It's all about
finding the calm
in the chaos
Image "Vashti at dawn"
Summer 2015. Aged 30 and a half.
It was a Friday afternoon and I had managed to base myself in the Norwich office for the day with 2 car parking spaces reserved. One for my car and one for my boat. This was a welcome break from the usual commute to London however, after a day of work I arrived on site to find a few tents and camper vans already set up and immediately felt out of place stepping out of the car in my work shoes, trousers and shirt.
Getting changed beside my car into my £10 wooly jumper and 20 year "sawn off" Levi's, I pitched my tent and at once felt relaxed and ready to be on the water again. After a relaxing nights sleep and a hot brew in the morning I man-handled AWOL into the Norfolk Broads for the first time ever and cast us both away. Living around an hour from this inland water haven I had never in my life tried sailing here before. I soon found the wind does some very strange things and there surprisingly is some tidal flow to contend with.
There are lots of signs on the Norfolk broads standing to attention, addressing all sorts of possible situations - directions and speed limits which come in quite useful at times...however as soon as I set AWOL's sail and saw a sign saying "no sailing" I immediately felt confused.
Apparently no-one is allowed to sail in and out of the "staithe" we had set off from, which prompts the question, how do you get out? With only 2 feet of water sculling wasn't really possible and the narrow width of the staithe didn't easily allow for rowing out without clattering moored boats either side, so as the sail was already up, I set myself free.
We were hunkered down behind reeds 10ft tall either side with AWOL's lug rig set as high as possible. Soon this little boat started a beat up the first broad. It was peaceful heavenly sailing but progress was quite slow with little wind and a foul tide.
As a bend in the waterway started to appear the wind changed direction slightly and suddenly we lifted onto a single close hauled tack. I made the most of this period sailing on one tack before I soon realised once around the slight bend it was a beat once again. The broad was affecting the wind direction as it blew from a relative prevailing area.
On we sailed beating slowly and soon a very clean orange buoy made itself known in the middle of the broad. I looked ahead a little confused wondering who goes there, on such a small section of water. I soon concluded this buoy carried all the characteristics of a posh racing mark and a glance over my shoulder confirmed a fleet of 30ft+ broads yachts powering towards us under full sail.
These boats were a truly magnificent sight, intricate and quaint they all looked very slightly different and were presented in immaculate condition. The varnish and bronze work stood out like nothing I had seen before, but standing out the most was the immense rig on these beautiful machines, towering sheets of pure white glistening in the sun.
They all appeared to be gaff rigged carrying a topsail on a jackyard, with the sail permanently laced to the main gaff. Therefore they seemed to have no peak halyard only a mainsail throat halyard and a topsail halyard. I wondered if this could be classed as a battened gunter rig sail with the batten being the gaff? The sail area was huge and with the best wind in the broads being aloft this allowed them to steam through us at quite an amazing speed.
For a moment I thought about how much experience was needed to handle a boat of this size in a space this small. Some of the broads were only 40ft wide and taking a yacht of similar length through these spaces at full power must take a lot of skill, or stupidity. They all seemed to nail the mark perfectly and brush the reeds with their bow and transom as they came about, so I guess it's the former.
After much sailing and only a few miles covered I was forced to pull the cord on the retched outboard motor and thus brings the end to this blog.
Clive Robertson, sailing all sorts since 1990.
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