When it comes to sailing, I am pretty good on the water. Indeed I'd say I was up there with the Captain Jack Sparrows and Christopher Columbuses of the world.
It would be a lie, but I'd like to say it anyway.
Point is that I can hold my own beneath sail and halyard, the wind to the rear and a tiller to steer. I am also a rather better navigator than either of the above mentioned. I know which way is up on a compass and am not inclined to rename a place or people just because I landed there.
However, you would NEVER find me on a cruise. Or entering any lottery that had first prize of a 'stink' boat - one of these lean mean power machines. It turns out that if the boat's got an engine, I am a lousy sailor indeed. Such a boat moves against the flow and the result is so does my vestibular system. You all know what that means.
Just fine with canvas and sisal thanks. Or oars, if needs must.
The thing about yachts, though, is that they are designed for the balance of a mast. This was a logic of which I was well aware but never put to the test. Until the Norfolk Broads incident.
An Aussie boyfriend was visiting UK and we were doing something of a grand tour. He had his master's certificate so was able to hire decent boats. When I had suggested a 'putter' down a canal on a long-boat he sniffed a bit and said - but you'll be useless. Noooooo- that's only when there are tides and things called waves involved. Caravans on smooth glass were not likely to trouble.
He wasn't willing to gamble and anyway was up for more excitement. He'd been doing his research and surprised me by saying he'd booked a yacht out of Coltishall for 6 days to move through the Broads and down to Great Yarmouth and back.
This looked fantastic on brochure. It even looked fantastic when we drove up to the marina and boarded the "Broad of Beam". Was he trying to tell me something?
It was late August and the weather had shaped up well. So well that the first day there was scarcely a breeze. This set the plans awry a tad, and himself decided we would do a wee bit of night sailing. The wind came up right on sunset and he was in his element. "Beam" had ...beam… in the form of a spotlight, so this turned out to both a good plan and a fun one too. We moored late and rose with the sun to ensure no further delay.
Again with the dwalm. Headway was slow, if rather relaxing and entertaining as we shared passing conversations with others on the water. Hey ho. The breeze remained lazy even in the night so we moored early this time. I wanted to put on the local radio, but was vetoed because, I was told, it would disturb the ambiance.
Next day was more promising and we reached Great Yarmouth ahead of the schedule. So fighead decided is would be a great idea to sail the open water of River Yare called Breydon water. This crossing however, was to become a nightmare and it felt like we sailed round the globe and back. For you see, the gentle, unhelpful puff that had been present the past three days, in the event of our exiting onto the open expanse, became little short of a hurricane. Had it been blowing in the appropriate direction even this would have been fine. But no.
Not only was there the prevailing sea breeze from the south east, it now crashed and fought with the westerly which had been accompanying us thus far. These two winds could not agree. This resulted in a war over our heads which not only tore out our spinnaker but threatened the mainsail also. The 'master', for reasons I still wonder at as I tell you this tale now, not only chose to lower the sail and move to motor power, but decided to drop the mast also.
That's shorthand for all the names I called him. The "Broad of Beam" was in fact rather a sleek and narrow little craft and became nothing more than a cork tossed on the surf. Her motor was small - I honestly cannot recall the horsepower now, but I know it just was not really up to the task of fighting the drag from the warring winds. I begged him to raise the mast again, as this would not affect the motor movement but would certainly ballast us. Oh I don't know what was going on in that head - but I do know that it was one of the scariest times I have ever faced.
Every other boat in sight had their mast up. When we FINALLY reached the other side of this gaping wind tunnel and landed on firm ground by a stunning beautiful windmill, (Berney Arms) we had to fight for mooring. Many of the yachts our size had held back from travelling due to the warnings that had been issued. Oh Yeah? Might have been a good idea to have listened to that radio after all.
I left him to deal with the local yachtsmen who were all wondering at his lowered mast tactics and was this how they sailed in Australia and no wonder they never won the Americas Cup… (That was the year OZ did - with the mast up too). Meanwhile I enjoyed a long and much needed draught from the pub beside the mill.
I am no wimp. Have been in some tight spots in varied times and places. But I refused to travel any further along the Broads. The next day came up so gorgeous, we just stayed at the Mill. The following day, winds softened to delightful, we made our under-sail way back across that monstrous water, now tame and made it in a quarter of the time it had taken on the way out.
Thy wind firmly in our rig now, we arrived back half a day early at the marina. I noticed that, on being questioned, no mention of masts being dropped was made.
Leaving him to it, I packed the car and worked out the route home.
Just in case you're curious, this is a site we could well have benefited from, we were just a quarter century too early!