Do one thing each day that frightens you, they say…
Chained to the desk by a script deadline and rapidly running out of steam I decided what I needed was a quick blast of fresh air to clear my head. I had the perfect excuse in the shape of the Broads licence which has been sitting on my desk for nearly a month when it ought to have been stuck on the boat. So at four o’clock I jumped in the car and headed for the mooring to legalise the Gypsy by sticking my stickers in the required position. Should only take me an hour I thought.
I hadn’t been near the boat for some time. Between trips to a family sickbed and the deadline which it seemed I was increasingly unlikely to meet life had simply got in the way. But today I had a legitimate excuse. This wasn’t slacking. This was fulfilling my legal obligations. Once I’d done my stuff with the stickers it seemed only sensible to take the cover off and make sure everything was ship-shape. I tried the engine, which fired up first time. So on reflection the little run up Candle Dyke to charge the battery might not have been strictly necessary.
I hadn’t planned to do any sailing but a light following breeze proved impossible to resist. After all things were quiet enough to keep me out of serious trouble. If anything went wrong it would go wrong slowly and I should be able to cope. So I killed the motor and ten minutes later found myself ghosting onto a deserted Heigham Sound under the big tan sails. From open water there was no trace of green among the straw-coloured reed beds. But I saw my first swallow of the year and the leaves were starting to show in the alder carrs. In a week or two the place will be transformed. The wind had died away to almost nothing and feeling pretty pleased with myself I managed to nurse her down to the far end towards Hickling where I noticed what I should have noticed earlier – that the sky ahead had grown ominously dark.
At this point things got more complicated. The squall arrived out of nowhere. As I turned for home a wind whipped up the flat surface of the Sound and the skies opened. The boat heeled over grabbed the wind and set off back the way we’d come. I clearly needed a reef in but it was far too late for that. So I hung on as we flew back towards Candle Dyke through the driving rain. I was soaked to the skin in no time.
As you leave Heigham Sound and enter the dyke there is a belt of trees that in the past has provided enough shelter for me to get the sails down. Not this time. I powered through the shelter belt driven on by the lashing rain and just about managing to hold things together.
It quickly became clear that the first chance I’d get to turn head to wind would be as I re-entered the Thurne. The drawback here was the moored boats that lined one bank of what is a narrow river at the best of times. Still, there was no real alternative so with reedbeds flashing by at an alarming rate I swung round into the Thurne only to find the river entirely blocked by two broads cruisers bearing down on me side by side under a mountain of canvas. There was nothing I could do but hold a course as best I could while they somehow managed to whip past on either side.
And then the fun really started. I’d got the motor running to give me some forward drive but even directly into the wind the flogging sails were throwing the boat around. Getting the jib down helped. The tiller extension was barely long enough for me to reach the sheets and when I did and tried to drop the mainsail the jaws of the gaff fouled in the topping lift. By this time my glasses were completely obscured by the driving rain, the boom had swung free as I struggled to free the gaff and was trying to sweep me over the side, and it was all I could do to keep the whole thrashing kit and caboodle clear of the bank and the thousands of pounds worth of classic wooden yachts.
In the end I somehow managed to get things under control, drop the sails and lash them to the boom. By the time I’d got her back on the mooring I was bruised, wet and completely exhausted. Water was still pooling round my feet as I drove home.