Life – in the shape of the bees and research for a community play in Peterborough – has contrived to keep us away from the river. Plans went awry again yesterday when Kate had a meeting she couldn’t duck so reluctant to waste the day I went down to the boat for another attempt at sailing single handed.
The sun was shining on a flat calm as I took the cover off the boat. Checks done, and not without some reservations, I started the engine and let go. On the approach to Heigham Sound I clamped the tiller, got the sails up without too much drama, and killed the engine just as I reached open water. Ahead was a broads yacht carrying much more sail than Gypsy Roma. I was just congratulating myself on being able to match her for pace when I realised we were both drifting on the same one knot tide rather than being driven by the occasional wisp of a breeze. Still it was a beautiful place to be, adrift in acres of smooth reed-fringed water, with only the birdlife to disturb the silence. It must have taken more than half an hour to drift as far as Meadow Dyke where my shadow peeled off towards Hickling and I turned for Horsey. I was in danger of being overtaken by family in a canoe and with no prospect of being able to sail the dyke I resorted to the engine for a second time. About half way along the dyke a couple of old guys in a flat bottomed fishing boat arrived alongside and slowed down for a chat. They must have been in their late 70s. They’d seen my “ocean going yacht” on the mooring and wondered what it was doing there. Was I lost? They were having a fine old time. As I waved them off I saw what I at first took to be the name of the boat in big letters on the transom. But no, there was the name – Helen – in much smaller letters alongside. “COFFIN DODGERS” it said. I think they might be on to something.
There was a bit of breeze on Horsey blowing off the sea through the Horsey Gap so I spent a couple of hours sailing round the island, tacking into the wind to get to the far end of the mere and then running back with the mainsail flat against the shrouds. There were a couple of other yachts out but it was still relatively quiet. After my final run I sailed back down Meadow Dyke, back into the Sound and round into Deep Go Dyke where the sails came down in the shelter of the trees. I turned round and managed to moor single handed on White Slea. Lunch was an egg and cress sandwich from the Co-op which seemed like a feast. White Slea is always a good place for marsh harriers and I watched them for a while drifting over the reeds with their beautifully marked wings and quite unconcerned by the occasional passing cruiser. In another week or so the traffic will be much heavier but I suspect the birds will still be there.
I rather spoiled things by making a complete mess of my departure. I would probably still have been there if a fisherman hadn’t taken pity on me and given me a good shove out into the stream. By the time I got back to the Thurne changeover day was in full swing at the boatyard. New crews were taking over their hire craft for the week and being shown the ropes by the guys from Martham Boats. Released from the yard the lovely wooden cruisers had scattered and tied up at every available mooring on Candle Dyke for the new captains to get their bearings. There were some fine nautical hats sticking out of the wheelhouses.
The sun had gone when I tied up back at the mooring but I was feeling pretty good about things. Something odd happens when you step on a boat. Life fills up. For the time you’re out on the water you don’t need anything else. Which I suppose is what coffin dodging is all about.