Lines in the Sand

by Alistair Wasey

A week on the Norfolk Broads Part 2

(Part 1 - Part 3)

For those of us who have shared in Arthur Ransome's idyllic writings on the Norfolk Broads, this rather special area of the English countryside requires little by way of introduction. For any who have not (and I urge you to rectify matters!) the Broads are tucked away on the East coast in an area known as East Anglia, a name which traces it's route to the Dark Ages of British History when Germanic races colonised our fertile isle. It is a curiously impermanent landscape, being interchangably river delta and dry land before the hands of man and the sea currents formed the current system of rivers and broads running between fertile marsh lands.

The following has been adapted from the log I recorded during my week. My partners on this trip were my two good friends James, a student at Cambridge University, and his partner Laura, also a student, but at Durham University.

Monday 28th June

The day dawned clear and pleasant. We know this as James, sleeping badly, decided to go for a walk at 3:15am! For the rest of us, the day began at 8:30 with bright sunlight on the awnings and a slight breeze rustling the riverside reeds. While James and Laura were in Potter buying fresh meat for the day, I revelled in the wonderful warmth under the dark awning over the well and enjoyed a quick wash. On such a small boat, such opportunities must be embraced!

After a hasty breakfast we made ready for sail and at 9:30 lowered the mast. As a portent for things to come, this did not go at all well. James and I attempted to lower the mast between us, but while distracted by a knot in the forestay (which was difficult to control as it was) the mast, imperfectly balanced by the small lead weight at it's foot, came crashing down. We learned from this that lowering the mast was a three person job! It needed one person on the forestay, one person in the well guiding the mast into the crutches, and a third person, preferably of some weight, controlling the foot of the mast. Nerves in tatters we tidied up the well, and started the engine. After a battle between the choke and us, we finally for the little donkey running steadily, and pushed off under Potter Heigham's two bridges. The first, a modern bridge carrying the A149 road was passed with ease, but as for the second bridge... "Old Bridge a very tight squeeze, but the excellent J. steered us through. Thought we'd lose the cross trees!" With the water tanks running low, we tried to tie up at the public water supply, but were beaten in by a stinkpotter. We made fast a little lower downstream and raised the mast - this time without incident with three people - and set sail.

(click map to enlarge)

We sailed away from the staithe before being headed by flukey winds after four-hundred yards. With heavy traffic we gave up tacking and turned the engine on to give us steerage way. As we drove down river, the wind was slowly picking up, until after clearing the last of Potter Heigham's bungalows we were motoring straight into a reasonably stiff breeze with an overcast sky replacing the glorious sunshine we had enjoyed. We tried beating against the wind, but even with the engine we could not point high enough. I was desperate to get some sail off her, but James had retired to his bunk, apparently unwell, and I couldn't leave the tiller for a moment as the boat was difficult to control against the wind. I set Laura to studying the maps to find a mooring and scanned the banks, but no suitable birth presented itself. Barely making progress against the wind, we decided to head for the nearest shelter, an apparently tiny dyke by the name of Womack Water. Turning in, the wind abated a little and we were able to pull into the bank.

I was again to be irritated by the poor provisioning of the boat. We were forced to moor to the bank by dropping the mud anchor on the bank from the bow, and using the only rond anchor we could find at the stern. A rond anchor is an anchor with a single fluke designed expressly for mooring to the marshy banks of the Broads. James now re-appeared, seemingly in better spirits, and was despatched to spy out the land while I made a rough furl of the sails and collected my thoughts after the frantic run in. After a while, James returned reporting a boatyard upstream. As it was 11:30, it was decided that at the very least we could tie up, get some water and have a bite of lunch.

We pressed on with the engine, running well by now. Within a few hundred yards trees had begun to grow on either bank and we passed several boat yards with an enormous compliment of gorgeously turned out wooden yachts. I could barely contain my jealousy! The upper end of Womack Water was really quite something, and very beautiful. Trees lined either bank, with a small island providing a sheltered, private anchorage for those wanting to avoid the fees and fuss of the main staithe. We pressed on to a beautifully maintained waterfront. Manicured lawns, gravel paths, picnic benches, corn fields, and then the sun came out! I felt as if I had reached a little piece of heaven.

Lying at Ludham staithe in the evening sun with mud anchor down and a warp stretched from the bow to prevent anyone going "bump" in the night!

(click picture to enlarge)

At Ludham Staithe, one must tie up stern first, a difficult manouver, but made more so with the off-centre engine and inefficient foils. Javelin tended to travel in diagonals, but a prod with the quant seemed to help matters, and there were several friendly neighbours ready with a hand to our hastily thrown warps. By 12:00 we were securely moored, the dinghy tied to the shrouds, hastily decking out a picnic bench with our lunch as the sun lightly roasted us. (It is true, Mad Dogs and Englishmen do go out in the mid-day sun.) We had fallen on our feet, a water supply three paces from the stern of the boat, clean and pleasant toilets a stone's throw from the boat, a chandler's at the end of the Staithe. We had a brief and unconvincing discussion about setting off again, but squashed the idea in favour of a day lazing around with a book in the sun.

After lunch we walked into Ludham itself. I admired the small church, and the neat buildings snuggling close about the roadway. It's strange for one coming from the North of England as I do, the South can seem a very different world and many of the houses seemed to owe rather more to Northern France for their architecture than to the English tradition. We returned to the boat and lazed the day away with books, soaking in the sun, chatting to neighbours. We had a boat full of cockneys to starboard, with a rather less exuberant Londoner cruising solo to port, both of whom provided excellent entertainment.

Around 16:00 I stirred myself to action and went in search of a petrol can and some two stroke oil so I could settle my nerves about the small gallon fuel tank which served the engine. "Success! Served by a rather delectable young lady. Described Martham's as 'boss eyed operation'. Inclined to agree." I retired to the green to sip a rather fine lemon tea which had mixed with undefined grime in the dank recesses of the teapot, despite my best efforts to render this clean. Still, it didn't detract from the flavour, or my enjoyment of this rather wonderful English countryside.

At Ludham we were boarded by bread-stealing pirates

(click picture to enlarge)

After a chicken tikka masala dinner, and much feeding of ducks (some of which boarded the boat, our starboard neighbours expected to see one in the pot at any moment), I removed the spars from the diabolical dinghy, shipped the mis-matched oars and paddled off around the dyke. An impressive wake followed me around the staithe, although the boat speed was little to write home about. I was treated to the sight of coots nesting in the motor well of a stinkpotter, and a very interesting sectional steam launch. I landed on the island, but my exploration was hampered by the prevalence of nettles and the nakedness of my knees. On my return we retired to the nearest pub (The King's Arms) which was disturbingly modern inside a whitewashed exterior. A pool tournament ensued with the number one seed crashing out early on, leaving the scoreboard at James 0, Laura 1, and myself blushingly with 2 games. However, a model railway ran through the roof of the arena, so we put it down to that causing distraction in the minds of the more distinguished players of the game.

A steam launch, interesting because it was in two pieces which bolted together just beyond the boiler.

(click to enlarge)

On returning to the boat, a round of lemon tea and hot chocolate materialised from the galley while I collected the last notes of the day's log under a near full moon beaming from the cross trees lighting the page on a gorgeous evening. I for one turned in with reluctance on what had been, altogether, a very pleasant day.

Tuesday 29th June

Up at 8 a.m. the log records my nervousness at sailing with a reasonable wind blowing after the farce of yesterday's downriver hop. After stalling as much as possible: buying milk; petrol; lubricant for the blocks and finding excuses to visit the chandler's againin search of both rond anchors and the picturesque receptionist, we were on the move again. We motored out of Womack water and moved five hundred yards downstream before mooring and raising sail, all the time cursing the lack of a second rond anchor as every gust threatened to blow us off the bank. On the way to Thurne mouth we were over and undertaken by stink potters, running four abreast at one point with a boat running before the wind on the wrong bank making navigation very hazardous.

At Thurne mouth we turned to port for Acle, getting our first experience of a real Broads river. Far wider than the Thurne, which is a tributary, the Bure really allows one to feel that one may sail without constantly worrying about getting in the way of people, or ramming the bank between tacks. However, this section of river is bereft of much of the interest that we had experienced on the Thurne. From the cockpit, the view is of little more than reeds, and the landmarks of interest are only those buildings close to the river, although many of these are very picturesque. There was a good tide running, and we made very good time down to Acle. Indeed, on turning before Acle bridge with the motor running and both sails drawing, we were making precious little ground against the stream. A note in the log records that on sailing downstream, the cheaper moorings are on the right, and it was here that we made fast and waited for the tide to turn. We moored with two warps and two springs and lay snug despite the strong current.

We had a long wait for the change of tide that would take us back up to Thurne mouth. The local boat yard were helpful and friendly when I went to confirm the time of the tide change. James went off to Acle in search of hayfever medicine, but was still suffering on his successful return. Meanwhile I did the washing up and did a general tidy round while Laura dozed in the cabin before we all succumbed to the boredom of waiting for the tide to change. To mitigate this, I had the pleasure of watching a number of very skilled sailors beating against both tide and wind up from the bridge, and took careful note of what could be learned from each one, especially as they stole a few feet every tack by sailing through the wind, rather than putting the helm over too sharply. At slack water, 16:15, we moved to the water supply, filled the tank, dropped fifty pence in the honesty box and were off tacking against a light breeze with the first of the flood tide carrying us with it.

With a light and variable wind our course varied between a broad reach and close hauled as the river's twists and turns took us slowly on our way. The skies lowered and we had a few light showers, but nothing to worry us, or encourage the discovery of waterproofs. Both James and I were able to develop our finesse in tacking against the weakening wind until at Upton windpump the wind died altogether. We met one of the boats I had admired earlier travelling down river under power and followed their example, making Thurne dyke at 18:00. Turning on the warps as we entered was very difficult with the off-centre engine. In the end I nosed her into the bank (a shade harder than I wanted, I must admit) to get her round after a slight mis-communication. Still, the only damage was to my pride and we made fast on warps and springs again, although we didn't need to. However, I had learned at Acle that warps and springs keep the boat exactly where you want it, whereas warps on their own allow the boat to move a little, especially when stepping on or off the boat.

Our devoted galley slave hard at work. As the only
member of the crew able to stand up straight in the
cabin, Laura was volunteered for much of the cooking.

(click to enlarge)

We lit the barbeque, paid our mooring fees and did our best to consume some enormous beef burgers. This was the first time that I had ever seen James not finish all the food that had been cooked! Once again the ducks were well fed, and a swan tried to eat the boat, but suffice to say, did not do well. We played cards on deck until dark. James and Laura retired to their cabin while I wrote up the last of the log. I didn't feel at all sleepy and went for a walk, seeing a bat and enjoying the sights and sounds of Norfolk at night. It was a curiously magic environment that is hard to put into words, with the muted sounds of full cabins contrasting with the natural sounds of the night: masticating cattle; the call of an owl. Strange lights bobbed on the water - the floats of fishermen who had earlier been catching eels. I decided that the Dinghy was probably leaking given the quantity and colour of the water on it, gave all the blocks a thorough soaking in WD-40, and turned, with reluctance, into my bunk. It had been another wonderful day, with thoroughly enjoyable sailing which, I hoped, would continue.

Next month: In quarantine!

Take Care

Alistair Wasey