Tuesday, 31 August 2010

August Bank Holiday 2010

What is it about Bank Holidays this year!! The end of May Bank Holiday was spectacular for the dreadful weather and this August one has been just as dramatic.

The skipper had decided to take a rare long weekend so we headed for the boat on Friday afternoon. The plan was to go down to the southern rivers for the first time in ages so we needed to top up the diesel. When we arrived at our moorings, the tide was very high – we hadn’t seen it so high since early this year. We set off for Horning and after a 15 minute ‘holding pattern’ in Woods Dyke whilst Boulters fuelling mooring cleared, filled up with diesel.

Back at our moorings, a friend had arrived back from a week racing at Oulton Broad regatta so we cracked open a bottle of wine and had a pleasant evening hearing about dramas at Oulton; before we realised it, the clock showed midnight! As we had to be up at 5am to make the tides through Great Yarmouth, this probably wasn’t a good idea!

The alarm woke us and we almost made the decision to abort the trip south and stay in bed – little did we know ….

There was a lovely sunrise as we passed St Benet’s Abbey and the day dawned nicely.

We passed under Acle Bridge with plenty of room to spare and cruised gently down river, following another privately owned boat. This boat appeared to have a problem negotiating bends and was slowing down and drifting to the other side of the river on every bend. We had no problem with this as we estimated that our tide timing was just about right.

We caught up with, and passed, three river cruisers in convoy, with their masts still raised and were passed by a number of hire boats, all of which seemed to be in a hurry for some reason!

We began to worry a bit when we passed a boat which was stationery near the bank, but still afloat, and we had not seen any of the customary mud banks either side of the river as the tide ran out. As we got nearer to the bridges, I got the binoculars out to see the tide level at the first marker board and couldn’t believe that there had only been a 2ft drop! This was fine for the boat in front of us and for the river cruisers which gave an impressive display of dropping their masts whilst underway, but we needed more height than there obviously was.

We had to make a quick decision at that point, rather than going any further and causing difficulties for others whilst we turned, we decided to abort the trip and turned round! Very disappointing as we had been really looking forward to Breydon and then up to Rockland and Surlingham Broads.

We very quickly realised that there were some exceptionally high tides happening this weekend, slightly high forecast tides being added to by the heavy rainfall and the high winds.

We got back to Stracey windpump and decided to tie up on the lovely new moorings and treat ourselves to a cooked breakfast in the café. To cut the story short we ended up staying there on Saturday night, watching the East Coast Truckers charity convoy heading for Great Yarmouth on Sunday and then back the same evening. I hadn’t seen this amazing spectacle for a few years and it was wonderful to see the children’s faces as the spectacularly decorated cabs drove past, with horns blaring and everyone waving.

By this time, it was very windy and there had been some heavy rain squalls. We were amazed that the majority of boats were coming in to moor with the wind and tide behind them – getting ashore with bow ropes and then not knowing what to do when the boat spun round on the mooring. We also couldn’t believe how many of them were hauling on the bow rope of the boat, tying it in as tight as possible and then wondering why the stern wouldn’t come in! I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of a few hernias being caused by this, not to mention fenders popping on to the quay!

We saw at least two hire boats with bits broken off, rubber rubbing strake popped out of its channel and missing fenders; one lovely wooden boat had some structural damage to the port stern corner as they crunched into the quay on mooring.

One or two brave souls in sailing boats came down river, heavily reefed and then fought their way back up against the wind and tide - looked like hard work!

We had been intending to head back up river on Sunday but the weather was so bad that we decided to stay put, and lay in our bunks on Sunday night listening to the wind, rain, water against the hull and fenders and ropes creaking. We must have eventually dropped off, despite the noise but I was woken at around 2 am by the skipper getting up to check the tide. It was almost up to the top of the quay heading and a couple of our fenders had popped on to the quay so he put on his waterproof over his jimjams and climbed out to lower the fenders. The wind was horrendous and he struggled to push the boat off the quay to add a couple more fenders.

I didn’t get much sleep after that, and we were in a good position with the wind on the bow and protected by the jutting out quay heading. I can’t imagine the occupants of those boats which were broadside on to the weather got any sleep at all!

Monday dawned a little better, the wind was still very strong but the rain had stopped, and after the treat of another cooked breakfast, we decided to head for more sheltered waters. We managed to pivot the boat on a stern rope and extra fenders to get off the mooring and headed back up river, under Acle Bridge with centimetres to spare.

We saw one of the crew of this river cruiser making some adjustments to the rigging by climbing along the bowsprit! A bit scarey in the big swell on the river.

We had thought about heading for Black Horse or Salhouse but on passing St Benet's Abbey (above), Fleet Dyke looked very welcoming and we ended back on our own moorings. There was a hiccup on mooring, as our ropes, which we normally lay out on the quay to pick up with the boat hook, were all over the grass! We learned later that a Herbert Woods hire boat had come into our mooring, used our ropes and boarding step and gone off somewhere for a few hours! Unbelievable! I know what the skipper would have done if we’d come back and found them there ;) We were a bit cross that the occupants of another boat who moor in the next dyke on the same moorings, who had seen this happen, had not challenged them. No real harm done but it’s the principle of it! How would they feel if we parked in their driveway and pushed off for a few hours!

The sun came out just after we moored up and we spent the next few hours airing the boat, re-adjusting the fenders and chilling out. The tide was still high and we spoke to the owners of a Broom 37 who were unable to get under Yarmouth bridges (one of the boats we had seen going down and returning a bit later). They had to get back to the southern rivers to their mooring as they had to be back in London on Tuesday but had been told that the tides wouldn’t be back to normal for around a week; they were looking for a safe haven to leave their boat. We told them of one or two places to try and they went off.

All in all, a disappointing weekend and from my personal point of view I struggled to find anything worth photographing. Just bad luck that we chose that weekend to have an adventure and I had a big lens to try out :-(

Sunday, 15 August 2010

River swim!

I went for a short swim on Saturday!! I didn’t intend to go for a swim and I certainly didn’t enjoy it very much!

We were coming in to moor our boat in what appeared to be a light-ish off-shore wind and I was in my normal position, sitting on the deck ready to step on to the quay, with a rope in my hand. The stern, port side, got close, I got my feet on the quay and suddenly a rogue gust of wind caught the boat and blew it slowly away from the quay, towards the middle of the river!

By this time I was at the point of no return, either way – I couldn’t launch myself on to the quay, nor could I return to my comfortable seat on the deck. By this time, the skipper realised I was in difficulties, cut the engines and raced out of the cockpit to help me.

I had slid off the deck, down the side of the boat – not yet in the water, but clinging on for dear life to one of the stanchions with my right hand. He grabbed my other hand and started to try and pull me back into the boat. However, my ***lbs weight defeated him but he refused to let go, despite my cries of ‘let go, let go’. My first plan was to gain a foothold on the small step on the side of the boat and lever myself back up on to the deck but I needed my left hand to pull myself up to do this.

He wouldn’t let go – I could see the panic on his face! I should explain that where we were trying to moor was on a fairly strong tidal part of the river and I think he had pictures of me being swept down river to the sea. My concern was that the boat was drifting out to the middle of the river and I knew that if I went in it would be a long swim to the quay! At this point I had completely forgotten that we had a bathing platform on the boat with a drop-down ladder which I could have climbed up. However, with the river flowing fastest in the middle and other boats around, I preferred the thought of dry land!

Whilst all these thoughts were going through my mind (my life didn’t flash in front of me!) I could feel my feet and legs getting wet, water creeping up to my cut-offs and I knew there was no going back. I eventually managed to persuade the skipper to let go of me and made the decision to drop into the water. Unfortunately I had my mouth open so when I completely submerged, got a dose of brackish river water – not pleasant!

As I went down I drew up my legs, mainly to avoid getting tangled in whatever nasty things might be on the bottom – someone had lost a guitar overboard from a dinghy a week before incidentally – but ready to kick out for the quay as soon as I surfaced.

At this point I would like to thank the Broads Authority from the bottom of my heart for putting in these wonderful steps and looped chains on the public moorings on the Broads! I headed for the steps but knew that if I didn’t reach them, I could grab a chain and make my way to the steps. However, after about a dozen strong swimming strokes (thank goodness I kept up my swimming ability) I reached the steps and felt for the bottom step. I found it immediately and was eternally grateful that the steps were set at small intervals, suitable for someone of my age to climb.

By this time a number of fisherman who had been watching with interest along the quay came up and asked if I was all right! Thank god I had enough breath to say ‘yes, thanks * but can you help moor the boat’, as by this time the skipper had started the engines and managed to power it into the quay where the fishermen and I (didn’t forget my duties, although exhausted and obviously dripping wet) grabbed the stanchions and got it alongside.

* My first words after ‘yes thanks’ were ‘well that’s a first and I managed to keep my shoes on’ to which one of the fishermen replied ‘and your glasses’. Quite impressive I thought!

I have never been so glad of hot water on a boat and a wonderful shower but it took a couple of brandies before I managed to get rid of the taste of the river ;-))

I have to say that I nearly always wear a life jacket when mooring or casting off but for some reason I totally forgot on Saturday.

No after effects, apart from a very stiff left arm which was stretched by the skipper but when I went to bed that night, I started to think of what could have happened and it took me quite a few hours to get to sleep. Needless to say, the life jacket is now hanging by the door on the boat so it doesn’t get forgotten again.