Thursday, 12 February 2015

For those in peril on the Broads

It was the end of an enjoyable day out on the Norfolk Broads. We had hired a genuine vintage wooden sailing boat, built in the 1940s, a 20 foot long open half-decked vessel with no cabin, a single easily handled balanced lug sail, and a pair of oars but no engine, perfect for pottering around. As the only one of our party of three who could sail, I was in sole command.

It was now time to head for home. The wind had been light that day, and we had often needed to get the oars out. In fact, we had rowed part of the way back, but the merest whisper of a breeze had sprung up as we approached the boatyard from which we had set out that morning so that we could sail in. I pointed the bow down a narrow channel formed by two parallel jetties leading to the yard, and we slid gently down between the lines of moored boats.

The wind grew stronger and we began to pick up speed. On one or two occasions the boom brushed against the rigging of another boat. With growing concern, I realised that with the wind almost directly astern, there was no way of slowing down and nowhere to turn in the channel. I started to get really worried as I realised that I had no idea as to what to do other than brace myself for the inevitable impact at the end of the channel as part of the nation's nautical heritage splintered about me and my companions.

Just as everything seemed hopeless, a voice from the shore shouted "Put the helm down now!" I understood immediately what he meant, and did as he said. The slightly wider body of water in which the channel terminated had just enough space for the boat to turn smartly head to wind, and come to an elegant stop.

Bystanders came up to congratulate me on my skill. I looked around for my saviour but he was nowhere to be found. My shipmates had no idea that anything was amiss. I had nightmares about it for weeks afterwards.

Note: should you find yourself in this situation, what you should do is take down the sail prior to your approach, and row in.

If you fancy sailing a traditional boat on the Norfolk Broads, have a look at Hunter's Yard. They are owned by a charity and have a fleet of classic sailing craft for hire, ranging in size from open boats like the one we hired (where you can sleep on board under a tent cover), to cabin yachts with up to 4 berths. They also provide instruction.

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