We had to put another tack in; a sudden wind shift would have had us bash into the river bank if we stayed close hauled. I signalled to an approaching holiday motorboat that we were about to cut across his bows and went for it. Just our luck and we picked a complete plonker who didn't know what to do and we had to take extreme action to avoid being T-boned by this blithering idiot; but at least we had the opportunity to do lots of shouting.
This was day two of the second reunion from our secondary school where we revisited the Norfolk Broads. The details of the first epic adventure can be listened to in the podcast "An Old Gaffer, The Whores of Babylon & a Quiche"; suffice to say in this blog that we had more boats with more people on this occasion.
Sons No 1 and 2, Jez and Ben, joined me on Buff Tip, a 20ft "Yare and Bure" one design. A wooden halfdecker, gunter rigged, with no obvious accommodation. We chartered her from Hunters Yard in Ludham, where we'd arrived all those years ago in the old school bus. It was good to see Wood Rose again, the boat we'd been on as teenagers. She still looked very trim despite the hard work, bumps and grinds that consist her lot in life.
We quickly stowed our gear in to the cubby holes under the fore and aft decking and familiarised ourselves with the rigging and other equipment. Rather than quant poles, Buff Tip was equipped with oars to provide ancillary power should we become becalmed.
Night time accommodation was simplicity itself. As Buff Tip was a half-decker, the generously proportioned cockpit became a snug shelter by the simple expedient of dropping a tent over the long, slender boom which was itself supported by boom gallows. I hoped it would stay dry during the day at least, otherwise the cockpit sole would provide a damp bed for the three of us!
We shoved off, one by one as kids, dogs, bags and more kids were all loaded on to the boats. From the boatyard we went down the dog leg, and out onto the main river. Last time we went left, up to Potter Heigham, under the famous low bridge, and up to Hickling Broad. This time our destination was Horning, in the other direction.
The wind was good and steady, but mostly coming from where we were going, so we tacked. And tacked. And tacked. Fortunately Buff Tip slipped along, even close hauled, and we made such rapid progress we decided to double back and find the other larger heavier and slower boats. Although I was worried we would have a damp night and thought longingly of the homely and comfy cabins they had, the way Buff Tip was handling I wouldn't have traded places!
Sailing back again, this time with the others, we got caught up in a local race. To see even larger boats being aggressively raced in the narrow river was quite a sight; lots of calls for water and "Starboard!" as right of way were established in a kind of elementary territorial fight; which is basically what it was anyway. Lovely to see though, beautiful white sails, very tidy manoeuvres, these crew knew what they were doing and we did our best to keep out of their way.
Tack, tack, tack, tack. Buff Tip went about nicely, holding her way as we went through the eye and got herself back into the groove again, just in time to go about o the other bank, just a short distance away. The motorised bathtubs with holiday makers mostly just stayed out of our way, some were bemused by our antics and some were plain confused. But sail has right of way over power, as every one knows (don't they?) so we were quite happy to hold our course and as a consequence mayhem sometimes erupted all around us.
Quite fun, really.
In the latter half of our route, the river became very sheltered with trees either side. We were taking longer and longer to make any forward progress as we became becalmed more and more frequently, so the two boys manfully rowed, our progress became faster as we could go in a straight line. But of course we'd become a powered vessel, so had to pay attention to other sailboats!
Finally we arrived at Horning, we came along side under sail, tied up, and got the tent over the boom before the rain, which had been increasingly threatening to arrive, got us all soaked. Given that there'd been so much rain already in July, we didn't fancy being out in a deluge.
Evening. Pub, stories of the day, memories of school, updates on who is doing what with whom. One funny story for the record; one of the young lads who came on the trip was snatching at the reeds that form much of the river bank, but one he grabbed hold off didn't let go at the root, and with an almighty splash the young lad suddenly found himself in the water! Fortunately he had a buoyancy aid on and was rescued very quickly.
The next day we nipped around the corner and through the narrow entrance into the broad at Horning. We had a wonderful blast around the lake, testing out Buff Tip on all points of sailing. We went around a few racing bouys, careful not to get in the way of the local racing scene and once we'd had our fill of open water sailing, we left, but not without mishap.
The exit is just as narrow as the entrance, it being the same thing. A 200 yard stretch of water, at times not much wider than the length of our boat, surrounded by trees and facing directly into the wind! We waited until the narrow strait was clear, built up speed in the lake and went for it, hoping that our momentum would generate sufficient apparent wind to keep us going.
Our strategy nearly worked, but I hadn't allowed for how much faster Buff Tip was than the other yachts and, as we approached the last few metres before the freedom of the river, we caught up with one of the others yachts that just couldn't get out of our way. Complete chaos as we went into the trees, and a selfish motor launch decided to barge in, restricting even further our ability to move. Fortunately Ben and Jez are strong on the oars, we paddled backwards, managed to catch a puff in the headsail and were out!
We suffered the same frustration on the tree-shielded river, spoiling if not completely and literally taking the wind out of our sails. But this time we had the current with us and continued to make progress, making much use of the apparent wind. Shortly after nearly being T-boned by the idiots in the motorboat, a massive squall came through, deluging us with unbelievably wet water, fresh from the sky, and completely recyclable. We had way too much sail up really, the mast groaned ominously, the bow wave mounted as we accelerated away; we spilled wind as best we could, given that it was now more or less behind us.
The squall went through and things calmed down somewhat, though the wind settled down to a steady force 4 blow. We were rocketing along on the broadest of beam reaches, now gybing across the river instead of tacking. We even goose-winged on occasion, and longed for a spinnaker! Mile after glorious mile of uplifting, soul enhancing, exhilarating, downwind sailing, catching up and over taking the motorised plastic bath tubs, the crews of which stared at us, unable to believe that their floating caravans were being stuffed right royally by nothing more than a sail!
All things come to an end though, and not wanting to beat back by continuing further than the turn to Buff Tip's home in Ludham, we went head to wind to drop the main, so we could approach the home berth under the more controllable headsail. The boys by now were able enough crew, but we weren't quite quick enough to get the rig down before the head of the boat was turned and we started to make way again. I stuck the bow into the reads and we parked up, safe and secure whilst we stowed the main with sail ties.
We shoved off and just to prove that less is often more, we were still making significant speed, even though we were only using the much smaller headsail, though we were much more relaxed and the slightly manic bordering-on-the-edge-of-control feeling had gone.
A left turn had us close hauled as best we could on just the headsail. The reeds further cut the wind, as they are about 6ft high, and we glided smoothly and silently along the deep browny-black water. Right turn into the boat yard, we let the headsail flap and our momentum took us deep into the yard. I timed the turn perfectly so we went port side to, facing back into the wind, and just as the fenders kissed the wooden platform Buff Tip came to a graceful halt and the crew stepped ashore to tether this magnificent creature to the moorings.
All in all the three men in this boat had a great time, and enjoyed a wonderful downwind sail, one of the best of my life. The usual incidents, glad the wee lad that took an early bath was OK, and the winner of the "Dogs" award for best accident was Julian, who managed to broach smack into a Hoeseasons bathtub, with the river police right behind him…
I'm sure we'll be back for more.