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.

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Sunday on the sands at South Shields. As I walked along Sandhaven Beach I could hear the sea but for long periods lost sight of it.  The fog horn at the entrance to the Tyne sounded all day. Not a day to venture offshore.

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Return of the Hens

We’ve suffered a drop-off in egg production over the last few weeks. This was not entirely unrelated to a misunderstanding about whose turn it was to shut in the chooks which in turn led, the following morning, to the presence of a large dog fox sitting on the lawn surrounded by a blizzard of feathers.  The untennanted hen house has been sitting in mute reproach ever since.

But not any more. Yesterday three new lodgers arrived – a very smart cuckoo-coloured  Maran and two bantams, a Light Sussex and a Buff Sussex. It’s just possible the bantams had heard about the fox because they spent the first half hour with their heads stuck firmly under the Maran obviously under the impression they were hidden.  Eventually the Maran got fed up and emerged to explore. They had no choice but to follow. As it got dark they were coaxed up the ladder into the nest box by torchlight. I’m hoping they’ve got the hang of things by now and this won’t have to be repeated.

It’s pouring with rain – a bit of a miserable day to get to know your new home. But never mind. The egg boxes are stacked up ready. Over to you girls.

Update: 11.30.  One of the bantams has produced its first egg.

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All the Geese in England

After discovering the boat has been sitting in the water over winter instead of resting on blocks in the boatyard I needed to get down and check it over. I picked a grey misty day with drizzle hanging in the air but it felt good to be walking along the bank again. She seemed quite happy where she was so I got the cover off and let some air into the cabin for the first time in a couple of months.  The motor started without any fuss so I cast off onto a deserted River Thurne and motored up to Candle Dyke.  With hardly any breeze there was little point in getting the sails up so I settled for a run under power to charge the battery.

Heigham Sound is a large expanse of water at the best of times but in the winter it seems huge. The reeds that mark the separation from Duck Broad have almost disappeared and as you leave Candle Dyke you enter an expanse of water that must be half a mile wide. Today it was entirely paved with geese. Duck Broad itself is one of the areas set aside as a wildfowl refuge during the winter months (Horsey Mere is another, and parts of Hickling). But no one seems to have told the wildlife.  The flock ahead of me stretched from Duck Broad across the channel and to the far side of the Sound.  As I approached I expected the birds in the channel to fly off  but the effect of my arrival was much more dramatic. As soon as the first goose took to the wing the entire flock was on the move. A slight breeze was following me down the Sound so to get airborne they had to head in my direction. Suddenly the world was whirl of crying geese lifting off the water in formation and filling the sky around the boat. It was breathtaking.  The cormorants lined up on the channel markers got caught up in the excitement and flew off low over the water.

I motored down to the far end of the Sound and then turned and pottered very slowly back to the mooring. First time on the water this year. And already something to celebrate.

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First trip to the river in 2012

The 8th of January – and as we left the house this morning the bees were out in the sunshine working the white camellia in the drive. They’ve already cleared out their dead at least a couple of months ahead of time.

With the boat out of the water since mid November we decided to drive out to Potter Heigham and walk the path along Middle Wall that leads to Heigham Sound.  We’d no sooner locked the car than we discovered a sign saying the path along the Sound was closed for flood alleviation work.  From the Broads Authority map it still looked possible to get as far as Candle Dyke so we set off along the arrow-straight path with grazing marsh on both sides. By High’s Mill we took a diversion to see if we could get a look at the old mill cottage which was for sale. An idyllic situation surrounded by water – the river Thurne to the south and drainage ditches everywhere else.

We retraced our steps and headed out further along the track only to discover that the boat wasn’t out of the water at all but was sitting quietly on her mooring on the opposite bank. The boat yard has a pretty relaxed style so part of me wasn’t even surprised. It explained why I hadn’t been billed for the lift-out. I suppose I now have to decide whether to leave her where she is or haul her out and take up my brother’s offer of his gel-coat polishing skills.

At the far end of Middle Wall where it reaches Candle Dyke we put up a bittern – my first.  We’ve heard them booming on several occasions but never managed to see one.  Most pictures show them hiding in reed beds, not in flight but I reasoned it couldn’t really be anything else. The wings were longer, thinner and more pointed than I expected but when we got home I found a You Tube video of a flying bittern that was exactly what we’d seen.

I enjoyed the walk. But if we’d know we were still afloat it would have been a sail

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Horses for Courses

Out again on Sunday. With the tide in our favour we crept along Meadow Dyke on the lightest of breezes and found ourselves on a deserted Horsey Mere.  Things were a bit better out on open water and we were just congratulating ourselves on nursing Gypsy Roma through some circuits of the sunken island when a broads cruiser emerged from the mouth of the dyke onto the mere.

These boats, shaped by the shallow waters and narrow rivers of the Broads,  carry a huge area of sail for their hull size.  These are the white sails you see everywhere in the flat landscape apparently moving through marshland grazing and green fields. As they pulled alongside we had a fine demonstration of her superiority in these conditions.She overhauled us as if we were standing still.  The wind had picked up a little but it can’t have been blowing any more than Force 2/3. Even so, with her narrow freeboard her deck dipped into the water as she pulled away.

I wanted to stand up and cheer.

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Honey update, update.

I thought we’d finished with the honey. But we’ve been treating our hives for varroa and in the process had to remove some supers which contained enough honey to make it worth extracting. We’ve just put it in jars. Fifty seven of them.

This gives us a 2011 honey harvest of 396 lbs.  You could have a reasonable bath in that.

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