A Cruise up Waxham New Cut

Page published 4 August 2010

Go to TopHorsey Mere

Having bought Imagination on Easter day, a few weeks later on 29 May 2004, my second cruise was to Horsey Mere. It was a simple trip from my mooring on Hickling Broad. I sailed down to Heigham Sound and then turned up Meadow Dyke. The dyke twists and turns a bit, in its roughly north westerly one mile course, to the Mere. It's not a broad channel, no wider than fifty feet except at a couple of points, where other drainage dykes run into it, and for much of its length it's closer to 35 feet, just twice the length of a SeaHawk.

Meadow Dyke

Meadow Dyke links Heigham Sound to Horsey Mere and is no wider than fifty feet

At this stage Imagination still had her 1970s sails and blue non-slip paint

For most of its length there are small trees and shrubby vegetation on its banks but this gives way to reed and in the last few hundred yards, on the southern side, there is some old quay heading supporting the bank. Eventually you pass the signs, put up by the National Trust, announcing your imminent arrival at the Broad.

Horsey Mere covers about 120 acres and you enter, from Meadow Dyke, in the south western corner. It is roughly triangular in shape, with its western shore running almost due north to a large bay on the northern shore. In the centre of the Broad is an extremely shallow area marked with thin sticks. A quick look at the birds you normally find there will soon confirm how shallow it is

Horsey Mere

Watch for the legs! If you can see them it's time to alter course!

Reaching Horsey without recourse to my engine was not too difficult, although I confess that on my return I did have to use it to back out of the reeds once or twice. Back then I did not have my long tiller that puts me within easy reach of the jib sheet cleats and I had not learned the trick of cleating the main. With the main cleated you have time to concentrate on the jib and can be sure to release the sheet at the right point to avoid having the bows thrust into the bank.

The return from Horsey had been a challenge. Meadow dyke is narrow and, clearly, a two way trip is best tackled with the wind in the right direction. Back home I studied the map and determined that, there was a greater challenge - an assault on Waxham New Cut. It could be part of a long term goal to reach all the heads of navigation on the Broads.

Go to TopWaxham Cut

In spite of its "new" name the Cut was constructed in the 1700s, perhaps earlier, as I read that Brograve Mill, built in 1771, was constructed to pump water into it. The cut is is largely straight, with only a handful of kinks and these don't cause it to deviate much from a course running due north.

Having set the target, it was another couple of years before I had the opportunity to make that journey. On 27 August 2006 I was aboard Imagination and the wind was due West at around Force Three. Once again I made my way to Horsey, and this time followed the western shore up to the entrance of the Cut.

For the first two hundred and fifty yards the cut is lined with tall shrubs and trees and as wide as Meadow Dyke, then there's a dog leg in the channel after which it becomes becomes narrower.

Imagination at Rutland Water

Waxham New Cut, still heavily tree lined, after the dog leg 250 yards in

Go to TopEncounter with a River Cruiser

After another 500 yards, the reeds have piled in around you, trapping you like the encroaching walls of some subterranean chamber in a Gothic horror movie. If you hadn't already realised it, any possibility of tacking your way up this dyke is long gone, and it comes to you that the satellite images on Google Maps gave a false impression of the width of the channel when researching the trip.

Sails are spotted in the distance

Oo-er! There could be trouble ahead! Another boat comes into view!

Although the dyke looks pretty straight on a map, the reed growth hides boats in the distance. Spotting the sails of a large yacht comes both as a bit of a shock and a comfort. The worry is that, at best, it is going to be a tight squeeze, and as both of us have the wind on our beam there is no space to come head to wind so no way of stopping - bar dropping out sails. The comfort is the realisation that somewhere ahead there must be room to turn for the retreat from the Cut.

There's not one but two boats approachingIt seems that it's not one but two boats to pass - and they're both bigger than me!

As the yacht comes into full view, it becomes clear that there is another, wider, craft behind it. What's more, I'm the one on port tack and so the one due to give way. The closer the yacht approaches the narrower the channel seems to become. The Gothic horror movie analogy is beginning to have real resonance!

Closing in on the other boat

The opposing crew swings into action, while the helm looks concerned

It's time to stop taking photographs and take action. One advantage of being amongst trees and having a reasonably short mast is that I'm not going too fast. I aim to the left of the on-coming boat and head for the bank, figuring that I'm more likely to stay upright and should the bigger boat catch a gust above the trees my mast might foul its rigging if I went for the other side.

Made it past

Made it! The reeds are not as solid as they, at first, appear

Incredibly, the reeds just retreated as I made contact with them. It seems that the real channel, where the water is too deep for the reeds to grow, is somewhat wider than appears from all the reed top growth overhanging the channel. They just part and make room for me and the other boat passes without drama. When I look back it appears that the yacht has decided to moor or, perhaps, let the cruiser past?

Passing the first two boats gave me increased confidence for any future encounters although it turned out that the next yacht was already moored neatly out of the way and wasn't a problem. Instead, the surprise was when the reeds started talking to me...

Passing a moored boat

Everyone seems to be up the Cut today!

OK! it wasn't the reeds that were talking, but disconnected voices from people on the footpath that runs alongside the cut, on the eastern side, up as far as Brograve Mill. It seems they had witnessed the encounter with the yacht, although I suspect they only saw the top of the sails. Certainly I couldn't see them, but we exchanged a few sentences before they went ahead. Walking was definitively quicker than sailing at this point.

Go to TopBrograve Mill

The next event after the talking reeds was when the remains of Brograve Mill come into view. This marks the northern end of the Brayden Marshes, to the west of the Cut, and also the end of the trees.

Brograve Mill in sight

Brograve Mill is sited on the west bank half way up the cut. On reaching it the trees disappear

Fifty yards clear of the trees I'm thrown into panic. The wind has picked up and I'm fair galloping along and I am faced with a fork in the channel. Both ways appear equally wide - or should that be narrow? I decide to go towards the mill, in spite of the vague worries I have recalling that, at Horsey, the dyke that leads to the mill is a dead end.

Brograve Mill

© Copyright Paul Smith

Brograve Mill, in 2009, looking exactly as it had when I passed it, three years earlier

It turns out that I made the correct choice. There's another slight turn in the channel and I find myself on a dead straight and much wider channel disappearing into the distance. Investigation, once home, showed that the other way is indeed a dead end, terminating, a few yards further on, at the building in which the modern electric powered drainage pump is housed.

The next 400 yards takes no time at all to cover and then there's another kink, taking me a little further to the west. Again, there's another long straight channel ahead, indistinguishable from the last. Again, there are no trees, and the reeds fringing it do nothing to slow the wind. This length is almost double that of the last. In the last 100 yards before the next bend there are barns on my left. These do break the wind and help slow me a little. Opposite are moored a row of cruisers. Ahead of me are trees and other buildings. I figure I must be near the near the head of navigation.

Go to TopBridge Farm, the Limit of Navigation

I reach the turn and find another instant decision is needed. Just yards ahead is a bridge and only a little space between moored boats in which to turn. I move to the downwind side of the channel and swing into the wind. The earlier buildings, the bridge and the trees all combine to cut the effective wind and slow me. I gently kiss the bank with my pulpit. I have made it to the head of navigation.

The Head of Navigation

Hidden by another kink in the dyke is a bridge that forms the effective head of navigation

I stare under the bridge and can make out a few more boats. there are moorings all round, but no continuing channel. This is it! It's confirmation I have reached the end and I turn to make my way back to Horsey.

On the Return

On the way back the sun disappears

It's strange how a return over ground just covered always seems to take less time than the outbound leg. Certainly, it was true here, and that was in spite of the worry that the clouds which had bubbled up had made the wind turn a little. Turn too much and I would not be able to make it out again.

Passing the narrowest point

Passing what I think is the narrowest point on the cut

The wind held, however, and this final photograph shows what I believe was the narrowest part of the dyke. I met no boats on my way out of the cut. Both the river cruiser, which appeared to be dropping its sails to moor after I had passed it and the smaller GRP yacht had both moved on.

As I write this, four years later, I have still to repeat that voyage and I wonder if I'll ever be aboard with the sun and wind just right, so I could get a better set of photographs. If I did, I wonder if I'd find such interesting boats to pass.

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