The Three Rivers Race - 2008

Page updated: 31 December 2009

The event described below is not a conventional race for sailing craft. If you are not familiar with the course and the kind of craft that take part, then you should read a little about the Three Rivers Race before continuing.

Go to TopPreparations

I made my first attempt on the Three Rivers in 2006. I planned to try again in 2008. (The break in 2007 was caused by failing to get my boat in the water at all that year). Problems arose immediately. Mike, my brother, decided the strain of spending 24 hours with me without sleep had been too great, so he bowed out. Liz then decided it wasn't worth renting somewhere to act as a local base. So apart from a desire to get my boat better prepared I needed to sort out who was going to crew and how to make sure I could get the boat to the start.

Go to TopFinding Crew

I had been told that past entrants received an application form automatically, but as I had not taken part in 2007 my race preparations for 2008 began at the end of February, with a call to Woods Dyke Boatyard. I wanted to ask if I would be receiving papers even though I hadn't competed in 2007. Because of the way the conversation went I'm still not sure what the answer to that specific question was. However, it turned out not to be a problem and, sure enough, on Monday 17 March an envelope dropped through my letterbox with the application form enclosed.

I sat on the papers till after the following weekend when I spoke with Mike. He still wasn't convinced that he wanted to take part so, in the middle of the following week, on 26 March I did the obvious and posted a message on the seahawk17 mail list, which I had been running since buying my own SeaHawk in 2004, explaining my predicament. Almost immediately I had a response from another owner whose home was in Scotland. At one time, before he moved north, he had kept a Newbridge Eclipse on the Broads and over the years had had owned a number of other boats as he moved around.

Eric aboard Chipsnip

© 2008 Eric Lucas

The photo that Eric sent, in response to my request, during the initial exchange of e-mails. It shows him aboard his own SeaHawk, Chipsnip

By the 28 March we had spoken to each other on the phone. All was arranged. Eric Lucas and I were to crew Imagination. I sent off the application form with an order for a pair of 3RR polo shirts in this year's shade, Jade Green together with the cheque to cover the race fee and shirts.

Go to TopPreparing the Boat

In the days that followed a flurry of e-mails were exchanged. Eric offered use of his battery for the navigation lights, his outboard engine and a cover for the cabin doorway. The first of these I didn't need as I had my own battery on board, used to power my electric outboard. The engine offer was a trickier issue.

In 2006 I had had to abandon the race a good way from home. The battery running my electric outboard had never been tested to exhaustion, although it had brought me from Acle Bridge most of the way to Hickling. Eventually the wind had picked up and Mike and I had sailed some of the way. What would happen if we had to abandon the race even further from home?  And where was "home"?  I had not yet made any contact with the Pleasure Boat Inn at Hickling where I had had my mooring in 2006 and I had had no contact with the pub since taking my boat out of the water at the end of that season.

A good engine could have been useful if I needed a longer haul than I had last time. On the other hand I was reluctant to ask Eric to bring his engine all the way from Scotland when, last time, I had had offers of engines from locally based friends. I was hopeful that I could call on them again if I decided that I would need something guaranteed to do a longer haul than I might expect from my electric engine.

The idea of bringing a cover for the cabin door, on the other hand, was an excellent proposal. Eric explained that it was made out of a waterproof material that just clips round the flange on the hatch cover. As he wrote, "It's a lot easier than keep taking the hatch covers off and on if its raining." We had been lucky in 2006, but as you can't rely on a lack of rain at the end of May, "Yes please!", I said to that, with enthusiasm.

On Friday 18 April I had sent the cheque and paperwork to renew the boat insurance. As in 2006 I had wondered about the wisdom of not ticking the box to cover racing. I did think about phoning the broker to ask whether taking part in this one of race would affect the price of cover, but must confess that I never got round to it.  Exactly three weeks later and just three weeks before the race, the acceptance letter arrived. One big surprise contained in the letter is that, compared with previous years, the start is to be brought forward by an hour. This is particularly significant for Imagination, as is explained later.

I write to tell Eric that we are definitely on for the race and another offer arrives the following day. This time he promises to bring two paddles. In 2006 I had relied on my brothers double-ended kayak paddle. All I had on board was something that was suited to a toy boat, with a shaft no thicker that that you might see on a spade in the hands of a three year old on the beach. Again, I accept with enthusiasm. He also tells me of the problems that he's been having finding a B&B establishment that will accept them for a long weekend booking, but a few days later he reported finding a place to stay in Upton.

Cabin for the 2006 race

The rather bare cabin in Imagination as it appeared in 2006

Meanwhile, I was working on the boat itself. At the time of the 2006 race Imagination lacked almost all creature comforts.  There were two bunks in the cabin. Each of these consisted of two panels of sturdy plywood, topped with an inch thick layer of foam and covered in mock leather. The panels could be lifted to allow access to the shallow space underneath. But that was it.

My ambition was to get at least a cooker and sink on board in a unit that replicated the glass fibre moulding that was a standard option when the boat was originally produced. At the same time I planned to add some further stowage space opposite and in the bows that would double as crude seating when using the new galley and a step on which one could stand when working with the rigging through the fore hatch.

I started construction work with only a little more than two months to go. One of my problems was with the sink that I had planned. I had looked in both caravan stores and chandlers for something that would do the job, but all I saw either included large draining boards, or were far too big, and everything cost much more than I wanted to pay.  Posting on the broadsboating mail list I explained I was now looking for a giant stainless steel dog bowl as they seemed far cheaper and just what I was looking for, other than the hole for the drain that I would have to drill out. Then I got a wonderful offer. "I've got one that's been in my narrowboat engine room. You can have it for free." Better than that! While I was visiting my father on the far side of the county, the wonderful Brian also visiting in the area delivered it into my hand, so I didn't even have to pay to collect it. Aren't people wonderful?

Cabin on completion of Rebuild

Imagination's cabin after the preparations for the 2008 race

I bought 12mm mahogany-faced ply and some hardwood for the framing from a place in Wroxham and picked up some off-cut Formica-type laminate from a boat builders in Catfield. It was one of those long-winded "design it as you build it" constructions, with a few mistakes and second attempts along the way, but in the end I was pleased with the result.

Although most work was concentrated inside the boat, some external work was done as well. One reason for what some will have considered over-thick plywood used for the furniture was that I needed that grade to get sufficient strength for new locker hatches in the cockpit. The old ones had completely delaminated. Picking up on some advice I had read, this time I coated the open edges of the simple unframed cuts of ply with epoxy resin. The other external job was the fitting of some hardwood strakes along the gunwales. I was hoping that these would be both practical and help lose some of the "hardness" of an all white GRP boat. Work continued on the boat right up to the beginning of the week that Liz and I left home to travel to Horning.

Go to TopA Local Base

Meanwhile, on Tuesday 8 April, before I had started work on the boat, I phoned my contact at Horning. I wanted to ask if I could use the same temporary mooring that I was able to use last time. Then I had needed it if I was to be able to sail the boat down from Hickling on the previous weekend and back again on the weekend after the race. I certainly couldn't get the boat from Hickling to Horning on the morning of the race and I would be too tired to make the journey back afterwards. As before, I got the response that it would be no problem. However, as it turned out I did not need a mooring before the race.

At some point while work on the boat was under way, Liz relented. Her excuse was my sixtieth birthday. It was due a couple of months after the race. She started to hunt for a venue for us to stay as part of a special birthday treat. It would also provide some holiday time for her, so met two objectives. "Quiet Waters", which had turned out so well for us last time, was no longer available as a holiday letting. Part of that chalet's attraction had been that it was bookable on a Friday to Friday basis and meant that we were able to arrive, settle in, and have a good night's sleep locally, before the start of the race. All kinds of places were considered across the northern Broads

Eventually, with less than four weeks to go we settled on "Westbury". The deciding features from my point of view was that it was in Horning, within site of the start line and had its own boat dock. I remember it being built in the 1970s. My parents briefly considered buying one of the houses in the same irregular terrace. With four double bedrooms, Westbury was a huge place for just two people, but it did allow dogs, which was an essential prerequisite for us. Less an advantage was that it also had an upside down layout, with the kitchen and living rooms upstairs and all but the smallest bedroom on the ground floor. This was a worry for us. We live in a bungalow and our elderly English Setter is not used to stairs, but by this stage we decided there was little choice.

Home for the Week at Horning

At Horning, there's just room for "Imagination" outside the holiday home that we booked

Being huge, it was more expensive than we would have liked and, although its veranda would provide a perfect platform from which to view the start of the race, we would not be able to invite people as we had in 2006, as Westbury was booked on a Saturday to Saturday basis, and we would be leaving as the race was about to start. However, it was decided to take some advantage of the surplus bed space so my brother and his wife, Mike and Mary, were invited to stay for the weekend before the race and on that Sunday Liz's sister and husband, Angie and John, came over for the day as well. With the invitations accepted it was on Sunday 11 May that Liz went on-line and ordered a mass of food to keep us going during the week.

Go to TopThe Week at Horning

I have mentioned before, Liz hates water, especially if it comes in quantities bigger than she needs for a bath. Therefore, there was a condition attached to the holiday. Minimal boating! Liz did understand the need for a practice cruise with Eric, and she knew that Mike would like a trip out over the first week end while he was there, but that was to be it!

Go to TopSaturday

Saturday came. The weather was perfect. I loaded the car and hitched up the trailer and we were off.  Five miles up the road I stopped in a lay-by, as I always do, to do an initial check of the trailer.

Leaving Home

The car is loaded and on the point of leaving home for Horning

The off-side wheel hub was hot. It's the first time that I had suffered that. A phone call to a neighbour who knows about such things suggested that I thumped the hub with a club hammer in the hope that this would release jammed brake shoes. Luckily, as I anticipated doing a little further work on the boat during the week, my full tool box was on board. I gave it a bash or two. Nothing obvious happened. However, there was little option but to drive on a little and stop again. I did and next time I thought the hub was cooler. Another stop in a further two miles and the hub was stone cold, so disaster was averted.

None of this settled Liz's nerves any. Apart from not liking water, she doesn't like trailing the boat. I sympathise. My first attempt, four years earlier, left us with restraining straps holding the boat to the trailer, parting, leaving loose ends trailing behind us in the wind, and the lighting board dropping off the trailer. However, I was less concerned, just putting it down to the trailer having hardly moved in over eighteen months.

The Delicatessen at Horning

Posh food was available a stones throw down the street from Westbury

After the initial worries, we arrived at Horning without further incident. The boat was parked on the tarmac outside the house with the car alongside.  The car was unpacked. Zena was walked. Then we awaited the arrival of Mike and Mary. After the inevitable cup of tea, the next task was the launching of Imagination.

I had hoped to use the slipway, next door but one from Westbury, at the end of the terrace, where a small collection of dinghies is stored for use by customers of Horning Village Marina. However, an inspection of this showed it to have a very  gentle slope and a very muddy bottom. There was no way that I could back the trailer into deep enough water to launch Imagination there. The next place to try was the parish slipway alongside the Swan Inn, where an experienced local assured me that, I'd have no trouble launching from there. I tested the depth at the bottom of the ramp and was concerned to find that there was a significant drop into the river. It would ground my trailer if I got it wrong and the wheels slipped off the end and into deep water.

The Mooring at Westbury

After launch, Imagination arrives at her morning for the week at "Westbury"

Back at our home for the week the meal was being prepared. The situation was becoming urgent. We had to launch before eating, as it would be dark afterwards and the place would be too busy in the morning. After seeking advice from someone crossing the bridge from the from the Sailing Club island, we took the bull by the horns and decided to launch from the club slipway. First we brought the boat along Lower Street to the club car park. Then we stepped the mast and finally backed the trailer and car down the slipway ramp. It was a joy to us. It was steep enough that even though the bottom of Imagination's keel sits 22 inches off the ground when my car's back wheel were just touching the water the boat slipped easily from the trailer and into the water. Mike then took the boat round to Westbury's dock under the electric outboard's power while I returned the car and trailer to the front of the house.

Sunset on the first night at Horning

A beautiful sunset on our first evening at Horning

With Mike ashore, I was securing the boat for the night when I managed to inflict her first damage to the new starboard strake. Stepping aboard the boat rocked and caught under the top of the quay heading. A length of the hardwood splintered away. Ah well! Such is life!

Go to TopSunday

On Sunday it poured with rain for much of the day. I was planning to write an article for "Anglia Afloat" magazine and I forced everyone to go with me to visit the UK Home Boat Builders Rally which was taking place at Barton Broad. I managed to talk to a number of people, taking notes, and the article did later appear in the magazine. However, I had to rely on the photographs taken the previous day by Ian Ruston who had organised the event. As they were all taken in the glorious sun of the day before they sat rather incongruously with my text moaning about the appalling rain that stopped everyone from moving from the shelter of the Barton Turf Adventure Centre buildings.

The visit to BTAC also allowed me to confirm arrangements I'd made by phone earlier, to leave the boat trailer at the centre for a few days. While having the trailer at Westbury would be fine during the week of our stay, once Liz booked out on race day then the trailer would need to be gone. The nice folk who ran the centre had said I could leave it with them for a week or so, so I could collect it once I'd had enough sleep after the race.

The cold that had been threatening Mike on his arrival finally came to a head and he really didn't want to be there when I forced him aboard for a brief turn on Imagination before he and Mary left to return home in Surrey.

Monday and Tuesday didn't see too much improvement in the weather. Liz and I did the promised non-boaty things. This included a walk on Waxham beach where, for the first time in my life, I actually found a message in a bottle. Later research allowed me to make contact with the Danish newly-weds who had thrown it from a boat just off the coast of Denmark.

Go to TopWednesday

Wednesday presented me with the unexpected opportunity to go sailing. I went to Wroxham. Partly because I hadn't travelled most of the route for about thirty years and partly because I wanted to buy some things for the boat. The weather was grey and blustery, with a few brief glimpses of the sun.

Queen of the Broads Trip Boat near Wroxham

Approaching Wroxham the "Queen of the Broads" was the second
of the trip boats that I encountered

On the way I dipped into Salhouse Broad as I thought a bit of open water would be good and by chance, my tack took me right into the entrance at the eastern end. I overshot the other gap into the river as my memory had confused it with Wroxham Broad and I thought that there was another exit at the far end. As expected, as I approached Wroxham the river became busier, even in the day's chilly conditions there were a number of families about in hired day boats and the open upper decks of the trip boats had plenty of passengers too.

The only other yachts that I encountered under sail were those from Hunter's Yard. I couldn't entirely blame them. There are trees lining the river almost all the way, which makes the wind extremely fluky. As the river twists and turns the wind sometimes blows directly down the river, sometimes through gaps in the trees on the bank and sometimes it eddies vertically, curling downwards as it encounters the trees on the downwind bank and back across the river in the opposite direction. Such winds can take even the experienced river sailor by surprise. At the downstream entrance to Wroxham Broad I took the decision to stick with the river rather than going through it. I regretted it as more of the broad came in sight as the wind looked rather more reliable out there.

After the Broad, where the various riverside chalets begin to appear I saw Ardea, one of the few remaining wherries still afloat. Unlike some, Ardea did not start life as a working boat, but was built in 1927 and, from her launch in the presence of King George V , was always a pleasure wherry. She has a more interesting history than most, however, having been taken to Paris in 1959 where she was used as a motorised houseboat, only returning in 2005, to be re-converted back to a sailing wherry, with a new electric auxiliary motor.

Pleasure Wherry Ardea near Wroxham

The Wherry "Ardea" seen near Wroxham, on Wednesday, dwarfing nearby boats

I moored in the first basin I encountered when I reached signs of the commercial centre of Wroxham. That's on the Hoveton side. If you're not familiar with villages at river crossings in Norfolk then you may not know that many are actually two villages, one each side of the river. Wroxham's twin is Hoveton and just to confuse things further even the famous "Roys of Wroxham", traditionally hailed as the "largest village store in the world", is in fact, in Hoveton. I asked a lad at the boatyard if it would be all right to leave my boat there for an hour while I went to do my shopping and on being told it was, made my way to the main shopping area. Apart from a few grocery supplies, such as bread and milk, the main purpose of the trip to Wroxham was to get the gear necessary to change the method of securing Imagination's fore stay.

After my shopping was done and a lunch taken, it was back to the boat, hoist the sails and off again. The return proved extremely lively in parts. First, I decided to go through Wroxham Broad rather than along the river and, as I made into the wind through the broad, really regretted not having taken the main sail a few turns round the boom. It must have been force five or six in the open water but once back in the river again I was near becalmed and just trickled forward.

Over the next two miles the river makes a near 180° turn so, after the sharp turn by Dydall's Drainage Mill it was dead astern. It's been a long time since I've been on a reasonably wide stretch of river with the wind dead astern and a standing wave in my wake level with the top of the transom. We romped down that stretch while I worried again that it really would be wiser to have been reefed down a little. But then, as the river takes a slight turn where the first chalets appear on the left bank, we slowed a little and the risk of a gybe reduced and I could relax again.

Once back at Westbury, I took out my toolbox and began to fit the cleat and fairlead that I had bought in Wroxham. The plan was to replace the standard cleat with a jam cleat. There's little space on the foredeck to use the conventional method of "swigging" on the slack in the line to gain extra tension before fastening the rope on the cleat. I hoped that using a jam cleat would allow the stay to be secured as tightly as before while speeding up the process and leave it looking neater with the spare line not cluttering the deck in the same way as it did without the new cleat. Only experience would tell if it was a successful plan.

Go to TopThursday

With Liz back at Horning, the low clouds gone and the wind dropped to nothing, we went for a trip up river. Obviously, we had to use the electric outboard. Indeed, Liz will only come aboard if the sails are stowed. It was a really pleasant little trip. We went downstream until the riverside buildings started to disappear, just beyond Horning Ferry. It made us glad that we hadn't returned to Quiet Waters. There was now a huge steel-framed building under construction on the riverside just in front of that chalet.

View of the Start

The view up river on Thursday Morning as we have breakfast.
The striped roof of Horning Sailing Club's club house is just visible

We turned and made our way back, passing Westbury, and then round the 90° bend by the Swan Inn passing the club house of the Sailing Club, once again going as far as the end of the buildings before turning again.

Club House at Horning Sailing Club

On Thursday Liz and I get a good look at Horning Sailing Club

On the way back we dropped into Black Horse Broad, marked on many maps as Hoveton Little Broad. There we found another SeaHawk taking a turn round the broad. It was a local boat, #405 and one of several called "Seahawk" that has a mooring opposite the sailing club. I thought of hailing the owner but the race paperwork had told me that it wasn't entered in the race. Nevertheless,I took the opportunity to take a couple of pictures "for the SeaHawk archives" anyway.

In the afternoon we had the news that Eric and Pat had arrived and were at their bed and breakfast Upton. Our original plan had been for Eric to come over on Friday morning for a practice cruise and then all have a meal together on the Friday night. However, we decided to meet that night as we were confident the the village would be heaving with people on race eve and we probably wouldn't get in anywhere at no notice. Accordingly, I was despatched to the New Inn to book a table, and a very pleasant evening it proved to be.

Thinking back, it seemed strange that on hearing that I had arranged to take a complete stranger as crew, Liz had conjured images of my death by a mad axeman. Commenting, on hearing this, Eric said that this must have been wishful thinking on her part, adding, "although an axe would have come in handy". However, Liz recalled how, within minutes, it seemed as if we had known each other for ages. Certainly, anyone on a nearby table would have been convinced that we were, indeed, the oldest of friends.

Go to TopFriday

Over dinner on Thursday evening it had been arranged that Eric and Pat would come to Westbury for lunch the following day. This they did. I then took Eric out on Imagination while Pat went shopping in Norwich. Eric had said there weren't too many shops in the darkest regions of Galloway, and Pat's shopping adventures were part of the deal that allowed him to crew for me.

As we set out I was surprised to be hailed by someone on an Enterprise dinghy, asking if I was Greg. It was "Gary Cantley", a regular on the Norfolk Broads Forum. I still didn't know whether Cantley was his surname or whether it related to the Computer business that it seemed he owned, judging by the signature on his postings.) We both had been posting regularly on the topic of the race, and before I had left home, it appeared that it had been decided that Imagination was be part of "Team NBF", which meant eligibility for another trophy besides the "Hickling Trophy" for fastest over 55 crew.

Eric Lucas aboard Imagination

Eric arrives on Friday and we take a test cruise

We took the boat round the corner by the Swan Inn to Black Horse Broad. This gave me the chance to show Eric the diagonal starting line from club house to the mark some yards up stream on the opposite bank. Once on the broad we found a number of river cruiser class yachts already there stooging around. From the activities on board  it was clear that they, like us, were on pre-race outings drilling their crews. I dropped the mud weight over the bows and went through the procedure to drop the mast and hoist again. Chipsnip, Eric's boat, hasn't got a tabernacle and he reckoned that dropping his mast is really a three handed job in anything like a wind. It was a surprise for him to see how easily it came down with a tabernacle. Although I felt the sequence that we rehearsed and had used in 2006 was more involved than I'd ideally like Eric felt it it went well, saying that it was the only aspect of the race he had been slightly apprehensive about.

I have an ambition to find a way of shooting the bridges with a SeaHawk. This means lowering the mast without losing way and having the boat's momentum take you through the bridge without stopping. Then, once through, raising it again. The problem is that the mast pivots a foot above the cabin roof. As a result the bottom of the mast moves forwards as it is lowered and the distance from the halyard cleats increases significantly. It means both jib and main halyards must be slackened off before the mast is lowered. Not only that, as the fore stay lengthens as the mast is lowered, either the jib's tack point needs to be disconnected, or the jib must be unhanked from the fore stay, to allow the thimble at the base of the fore stay to move with the mast as it comes down. The final problem is that the gooseneck lacks the flexibility to allow mast and boom to fold together without it being separated from the mast.

We discussed all this while we went through the process of dropping the mast, but there really doesn't seem to be a simple way of overcoming all three issues without expensive adaptations, nor a significantly faster way of dropping the mast than the approach Mike and I adopted in 2006.

Swan Inn at Horning

The Swan Inn as we approach what will be the Start Line

As we emerged from the broad and turned towards the Swan Inn on our way back, there was a brief break in the clouds and he sun shone brightly on the pub just beyond the start line. Could this be a good omen for the race?

Go to TopThe Race

I was up early on race morning, taking Zena on her usual walk round the village. Those who think that Norfolk is flat should try the alley opposite the Chinese Take Away on Lower Street that takes you up to the playing field and village hall. It's a steep climb with steps and a hand rail up what can only have been a cliff at one time. Whether this was just river erosion or the ancient site of the sea shore I could not determine. To be fair, it's not a long climb, not much more than thirty feet, but steep none the less.

Misting Morning on Race Day

Early Morning mist on Race Day

Once at the top I might walk past some of some of the local houses and back before walking round the edge of the sports field and then along the lane at the back of the playing field and down the steep slope at the end to return to Lower Street near the Swan Inn. On this morning, it was just after seven o' clock, as I descended Mill Loke and looked across Lower Street to the boats at their moorings. They were shrouded in fog. I hoped it wasn't a sign of a complete lack of wind.

With breakfast out of the way, I packed our car for Liz so it was ready to drive home and was part way through loading the boat when Eric and Pat arrived once more. Eric and I completed that job taking on board some of the things that he had offered. We then said goodbye to our women folk. Pat went off to Norwich again and I left Liz to do the final vacuuming before she left.

Go to TopBefore the Start

Eric and I cast off Imagination and left the boat dock at Westbury for the last time. We'd opted to do practice paddling down to the Sailing Club rather than run my motor, which was, in any case, now stowed in the cabin only to be used should retirement from the race be our fate. One of the little tricks my brother came up with last time was to wrap a short bungee rope round the tiller and then attach the hooks at each end to the cockpit guard rails.  This was sufficient to hold the tiller straight under normal paddling, but allowed him to grab the tiller if one of us didn't put enough into our paddling.

The scheme worked well then and was doing so again this time. We were halfway to the start when I heard a crack from my paddle. We were using Eric's plastic paddles. Plastic they may have been but they were, undoubtedly, considerably more rugged than my toy paddle. I made two more strokes and suddenly I didn't have a paddle any more.  All I held was the remains of a telescopic handle. I turned to see the blade floating in the water behind us. A small day boat was following us and they had seen what had happened. They recovered the paddle and then passed it to us.

Although basically plastic there was a stub of aluminium tube left with the blade. I wasn't clear that it was repairable. I felt guilty for breaking Eric's paddle but I confess I was more concerned about the need for a pair of decent paddles with which to tackle the race. Understandably, Eric was thinking more about keeping the bits and trying to fix it later. Thinking about it since, resin and some glass fibre tape would have probably made it stronger than new, but at that point we had neither the resources nor the time. I took the decision to drive to Wroxham and buy a new pair of paddles.

Three Rivers Race Banner

The footbridge provides access to the island on which the sailing club stands.
For the race weekend there is an additional temporary pontoon bridge

Meanwhile, I grabbed my toy paddle and we completed our way to the club. The whole area was crowded with boats. We made boat number four in a raft of three large river cruisers moored on the green beside the Swan Inn, There was little more than an hour before the pre-race briefing. I dashed back to Westbury and hammered on the door. I rang the bell.  I hammered on the door. I stood with my finger on the bell for 60 seconds. I stared through the letterbox. I was in a desperate hurry. It was so frustrating standing beside the car but with the keys in the house ready for Liz to drive home. I could see her there pushing the vacuum cleaner backwards and forwards over every square inch of carpet, but still she didn't hear the bell or my hammering.

After about three minutes she finally turned off the machine and heard the bell. I explained the problem grabbed the keys and was gone. I had been studying the paddles at Norfolk Marine on Wednesday, thinking that I really did need something better than my toy for long term use. I had resisted buying at that time as Eric was to bring his. I knew exactly what I wanted. Arriving at the shop and wanting to be served fast, it was inevitable the place was crowded with a queue at the till. Worse, I found that they had sold one of the two paddles I wanted since Wednesday, and I was keen to buy a pair. After a minute of indecision I settled on an alternative pair, paid and left. I returned car and keys to Liz and then returned to Eric, who had, in the mean time got our boat registered and picked up the paperwork from the club house.

I asked if he had made contact with anyone from the Norfolk Broads Forum while I was away. It seemed that at some point during the week since I had left home, it had been decided that Imagination was not to be part of "Team NBF" after all. I was quite disappointed. Although, I don't blame those who took the decision. I had always been certain that a SeaHawk was not the best boat available to the team. Nevertheless, I was flattered to have been invited and had been keen to do my best. But still, my main aim remained to complete the course in the allotted 24 hours and if Imagination wasn't to be part of the team, so be it.

Colin Facey giving the race announcements

Colin Facey giving his briefing to the crews taking part in the race

When the time came for the pre-race briefing once again I had to clamber across the river cruisers against which we were moored in order to move round to cross to the sailing club island. I used the temporary pontoon bridge that had been placed across the dyke since the launch of Imagination the previous week and which bobbed around as others crossed at the same time.

The briefing went much as I remembered the 2006 event, There was one announcement that took most crews by surprise. The "Southern Comfort" was expected on its mooring by the Swan Inn at some point before the start of the race. With the vast number of unpowered sail boats, big and small, in the area, the prospect of the twin decked mock Mississippi stern wheeler trip boat arriving in the area clearly caused consternation. Later, I did wonder if this was a joke of Colin because I almost immediately forgot about the warning and didn't think about it again until after the race.

This time there was much emphasis on how the committee wanted a big entry for the 2010 race, as it was to be the fiftieth Three Rivers, but beside this, speeches from one of the race founders and the current sponsors, and the usual round of thanks to the hard working officials for the race, nothing I was not expecting. There was even the same kind of bland forecast that we received in 2006. However, there was one vital difference.

The mark on the lower Bure can be set at one of three general locations, Stokesby, the Stracey Arms or Six Mile House. This is a key factor for a slow boat such as Imagination. Where was it to be? Colin reached the part of his speech where it was to be announced. "We haven't made up our mind yet!", he announced. I still feel a newcomer to the race, but from the intake of breath around me, I had to assume that this was an unusual announcement, if not unique. We were told to keep going down the Bure until we found it.

With the briefing over, I returned to the boat. Although our start was over and hour and a half away, I didn't know how soon the river cruisers would wish to move and their start would be earlier than ours. Eric and I hoisted sails and set off up river to clear the "X-Zone", the hundred yard zone behind the starting line

Awaiting the Start

Waiting for our group to Start

Other boats were already away in front of us. Almost every foot of space along the water fronts of all the chalets that line the bank beyond the X-Zone was taken. As before, the chalets' occupants all seemed to welcome the boats as they sought space to moor while waiting for their start. Eventually we found a short dock in which to hide away between many river cruisers, most of whom seemed to know each other. Man would probably have been involved in the Thurne Mouth Open Regatta held a couple of weeks previously.

Eric and I took the chance to eat some lunch and generally take things easy. There was still almost an hour to wait. At one point we swung our boat across the dock to form a pontoon bridge for someone who wanted to reach another boat to talk to one of their crew, but otherwise it was just an opportunity to relax in the very reasonable conditions. The river was, by now, full of boats with red and white streamers tied to the end of their boom. This is the signature of competing boats so that race officials can identify you.

Go to TopThe Start

I was relaxed about the start. Being surrounded by boats that had to start well before us, I planned that we should follow them out after they left. In due course we hoisted sails and, with Eric on the helm, I cast off. We started to make our way down river towards the start. There was a light breeze on out beam and, as in most years, immediately after the start we would turn and run downwind.

In front of us were some boats from the hire cruiser class. We held back. In particular, the crews of two boats were clearly making a mess of things. There was even a collision. After the fuss last time about how Mike and I had failed to wave to our wives, and other assorted friends and relations, waiting outside the Swan, I didn't want to be told I'd missed Liz this time. This is why I had asked Eric to take the helm. Crewing meant I should have more time to study the spectators and even take pictures.

By now both Eric and I were distracted by the shenanigans going on ahead of us. We wanted to keep clear of the floundering boats in front of us which, I guess we both thought, were bound to clear and cross the start line well in front of us. I heard yet another gun sound. I looked at my watch. It was 12:10, our start time. A couple of hundred yards ahead the rest of our class were racing for the line. Horrors!

I had been so proud of the last start that the idea of missing this one completely felt like an utter disaster. It was no consolation that another of our group appeared to have been confused in the same way and was a further twenty five yards behind us. Three minutes later we finally crossed the line. I was utterly depressed and failed to remember to take any photographs of the crowds. My only consolation came much later, when it was confirmed that Liz was already well on her way home by that time and wasn't in the crowd to be waved at, anyway! Eric couldn't understand my depression, after all it was only three minutes in twenty four hours. As he said, "We caught most of them up on the down wind leg anyway by stealing their wind", adding "for the first but not the last time, I really wished we'd had a big genoa poled out."

Shortly after the Start

© 2008 Craig Slawson

Passing the New Inn, 400 yards after the start, with Eric on the helm

With the turn made we were able to see the boats ahead. The surprise, for me, was that there were quite a number of boats from the hire cruiser classes, which should have started ten minutes ahead of us, mixed in with our slower sailing cruiser class. So it seems that the colliding boats were not the only ones in trouble and this year the start must have been a disaster for a number of the boats from the hire cruiser class as well.

Go to TopThrough Horning

Working through Horning we pass a number of moorings on the right bank, some of which are the homes of live aboard boaters. Soon, these give way to an unbroken line of trees, while the chalets and bungalows continue on the left. The river then swings to the left before a tighter turn to the right after which the Ferry Inn comes into view.

Yachts ahead at Horning

As the boats ahead reach the first gentle left bend we are gaining on the fleet (12:21)

At this stage we can just see the Prelude 19, "Y-Knot", at the head of the pack we are chasing. This was the only sailing cruiser to complete the race in 2006 and this year it already seems to have sliced through the pack of hire cruisers, all of which should have been ten minutes ahead. For the moment running at the back of the fleet is doing us no harm. We are in relatively clear air but the cluster of boats ahead are clearly fighting each other for what little wind there is and as a result we gain ground, even managing to creep ahead of the blue hulled "Leading Lady", as we pass the Ferry Inn.

Low Flying DC3

© 2008 Ian Ruston

Passing Horning Ferry we are a few feet ahead of "Leading Lady" (H8) at 12:36

However, once ahead of Leading Lady not only do we join the boats fighting each other for air, but what little wind we have is now taken by the pub building itself as the river curves round it. We lose momentum and the taller masts and larger sail areas of the other boats win out. By the time we clear the last of the riverside buildings and the river is turning again and the ground we had gained on Leading Lady is lost.

Working through the fleet

By 12:38 we were, once more, astern of Leading Lady as her taller rig wins out

The river now takes a long 180° turn and, having been quite tightly bunched, the fleet spreads out again. Then for the first of several times during the afternoon we are buzzed by an old DC3 airliner. The plane makes repeated sweeps across the river and must surely have been hired by someone for one of the best views of the race imaginable. Its lowest pass over us occurs as we approach Horning Vicarage which we pass at 13:03.

Low Flying DC3

The DC3 that stayed circling the area till around 17:00 makes her lowest pass over us

At this point we are close on the transom of "Javelin 2", a hire cruiser from the Martham yard that the group before us, with three other hire cruisers a little way ahead. Javelin 2 was one of the nine hire cruisers that were to retire. Only one, "Lydia", completed the course, placed ninety third. The other was recorded as a "Did not finish".

Javellin 2 from Martham

Chasing and failing to pass Javelin 2 as we approach Horning Vicarage (12:56:58)

At 13:14, one hour and one minute after we crossed the start line, we passed Ranworth Dyke. The river here is a little wider than it was at the start and soon after the banks become more open. Since 2006, most of the scrub which had had been growing right up to the water here and stealing so much of the wind, had been cut back. As a result we pick up a little speed. However, the much taller rigged hire cruisers did better and the pack we had been in began to separate.

The next landmark was the dyke leading to Horning Hall. We passed this at 13:29 and then had just three hundred yards to go to reach Ant mouth and the first major navigational decision to be made.

Go to TopThe Ant and South Walsham

Since being accepted on the race, I had been turning to the tide prediction that I had downloaded from even more regularly, pondering the choice of route round the marks. The later start than I had expected really did open up a new possibility. This year instead of a low tide at the lower Bure mark at around 00:45, as it was in 2006, it was expected to be at about 04:30. On the one hand this meant there was less time for the return leg, on the other it opened up the possibility of going straight for the lower Bure mark on the Saturday afternoon low tide, predicted at just before 16:00, and doing all the others on the return. While to make it by four o' clock would be tight, it has to be remembered that low water is not the crucial time, but rather slack water. The major question was, when would this be?

It is well known that, at Yarmouth, because of the very narrow mouth to the Bure, water continues to ebb even after the water begins to rise. The ebb continues for about an hour after low water, and then rises quickly. Rather than low and high tides being spaced evenly, at Yarmouth high tide is reckoned to be about five and a quarter hours after low water. However, what should be allowed for slack water six to eight miles upstream? Most people seem to have agreed that 2006 was an exceptional year. Then, after the night-time low, which had been at least two hour later than predicted at the Stracey Arms, the flood tide only lasted about three hours.

As the race had started, it had seemed to me that conditions this time were much the same as in 2006. I was allowing both for rain over the previous few days, which effects river flows enormously, and hence slack water times, and the weather forecast, especially for wind, over the next twenty four hours. In the exceptional year of 2001, the only year when the race had to be abandoned because of exceptionally high winds, SeaHawk owner Tim Stringer reported his average speed from Horning to Acle as 4.8mph.

Now out of the worst of the trees things were improving  but I still saw little prospect of managing the required 3mph average down to Stracey. That figure assumed slack water an hour after low and that the Stracey Arms would, indeed, be where the mark was placed. I suspected that we'd have to cover the last mile or two to the lower mark against the tide, and that assumed that the mark was at the mid-point of Stracey Arms. It was possible that the earlier start meant that the race organisers were going to extend the race to Six Mile House. Of course, it could be argued that our best opportunity to fight the tide would be during the remains of the afternoon wind. If we did leave it to the the pre-dawn tide then we certainly would be at the tide's mercy. Lack of wind overnight is a standard feature of the Three Rivers.

All these thoughts were pouring through my mind but the thought top of my mind was that we had completed only about two and three quarter miles so far, making our average speed around 1.6mph and it is something like nine miles from Ant Mouth to the Stracey Arms and there's a bridge in the way.

We reached Ant Mouth a little before 13:45 and made the turn up the Ant. This leg takes you about three quarters of a mile upstream and in fairly open country with no overhanging trees. That's the good part.  The tricky part is that it wriggles constantly and rarely exceeds a width of 45 feet. For the majority of boats ahead of us that means the river is barely one and a half boat lengths wide. It is a challenge for the best of helmsmen and, while many of the hire cruisers ahead of us are crewed by teams who take part regularly, there are enough scratch crews barely familiar with their boat for a smooth passage to defeat them.

We began to tack our way up with a steady stream of river cruiser class yachts making their down again having passed the mark. One returning helmsman remarked as he ran passed us. "It's carnage up there"! Having seen photographs taken in the hour before we managed to get there, I fully understand that remark!

Passing boats on the River Ant

© 2008 Ian Ruston

Crew aboard Coriander grab the quant pole and make ready to push the bows off the bank, while Imagination, just ahead of Leading Lady, takes advantage of the situation

Eric was still on the helm, when we were caught by a Yeoman. Quite what it was doing behind us is a mystery. It would have started almost an hour before us and I certainly don't recall passing one or seeing one stopped because of some problem. We were right on  the port bank  as it came within a few feet of our transom. Perhaps the Yeoman expected us to hurry out of the way. We could have tacked across her bows but Eric correctly judged that with so little weigh on we'd certainly be risking a collision, so we held our course. Unfortunately, the Yeoman was now so close that it found itself without enough water to make a tack itself and we were rammed squarely in the transom. We both felt that as an overtaking boat it was the Yeoman's clear duty to keep clear of us. We can only assume that the Yeoman saw it differently, certainly the Yeoman's helmsman was none to pleased and was still muttering as he came past us moments later.

While we had become separated from the hire cruisers as we reached the more open banks beyond Horning, now in the narrow confines of the Ant it was easy for Imagination to catch up. We soon found ourselves on the tail of "Leading Lady" again, who was herself being held up by "Coriander". Tack after tack Leading Lady just filled the river, preventing us making any attempt at passing, either because she simply blocked the way, or because her tall rig stole any power from our small sails.

As we turned into the river I had taken a turn on the helm and it was deeply frustrating when you knew you were faster but unable to make your way past a slower boat. Eventually, I decided I could stand it no longer and taking advantage of a less than ideal tack by Leading Lady I deliberately held a starboard tack longer than some might have felt prudent. With minimal space Leading Lady was unable to make the turn while we had right of way and there was some contact. I'm not an expert on the rules of racing but reckoned I could claim the right of way and right to water in spite of any rule about the overtaking boat needing to keep clear. Whatever the niceties, somehow I had managed to barge my way through. Eric seemed a little surprised by my approach, but, I think, felt that if I wanted to risk my boat then that was up to me.

Passing Y-Knot on the Ant

© 2008 Ian Ruston

Approaching the Ant mark we are passed by Y-Knot, one of the boats in our group

With Leading Lady despatched next was Coriander.  By good fortune, at almost the very next tack she failed to come round and plunged into the reeds. One of her crew had grabbed their quant pole and was attempting to push off as both us and Leading Lady managed to squeeze through the gap between her stern and the bank.

Clearing those two craft meant we now had open water up to the mark which, as always, was just short of the dog-leg in the river below Ludham Bridge. The final three hundred yards before the mark is straight and relatively wide. It was here that we passed "Y-Knot" returning, having made the mark. This places us immediately behind her. It leaves a puzzle about what happened to some of the other hire boats. In fighting with Leading Lady and Coriander I lost track of them. Probably, they took the view that it is better to do the Ant leg on the return when it is likely to be less crowded.

Passing the River Ant Mark

© 2008 Ian Ruston

We make our first mark of the race and turn by the Guard Ship on the River Ant

Approaching the mark the bank becomes crowded with sight seers. It turns out that Ian Ruston was there, taking pictures, though concentrating on the turn I was completely unaware of it at the time. We call out our race number as, at 14:12, stewards on the Guard Ship call that we have rounded the mark and are now allowed to turn. For the vast majority of the spectators our arrival would have been a massive anti-climax compared with the events an hour earlier. There were no dramas, no other boats nearby, no putting our bowsprit through the windows of moored boats. Just a gentle approach followed by a turn and away again.

Go to TopSouth Walsham

Our next target was the mark at South Walsham. The run down to rejoin the Bure was fairly uneventful. We must have passed the two hire yachts that we had struggled past on the way up, but I don't remember
precisely where. Once on the main river it is only about 600 yards downstream before you reach Fleet Dyke and make the turn towards South Walsham. South Walsham Broad is divided into an inner and outer broad by a narrows. The mark is set just inside the outer broad and the Guard Ship by the buoy can be seen as you approach down the dyke.

Although the trip down Fleet Dyke is a little further from the Bure than the Ant mark, the dyke is much wider, so you might expect it to be easier to negotiate, and so it is for most of its length, but the prevailing winds on race days mean that the thick belt of trees right up to the water's edge for the last five hundred yards before the entrance to the Broad slow everyone to a crawl. It is one of those deeply frustrating areas, where one boat might catch a puff of wind that passes by another that is only a few yards away. Once again the taller masts of the craft around us seem to help them make way when we cannot. At last we are out onto the Broad. We speed towards the buoy. We have to turn round it and, at the same time, drop a token into a bucket fixed to it.

Passing St Benets Abbey

Passing the iconic St Benets Abbey with derelict mill amongst the ruins!

Once again we call out our race number, as we pass the guard ship so they can keep a record of which leg we are on. It is 15:05 as we round the South Walsham Mark, successfully drop the token and head back up the dyke. More accurately, we head towards the dyke. Getting out of the broad takes even longer than getting in. It is not until 16:06 that we turn onto Bure again to make our way past the ruins of St Benets Abbey with the iconic stump of an old wind pump and on to Thurne Mouth.

Go to TopThe Thurne

I intended to make a note of when we passed the guard ship at Thurne Mouth but somehow I forgot. However, the time stamp on a photograph taken of Thurne Mill reveal we must have passed that point at 16:50. During much of the afternoon the sun has been in and out behind clouds but suddenly we get a great view of the mill in full sun.

Thurne Mill

Limelight, Norfolk Punt #45, approaches Thurne Mill as we make our way to Potter Heigham

Twenty five minutes after passing Thurne Mouth we were overtaken by a Reedling. It caught my eye as it was the same boat that I had photographed in almost the same spot in 2006. Then it was south bound having negotiated Hickling. This time it was heading our way. To have been behind us and overtaken means that it must have already done the lower Bure mark and I figured probably only had this leg and a direct passage up the Bure back to the start to complete the race. I didn't know it at the time, but this boat, Onyx, was the winning boat in 2008.

Onyx on her way to Victory

Just after passing the dyke to Womack Water Onyx, the race winner, overtakes us 

After Onyx showed us her transom, it took us almost another hour to reach and pass through the bridges at Potter Heigham. The trouble, on this part of the course, are the many riverside shacks that line the banks and steal the wind. While some of the buildings are maintained in wonderful order and have pristine gardens, many appear less well maintained. Partly, this is because many are let as holiday accommodation, so do not have people to lavish regular care on their gardens and partly because most have no access by road, making them difficult to get major supplies and equipment to them.

I was looking out for the owners of "Marsh Marigold", a SeaHawk belonging to Alan and Victoria Helby who own one of the bungalows. In 2006 they had promised to look out for us on the race. Sure enough they and their guests gave us a good cheer as we had passed. They hadn't been active on the SeaHawk mail list this year so I wasn't sure if they still owned the boat. As we reached their place, Alan was up a step ladder and Victoria, paint brush in hand, was also hard at work. It took a call to attract their attention, but they responded and we exchanged a few words before they returned to their work.

Because we reached the first bridge a couple of hours later in the day than I had in 2006 the audience around it was almost insignificant. While I didn't relish the idea of people studying our every move as we passed through the bridge, somehow I almost felt deprived and it was a slight anti-climax. Perhaps that was because it went without incident. Eric's comments on his first experience of dropping the mast under race conditions was that it came down really well. saying, "It was our practice that had paid off", adding, "No problems paddling under the bridge. A different matter on the return though!" It was 18:10 as we cast off after raising the mast above the old rail bridge, that these days carries the by-pass.

Looking back at the timings, I see that in 2006 we had completed the passage of Potter by 16:37 after a 13:00 start, making it three hours thirty seven minutes after the start. This time we had been running for exactly six hours, although we had also completed the South Walsham leg. Unfortunately I didn't make a note of when we entered Fleet Dyke, but it was probably around 14:45. meaning it was just twenty minutes to the South Walsham mark and an hour back, so discounting that leg we were still slower than in 2006 by a full hour, in what overall I would have said were very similar winds both in terms of strength and direction. I would like to say that it demonstrates how crucial tides are in this race, particularly the slower boats. However, if the tide tables were to be believed we should have been going with the tide between South Walsham Broad and the Bure. I think we have to conclude that the winds did drop significantly in that period.

Go to TopHickling Broad

Having left Potter, we made our way up to Candle Dyke and turned towards Hickling. By now, as expected, the wind was slowly subsiding. It took until 19:34 before we were entering Hickling Broad, but at least the wind was more predictable in the open water, and being a small boat with little draft had no need to keep to the marked channel.

I had always claimed that there was only one area where, with its three foot draft, Imagination would touch the bottom. Not so in 2008. Later in the season it became clear that Hickling was suffering some of the lowest water depth of the last four years. On one occasion I saw one of the modern Eastwood Whelpton hire boats take a sensational nose dive as its keel hit the bottom in the main channel as it approached the area of swinging moorings near the sailing club. During the race, however, we didn't suffer any grounding. Later press reports indicated other larger boats had significant difficulties with depth during the race. Most notable of these were the two hire boats crewed by staff of the Insurance company sponsoring the event that were forced to retire. We can only hope that the publicity shames the Broads Authority into spending more on dredging and rather less on encouraging wildlife that no longer belongs in the area.

We rounded the Hickling mark at 19:57, dropping the required token into the bucket without incident. Unlike at South Walsham there were no difficulties leaving the broad and it was 20:17 as we passed the guard ship on the way out. Once again there was steady but slowing progress on the way back through Deep Go and Candle Dykes

Go to TopThe Thurne - Again

it was 20:58 as we made the turn from Candle Dyke back onto the Thurne. After the weather we'd had during the day, with only light cloud and long periods of sun, when it came to  sunset, at 21:00, you could have expected the wind to drop. It did and now appeared very light. Although, to some extent, this was simply the effect of the buildings, trees and scrub that line both banks on the reach above Potter. What wind there was was on the beam which most sea sailors would love, but river sailors often curse. The wind too easily skips over the tree tops leaving those with shorter masts becalmed.

Martham as the light fails

Gathering gloom as we pass the Martham Boating Building and Development Co Yard

Imagination is not the boat for these conditions. The crews of the light weight open boats that came past us were all using their weight on the lee side to persuade their sails to fill, while the larger boats with their tall masts were less affected. Half way back from the turn there are some taller than average trees on the left bank and an area of scrub to the right around the old High's Drainage Mill. Here, at 21:25 we lost virtually all way and we had a frustrating fifteen minutes clearing that area.

By now I had clipped the navigation lights into position. Only sailing after dark in the race, I was using the "emergency" navigation lights I had bought for the 2006 race. They are basically crude torches. The lens is an appropriately coloured plastic dome over the bulb and each is powered by a single D-size cell. The battery has an estimated life of eight hours, so will last all through the night and, as far as I was concerned ideal for the race. As before, the brackets that come with the lights were secured with cable ties to the bottom of the shrouds and round the top of the rudder. The lights hadn't been used in two years so I had fitted new batteries.

As well as the navigation lights, required by the race rules, before the start, I had tied a small LED torch into the burgee halyard. I lowered the halyard turned on the torch and raised it again. Race rules require that no light is shown from the masthead so the torch I had chosen had quite a heavily cowled lens. It had worked very well, last time, to illuminate the burgee. Having a burgee that you could see at all times was a tip that had been passed to me by another SeaHawk owner who had completed in the race a few years before. It seemed a reasonable idea to me and the advantage of a single LED bulb torch was that batter life is in the order of 50 hours, so this one had the same batteries fitted as the last time.

It felt very different completing the second passage of the bridges at Potter Heigham. It was virtually dark as we dropped our mast before the by-pass road bridge. The passage through the old bridge was not without difficulties. For the first time in my Three Rivers experience, the current seemed to be in full flood. When passing under the bridge using an outboard, you don't think too much about the current. The engine does all the work. We soon discovered that although our furious paddling was making good progress through the water getting any movement over the ground proved quite a struggle. It's understandable. Upstream of the bridge there is a considerable volume of water. The narrow arch acts more like a sluice gate in a weir than open river and the tides choked back build up on each side of the bridge as the tide changes. I began to realise why the larger heavier boats dread the passage of Potter in these conditions, especially in cross winds. While Eric and I merely had to paddle harder for a while, larger boats that would normally be quanted, could easily find themselves caught by the wind at a point half in and half out of the bridge and without the room to manoeuvre the quant pole forward for the first push on the far side. 

Once through the old bridge we became aware that we really had reached the night time stage of the race. An orange glow of lights from nearby buildings flooded the area. There were no crowds, just a handful of people strolling about, most of whom were eating fish and chips, taking little interest in the passing boats. Once more I worked to raise the mast as Eric ensured that the shrouds and topping lift did not get caught as the mast came up to the vertical. The new fairlead and jamb cleat arrangement that I had installed during the week staying at Westbury, was not as successful as I would have liked. While it was quick and easy to raise the mast, it was not easy to get the tension in the forestay that was really required. Changes needed to be made, but there was not time to think about what they were at the time. As we pushed off from the bank it was 22:10.

The passage between the rest of the chalets downstream of the bridge was uneventful. Although lights shone at some of the windows, it was too late for their occupants to be taking any interest in boats passing silently by outside. Once beyond the buildings speed did not pick up significantly. It had still not occurred to me that, ignoring the South Walsham leg, we were at least an hour behind my 2006 times. In reality, such thoughts would have been pretty meaningless. All that was in my mind was the target time for rounding the mark on the lower Bure. Having hailed a boat earlier that we calculated had to have done the Bure leg and asked, we had been told that the mark was at the Stracey Arms. As far as Eric and I were concerned we were still well on target for making it by our target time of between four and five in the morning. Although much lighter than earlier in the day, there was certainly more of a breeze than there had been at this time of day on my last race. I was, therefore, confident we would make the mark before the tide turned and that was all that mattered.

We were on the long sweeping curve of the river after the chalets when I noticed that our port navigation light was not lit. Initially, I assumed that I just needed to tighten it up. There is no switch to these lights. Instead one just screws the dome of the lens down tighter onto the body of the lamp to turn it on. Taking it from its plastic clip I found that it was screwed down as tight as it could be, so I began to take the thing apart to attempt to inspect the bulb. This was not easy in the gloom, so I unclipped the stern light, to provide a spare bulb and battery, and went below. In the cabin I donned my head light. Had I switched it on in the cockpit it would have destroyed both our night vision completely.

It was at that tricky stage when having left the lights of the chalets, we were still not fully accustomed to the gloom. The cabin door was stowed under all our gear so I didn't bother to retrieve it and put it in place. Unfortunately, it meant that Eric was still being disturbed by my head lamp as I worked at the problem. Trees on the starboard side of the river were taking the wind so Eric began to hug the left bank as, with his vision obscured, that was all he could use as a navigation reference.

It soon emerged that the bulb had failed. While I had spare batteries on board, as required under the race rules, I did not have a spare bulb. We decided that the best we could do was forego the stern light, arguing that it was unlikely anything could creep up on us from behind without us noticing, and in these circumstances we could show a torch as the required white light.

With that resolved I went below again to make a brew of tea. I perched on the starboard lockers just forward of the Porta Potti, filled the kettle and lit the stove. When going forward through the cabin to the fore hatch to lower the mast I had already decided that it was an awkward arrangement that wasn't working out the way I had hoped. The toilet seemed large and when crouched was difficult to manoeuvre past. When seated forward of it, it left no elbow room for working at the stove, and while sitting well forward meant it was easy to reach the sink, it was no longer easy to reach over the stove for items stored beyond it. I resolved that things would have to be changed in a future year. Back in the cockpit, we both supped from our mugs.

Suddenly, there was a call from above. "Greg, it's getting very narrow and there are moored boats on both sides!".  Coming up to the cockpit, I realised instantly that we were in Thurne Dyke. I joked later that it was clear that Eric had clearly been lured by the siren lights of the Lion Inn. It was, after all, only just after closing time. But, at the time, I was alarmed to see just how close the pub was. The channel was indeed narrow. There was little more than a boat's length between the boats moored on each side. Now the wind was on our beam and we were tanking along quite nicely. It had been thirty years since I had been to the end of the dyke and I couldn't remember whether whether there was a basin with room to turn. In any case, things were likely to have changed a bit and we couldn't afford to wait till we reached the end to find out.

Thurne Dyke looking East

© 2002

On the night of the race Thurne Dyke seemed fuller than it is seen here.
The only lights we could see came from the Lion Inn, just visible at the head of the dyke

The only option seemed to be to drop our sails. It would be tricky with the wind on our beam, but the wind was light enough that there should be not be to much tension to prevent it coming down. Then, by incredible luck a gap appeared in the line of moored boats on the windward side. Eric turned into it. I was able to jump ashore over the bows and fend off any major impact. However, pushing off in one quick movement took Eric by surprise and we gave the boat beside us a bit of a tap.

The next thing I knew was that we were being pelted with stones, luckily fairly small ones, and some guy with a London accent was swearing at us, threatening to sue us for any damage, wanting to know what we were doing sailing after dark, calling us all manner of names, while a female voice was also wailing, calling for her partner to come back as he chased after us down the bank continuing to lob stones at us. Eventually, the stones stopped coming and peace was restored.

Back out on the main river and with the drama over, it suddenly seemed much darker. There was only a quarter moon and what light it gave was now obscured behind thicker clouds than there had been when I first went below. I now realised the problem that Eric had had seeing the full width of the river. From what one took to be the centre, it was impossible to distinguish between the reeds on the banks and their shadow on the water. I now could understand how Eric had made that unplanned turn. Strangely, it was reassuring to be close to the bank and within sight of it. Out in the middle you could not be sure whether any shadow ahead was water or bank. At this stage we were running. If it was to turn out that the "shadow" be bank then hitting it full on would certainly not have been a comfortable experience.

The limitation of scale of many maps means that they show the eastern bank of the Thurne as relatively straight with the Dyke leaving clearly at right angles. The reality was rather different. With minimal visibility, and following the bank closely, Eric had suddenly encountered a wall of moored boats, dead ahead, across his path. Knowing our next turn was to be a left onto the Bure, with the bank in that direction having disappeared, and moored boats ahead, Had I been on unfamiliar waters in similar circumstances, I might well have turned left too, especially when that way didn't require a gybe, but the other did. 

View Larger Map
At around 23:00 on a dark night and hugging the bank by the Thurne Mill, it is easy to understand why a helmsman, unfamiliar with the river but knowing that the next junction required a left turn, might turn into Thurne Dyke

A few minutes later at 23:40, we passed the Thurne Mouth guard ship and were back on the Bure. We called out our race number in the now well rehearsed routine. Now it was just a matter of making our way down to the mark at Stracey Arms and back to Horning and we had more than twelve hours in which to do it!

Go to TopLower Bure

Isn't it strange, how, when you're having fun, you barely notice that you haven't eaten? We were now approaching the twelve hour milestone and so far, apart from a mug or two of tea or coffee, we had only snacked on slices of cake, cereal bars, crisps, chocolate biscuits and the like. Suddenly, the e-mail that Eric had sent when I had told him how I was only planning to fit a single burner stove on Imagination came to mind. He had said:

That's fine Greg - one of my favourite boat meals that can all be cooked in one saucepan comprises tinned corned beef, tomatoes and spaghetti - I'll bring enough for two if you like !!

"Time for that meal?" I suggested. Eric agreed and slipped below to put the stove to its first real test. The recipe, it turns out, is quite simple. It's all made in one pan, which is why it's so good for cooking on board. Cook some spaghetti, drain off the water. Add the contents of a tin of chopped tomatoes. Chop the contents of a can of corned beef and add add to the pan. Simmer for five minutes and serve. Certainly, as far as I was concerned, it was delicious.

Morale was high. We had done the two short legs and the trip to Hickling. There appeared to be no prospect of rain, so although we both had anoraks on to protect us from the overnight chill, we were comfortable. The breeze was a little stronger than last time and we had plenty of time to reach the next key point, the mark at the Stracey Arms. Indeed, it looked as if we would reach the mark well before low water. There was, of course, still the issue of when slack water would be, and a slight doubt about being able to tack our way back up river against the last of the ebb once we made the turn, but these were minor worries and we could only hope that the wind would improve as daylight came.

On taking over the helm I was soon to discover how tricky it was to decide on a heading. As always when the breeze is light, it seemed variable in direction. This meant you couldn't rely on it and decide your heading by watching how the sails were filling. I soon slipped into the same pattern as Eric and drew closer to the bank to keep that boundary between water and reed in sight. The tide continued to be with us and as low water at the Stracey Arms was supposed to be a few minutes before four o' clock we knew it would keep with is until we reached the mark. While progress wasn't rapid it was inexorable.

In fact, it was that very inexorable progress that made this leg of the race so unnerving. Now alone in the cockpit I wanted the reassurance of a second pair of eyes to help keep a lookout and was pleased when Eric emerged from the cabin to pass me a bowl of his wonderful warming food. I hadn't realised how hungry I had become. We both tucked in, with relish, following with a pot of yoghurt each and more tea and coffee.

The next time I dug in my pocket to retrieve the voice recorder was at 00:05. We were passing Oby Mill, roughly half way between Thurne Mouth and Acle Bridge. In the main we were keeping close to the left bank although, at times, when the moon provided more light, we moved across to the middle to be where we figured the the best of the current would be. However, speed was not our concern. We had plenty of time and every minute earlier would mean longer fighting the last of the ebb on the way back. We seemed quite alone on the river and gathered that the earlier start and late afternoon low tide had meant that this year many more boats had opted for the dash to Stracey straight from Horning. The next landmark was Upton Dyke which we swept serenely past with none of the drama of Thurne.

Go to TopAcle

Some forty minutes later we had reached Acle Bridge. I always dream of being able to shoot bridges. Of the three we have to pass under on the race this is the one that I think should be my first attempt. The single span is wide, the approach straight forward and the tide should take you through without difficulty. In daylight, in the height of summer, it can be busy, with a large boatyard on the right and the famous Bridge Stores on the left. The small thatched hut that is the stores has been a popular place for hire craft to replenish supplies and to stop for ice creams, for a century or more. Then, just beyond the bridge are the moorings for the Bridge Inn. But, as in 2006, all was quiet as we approached. However, as I had never attempted dropping the mast with the sails still raised and we hadn't attempted it on our practice cruise, on Friday, once again, I decided that it wasn't worth the risk, given that we were still well ahead of schedule for low tide at Stracey.

Acle Bridge

© 2008 Pierre Terre

Passage through Acle Bridge, seen here in daylight three weeks before the race,
looks straight forward. On the left, just out of shot, the famous Bridge Stores

The guard ship was moored just upstream of the neat quay heading outside the Bridge Stores. There were boats moored by the shop that made the approach tricky or would force us to stop closer to the bridge than I felt was safe, so I opted to stop near the guard ship. The bank there was not what I had expected. It proved to be reinforced with large stones or irregular concrete blocks, rather than the smooth forgiving earth that had anticipated. However, there was little point in wasting time trying to move, so I accepted that we might gain a couple of minor scratches and proceeded to drop the mast.

Once through, we moored again. The windward northern bank is the site of an old boatyard. Further along there are "No Mooring" signs and a fence right up to the edge which, in any case, makes it difficult. Nearer the bridge the bank is reinforced with rusting metal piling. This had a damaged, sharp and jagged, top edge, though no signs that I could see. I took a rope and tied it to a nearby fence post leaving some slack so that the boat shouldn't touch the piling. It wasn't till we'd completed raising the mast that I realised leaving the slack in the rope hadn't worked. Imagination had been gently bouncing her bows up and down on the piling while we had been working on the mast. Luckily, however, it hadn't done much more than take off a little paint.

Having cast off, I noted the time as 00:50, twelve hours fifty minutes after our start. In 2006, Imagination had taken ten hours forty six minutes to reach the same point, but without having made it round the South Walsham mark. Allowing for the hour and twenty minutes we had taken for the South Walsham leg, it meant we were about three quarters of an hour behind our 2006 time. However, I did not work all this out until much later and we were still confident of making the Stracey mark ahead of our target time and that's all that counted to us at the time. In fact we were picking up speed. When passing through Potter for the first time, we had been over an hour behind our 2006 time, allowing for the South Walsham leg. Now  we were three quarters of an hour behind and it turned out that when we were to round the Stracey mark our passage time put us almost half an hour ahead of 2006.

Go to TopStracey Arms

There was no doubt that at this point the breeze was stronger than in 2006. It was holding up well. The brief near stationary period approaching Potter on the return from Hickling seemed an irrelevance now. We swept past the village of Stokesby. All was quiet. Last time there had been lights on several of the boats moored there. While some of them were cruisers, now I realise that some were yachts in the race trapped by the ebb without sufficient wind to make their way upstream. Once past Stokesby, we began to see more of the orange glow of the lighting on the A47 on the long "Acle Straight" than runs parallel with the railway line across the marshes inland of the coast at Great Yarmouth. 

Eventually, the bend, where the guard ship had been in 2006, came into view. There was nothing there. I had thought then, "Where is the pub?". Now I could confirm that, in 2006, the buoy had been set a little upstream of the old pub and nearby mill that comprises the landmark known as the Stracey Arms. We pressed on round the bend and on towards the outline of the buildings I knew to be our target. This area is famed for the mist and fog that forms over Breydon Water and the surrounding mud flats and then swirls over the marshes all around, but tonight it was clear and the lighting on the road seemed an unnecessary safety measure. The continual drone of cars racing along the main road now less than a hundred yards away was surprising. I didn't remember hearing that last time. Then we saw the buoy in the middle of the river, with its flashing light on top and guard ship moored in the bank nearby. We came round the mark at 02:15 and began to battle upstream.

Go to TopReturn to Horning

And battle it was. We were more than two hours before low tide and slack would be some time after that. However, we were able to make some progress. Not all the time! Sometimes, if the breeze dropped a little or we made a less than perfect tack we would find ourselves no further forward that we had been at the previous attempt. We tried the usual things, short tacks to avoid the outside of the tighter bends, where one might expect the current to be faster, but often that didn't seem to help, perhaps because we went to far into the stream or perhaps simply because the inefficiency of constantly turning through the wind.

After an hour or so, you could begin to make out a lighter glow on the eastern horizon. With our eyes fully accustomed to the dark after spending the whole night staring down the river, it seemed like full day light by four o' clock. At 04:42 the sun was due to rise. Ten minutes before this we reached Stokesby. The village is just under five miles by road from the Stracey Arms, but by river, just one and a half - and it had been two hours hard work.

Enterprise at Ant Mark

© 2008 Ian Ruston

Seen here at Ludham, this is the Enterprise that was trapped with us at Stokesby

As we had approached the 100 yard length of steel piling that offers some moorings just downstream from the village, we had seen a sailing cruiser and an Enterprise dinghy waiting for us. The cruiser appeared to have a line over the bows and was on the inside of the bend, while the Enterprise was against the piling, with one of its crew ashore. We swept by, and I made some suitable jest about how we might have offered a tow, but for the rules of the race. But the joke was on me. As soon as we drew level we ground to a halt. Back and forwards we went across the river. We must have tried half a dozen times, and then another half dozen, but for every time we gained a yard, on the next tack we lost it again.

We chatted with the other crews while this was going on. Some of the crew on the sailing cruiser were taking a nap, according to the guy in the cockpit. Perhaps the conversation was all part of a cunning ploy to ensure that we lost sufficient concentration to lose ground. At one point we managed to get a full ten yards further along the piling, before we fell back hopelessly again. And then we succeeded again. Eventually, we had to concede we were not going to get further for the time being and we grabbed hold of a bolt in the piling and rested.

Eventually, at 05:30, after almost an hour, the crew of the Enterprise got back aboard and cast off. The sailing cruiser and us followed. Progress was slow, very slow, but at least we were not actually ever going backwards on a tack. It took almost half an hour to cover the next 300 yards past the village. Then the river takes another sharp turn and the wind picked up again as we got clear of the buildings and trees. Picked up is a relative term. We had taken an hour and a half to cover 300 yards and were to take two more hours to do the next one and a half miles. Had we not been in a race, I might have waxed lyrical about the mist over the river as the sun rose further, how it hung slightly longer above  the slower water and in the shadow of the reeds, about the heron who had started to fish for the breakfast, and so on. As it was, we just wanted to get to the finish.

Acle Bridge Stores

© 2003 Ian Russell

We moored right outside the famous Bridge Stores, pictured here in September 2003

It was 07:33 as we completed passage of Acle Bridge and cast off again. In 2006 we had been around half an hour later when we reached this point. Then Mike and I had been making the same kind of progress that Eric and I had made after rounding the mark at the Stracey Arms. Sometimes we had made a yard or two on a tack, but most of the time we made no progress at all. This time the river was in flood instead of ebbing. Winds were still light but we were making progress, although too slow for comfort. At the club moorings where the belt of trees reaches down to the river from Fishley Hall we passed the point at which Mike and I had given up and got the motor out. This year Eric and I carried on.

We were now counting the minutes and miles. We had around eight miles to go and around four hours in which to do it. If we were to make it at all, clearly it was going to be tight. On the positive side, for most of the four hours we should still have the the flood with us. However, we needed a dramatic improvement in the winds or it was going to be touch and go. Unfortunately, the wind remained light and it took us until 09:10 before we were passing the the guard ship at Thurne Mouth and on to the beginnings of what I think of as the Upper Bure. Here more than anywhere we needed a boost, as this was the last chance for wind in open water. Once beyond the Ant Mouth we would be back in the trees and soon the tide would be turning again.

I failed to note the time when we passed the Ant Mouth guard ship, but it must have been around 10:00. I called our race number and shouted some remark about cutting it fine for the finish, but the crew there were encouraging, telling us that we should make it. I wanted to believe that they were being realistic. I couldn't believe that the were. Soon afterwards we were in the trees and if we thought we had been going slow before then we were to re-learn what speed means.

It was around that point in the race where I began to feel the effects of lack of sleep. I tried to calculate the number of hours that I had been awake. I would stare at bubbles in the water while my brain started the calculation. I'd find my eyes fixed on some downy feather bobbing its way past and find myself with the thought that it must have taken half a minute or so to travel the length of the boat. Then I'd realise that I still hadn't worked out how long I had been awake. Luckily those feathers were passing from the front to the back, so that did mean we were still going forwards. But were we? Next I'd stare at the bubbles close to the bank to see if those were travelling faster or slower. Did we need to stay in the centre of the river to stay with the current? Or had the flood tide now turned and was progress through the water no indication of progress towards the promised slap up breakfast that was to be served to all finishers of the race by the volunteers at the club house just a mile or two ahead at the Sailing Club in Horning? Again, I pondered. Then realised I never had worked out how many hours it was since I last had any sleep before again wondering if the tide had turned. Had it turned? Once again you'd search for a bubble, or some other floating marker close to the bank. Yes, tiredness was definitely getting to me at this stage. One thing was becoming clearer, through all the fuzziness brought on by lack of sleep. We weren't going to make it.

Return to Horning

© 2008 Craig Slawson

We crawl back into Horning. Eric looks grim after over 30 hours without sleep

Finally, at 12:10, twenty four hours after our start time, I retrieved the electric outboard from the cabin. We were beyond disappointment, having accepted a while before that no breeze was going to come to give us a sudden push for home. We were close to the the dyke leading up to Horning Church, just a mile and a half from home. Once mounted on its bracket and with its cable connected, I gave a twist on motor's extending tiller that sent us forward. I left Eric to take the helm while I began to take in the sails and tidy up the boat, for the final approach to the Sailing Club.

We were soon in the Horning's waterfront "street" and amongst the many dykes, chalets and boat houses. I recall seeing someone taking a photograph of us from a garden of one of them. However, it wasn't till much later, when I was sent a copy of the picture, that I realised that I had been staring at Craig Slawson, he who maintains the wonderful Boats of the Broads database.

We pressed on, soon reaching the Swan Inn and sailing club. We moored in the dyke beside the club house. Having not returned to Horning last time after abandoning the race, I didn't know what to expect. I had assumed that there would be people in the club house, but it was closed up and empty. We were only half an hour after the final finishing time and, on the assumption that there would have been some finishers just ahead of us, I assumed that there would be people there still there finishing up the last of the fabled "Finisher Breakfast". I had imagined them wiping the last of their bread round their plates cleaning up the remnants of egg yolk and tomato ketchup whilst downing a warming mug of tea. I had assumed there would be club members out for the afternoon on their dinghies, family members on the water, other launching and retrieving their boats and scenes of general activity. But there was none of this. Just a handful of people and no boats on the water at all.

Eric had phoned Pat on the way back and she was one of those people waiting to pick him up and whisk him off for some well deserved sleep. Eric had sorted all his gear out and we took it all to his car. With a round of hand shakes and thanks to each other, we parted. Somehow it felt like the final scene in one of those wartime films when the survivors of some heroic escapade are having a final drink in the bar at the end of it all. The leader finally rises from his seat, and as the credits start to roll he says, "Sorry, lads, I've got some letters to write".

Meanwhile I had phoned Liz. She was also on her way from the far side of the county to pick me up. Returning from the car park where I had bid my farewells, I returned to Imagination and collapsed on one of the bunks and fell asleep. I'm not sure that I ever did work out how many hours I had been awake.

Go to TopReflections

Eric saw the first draft of this report at the time I invited him to join me for the 2009 race. I had asked for comments. On the route we took he said:

I think we were both clear that with a slow boat, that decision would probably be the difference between completing the race or not. We'd no expectations of doing well in placings but our target was to finish in time. On the day, we both agreed with the course we took but with hindsight I felt that we made the wrong decision as others made better time by leaving the Thurne till later.

On our lack of sleep:

The best laid plans - we'd agreed before the race that we would take turns in helming whilst the other got below and got some sleep. That would have been great but at the crucial time we were both completely committed to trying to achieve the best boat speed possible in very trying circumstances. It then started coming light and was too late anyhow.

And the finish:

It was a difficult decision to drop the sails and start the motor and we were both suffering from lack of sleep. The adrenalin of racing had gone and the electric outboard seem to feel the same way as it almost exhausted battery power on the final mile. I just wanted to get back in my car and have my wife drive me back to Upton, then get to bed.

Actually, the remark about the battery is unfair. When fully charged it should give almost two hours cruising at full speed. It was that I chose to run the engine at less than half power because I wanted to keep as much charge in it as possible as I was unsure whether I would need it with some charge in it for a passage to my permanent mooring for the season.

His parting thought...

I think Greg was surprised when, as we parted, I said I wouldn't have missed it for anything, and I meant it. It would have been nice to complete it in the time but I really felt that with the light winds experienced there was probably no way we could have done that, no matter which route we had taken. Greg was kind enough to ask me if I would be interested in competing this year, I'm afraid that my answer had to be once is enough - my problem was that after driving 12 hours from Scotland, losing sleep on the race and then having to drive 12 hours back again made it more of an ordeal than I would want to undertake again with the risk of a similar result. Now -  if we were sailing a big gaff rigged boat with three or four crew and nice comfy bunks - I might re-consider.

It's funny, but that's exactly what my brother said in 2006.

Go to TopAfterwards

I was still undecided about my final mooring for the season when, immediately after the race, I left Imagination temporarily in Horning. It was during the following week that I contacted the Pleasure Boat Inn to arrange the return to Hickling. Then it was a question of awaiting a reasonable forecast. I had arranged a kind of "consolation cruise" for Ian Ruston. Ian had volunteered to join me for the 2008 race, but he had been away from home at the time I had made my original request for crew and, literally, had missed the boat by a few days. Eventually, on Tuesday 10 June, the forecast looked as good as it was going to get for the rest of the week and we were both free.

When eventually, in early 2009, I got round to preparing this report I asked him if he'd write a few comments on our day, so that I could pepper it with some of his views. However, what he supplied was a full log, so I might as well leave the story to him...

Go to TopHorning

I was really pleased when Greg asked if I would like to accompany him on the return trip from Horning to Hickling in Imagination. Arranging an appropriate day proved troublesome. One or other of us was unavailable or the weather provided no wind. It seemed to be a period of some time with forecasts of little or no wind. Eventually the forecast said a 10 mph wind and the day was set. Greg picked me up on the morning and we travelled in his car to Horning. When we arrived I could see Imagination moored on the far bank, there is no bridge here, luckily Greg had arranged to borrow a small rowing boat to get us across. We crossed and then paddled both boats to the opposite side where the car was parked.

It didn't take long before tea coffee sandwiches and sails were loaded and the sails hoisted. We were off. There was very little wind but it was a warm and sunny day (I should have brought some sun block, something I was to regret a little at the end of the day). Greg parked the car and I returned the borrowed boat.

Ian Ruston

Ian at the helm soon after we had set off towards Hickling from Horning

It was very pleasant, there were few other boats so we could follow the wind as much as we liked. In these light airs the trees have a tremendous influence for a distance some  ten times their height and the wind was very fickle. It was interesting to see how different our styles of sailing were. I didn't realise how my early years of sailing on the sea had conditioned my style. Greg was at home on the broads and had a trick to gain ground. When going upwind and tacking I would keep away from the bank and back the jib to bring the bows round and get onto the new tack as soon as I could. Greg would go right up to the bank and use the boats momentum to go into wind before bringing the boat onto the new tack at the last possible moment, in the process having gained several yards over my technique, interesting.

Go to TopOnwards to St Benets Abbey

We passed the Ferry Inn on our left and entrance to Ranworth broad on our right and the trees that caused earlier problems thinned out considerably. Just after the entrance to the Ant on the left is St Benets Abbey, very picturesque. Here it was absolutely wonderful weather as well. The wind had steadied a little although it was still very light it was not fluky. Greg had gone below and made a mug of coffee for us both and it was going well.

Go to TopRiver Thurne

We joined the Thurne and at this time the wind was coming straight at us so the only option was to tack repeatedly using Greg's patented method. We made slow progress. Suddenly an old wooden broads cruiser was behind us and gaining! I couldn't work out how though. He was single crewed and was not tacking at all! There was a lot of sail high up on the boat and it was catching cleaner winds allowing him to keep moving at a steady rate. After a few moments he passed on our starboard side and disappeared into the distance, I was dumbstruck.

A short time later we passed Thurne Dyke and Greg related the story of the night-time venture into it, not today thank you, definitely too narrow!

A West Wight Potter

© 2008 Ian Ruston

The West Wight Potter overtaken as we passed the dyke leading to Womack Water

A little farther up the Thurne we saw a sail tacking up the river much like us but not employing Greg's patented technique. He also had his old Seagull outboard in the water adding a brake to his progress. Greg wasn't sure what the boat was, I thought it was a West Wight Potter and when we caught up we had a conversation with its 70 year old sailor. Yes it was a Potter, was ours a SeaHawk, he had had the boat many years and enjoyed sailing on the broads and then we drew away waving goodbye. It was nice to see someone enjoying themselves so obviously.

Go to TopPotter Heigham

We approached the bridge, there were hire boats under initial instruction coming from the boat yards on the left. I kept control of the boat ready for evasive action which left Greg free to take photos. There was a lovely gaffer with tan sails coming towards us as we approached the bridge, if only the wind were in our sails like that.

Passing through Potter Heigham

I manage to catch a classic picture postcard view approaching Potter Heigham Bridge

We moored close to the bridge dropped the sails and put the electric outboard in the water and Greg cast off. It's at times like this when tides become apparent on the Broads and the water was running very quickly under the bridge in the direction we were going. To keep steerage we have to be faster than the water which means any errors would be punished with a collision with unforgiving rock that bore many scars. We made it through and moored just past the A149 bridge to put up sails. Greg spotted another SeaHawk moored a little farther on so wandered off to have a look at it and compare details.

Recent SeaHawk above Potter Bridge© 2008 Ian Ruston

The SeaHawk spotted above Potter turned out to be a rare recent model,
one of only three or four built to satisfy the Recreational Craft Directive

Go to TopCandle Dyke

We set off again and at last reached Candle Dyke. By now the wind had almost gone completely. The tides came to our help again and we drifted into Duck Broad where a whisper of wind moved us on and into Hickling broad.

Go to TopTo the Pleasure Boat!

At last we were on Hickling Broad with no trees to affect us and some wind. It was marvellous to be on open water again! I could go back to my old style of sailing again and go anywhere I wanted. But, the target was the mooring at the Pleasure Boat Inn and all too soon we were there, sail dropped and a potter down the dyke until the mooring came in sight. It was a bit later than I had expected as we had had so little wind but very enjoyable. Greg set up his folding bike and set off to fetch the car whilst I unpacked the boat. I took a photo of the boat on the mooring and waited for Greg's return. I am really looking forward to this years Three Rivers Race on board Imagination, we have got to get a finish this year!

Cabin on completion of Rebuild

© 2008 Ian Ruston

Imagination, back at her home mooring, at The Pleasure Boat Inn for the first time in 2008

So that was it. The first two voyages of 2008 and, a return to my usual mooring after a year without a boat on the water. As for Ian's thoughts on a finish? It will take a mighty and consistent breeze for us to make it in 2009. It's a bad omen that the tides will be near identical to those for the 2006 race. All we can do is live in hope of those winds. And maybe we do have to consider a dash for the Lower Bure Mark in time for the early tide?

Imagination on her home mooring

Being just a few yards from the Broad at Hickling is one of the attractions
of the mooring outside the Pleasure Boat Inn

Go to Top