a rather good place to spend the night, where both yachts could moor together at Barton Turf. By now America and her crew had caught up so we moored for the night. While some prepped the evening meal a group went for a walk, which funnily enough ended at the White Horse pub Neatishead. But it gave those who stayed behind a chance to enjoy our sundowners while viewing a spectacular broad’s sunset.

Richard Williams and Chris Brunsdon, or victuallers did a splendid job providing a superb evening meal aboard, although I’m told Richard owes the Lapwing crew around of dumplings! Plenty of food wine and cheeses were had by all.

The wind continued to blow all Saturday night and Sunday morning and by dawn we had little hope that we would enjoy any sailing today either. After a hearty breakfast, we got the yachts ready for another day. It was a short motor down Barton Turf into the main broad itself. One quick look at the broad, the wind direction and strength, I announced with much relief to the crew, we’re going sailing. It took a while to work out how to hoist the gaff and raise this huge, although still reefed main sail., but we were soon sailing, reaching across Barton Broad at some 10kts or so leaving the motor cruisers standing. Within minutes America had joined us as we both reached up and down performing what looked like a courtship. We had Ken Burgess on our main sheet, what must have been some 200’ of it!

In Kens own words, “Following an interesting Saturday of discovery came Sunday and our keenness to test our beautifully constructed Broads Gaff rigged Yacht. My role in this memorable morning was controlling the main sail, sitting on the aft deck with what appeared to be a mile of rope stretching to our boom. We had a strong wind and some significant gusts on Sunday, our sail had three reefs in yet still it occupied a significant surface area. Tony on the helm was clear in his intentions as was Richard and Graham, my job was to respond to their intentions, pre-empting the impact of gusts and keep people aware of their safety, shouting HEADS as and when the boom travelled across the cockpit. For me it was a controlled white knuckles ride, fantastic feeling this beautiful craft cutting its way through the water. We were a team of eight, there were no passengers the whole trip, I felt fortunate to have been operating the main sail at the time we entered Barton Broad” Mike Summers takes up the story, “for a glorious hour and a bit America and Lapwing beam-reached in fantastic conditions (still a bit windy – two reefs in), managed to avoid each other and the numerous plastic motor-cruisers, it felt like 8 to 10 knots I would guess though it was probably less. The boat heeled over but the stove was not on gimbals so the kettle went flying. Unlike Lapwing our fridge door stayed locked shut.
The size and robustness of the tiller had surprised us when we first stepped aboard but now we understood why it needed to be four feet long and 3 inches in diameter (1.2m long and 75mm diameter). There were times when the tiller took over and nearly threw the helmsman out of the boat”. All to soon it was time to make our way back towards Potter Heigham, back down the River Ant towards Ludham Bridge. I must be honest we did get a bit of rain as we motored down the river, but it still did not dampen our high spirits. After our now well-groomed routine of lowering and raising the mast Ludham Bridge was fading in the distance as we headed to Malthouse Broad, where we dropped our mud weights and rafted together for lunch.

You don’t have to look far for entertainment on the boards as there is always some poor unfortunate chap making a complete fist of a manoeuvre in front of someone. We had chosen a splendid spot to anchor for lunch and we were not disappointed. After lunch, we weighed anchor (20kg) in fact and headed out of Malthouse broad towards the Bure river again. Not to be disappointed as we entered the Bure a shout went out from the bow. You’ve just run over an Otter! in fact he had chosen to swim under the yacht to appear along the shore only feet away. A fantastic sight, but before anyone could take a snapshot, he dived down again and off into the reeds.

America missed this excitement as they had encountered problems of their own. (Mike Summers), “On the way back as we were motoring along an engine alarm came on, the drive belt for the alternator and cooling water pump had shredded so Lapwing took us in tow down to PH where a bloke from the boatyard came out to change the belt. A five-minute job when you have tools but we had nothing except a Leatherman”. Richard performed a perfect alongside at Potter Heigham to drop off the powerless America to return and do it all again as we came alongside for the night.

We had enough time for the boatyard engineer to fix the drive belt on America. For us to get our glad rags on and a short walk to the Falgate Inn where we had a long table booked. We enjoyed a splendid evenings dinner followed by sea shanties and traditional folk songs, which entertained the locals. I didn’t realise Mike Summers had such a good voice and ear! The walk back to the yachts always seems shorter somehow and after a few drams while we enjoyed the Orionid Meteor shower in the clear night sky, it was not long before we were tucked up for the night.

Monday morning, was clear and crisp and gave us one of the most spectacular sunrises I’ve seen in a long while, a photographer’s dream. Our pilot arrived at 09:00 to take us back under Potter Heigham bridge and after a short motor up the Thurne we were moored back in the Martham Boatyard.

This cruise was very much an experiment and organised by me to replace Cobnor, where us adults had been going each October for fifteen years. I think it is fair to say judging by the comments of everyone who went, it was a great success and perhaps to be repeated.

Until 2018’s cruising season, happy sailing.

Tony