Page published 8 April 2008
1966 was a busy year. I had left school at Easter. Then, in the last few days of July, I started a fortnight's sailing course in Chichester Harbour, learning on Enterprise and 420 dinghies. A week later it was off to Wroxham with my brother, Mike, and two school friends, Brian and Tony, for a week aboard "Buzzard". Buzzard was an elderly four berth yacht hired from Loynes yard which was still based where John Loynes had established his business the early 1880s, beside the village's famous hump-backed bridge.
Buzzard on South Walsham Broad - It wasn't my trousers that we needed to hang out to dry!
Buzzard was the cheapest four berth yacht in the Blakes catalogue but, as I discovered the following year, she sailed a lot better than some. She was gaff rigged and boasted four single berths. One of her attractions was that, unlike most of the other yachts offered in Blakes catalogue, she had a galley in the main cabin. Not that this was especially refined, as it was limited to two burners and a grill. But it did promise not having to erect the cockpit tent if you wished to cook when it was raining. Apart from her price, it was one of the reasons we picked her for our holiday.
In fact, August 13-20 1966 proved to be an excellent week for sailing. It was only on that first night, spent on Wroxham Broad, that there was any rain. By the next morning the rain was gone but there was still a lot of wind in the tree tops. This encouraged us to try a reef. It took us an age to put it in, in spite of the weeks spent reading Gordon Catling's slim book, "Broads Sailing Made Easy", offered by Blakes to new sailors. However, once out of the broad and in the heavily tree-lined reaches down through Horning, we soon realised it wasn't needed, so out it came again.
That first night's showers was the only rain we had. The rest of the week was virtually unending sunshine. In high summer, the cloudless skies rapidly heated the land all round. As I had learnt at school, with hot air rising from the ripening fields, cool air from the nearby sea would rush in to take its place. Indeed that is just what happened. Every day after a still dawn, a strong sun in a blue sky soon cleared any mist over the rivers and broads. By mid-morning it was hot, but it never got too hot. By the afternoon a good steady breeze would rise from the sea providing perfect sailing weather for the beginner.
I can't remember where we moored for the night on the Sunday, I suspect Barton Broad, but I am fairly certain I know what we ate that evening. Our culinary skills didn't amount to much more than the ability to heat the contents of cans and toast bread. As a result most meals, whether taken after waking or before going to bed had a remarkable similarity, with fried eggs, bacon, sausages and baked beans featuring regularly.
Right at the start we set up a system for paying for communal resources - mainly food and drink. A pint mug was set aside to hold the kitty. The person delegated to go shopping would take the money from the mug and when cash got low we'd each throw in the same amount to top it up. By the end of the week we had each put 10/6d in it. I even recall that such little beer as we drunk came out of that fund.
Tony Anders studies the cruisers at Yarmouth Yacht Station In those days they were nearly all wooden
I am certain that Mother would have packed a good stock of food for us, but that small amount still surprises me. It's all the more amazing as the boat had no refrigerator, so I don't believe she would have provided us with any more milk, butter, and similar perishables, than would have lasted one day. It's true, though, that in common with all Blakes boats of the time, Buzzard had an ice box on board. Every day, usually as part of the shopping expedition, we would find a boatyard flying the Blakes flag and we'd swap our ice packs for fresh ones from their freezer.
It was probably the Monday that we headed for Great Yarmouth and the drama of Breydon Water. I'd been down the lower reaches of the Bure the year before in the Cruiser "Siesta I", so I was used to an ever faster ebbing river and rapidly growing mud banks to either side. This time though we had the worry of going aground on a falling tide as we tacked, and a couple of times we did kiss the bottom. It wasn't until we came round the great curve and into the northern outskirts of the town did we relax as we became confident that we weren't going to be too late to miss the period of slack water. Indeed, the tide was still rushing out of the Bure and the wind now behind us. The worry became whether we would be able to stop when we got to the first bridge where yachts need to drop their masts.
Mike, foot on the tiller, steers Buzzard past Yarmouth Yacht Station
We moored without incident and once we had waited for the tide to slacken we made our way under the several bridges to the Yare and the dolphin where we would tie up in order to raise the mast so we could make our way across Breydon. This we knew would be exciting, with a good breeze on our starboard beam all the way across.
The toilet on board was a cumbersome affair. There was no holding tank in those days. There were three hand pumps in the compartment. One to pump water into the bowl, another to pump it out and a third to pump the bilges. The third pump just happened to be in the toilet compartment and wasn't part of the flushing mechanism. However, it had became habit to give the third pump a few strokes along with the others whenever anyone was there. I followed this convention soon after beginning the crossing. But I had to give a few more strokes to the bilge pump as the water continued to lap above the floorboards. Initially, this wasn't a worry. I put it down to the heal induced by the good breeze as we crossed Breydon. However, after several minutes of pumping I realised that the water level was not reducing.
In company with other yachts we motor past the cruisers till we get above the first bridge
Then we started to take it in turns to pump as another of us went through the boat lifting all the floor boards. Eventually we found a three inch high fountain of water gushing into the boat through a seam in the hull planking under the cockpit. We reached Reedham at the end of the working day and, as the local boatyards had closed for the night, were directed by a uniformed harbour master towards the village carpenter for emergency repairs. At his bungalow the carpenter's wife greeted us and with a mysterious warning directed us to his workshop.
Yarmouth Yacht Station with what was then the usual crowd of masts, seen here on the return journey
It turned out that, as in so many rural communities, he was also the village undertaker and was in the middle of nailing down the lid of a coffin at the time, but he promised to come to us as soon as he was finished. He arrived half an hour later and, with plenty of mastic, screwed down a large square of plywood over the leak.
Given the times of the tides, we weren't able to stay on the southern rivers long. The return trip through Yarmouth was uneventful, but had to be made late in the afternoon. This meant we were to have a difficult choice or whether to spend the night a Yarmouth or got up river the Stokesby or the Stracey Arms, these being the first available moorings upstream. We chose to make the dash upstream. On that day the wind faded earlier than we would have wished and eventually we had to resort to the engine. The moorings at Stokeby were full so we pressed on to Stracey, arriving to a beautiful sunset and only a single place left at which to moor.
It was late as we reached Stracey Arms
The next morning was every bit as beautiful, and to the sounds of Radio One blaring "Yellow Submarine" from every third boat around us, we started out for Potter Heigham and Hickling Broad. It was at Hickling that we were holed again. Where the club house of Hickling Sailing Club now stands used to be a shallow beach and boats would moor stern on there. We had moored neatly, with mud weight over the bow and, at the stern, our rowing dinghy forming a "bridge" for us to cross to the shore. There was quite a gap between us and a neighbouring boat similarly moored.
It was dusk and the light was fading fast. Down in the cabin we were eating the inevitable fried eggs, bacon, beans and bread. As this was the evening meal a can of soup replaced the bowl of cereal as the first course. Canned fruit and condensed milk was to follow. All four of us were tucking in, when we became aware of a great revving of engines. We thought little of it until it became so loud that we went up on deck to look.
It was another perfect start to the day at Stracey Arms
"Merrimore" the largest cruiser in Moore's fleet was coming in along side us. A middle-aged man was standing on the roof of the aft cabin. A woman who we took to be his wife was at the controls. She only seemed to know of two throttle positions, full ahead and full astern. The husband didn't seem to appreciate that with the engine screaming there was no chance that the wife could hear a word of his instructions. Not that he appeared to understand that a boat cannot be steered backwards in the way that a car can. Other than forward or back, his wild circling hand gestures had little impact on the direction that the boat travelled.
It was plain that the wife had lost count of how many turns it took on the wheel to return the rudder amidships. With increasing bad temper and embarrassment as more people emerged from their boats to watch, the husband continued to stand on the roof waving and shouting instructions. The wife, now clearly at a loss about how to get the boat where the husband wanted, was also losing her temper and yelling back at him.
The Famous Potter Heigham Bridge didn't have a compulsory pilot in those days
Had they been able to hear we would have pointed out that another of their problems was that they were repeatedly running aground and that there was no way that Merrimore could get close enough to the shore for the husband to jump. However, having moved forward again, they made one more attempt to line up with the centre of the gap between us and the neighbouring boat. Once more they reversed at full throttle. By now any ability to steer was beyond hope.
Merrimore was a large wooden cruiser with four inch deep rubbing strakes passing round the hull onto the transom. This time she came straight at us. With a great splintering of wood we were holed, in a scene reminicient of the sea battle in Ben-Hur. At least, this time, the hole was nine inches above the water line. I don't know if they appreciated the damage they'd done to our boat, but after that last attempt they disappeared and dropped mudweight in the middle of the board.
We returned to our meal and waited till the following morning to call out the boatyard. It took them a couple of hours to arrive. They patched the hole with a square of quarter inch plywood, to which they applied a hurried coat of white paint, so our battle scars didn't show too much.
The rest of the week was without incident. We really had got quite proficient by the end of the week. A night was spent on South Walsham Broad and on that last morning we made our way back, under motor, to Loynes yard.
The last few minutes of our holiday as we approach Wroxham Bridge
At that time the site was covered with a large green corrugated iron shed with a relatively small basin alongside and a line of day boats for hire on the river frontage. When I was last there, the same day boats, filled with wicker chairs, were still available for hire, forty years on. As we approached we saw my father waving as he strode along the staithe. He'd come to pick up the four of us and return us to Sussex.
The Basin and Sheds at Loynes Boatyard. Father waves as he sees us approaching
Looking back, I still find it hard to believe that Loynes were prepared to let such a large boat go out to an all male party in which the oldest member of the crew was just 13 days beyond his 18th birthday - but that is part of the joy of the Broads and what made me take up a job in the County nine years later.