Boating to Beccles

The forecast said ‘mist’ but what we got was rain. It let up a little to allow us onto the boat but the respite was short-lived. Mast down, we left the mooring at 9.50 motoring into the wind and tide. By the time we reached the Bure the rain had set in again. We managed Potter Heigham and Acle bridges without stopping, but we were soaked by the time we stopped for lunch at Stokesby.

We left again at 1.45 just as the sun came out. By now the tide was with us though the breeze had dropped away to almost nothing. Still we were able to get the sails up and kill the engine. For an hour and a half we drifted slowly downstream. It was difficult to manoveur without much in the way of a breeze and after we touched the bottom at the end of a tack and the spring tide swung us through 360 degrees we fired up the engine again and got the sails down.

As we approached the Yacht Station in Yarmouth things were starting to get interesting. The ebb was running strongly under us and we had to tie up and wait a couple of hours for things to quieten down.  There was a drop of a good six or seven feet from the quay heading to the water but fortunately there were two cycling quay rangers on hand to take the ropes.  All I had to do was spin her round and come in against the tide. We were already moving quickly.  I swung the tiller hard over and as she came round we were swept sideways downstream towards the first of the bridges. I worked the engine hard in forward, hard in reverse and somehow managed to get her facing back the way we’d come. With the throttle fully open we crept forward agains the flow and squeezed into the gap where the rangers were waiting.

The tides in Yarmouth have to be taken seriously.  It’s not just the Bure that flows into town. Both the Waveney and the Yare empty into the vast inland estuary of Breydon Water. The flow from Breydon meets the flow from the Bure and funnels out to sea.  Timing is important. Slack water passage time was 17.44.  Fortunately things had calmed down by then, so mast down for the third time in one day we left the yacht station and headed for the first of the bridges.

Yarmouth - leaving the yacht station

The fresh water on the surface was still ebbing but the flood had already begun with the salt water underneath. So things weren’t entirely calm.

Yarmouth - the road bridge

We passed under the road bridge and the disused Vauxhall railway arch.

Vaxhall Bridge

At this point it was turn to port for the sea or to starboard for Breydon. We went for Breydon.

First sight of the Breydon Lifting Bridge

We turned round the channel marker and headed for the lifting bridge.

The Lifting Bridge

The boat suddenly seemed very small. A few minutes later we passed under the starboard span and Breydon opened in front of us.

Entrance to Breydon Water

We’d been warned the channel was narrow, but it didn’t seem that way to us. The Thurne was narrow, Meadow Dyke was narrow but this was something else. For the first time it really felt we were in open water. This was at low tide. At full flood Breydon is two or three times as broad.

Breydon Water

There was little other traffic about and for the first five or ten minutes we were stunned into inactivity.


The wind was still on the nose. But motoring here was ridiculous.  We hauled up the sails and switched off the little Yanmar. And suddenly everything changed. Freed from the confines of the narrow streams of the northern broads the boat came to life. This was a different kind of sailing altogether. For an exhilarating hour we tacked the length of the channel and made our way to the far end where the Waveney and the Yare meet. A few other yachts were plugging their way across under engine but we easily avoided them. The plan was to moor up at the Berney Arms mill but when we got there the place was a forest of masts. Apparently it was the day of the Breydon Regatta and the mooring – and the pub – was packed. Fortunately a gent took pity on us and moved his splendid looking classic cruiser and classic yacht to allow us to squeeze on the end.  It was 7.15 when we broke open the beer and watched the sun slowly disappear behind the bank.

Berney Arms

A meal on board. A brandy in the pub and then back to bed at the end of a good day.

I woke in the early hours. Something didn’t feel right. I stuck my head outside to find the boat hung up on her moorings. We’d assumed the night before we were close to low water but we’d miscalculated.  I scrambled out and managed to release the warps. Gypsy Roma settled back onto an even keel but proved impossible to move. I assumed she was on the bottom. There was nothing else I could do, so crept back on board and went back to sleep. By morning she was afloat, gently nudging the bank.

After the excitement of Breydon the next day and a half was a bit of an anticlimax. The wind was being uncooperative, blowing straight at us, then fluking and dying, and changing direction. We managed to sail some of the way but the engine had a great deal of work as we made our way up the Waveney.  We found a quiet mooring at North Cove for our second night and on day three after yet another attempt to find some wind, motored on to Beccles.

The town itself looks lovely from the water, but our borrowed mooring, when we reached it was obviously going to be a challenge. A classic gentleman’s launch at one end and the rowing club pontoon at the other made the approach difficult. We’d also had to lift our keel because at low tide we were going to be sitting on the bottom so after a couple of failed attempts  I put Kate ashore on the pontoon and she walked us into position. The boat extended beyond the mooring by the length of her rudder. I hope the rowing club don’t mind. The bowsprit was several inches short of the launch. What could possible go wrong?


We wrapped her up, gathered up our belongings and walked into town. A bus was waiting to leave for Norwich. It had taken us 2 1/2 days to get here. The return journey took 40 minutes.

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Honey – the numbers

I’ve had to check this twice because I can’t quite believe it.  Over the last few days we’ve taken off 194 lbs of honey from just two hives. What makes this extraordinary is that in May we extracted 125 lbs from the same two colonies. Giving a grand total of 319 lbs of honey at an average of 159.5 lbs per hive.  The hive which swarmed earlier in the year and has given us so much trouble yielded a mere 20 lbs.  Add this up and we get a grand total for our 2011 honey crop of 339 lbs.

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More Honey

We’ve spent the last couple of days processing honey.  The bees didn’t give it up willingly. The idea is to put a clearing board under the supers containing the honey. These boards have a bee escape fitted to them which acts like a one way bee-valve. Once the board is in place the bees left on the supers think they’re outside the hive because the queen’s pheromones no longer reach them. They then form a disorderly queue and pour through the bee escapes, heading south. Next day when you lift the lid off the hive you’re faced with nice clean supers which can be easily carried off for processing. (Easily, that is if you’re a rugby forward, weight lifter, or wholesale abuser of steroids.)

Our bees didn’t fancy any of this. When we lifted off the lid we were met by large numbers of workers anxious to hold on to their plentiful supplies. This forced us to use Method (2): brush them off and run like hell carrying the super while hoping you don’t have a heart attack.  Over 2 days we took off eight supers. Processing started as soon as we’d recovered. The first job is to uncap the individual frames. A sharp knife dipped in hot water does the job. Once the frames are uncapped they can be loaded into the extractor.You can buy electric extractors which spin these frames at high speed and collect the honey. Or you can borrow a manual extractor which leaks and requires hand cranking and tries to march across the floor despite two of you balancing precariously on top while trying to wind the handle. After this all the honey is sieved, collected in a large stainless steel container, left to stand and then deposited in jars via a honey tap. It’s at about this point it starts to get satisfying.The final figures aren’t in yet. But we’ve certainly taken more than 300 lbs all told. Update to follow.




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Going Solo

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.

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A Trip Downstream

 The plan was to head off downstream and see how far the light breeze and the tide would take us. Our start was delayed when we arrived to find a road crew resurfacing the track down to the mooring. By the time we’d ferried our gear down to the boat it was almost lunchtime. We got the sails up as soon as we cleared the low bridge at Potter Heigham and didn’t need to resort to the engine until we reached Acle bridge a couple of hours later.

The first stage took us down the Thurne and into the Bure. The Bure is quite broad below Thurne Mouth and the banks are clear of trees – good conditions for sailing. We were passed by the odd motor cruiser but again for the most part we had the river to ourselves. This will change dramatically in a few weeks when the schools break up. The mast came down for the second time at the bridge and once we were sailing again we were in unfamiliar waters. We got into trouble almost at once.

We’d been feeling pretty pleased with ourselves after successfully tacking along a couple of reaches where the wind had come round onto the nose. The wind was less favourable below the bridge and trying to pinch as much river as we could we ran aground as we crept up to the reedy margins. The bow was resting on soft mud and it took some serious work with the engine to get us off. We were getting tired by this point and after a few more failed attempts to work against the wind we gave up and motored the last half mile or so to Stokesby.

Stokesby is a typical Broadland village that owes its existence to the river. A village green, a tea shop selling cream teas and a riverside pub called the Ferry Inn make it a popular place to tie up.  There are virtually no moorings between Stokesby and Great Yarmouth a few miles further downstream. By now it was well into the afternoon and the tide would shortly be turning against us so we considered our options over a piece of apricot fruit cake from the tea shop and after consulting tide tables, the shipping forecast, two swans and a dozen nosey ducklings booked ourselves in to the restaurant at the pub.

After our usual night’s broken sleep in the confines of the cabin we had breakfast on board and set off  back the way we’d come again with the tide under us. Overnight we seem to have recovered our (very modest) tacking ability and made it through the bends to Acle. Using the engine to ease us through we managed to lower and raise the mast without stopping. The sails went back up and then with Kate at the helm we sailed back along the Bure and into the Thurne.  At Potter Heigham I made a bit of a mess of coming in to moor in order to take down the mast for the forth time on this expedition. And I repeated the trick when we arrived back at Martham.  But all in all a fine couple of days and signs that we are slowly getting more competent under sail.

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Despite the comedy beekeeping we’ve managed fill our storecupboard with honey. The comparison with last year is interesting.  In 2010 we took off our first honey (22 lb) on 6th June. Our second crop was taken off on 24th July (79 lb) making a total of  101 lb. This year we took off 145 lb on 21st May.  The best hive produced 75 lb and the one that swarmed a mere 20lb.  There’s still plenty of time for a second crop.

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Comedy Beekeeping

Another day, another swarm…

Yesterday’s swarm (the second of the year if we don’t count the four times we housed our first swarm) is still in its two boxes. It ought to be in one box but the swarm decided for reasons best known to itself to split. By a process of elimination we worked out that it was most likely to be a cast from the original swarm of two weeks ago. So this morning we went in to have a look. We opened one of the hives that contained what was left behind when the swarm set off for pastures new (after a brief spell at the top of a tree). It ought to have had a mated queen and some bees busying themselves drawing out foundation. We didn’t find a queen and there was no sign of eggs or brood so this may well be queenless.

So we opened the other half which split off from this swarm. And found chaos. Lots of bees and lots of queen cells. It was clearly on the point of swarming. We started tearing down the queen cells hoping that would change the bees’ mind. And then to our horror saw virgin queens starting to emerge from the torn down cells. We chased and caught two, killed one, and saw a fourth scurry back into the hive.  So what’s going on in there now is anyone’s guess.  What this means is that a single colony has flown the coop taking most of the honey with it, and the remnants are now taking up four separate and wholly unproductive hives on the lawn. Unproductive in terms of honey, that is.

At this point I summoned Patrick. After a look round and listening to a lengthy summary of the comedy to date he decided the best thing to do was just leave everything well alone and have another look in a week’s time. His guess was that we’d stopped them swarming and they ought to settle down. If things go according to plan we should be able to make up three or four nuclei with a 2011 queen which could then be sold. Very impressive he said.

Which doesn’t explain why it feels as if we’re being given the run-around, doubtless as revenge for the honey we extracted last year. At the moment the bees are clearly winning.

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