Page Published 17 April 2023
This article first appeared as a series of posts on the Norfolk Broads Forum on 28 September 2009, the day after that year's Hickling Passage Race. This accounts for the use of forum user names rather than people's actual names in a number of places. The first of the posts opened with these words:
Well, Sunday 27 September has come and gone.
I promised that I would post some of the photos I took of the race, but I thought I would add some of my experiences too! I'd welcome additional little tit-bits to this tale to embellish the version that I will eventually appear on my site. Further photos would be welcome too!
I've just re-discovered a file lurking on my computer that contains the text of the posts but for a reason, now forgotten, I never got round to adding it to this site. So, some 14 years late, I am rectifying that. I've inserted headings that didn't appear in the original, added captions to the images and reproduced the official results, posted on the forum by "Churchy". I've also done various minor edits where I spotted typos in the original or thought I could have phrased things better.
I arrived at Hickling twelve hours, to the minute, before for the this year's Hickling Passage Race was due to start. I'd been working, if you call attending the Swaffham Players latest production work! The usual Swaffham reporter for the Lynn News was in hospital and I had been asked to write the review for the paper. Actually, it was no hardship. It was a truly excellent show.
So, at dead of night, I had arrived in the Pleasure Boat's car park. I managed to load the boat with most of my sleeping gear before making my way to the Inn to see if a pint was still available. A handful of late night drinkers were still there and I sneaked a pint from landlord, Paul. Overhearing my tale David Church introduced himself. "I'm Churchy", he said. It seems that he had been celebrating his recent fortieth birthday, hence that late hour. And I'm "gregafloat" I said, in that knowing forumite way.
By the time I left - first time I've ever been the last to leave a pub, all the external lights round the pub were out and the car park was pitch black. I got the rest of my gear aboard and settled for the night. It was at that point, that I discovered my careless checking of my packing list. I had forgotten to bring my lock'n'lock boxes of tea bags, coffee and sugar! Tragedy! No hot drink in the morning.
I must have been more tired than I thought. Incredibly, I slept right through to 09:45. I had to up, washed and dressed, by 10:30 to register formally for the race. Somehow I made it and even made time to chat to the skipper of "Mustard Pot" a Skipper, a 17ft GRP yacht similar to my SeaHawk. It seems I had found yet another ex-SeaHawk owner who having upsized desperately wanted another SeaHawk when he came to downsize again. He had even written to me some years before as web master of the SeaHawk site "I was too impatient. There wasn't a SeaHawk on the market when I want to buy, and bought this", he said. "A SeaHawk points to windward better by several degrees and the twin lifting bilge keels on the Skipper are a pain on the Broads."
I also met Steve and Helen, who of course, in true forum style introduced themselves as Coriolis. Steve started to tell me the tale of the hassles he had in getting Slantendicular accepted as a River Cruiser, but that tale was interrupted as the race briefing commenced.
In kitting out my boat I had managed to sneak my electric outboard on board and stowed it in the cabin. However, having taken that decision, it left me to paddle out of the dyke and I was still hoisting sails with two minutes to the gun and I had no idea where the start line was. A question yelled to the starter gave me an answer that I misinterpreted and I was soon yelled at again to tell me I was over.
By the time the horn sounded I had no better idea where the line was, but gave chase to the collection of river cruisers that were romping across the Broad and through a pack of dinghies also racing round the club circuit.
Dinghies approach that are taking part in a Hickling Sailing Club race while Passage Race craft are the rapidly disappearing fleet ahead of me.
As we emerged from the Sailing Club fleet the Passage Race craft became easier to spot. I yelled to a hired half-decker to be told that the first mark was the black and yellow post at the junction of Catfield Dyke. I had absorbed that we were on a POSH course, passing the marks to our port on the way out and starboard on the way home, so now I knew where we were going.
Also close by was "Mustard Pot". The husband and wife crew, whose names I never learnt, although I'm sure I must have been told, were struggling with their spinnaker in the light downwind breeze that made it seem that there was no wind at all. Some of their gear had been stolen recently and they had had to improvise to get it rigged at all.
Mustard Pot, owned by a regretful ex-SeaHawk owner that was later to retire.
"Silver Tip" the lug-sailed half-decker was alongside me as we rounded the Catfield post. As we approached we discussed who had right of way, but somehow it didn't seem appropriate, in this light-hearted race, to take advantage of what was agreed was my right of way, so I gave enough room for the half-decker to take the inside line as we came round the mark. It was barely a turn anyway as we then were heading for Deep-Go Dyke and the exit to the Broad. Mustard Pot was only some 25 yards behind.
As we passed through the widest part of the Broad, Silver Tip seemed to catch the best of the wind, and slowly gained ground, or maybe it was just that being a lighter boat she was able to take advantage of the few gusts better. Already the helm aboard Mustard Pot was expressing doubts about the length of the course. I could see her point. Winds seemed less than the light they always do when going down wind. I had printed off a copy of tide predictions before I had left home but I had not got round to looking at them, so I had no idea whether we'd find it ebbing or flooding once we hit the narrow tree-lined parts of the channel.
By the time we were passing White Slea moorings Silver Tip was 200 yards ahead, but as expected she slowed dramatically through the trees at the zig-zag by Deep-Go Dyke mooring.
She took a line that I felt was too close to the trees on the right. I entered the tree line area in mid stream and moved to the left side on the second bend, thereby keeping on me on the inside of the bend. That seemed to keep me in the best of the wind at the start and the least of the stream as we emerged onto Heigham sound, for sure enough the tide was against us as flooding at quite a rate. That put both Mustard Pot and I only around thirty yards behind Silver Tip, but more significant, while the helmsman was still there his crew was missing.
"Has she jumped overboard?" I cry. At that, the young girl sits suddenly bolt upright and fully clothed. The helm claims she was just asleep. Shame! In my mind I had already conjured up images of topless sun bathing going on. Put it down to the fevered imagination of an ancient mariner, but it really was a splendid day deserving of such activity. The sun was blazing down and I as beginning to think that I should have applied some Factor 50 sun cream. It was almost a pity I was in the middle of a sailing race.
Through Heigham Sound I hugged the bank on the right to try and keep out of the main flood. It was then we met the bulk of the fleet on the way back from the mark at Duck Broad. I was not quite clear on what boats were in the race and what other we may have been passing, but the first one I noticed was helmed by Churchy.
As there had been continuing moans from Mustard Pot, as we passed, I passed the comment that there was a feeling amongst us slower boats that the course ought to be shortened. I didn't hear a response.
The bulk of the pack of river cruisers are now aft of me on the return leg of the race and entering the open broad.
The excitement as we passed through the fleet tacking their way back up stream was over and finally Mustard Pot seemed to have got its spinnaker sorted. Maybe it was that I had made the wrong choice in sticking to the side of the river. At any rate, by the time the three of us approached the mark, I was last and Mustard Pot was several length ahead.
Silver Tip had rounded the mark and began to tack upstream. Unfortunately for them, Mustard Pot left it too late when taking down the Spinnaker. They made a disastrous attempt to turn at the mark, just drifting sideways downstream. Somewhere the tide had turned. Perhaps it was the ebbing Meadow Dyke from Horsey that affected the flow, but there was no doubt about it, here the flow was downstream. It's only now, as I write this that I realise that this is why Mustard Pot had been able to overhaul me. Both she and Silver Tip had stuck to the middle of the river as they had approached the mark.
Whatever the history, I took advantage of their predicament and swooped across the river to the mark, cutting inside them. They continued to struggle with the spinnaker and getting their furling genoa into action. I had made two more tack upstream before they were back level with the mark. I was also gaining on Silver Tip.
Having gained control over their sails, a further disaster overtook Mustard Pot. They failed to come about and sailed straight into one of the shallow weed-strewn bays on the left off Heigham Sound going upstream. I heard the cry "We're aground!" as tacking back to their side of the river they disappeared from my view. Soon I could no longer see even the tip of their mast over the reeds as my course took me further round the bend.
Lug Sailed half-deckers, lacking a fore sail, will never tack as well as a Bermudan sloop, so whether I can take credit for superior skill in overhauling and passing Silver Tip is a moot point, but I managed it with little effort and was soon well ahead of them, but my last contact wasn't to be asking if Mustard Pot was yet afloat.
Very strange things were happening to the wind. One of the reasons that I gained so heavily on Silver Tip was that I was noticing, or at least taking action on, the fact that the wind was veering through forty five degrees or more. Now I was able to hug the bank and didn't need to turn across the river. This also meant I was no longer being caught by the stream as on the inside of the bend I was well out of the main flow.
Then the wind appeared to die completely. Over the course of the next five minutes my burgee made at least one complete turn. From lee shore I was briefly tacking against the windward bank.
I was level with Meadow Dyke when I was amazed to realise that the entire pack of River Cruisers were now almost in hailing distance ahead. I was plucking up courage to yell "Water! SeaHawk coming through!" in time honoured Three Rivers Race style, as I fell upon wall to wall, or should that be bank to bank, boats.
Ahead I see the entire fleet caught with no wind through Deep Go Dyke.
Of course, I knew it wasn't to be. Had I reached the pack before they had broken free of the trees then I would have ground to a halt too. The wind does strange things in such circumstances, each boat seeming to steal the wind of the others around it, so that you end up with no boat moving, untill some breath arrives, seeming to unlock the whole puzzle and they all break free at once.
Indeed, exactly that happened. I was a hundred yards short of the pack when suddenly they all slipped away from the trees and were gone round the zig-zag.
They wind had reached me too. It wasn't strong but it was much steadier and more certain. I crossed sides and made for the right bank going upstream. The wind was now coming from that side and for the first bend, at least, I wanted to be on the windward side to avoid, if possible, having to tack.
But half way cross the I found myself yelling, with some good humour, "Cheat!". To my surprise, being rowed strongly and efficiently, Silver Tip was bearing down on me. "We've retired", I was told along with the sorry story of a girl scared to death on her first trip out on the water who was now suffering acute boredom on her second as absolutely nothing seemed to be happening. It did appear that, whether through lack of interest, trust or confidence, our young lady had not been given either the helm or main sheet to control and I could certainly understand how an inexperienced crew would find today's sailing a bit of a non-event. They continued past me upstream towards White Slea.
In spite of the increased breeze it still took me a little while to round the bends and get out into the clear air. On finally clearing Deep Go Dyke I found the main pack were already through White Slea and were onto the Broad proper. Even Silver Tip was a dot in the distance, now happily cruising along in the steadily increasing breeze, oars shipped once more.
The fleet had disappeared!
By the time I reached the Broad the wind was steady and fresh. Although the sun was still strong I was beginning to think about searching for something long sleeved to slip over my short sleeved shirt.
I was tight to windward but made it to the Catfield post on the same tack. I continued onwards to make a couple more turns before crossing the finishing line. With the confusion about where the start line was I was worrying about when to make my turn and I'm sure I didn't head for the line in quite the most efficient route, so it was convenient when I heard a blast from the horn.
I turned and made my way back to the Catfield post for the circuit of the Broad, which we had been briefed was part of the course. Looking back I should have wondered why there weren't at least some of the slower River Cruisers about, but at the time I was looking out for at least three other SeaHawks that were out for the day on the Broad.
Friends were aboard "Elf" and it was a brief chat with them before the start, as they were getting ready to sail, that had made me late for the start. "Eos" was about too, and another, which I failed to identify. However, I did spot Mustard Pot make its way round the Catfield post.
The second time around we were not to leave the broad. The mark was just before the entrance to White Slea. On my return I was waiting for the horn, but it never came. I made my way back to my mooring behind the pub and went to join the other crews. It turned out that the helpful horn that told me when to turn for the second circuit was, in fact, the signal that I had finished. "We did put out an 'S' flag", I was told. But I was neither looking for one nor spotted it.
The Prize Giving.
Then it was the prize giving. Churchy made the announcements. It seems that he came third. The complicated mathematics of the handicapping system meant that I was less than a minute behind a boat that crossed the line 15 minutes ahead of me. I forget who made first or second places. However, great mirth greeted the announcement of the wooden spoon winner, our very own Coriolis, or should that be "Slantendicular".
All in all, a great day's sailing, and well worth the one pound entry fee! I was even promised a handicap, if I took part next year!
Following my posts on the forum Churchy responded saying:
Fantastic account of the race Greg, thank you for posting it. Nice to meet you and and thank you all all of those who entered.
The full results can be viewed here...
The official results, as posted on the forum.
(Open the image independently of the site if you need to see the text a little larger.)
As with all Churchy's forum posts it concluded with his signature which, as a boater, seems to capture the essential truth about anglers.
I made a fisherman smile.....once!!