The morning was bright but overcast and, despite the shelter at Gay’s staithe as it is surrounded by very tall trees, we could see that the wind was still lively in the very tops of the trees. We set off from the staithe under jib alone as we were on the windward side and hoisted the main as we got underway. Then followed a slow beat out of the cut until we broke free of the tree’s shelter and the full strength was felt. It was a great, full sail breeze, just right for a thrash up to Barton Turf before heading downstream for Ludham to see how Chris & Dave were faring. The broad was practically empty as we sailed up and down and then drifted downstream through Irstead.
On the long stretch below How Hill the dredger was now at work with the crane operator swinging his bucket into the river with gusto. He paused respectfully to let our sailing craft through. A message was received from Chris that the sail had been replaced and they were waiting for us below Ludham Bridge enjoying a quiet coffee.
When we quanted through the bridge we had difficulty in finding a berth on the windward bank to raise the sails and wait for the others. The only empty space seemed to be the Nancy Oldfield Trust’s berth. As the boat had been there on Sunday then it seemed likely she would be returning and so only suitable for a quick sail raise and away. However, we did find a couple of spots further downstream that would do for a short stop. Chris was, for the same reasons, on the opposite bank, even though it was a leeward one. As soon as we had seen all the boats through the bridge we set off for the Thurne Lion for lunch.
With Hickling as our final destination there was still a long way to go so the lunch stop was a short session, but nonetheless a welcome break. Then back to the boats and carry on beating up towards Potter Heigham bridge. This is one of the more interesting and demanding bits of sailing as the wind flicks about amongst the bungalows and the bank has various obstructions in the way of overhanging trees and bushes, moored boats, boatyards and so on. We reached the ancient bridge in good order and moored up on the left bank to lower away ready to quant through. Just as we were lowering away our friends Ian & Sharon came over. They live locally and have a chalet a bit further upstream, a pleasant coincidence. We arranged to meet the following night at the Nelson Head in Horsey.
No time to pause so through the bridges and onwards upriver. As we passed Martham we saw that the old yard’s sheds have been demolished and the fleet of boats practically halved with most of the yachts, which used to stick out into the river moored stern on, gone. Another sign of the times.
As we rounded the corner towards White Slea we heard the sounds of a diesel engine and turned to see an Eastwood Whelpton yacht bearing sails but motoring. Looking further back there were two more some way behind. As we reached Heigham Sound the second pair caught and passed us as we were still needing the occasional tack. As the river curved slightly away downwind the first one turned off their engine, but were not watching the channel carefully and soon became stuck on the leeward shallows. As we sailed past they were starting their engine and their companions were standing by to assist if needed.
They were obviously not stuck long as they had practically caught us up by the time we reached the staithe at Hickling Pleasure Boat. The pub, the Pleasure Boat, here was closed and the ground floor firmly sealed. The dyke is getting very shallow and the EW boats were all resting on the putty. Looking at Hamilton’s Navigator it seems as though we have sailed over 14 miles today.
Then we all headed for the Greyhound in the village for a pint or two and a good meal. The pub was hugely busy with us all and, as it was the landlord’s birthday last week, had had a run on beer and with our thirsts we were just able to drink them out of all real ale. As we walked into the dining room the EW crews were already seated and burst into a round of applause for us accompanied by a chant of “No engines. No engines”. Despite the numbers the pub staff coped well with the food demands and provided a warm welcome.
To see maps of this year’s voyage visit the Maps category.