It's all about
finding the calm
in the chaos
Image "Vashti at dawn"
Summer 2015, Aged 30 and a little bit
Still half asleep and trying my very best not to leave my sleeping bag, I unzipped the tent door and was presented with a scene of the sun rising over the lowlands of Suffolk and the town of Southwold in the distance. The crisp, clean, countryside air poured onto my face and it was like breathing in detox. Nick awoke to the sound of a boiling kettle, and we both revelled in the opportunity for a hot drink to accompany the scene. The grass that Southwold Sailing club lend us each year is a fantastic, comfortable, and sheltered place to pitch a tent - even this close to the sea.
After much deliberation, some breakfast, and some more deliberation, we had packed our gear away. It was at this time that Nick and I started a new tradition and each sent a postcard home...some 20 miles away. Soon we were clambering into Awol for a second days sailing, this time going with a fleet to Blythburgh for lunch, so at least we had someone to lead the way.
Once again we shot under the footbridge heading inland from Southwold Harbour, but this time once we were through, we managed to rig Awol underway. The wind had come through 180 degrees in the night and with a rig set, we bore away and began to sail, leaving the industrial redundant windmill to our starboard side.
Before heading into the shallow mussel beds that we found the previous day, our fleet turned to port through a small gap and the river opened out to a broad waterway. The wind at this time started to follow the course of the river a little more, and a good force 3 was dead on the nose. We beat for a mile or two before the water started meandering and winding, forcing a sailing course of every angle, when eventually we saw a few scattered withies and a small shingle beach next to what I believed to be the A12. I stamped the anchor in the sand and we dashed across this road to the welcome sight of a very large warm pub. We had of course made it to Blythburgh.
After a serious lunch and a great tasting pint in the garden of this beautiful pub, we wandered back down to the river to find all of our smacks boats were still there! Will Thomas joined us for the journey back and with the mainsail reefed we ran downwind with the now favourable tide, making a passage of a few miles in a lot less than an hour. The speed over ground that we were carrying was astounding and there was some discussion about a scientific explanation based on momentum being increased by the amount of liquid ballast we had on board. This particular brand of ballast was brewed only a few miles down the road in Southwold itself. To reduce the speed for safety purposes we thought it best to consume as much of the ballast as possible, slowing our momentum and with three postgraduates in the boat, we all managed to overlook the fact that moving the liquid from a tin can to a stomach doesn't actually take it out of the boat. Our alarming boat speed continued but at least we were somewhat more relaxed about the rollercoaster ride that ensued!
This time as we approached our de-rigging mark before the very low footbridge, I wondered how much entertainment that windmill had seen over the years...I bet he's got some stories to tell! Maybe of salty old boys sailing into the bridge! We'd better not add to this list of victims, as this was also the maiden weekend for a brand new mast I made for Awol only two weeks previous.
As we approached the footbridge running downwind with a strong tide in our favour the three of us dropped the sail and then mast with around 50 yards to spare and shot under the bridge with a sculling oar for some kind of guidance. With no particular way of stopping the quarter ton boat at this time, we were heading for the North Sea at an alarming pace, being cheered on by both wind and tide! A few sweeps on Awol's 12ft sculling oar slewed us across the harbour towards the pontoon we had cast away from, and as I started to scull as hard as I could into the fresh wind and strong tide, Will grabbed something solid and was temporarily a human mooring warp before having made up some lines in a split second. All that was left to do was heave Awol onto her trailer and retire to the sailing club to reflect on our achievements.
Summer 2015. Aged 30 and a half
Sitting on a wooden structure that resembled something like a sunbathing platform with our feet dangling over the mud, Nick and I noted yet again how fast the tide runs into the harbour at Southwold. There was brief talk of a poo-sticks game from the harbour masters office to the low footbridge that crosses the river further up but in the end we decided if anything should be riding the tide up the river it should be us. Although we were so far the only boat to have arrived at Southwold by trailer we were soon pushing 225kgs of Smacks Boat off a trailer and into the fast flowing River Blyth with all our strength.
A few minutes later we cast ourselves adrift with sail, engine, sculling oar, and Southwold's finset bitter. We were taking no risks against this much tide and our options were to either make it back against wind and tide or have enough supplies to sit it out. We had approximately 18 seconds from the moment we became a "Vessel Not Under Command" to decide whether or not AWOL's standing mast would fit under the footbridge and with every yard we drew closer it was clear that the answer was no. So the 225kg poo stick with crew shot under the bridge making what felt like 45 knots over the ground.
As soon as we were clear under Nick tied a warp to AWOL's foredeck and swung the anchor far to port. The easterly wind, a steady force 4, carried away my words "well done old chap" as I realised Nick's thought process in chucking the weight so far away and AWOL drew a wide semi-circle through 180 degrees and performed a handbrake turn to lay to the anchor without snubbing and sit perfectly still head to wind. We both mumbled for a few minutes about just how good those tiny little anchors are before rigging the mast and lug sail.
Nick heaved in the little anchor while simultaneously kedging the bow to starboard and as AWOL slewed around with the wind and tide behind her we jibed the mainsail for a broad reach up this meandering river where neither of us had sailed before. Making quite fast speed over the ground there wasn't a whole lot of time for navigation, added to the lack of any chart at all we really hadn't a clue where we were going. We agreed to stick to one side of a channel and use the sounding device that is AWOL's 1/4 inch steel centreplate. At the first sign of a knock and a slack up-haul Nick heaves it up, I drop the helm and we come up to the supposed channel.
The banks of the River Blyth are so clearly defined it's as though the powers of nature have run a woodworking router through the marshland of Southwold. This to me felt like sailing on the Broads or the inland waters of Zeeland in The Netherlands, as a result it was difficult to find a defined channel.
The sounding technique worked quite well until we found ourselves having made a wrong turn and drove into the mud in some sort of fishery creek. This was the perfect oppurtunity for a sandwich and a swig so Nick threw the anchor once more and while the tide spent 15 minutes making...we observed the countryside and wildlife around us before floating off and beating back down the river.
As we passed a large derelict windmill on our port side, the footbridge at Southwold Harbour presented itself around the bend and soon followed the game of "When to drop the mast before the bridge". We played the game reservedly on this particular day and by the time the sail and mast were down AWOL had lost all her weigh and it took quite a few long sweeps on the 12ft sculling oar to get her under the bridge and home.
By the time we got back to our sunbathing platform and tied up AWOL as safely as possible, friends were arriving with their boats without the knowledge that we had already done a little inadvertent dredging. It was time for a refreshing drink in the Southwold Sailing Club, while avoiding any kind of "running aground trophy".
Clive Robertson, sailing all sorts since 1990.
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