We had to tackle it some time. But a high spring tide wasn’t the ideal moment. The height guage showed a clearance of 5′ 6″.
The old road bridge at Potter Heigham is only half a mile downstream from the mooring. It’s the choke point that keeps the waters of Horsey and the Upper Thurne relatively quiet. Hire boats aren’t allowed to brave it alone – they have to hand over to the bridge pilot and – if they’ve got any sense – shut their eyes. It’s not a bridge you can go through slowly. The water moves very quickly as the channel is restricted through its narrow arch and a strong cross wind like today’s makes matters worse. Apparently if you go at it crisply enough the prop will suck water out of the arch giving you an extra whisker of headroom.
There are actually two bridges one after the other. The first as we approached carries the modern road. We moored up and with the usual drama lowered the mast and headed out into the stream. There was worringly little headroom. So rather than rush straight at the tiny opening up ahead we moored up again and formulated plan B. The normal position of the lowered mast is on the boom cruches on the stern. Kate is 5′ 6″ and after a bit of jiggery pokery we managed to line her up with the lowered mast and establish that the head of the mast was a good 4 or 5 inches higher.
So we had no choice but to remove the boom crutch and let the mast rest on the sheet horse. Unfortunately this meant it was also resting on the tiller which made steering interesting. Having run out of excuses we tried again. Kate sat in the foredeck well with a camera and a worried expression while I pointed the bow at the gap . Just as we’d lined up a day boat shot out from just beyond the bridge and made for the opening from the other side. Kate sprang into action and frightened the life out of him. I had to back off and Gypsy Roma immediately slewed sideways. The day boat turned and ran so I shoved the tiller over through the forest of cables and sails hanging off the mast and applied the power with my left foot.
It all worked out rather well. I think the clearance was probably about 5 inches which they tell me in these parts is loads of room. If the photos make it look more comfortable than that you should bear in mind that what you’re looking at is the bowsprit, not the lowered mast.