We had spent the night at Hickling Staithe, taking the odd pint in the Pleasure Boat to reinforce us for the walk to the Greyhound in the village and an excellent meal with mine host, Tony. The next morning was dull, with scudding grey clouds, and windy from the South, a generous Force 3 – 4, to judge the look of the water from the shelter of the staithe. As we were the boat furthest in, we would be last away.
The first job, though, was to put in the reefs. Two were deemed sufficient as the forecast was for a fresh, but steady, wind all day. So we pushed and quanted across to the windward bank of the staithe and set about the business of tying in the reef points and securing the sail. By the time we had finished and cast off, our companions were well on their way to Heigham Sound en route for Horsey.
Tacking up the channel across Hickling is always an enjoyable sail. The channel is deep and wide and, because of the lack of trees and the distance to the bank across the Broad, the wind is free and predictable, at least by Norfolk standards! Looking around, and belatedly remembering to slide shut the catches on ALL the drawers as the boat heeled sharply, we noticed that the only other boat on the broad enjoying the wind was a sailing dinghy, which turned out to be a Wayfarer, way up near Swim Coots. Unlike us with our reefs, he had full sail.
About half way up there is the cut for Catfield Dike and, as we approached this mark, we noticed that the Wayfarer had capsized. The broad, once you are out of the dredged channel, is relatively shallow, about four to five feet, maybe less in places. This is quite deep enough for sailing with a dinghy with a centreboard, but also shallow enough for an adult to stand about mid chest. It’s not deep enough for a cabin yacht like ours whose keel wold easily get stick on the shallower parts, we have to keep to the channels.
We watched the Wayfarer as the helm and crew attempted to get her upright and sailing again. Several times she came up but fell over again. As we approached we could see that she was floating rather lower in the water than should be normal for a dinghy like the Wayfarer that has large inbuilt buoyancy tanks for just such a situation. The consequence of this lack of buoyancy was that the boat was low in the water and, after pulling her upright, when one of the crew got aboard she was only just floating and, being full of water, was very unstable, it did not take much of a puff to roll her over again. The other, related, problem was that when the helm did get on board and attempted to bail out the water with a bucket, more water blew right in again over the low sides as there was so little freeboard.
Standing in the shallower water the crew was holding the painter to steady the boat but had to steadily move downwind as the boat tugged at his arms. At this point the helm lowered the sail so that the boat did not continue to fall over.
We sailed up the cut, the closest approach, to see what help we could render. We suggested, as they were blown within hailing distance, that they secured the boat to one of the channel markers and we took them aboard and run them back to the staithe so that they could get assistance. The helm was having none of it even though the crew, a man in his late middle age, would clearly have come aboard as he had well had enough by now. The helm was standing alongside the dinghy, almost up to his armpits in the water, bailing our water by the bucketful, a really exhausting job, as the side of the dinghy is so high relative to the soft mud on which he was standing.
With their drifting northwards in the wind they reached the cut to Catfield Dike where we were cruising back and forth keeping a watchful eye, and here the water suddenly becomes much deeper, so they held onto the dinghy, one each side, and drifted across to the shallower water. After more bailing, the helm scrambled aboard and there was a whale pump fitted so he was able to pump and so get the water level down. By now they had drifted a couple of hundred yards into the shallow northwest segment of the broad and, with our keel, we could not render any further help. We saw the crew man being pulled aboard and then they hoisted the jib for a journey home downwind.
A safe end to the story, but I suspect that the damp and somewhat frightened crew will not be sailing for along time to come.