Thursday, 29 September 2011

Going south

After our aborted attempt at a trip down to the southern rivers last year, we decided to give it another go last weekend, particularly as the Yare Navigation Race was taking place on the Saturday and we have enjoyed watching it in the past.

The skipper decided to leave work at 11 am on Friday so I took all the provisions and cameras over to the boat early and got everything ready.  We needed to be away by 11.30 at the latest to maximise the low tide under the bridges at Great Yarmouth.  We need 9ft 3ins height and knew that the low tide normally allows for 11-12ft – which is why we couldn’t get through last year as the tide only dropped 1ft!!

The sun was shining, a gentle breeze was blowing so we lowered the canopy and opened all the windows and set off with light hearts for our adventure.  All went well and we passed under Acle bridge and in the distance saw the big sails of a river cruiser, probably going down for the race.  We kept well behind them and were very impressed by their expertise on the narrow, winding river.  We knew that when the sails and mast disappeared from view that they had stopped to lower the mast.  By the time we caught up with them, they were ready to go through the bridges, so we followed on close behind them.

As we were approaching the first bridge, with me checking the height markers with binoculars and checking about 10ft 6ins on the first bridge (the second bridge is 6ins lower), we suddenly heard shouting from the bank.  The quay attendant was waving his arms at us and saying there wasn’t enough headroom!!  I shouted back that we needed 9ft 3ins and after an interminable 20 seconds where he studied the marker board which I had already checked, he gave a thumbs up and indicated 18ins to spare, which is what we had calculated!!  That was a last minute panic, although we were confident and aware that we had room.  We had come through at slack water which is not the lowest tide but saves pushing against the tide on the way up through Breydon Water and the river Yare.

As we passed through Breydon Bridge, the river cruiser we had followed down was tidying up its shrouds and preparing to raise the mast.  We went past with a wave and headed across Breydon Water which is a 5km long stretch of water, around 1.5km wide, with a deep channel across it, marked with large posts.  A lot of it drains out to mud flats at low tide and any unsuspecting boats which venture out of the channel on a falling tide could be stuck in the mud for hours!

We opened up the engines for a few moments enjoying the exhilaration of speed, wind and sunshine.  

We passed another river cruiser (Moonshadow) having a wonderful sail to locate for the next day’s race, hoping they didn’t break any of the gear! 

As we reached the end of Breydon there were a number of motor boats towing river cruisers about to leave the moorings so, as we were not in any hurry now, we let them pass us and relaxed with a glass of wine.

I love the bit of river from Breydon up to Reedham.  

It is quite wild but there is always something to look at – wildlife, windmills, etc and it is a lovely wide length of water.  


As we reached Reedham, we noticed a boat moored on the right which used to moor near us on the northern rivers.  We had wondered where they had gone as we used to see them every weekend; obviously felt like a change.

We passed under Reedham swing bridge with no problem and cleared the chain ferry without incident.  The chain has caught many people out in the past, not least one of the big river cruisers in last year’s race!

We pottered on up the river, commenting on all the landmarks we remembered from a few years’ back when we moored near Thorpe St Andrew.  

As we approached Cantley Red House pub, there was a river cruiser with its mast down, moored to the bank and as we got closer, a friend was waving his arms and asking us if we could give the river cruiser (Wandering Rose) a tow up to Coldham Hall. 

They did have an outboard engine but it would have used a lot of fuel and taken a long time so we readily agreed, came alongside, tied up and set off.  Beers were produced and we motored steadily upriver, reaching Coldham Hall around 6pm.  The moorings were very crowded with masses of boats but our friends managed to find one of the last slots so were cast off with waves and best wishes.

We crept on to Surlingham Broad, having rejected the idea of going further upriver to Whitlingham, as it was getting dusk and sat on the Broad, with three other boats, enjoying the lovely sunset and calm water.  

We both slept very well that night!

Woke up to a glorious morning but with little wind – hopefully it would get up a bit later so we could see some good racing.
We cruised quietly past Coldham Hall where all the boats were tied up, some people were up and about but most of the boats were still covered.  

We enjoyed a leisurely cruise down the river, detouring through Rockland Broad, past the Beauchamp Arms and on to Cantley.  

As we approached the moorings, a yacht in front of us began preparing for mooring, putting out fenders etc but then motored on past the moorings.  We aimed for the space we had identified and did a good mooring.  As we were tying up, the yacht came in to moor behind us and we helped them in.  Obviously we got talking to them and found out they moored in Langley Dyke and were out for the day to watch the race, as we were.  Nice to meet you Michael and Kathleen!

Just had time to make another cup of coffee and sort out some biscuits and the first river cruiser came past at 11.50.

 This was followed at intervals by 49 other boats, some in groups, others singly.  I am obviously not going to add all the photos here but if anyone is interested, the link to the race photos is here

A number of friends’ boats passed by with waves and shouts until around 2.30 when it all went quiet until around 4.30 when they started coming back.  The history of the race is as follows … In 1976, Coldham Hall Sailing Club started the Yare Navigation Race for river cruisers, which has become an annual event. The competitors travel from Coldham Hall at Brundall, down the River Yare to a mark on Breydon Water near Great Yarmouth and back, a distance of more than 30 miles.

The strategy of the race is dependent on tides and if they are suitable, the boats go downriver with the ebbing tide and, if they’ve got the timing right, return with the flow.  

The first boat back was not the first boat down, but was swiftly followed by others and this is where the racing element really came in.  To see these huge sails coming round the far bends in the river always fills me with a sense of excitement and anticipation.  To see the crews concentrating so hard to get the sails set and filled and maximise the wind is amazing.  
 The return trip was over a little quicker than the outward sail, with the last stragglers coming through around 6.30 and, with the sun disappearing and the lights of Cantley sugar beet factory becoming brighter, it was time to have supper and visit the pub.  

A few drinks later we were ready for our bunks – it seemed to have been a tiring day.  The sound of the factory working didn’t disturb us at all and we had another good night’s sleep.

Again, we awoke to the promise of a lovely day 
and after a leisurely breakfast started to see the boats from the northern broads begin to wend their way back home.  We intended to pass under the bridges at Great Yarmouth around 3.30 so were in no hurry.  The friends we had given a tow to on Friday night passed us under sail and then Moonshadow came sailing down river, shouting to us as they passed that they had won the overall race.  There are a number of different trophies and Moonshadow had won two of these, with a second place in a third.  What a beautiful boat she is!  The race crew were not sailing her home (nor did they deliver her), allowing other sailors to have a “Moonshadow experience!”

We went down through Reedham and under the bridge, without incident, noticing the Moonshadow crew having lunch in The Ship garden.  Again, a gentle cruise down the river, with the tide, passed the Berney Arms windmill and pub where we saw a boat called Brandy Wine moored, with her crew having a drink (or two) in the pub garden.  Big waves from everyone!

On to Breydon we went and planned to cruise gently over the water today as we were in no hurry to reach the bridges.  As I looked out the stern I could see a huge cloud of smoke drifting across the water and a large motor cruiser appeared with engines obviously at full power.  

She came across Breydon, enveloped in smoke, very fast, until she got close to us and thoughtfully cut the power, then cruising at a much lower speed having had her ‘engine clearout’ cut short!  There were a few hire boats in front of us which would have probably been upset by the wash from this big boat.

This time we went under the bridges with 2ft to spare, at low water, and then had to push against the tide which was still flowing fairly fast down the Bure.  We had no problem with this, having two powerful engines, but other boats were struggling.

As we came to the end of the moorings for boats awaiting slack water, a Hunter yacht (no engine) was coming off the moorings, mast down, with someone quanting and crew fending all round the boat.  I am full of admiration for people who can get around the Broads with no engine at all!  I watched, as at one point they were sideways across the river but then managed to turn the bow to point in the right direction.  They manage by using the last of the ebbing tide to go under the bridges, then tie up at the side before raising the mast and sailing up under Breydon Bridge and across the water with the incoming tide helping them along.  Timing is the critical element!
We continued to push up the river with the tide gradually slowing down, past the slower hire boats until we came to a point between Stracey and Stokesby and realised that the large sail we had been following up the river had stopped moving!  As we rounded a bend we saw why – the river cruiser, Wandering Rose, had gone aground in the mud, probably just cutting a bend too close to the bank.  The small outboard engine was no help, despite the weight of a crew member pushing off from the bank with the quant pole.  We offered our services which were gratefully received and, after three attempts, managed to pull them off the mud.  The first attempt was a bit of a disaster for me, as I wasn’t wearing gloves so when the rope was released it bruised two of my fingers.  I got my gloves for the next attempt!  The river is quite narrow at this point and there were a number of other boats following us which came past as we were manoeuvring which made the operation quite tricky, very well handled by the skipper of our boat.  Wandering Rose is a heavy boat and the mud is very sticky!

We overtook her at Acle when she pulled in to the side to lower the mast for Acle bridge but she overtook us again as we motored slowly back up the river.  They turned right for Thurne as we turned left for St Benet’s, with waves all round.  Someone said to me during the week that we must have been Wandering Roses’s “guardian angel” that weekend!

We had been intending to go home that night but after our rescue operation, we both felt in need of a stiff drink so decided to stay overnight on the boat. Before I went to sleep I replayed the rescue in my head and thought of what I would have done differently under the same circumstances.

All in all, a weekend to remember – meeting lots of nice people, seeing lots of great boats, watching some super sailing, beautiful weather – who could ask for more.


  1. What a lovely storey & photos to match. I can just imagine it all. Clearly a splendid weekend.
    I think there must be something in our genes that makes tides fascinating to us!

  2. I suppose being brought up by the sea we have always been aware of tides but we do have to watch them carefully on the Norfolk Broads. So glad you can read this blog as others are having difficulty.

  3. I grew up by Oulton Broad and I love being out on the water. Don't have many chances nowadays though, nor the time. Sounds like a wonderful trip.


Better than a four-leaf clover!

Not one to promote myself, I do seem to be bringing my friends who sail a certain amount of luck these days.   Looking back over photos ...