Starved of sailing and in particular, sleeping afloat, I hired a sixteen foot Whippet from Wroxham, planning to take my four year old son. In fact his sister aged five insisted in coming along. They had to sleep head to tail as there were only two bunks but a good time was had by all. The following year we searched the handbook for the cheapest four berth craft and hired Progress 11 from Horning.
We had a strong crew, Joy my wife as first mate, with some dinghy experience including cruising, Priscilla aged six, James aged five, both with some previous broads cruising behind them, Penny aged three and Chris aged six months. Our aim was to get in a good weeks` sailing wherever the winds and tides cared to take us.
For some days before driving up on Saturday morning, I promised the kids that we would take our car for a trip afloat. They were distinctly sceptical but enjoyed that trip across the River Yare at Reedham on the historic chain ferry. We arrived at the yard 1400hrs; stowed all the gear etc & were fit to go by 1530hrs. The wind was blowing straight down the river from the North and we set off upstream to find a little more room in which to turn round. The boat was advertised as fit for beginners. It turned out to be the most difficult I have ever had. We tried four or five times before I was able to get her heading downwind and the jib seemed useless. Because of the big mainsail, once the wind came abeam, she ceased to turn off the wind and merely shot straight across the river at the opposite bank. Of course, once the helm is put down, she comes round into the wind like a top. Still we made it eventually and with several hours ebb to run we made good progress through the trees on that part of the Norfolk Broads. Once into the open marshland at Thurne Mouth, I had to make a few boards and found that the jib would just not set anyhow. We reached Acle at 1800hrs; the tribe shot ashore to shop and I lowered the mast, a clean simple job and got under the bridge.
The mate insisted on some time here to get organised and feed so it was 1915 hrs before we got away and by this time the wind was dying and the tide about to flood again. The rest was a long slow business but sheer joy to me. After some calm patches, showers of cold rain brought gusts of breeze and of course, the further I got towards Yarmouth, the earlier the tide would ebb and help me. After dark, the water was alive with coypus. Just why they all spend so much time crossing the river is anybodies guess but my word; there are a hell of a lot of them! I reached the yacht station at 2230hrs and moored to a post opposite the quay. The tide was ebbing fast and a sheer on the rudder held us off the mud as the tide fell. Now the danger was oversleeping.
A patter of rain at 0330hrs woke me next morning. What a way to spend a holiday! I made tea, lowered the gear, passed under the three bridges and moored up at the junction of the Rivers Bure and Yare. Up sails and away at 0400hrs. The big rail bridge is always open these days and I enjoyed the trip across Breydon in both sunshine and rain. Another yacht followed us over. We learned later that they had left Horning at 1400hrs on Saturday and expected to be the first north Broads hire craft across. I found that I could make tea and coffee under way. My aim was to reach Norwich but found freshening head winds were a bit much for the crew and stopped for breakfast near the New Cut.
To avoid windward work, I decided to alter course for Oulton Broad as the wind would be fair most of the way. We shot the new fixed bridge over the New Cut and reached Oulton yacht station by noon to be greeted by more rain and squalls. After spending the afternoon there, we left at 1700 hrs for Beccles with lazy easterly breeze (If only I had kept on to Norwich!). James and Priscilla sat in the dinghy astern and learnt to row, firstly on the tow line and then free, circling round the drifting boat. As the wind died the tide carried us along for a grand view of the sun setting through Aldeby rail bridge which was left open for us. When the wind died right out, I lowered the sails, rigged the awnings and kept her in the tide while the tribe slept on. There was thick mist over the water when I moored at Boaters` Hill at 2200hrs.
Monday brought a perfect Broads morning. James woke early and we went out for a row while the rest of the tribe crawled out. The grass was covered with frost which caused havoc among the early potato crop back home. The wind came in from the southeast. After a stroll round Beccles, we left at 1100hrs. The tide was against us but I put the jib away for good and found that the boat handled better under mainsail only. We made steady progress and were out of the Long Dam Level by the time the tide began to ebb. As we began to leave the trees and feel the full strength of the wind, progress improved. Oulton Dyke at 1415 hrs, Somerleyton rail bridge at 1500 hrs with ten minutes to wait for it to open, St Olaves at 1530 hrs and shot the road bridge in great style. On to the bridge at Breydon. It would be impossible to get through Breydon rail bridge once that the tide turned against us. Glorious sunshine, blue skies, reeds and chuckling wavelets! And some people get excited racing round a few buoys! It was just slack water as we raced through the bridge at 1700hrs. Once moored in the River Bure we had plenty of time to eat and lower the gear. Even though the tide is flooding in the River Yare, and the level is rising sharply in the River Bure, it continues to ebb at Yarmouth yacht station. This is one of the joys of working the tides on the Broads. It was a pleasant enough wait. We left at 1830 hrs and reached Acle at 2100hrs. I lowered the gear underway and moored up by the store.
`Tuesday brought a fine day with wind from the southwest, which became stronger later. It was an easy trip up the River Thurne to Potter Heigham where we moored along the grass quay near the bridge. I had hoped to shop quickly and then press on, but the mate mutinied and before I knew it, the bank was covered with table cloths, knives, forks and plates and we had a fine lunch in peace. It is essential to have a fair tide under the Broads bridges in a sailing boat as, apart from making the job easier, the craft with the tide has right of way which is important to a chap handling a heavy boat with one quant. On Hickling Broad we found that we were just a little to deep to sail in comfort out of the channel for the Broad is very shallow. The wind was blowing great guns and with the keel just in the watery mud, it was difficult to keep her heading down wind. Suddenly I got the mainsheet caught round one of the stakes. The next few seconds were pretty hectic. Baby Chris got covered in water and green weed through an open side window as the boat heeled over and I had a job to get the sails down. It was too open to moor by the Pleasure Boat Inn and I didn`t want to go right into the dyke as it would be difficult to get out again. We sailed back to the mouth of the Old Meadow Dyke to recover. Later we took the ebb back through Potter, shooting both bridges. This is a very satisfying thing to do, makes a great impression on the natives and prevents the crew going ashore to spend money, thus saving time. That evening we moored at Thurne dyke, which my elder children regard as their favourite windmill after last year. On to South Walsham Broad for the night.
On Wednesday we had sun at first but it soon clouded over with a northwest wind. We ran down to shop at Acle Bridge for breakfast. While there, a chap came over from a small motorboat and said he had hired Progress 11 the previous year but been unable to get very far in her under sail. We sailed up to Ranworth for lunch and he overtook us on route for Wroxham. Leaving at 1500hrs, we spent thirty minutes getting out of the dyke but then with the ebb tide and the strong wind from the northwest, we tore down the River Bure. It was overcast and gloomy but fine sailing. Shot the bridge at Acle and on to Yarmouth at 1900hrs. Shot all three bridge here and a fine sail across Breydon Water to moor at the Berney Arms at 2135 hrs, four hours from Ranworth dyke. Some rain as we moored up. Checked the ships` purse and decided there was enough for Joy and Priscilla to dine ashore while I looked after the rest of the tribe.
Thursday brought wind from the northwest and a light rain. We decided to get back to the North Broads and took the last of the ebb back to Yarmouth, leaving at 0630 hrs and meeting a stream of motor craft, one of which was our friend from yesterday. He gazed in amazement having last seen us yesterday morning on route to Ranworth. We had to fight the flood under the big iron rail bridge but it was easy with the wind astern and meant less time to wait for the River Bure to flood. After a very long wet beat to Acle at 1200hrs we discovered James had come out in spots. Getting through the bridge dead into the wind was a tricky problem. I moored up as close to the bridge as possible and lowered the gear. I tried rowing and towing in the dinghy but the wind was too strong so I shook out a long light line that I had brought along and rowed like hell for the other bank, getting hold of the bank before the weight of the boat came on the line. I pulled her through with some willing but technically unnecessary help from some motorboat types. We chatted as I got the gear up and suddenly one of them said,
“Of course I suppose that these problems and their solution are the joy of a sailing boat”. I sailed on in the rain and we just saved our tide to Potter Heigham where a doctor agreed that James a mild attack of measles, but as it looked as though he would live, we fitted him with dark glasses and pressed on with the holiday. Nevertheless, we had lost out tide and the hoped for afternoon trip to Horsey Mere.
By Friday that end of the holiday feeling hit us. We took the last of the ebb down the Thurne , shopped at Thurne Dyke, and pressed on up the Bure towards Wroxham with the flood. Back into the trees again! The clouds cleared away and it was the warmest day of the holiday. At Salhouse Broad we decided to loaf for the rest of the day. I dropped the mud weight near the shore so that the dinghy could be left on a free line from the boat to the shore enabling the youngsters to go back and forth as they pleased. In the evening we took the ebb to Horning and so ended the holiday.
This added up to some 170 statute miles made good in some 60 hours actual sailing time. From the point of view of technical sailing, I find it a most satisfactory and although the boat itself is one of the slowest on the Broads, we had made up for it by working the tide for at least seventy five per cent of the time. It is interesting to note that the four crossings of Breydon Water were made with a fair tide. Our bridge work was very satisfactory. Gybing on my own was a bit hectic with strong winds but I solved this by putting a large knot in the end of the mainsheet and passing it through the horse I pulled it in. When the boom went over, I let go of the sheet and the rope in the water took some of the shock. It works surprisingly well.