I took the boat out on my own for the first time today. I didn’t go far – up the Thurne as far as Candle Dyke – and I didn’t get the sails up. The main reason for letting go was get some practice in at coming alongside without a willing crew member to jump ashore with the ropes. I need to be able to do this if I’m going to be able to sail the boat single handed. I need to do quite a lot of other things too, but mooring seemed a reasonable place to start.
I discovered that if I led one of the mooring warps through the grab rail on the cabin roof I could create a point amidships where I could tie up. The alternative is to get ashore with both fore and aft ropes and wrestle the boat into position. While you’re busy securing one of these ropes it’s all too easy for the bow or the stern to swing out so a single, central mooring point within easy reach of the tiller is useful. Fortunately the Gypsy is built like a tank (not the best comparison for something that’s supposed to float) so I’m not likely to damage the grab rail.
At one time the Thurne flowed out to sea between Horsey and Winterton. By the 17th century the gap had silted up and the Thurne, cut off from the sea, reversed its direction of flow. The river is tidal, feeding into the Bure and – eventually – out to the North Sea at Great Yarmouth – itself a settlement created on a sand spit that spread across the now- vanished estuary. The tidal flow is very small and runs at about 1 knot. If the wind is in the east water can pile up in the system behind the narrows at Yarmouth and under these conditions there is no noticable difference between low and high tide. This is why boats can so easily get stuck the wrong side of Potter Heigham bridge – waiting patiently for the tide to fall only to find the bridge guage remaining stubbornly set at 5′ 6″.
Small it may be but the tide nevertheless has a marked effect on the boat when leaving the mooring. It can be unsettling, particularly as at times its nearly impossible to tell which way the tide is flowing in the murky slow-moving water. We discovered this early on after a lesson on how to leave the bank under sail. We tried this a few times in the morning before waving our instructor off. After lunch we tried on our own repeating everything we’d done in exactly the same order as before only to find the boat swinging off in the opposite direction as we pushed the stern out into the stream. Before we realised what had happened the sail caught the breeze and hurled us into the bank.
The upper reaches of the Thurne with its access to Heigham Sound, Hickling and Horsey is one of the most unspoiled sections of the broads. Work is underway to create new wetlands directly opposite our mooring so the chances of seeing more of the wildlife – including our local otter – are improving. One evening last summer we were coming back from West Somerton on the Thurne when we saw the astonishing sight of two cranes coming in low over the reeds. We knew they were around but hadn’t seen them before.( I may just have created a new collective noun. An astonishment of cranes.)
It was bitterly cold today. I commiserated with a solitary pike angler moored in the reeds. We agreed anyone with any sense would pack up and go home. Then he cast his deadbait and settled down to wait. And I turned for another run at the mooring.