It's all about
finding the calm
in the chaos
Image "Vashti at dawn"
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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