Page published 15 February 2021

This post was originally made on Tuesday 11 October 2011 on what used to be "The Blog". As you will read, it records the events of the previous Sunday and, unusually for this site, the photographs do not relate to the nearby text.

The Forecast

The forecast, according to my phone, which connects to, was for hazy sun most of the day. It lied! The BBC site had it much better! It was raining when woke at seven and it predicted rain till 10:00 with sunny intervals after 13:00 but more rain after 16:00.

What did it matter? This was the day when Simon Pollington was coming to try out my SeaHawk to see if it was likely to be the right boat for him. Simon had registered at the SeaHawk Forum saying, in his introductory message, "I'm thinking of a trailer sailer as a practical option. The SeaHawk appears to be ideal but I would very much like to sail one before looking seriously at buying. Is there anyone who would be willing to take me for a days sail sometime?" I responded with the message, "My boat's currently undergoing a re-paint at a local boatyard. I'm hoping to have her back in the water in a couple of weeks. If you're happy to travel to Hickling Broad then you are welcome to cruise with me for a day".

If you read this blog, you'll know that an early August date proved a pipe dream, so it was not until Sunday 9 October that finally, we were to meet up. It was still raining as Diana and I drove into the car park at the Pleasure Boat Inn. It was thirty seconds after 10:30, not bad for the "10:30ish" time that we had agreed with Simon. The only other car there was still to draw to a stop.

Diana on the Jib sheets. Simon on the helm

Conditions were lively on Hickling! Look at the bank in the background to work out our true angle of heel.

Meeting Up

We drove past the parking car to the far side of the otherwise empty car park, to get as close to the dyke as possible. We began to unload the car and had just got the first load to the boat and the cabin open when a couple strode into view. With a greeting along the lines of "Greg Chapman, I presume!" Simon was to introduce himself. He had brought his wife, Teresa, but we soon learnt that she would not be joining us aboard. Instead she planned to visit the local wildlife place, take a coffee there, and do some work. We learnt later that the Pleasure Boat Inn's wi-fi connection was to help with that.

The weather lived up to the old adage "Rain before seven stops by eleven" and by the time we had finished hoisting sails the rain stopped. The forecast had promised winds of around force four to five of around West-Sou-West. In the distance, beyond the pub's garden, you could see flags streaming, but at the head of the Pleasure Boat dyke, it was flat calm. We had even hoisted sails pointing what should have been downwind.

Simon had slipped into an impressive set of yellow and blue nautical dungarees. I'm sure the professionals don't call them that, but I'm a Broads sailor, and a standard land-lubber's anorak is my usual wet weather garb. Eventually, we cast off, Diana steering, me with a paddle giving some gentle assistance, and Simon on the foredeck, ready to fend off if things didn't go according to plan. We soon had enough way on and Simon came to join us in the cockpit. As we reached the dyke's entrance, we could see disturbed water ahead and the wind finally began to take us forward.

By this time I think I had learnt that Simon had experience in a variety of larger boats. He had owned a Vivacity 24, and kept it at Pin Mill, but that had been sold after the children had left for university and finding crew had proved problematic. Other practical experience included hiring on the Broads and on flotilla holidays in the Mediterranean, and he held a Day Skipper qualification. I don't recall much talk of anything as small as a SeaHawk, so I could understand a desire to try out such a boat before committing yourself.

Flotilla of Canoes

Things had been too lively or too busy for photographs earlier. The sun is out by the time the biggest flotilla of canoes that I have seen on the Broads sweep past us near the Eel Set on Candle Dyke.

A Dinghy Challenge in Force Five

I had taken over the helm once we had begun to sail but once in open water there was little point in me hanging on to the tiller when the purpose of the day was to allow Simon to assess the boat. He took over while I advised him where Hickling could be shallow. We were soon on a beam reach, clear of Jervis Point, and feeling the full effects of a Force Five. It was only the second time I had sat three on the same side of the boat. Looking back, I really shouldn't have gone out under a full rig. While there may have been disagreement about how much sun or rain there would be, all forecasts seemed to have agreed on a good blow and the evidence of the flags were to be seen from the calm of the dyke.

As we zoomed across the Broad, I got out my phone and set "Saildroid" to record the speed. It managed 4.9k on several occasions. However, the program has begun to lose its charm after I realised that, above 2.4k, it only seems to manage to show speeds in increments of 0.5k. Somehow it would seem slightly better if it recorded the .0 and .5 points, rather than .4 and .9!

Half way across the Broad we changed direction. At first I thought Simon had my views on the suitability of narrowboats for the Broads and was simply doing an exaggerated avoiding manoeuvre as one chugged its way towards the Pleasure Boat Inn, but then I realised it was to chase some dinghies racing on the far side of the Broad. The object was not to catch them but to see whether we could point as well. I don't think Simon was disappointed with the performance of the SeaHawk.

Other Boats I Considered

By this time I was rabbiting on about the boats I had considered and rejected when I had come to buy Just 17. I had seen a "Seawych", 19ft with two, albeit small, cabins, which I rejected because of its reputation for being ponderous, slow to tack and because of its bilge keels. These are not favoured on the Broads, as they dig their keels deeper just at the point where you tack close the the shallow banks of the rivers.

I had even considered an old Herbert Woods ex-hire "Gay Lady", but eventually rejected that as I was afraid that taking on a traditional wooden craft was a step too far, when I hadn't proved I could maintain a modern GRP boat. I'd seen enough GRP boats on the market to realise that even these appear to defeat many people. They leave them unattended for a season too long before giving up and putting them on the market in, often, poor condition.

Children on Narrowboat Roof

Big smiles for the camera from the two youngsters on the roof of the narrowboat that passed us near "The Holt".

I might have been interested in the Sailfish, but none were on the market when I was looking. My favourite alternative to the SeaHawk, by far, had been the Swift 18. I had looked at several. However, I eventually turned against them, because their masts looked big and heavy compared to a SeaHawk, and the only one I saw on the Broads had a cumbersome looking A-Frame to assist in lowering it for bridges. They also had a modern sail plan with enormous genoa and small main, not ideal for where we were now heading - Meadow Dyke! Yes, I know you can furl a genoa, but furled sufficient to miss the mast they lose all advantage over a common jib. The final clincher was their drop keel which, like that of the Sailfish, requires many turns of a winch in the cabin to lower or raise, not something you want to be doing when single handed and aground on the lee side of the channel on some Broad.

The Meadow Dyke Decision

I wasn't convinced it was wise to head for Meadow Dyke. While I was completely confident we could tack out again without needing to resort to an engine, I was concerned that the rain might come before we made it back from Horsey Mere and that could spoil the end of the day, on what was turning out to be a cracking sailing day. Clearly an experienced sailor, I took it as further confirmation of Simon's growing confidence in the SeaHawk. He'd been on the Broads last autumn, aboard Javelin, one of Martham's traditional yachts so knew exactly what he was letting himself in for in aiming for Horsey. With the wind as it was it would be a straight run up Meadow Dyke to Horsey, and directly into the wind on the way back.

Sure enough, it was a gentle glide up the channel to Horsey. As ever when going down wind, all the wind's strength seemed to disperse and just the occasional gentle gybe as we rounded some of the bends. The only boat we met was a yacht, probably a 24 footer, its outboard gently chugging away as it passed us.

Why is it that sometimes I'm led astray so easily? After twenty minutes of quiet peaceful ghosting along the dyke, I completely forget the force five winds that will greet us as we emerge onto the open water of Horsey Mere. "Anyone feel like a coffee", I ask. Simon suggests that we use the flask that he'd brought with him, but coffee has the tendency to run straight through me so opt to boil the kettle for tea.

Dramatic Turns and a Wall of Flame!

"Next morning I blew up the boat!" So starts a memorable chapter in that wonderful Michael Green book, "The Art of Coarse Sailing". It continues, "like so many of the world's great events it happened quite casually, almost in passing, as it were." It felt much the same in the cabin of Just 17. I filled the kettle and lit the stove. All seemed normal. Then the boat lurched dramatically to starboard. I lost my balance, not that there was anywhere to fall, I was already crouched low, but I did have to grab one of the mast braces to avoid ending up on my back with my legs in the air.

As the boat lurched a curtain of yellow flame erupted from behind the kettle reaching up some six inches to the lower shelf behind the cooker. Simon brought the boat under control and I regained my balance, but we were now heeled well over on a port beam reach. It seems that when you turn an open Camping Gaz cartridge upside down the fuel positively gushes out of it. With flames still six inches high and lapping at the mahogany shelf, I deemed it prudent to forego tea and turned off the gas. Besides the cockpit was now awash with Simon's coffee, spilled from the lidded spill-resistant insulated mug in which I had served him his coffee, so there was cleaning up to do.

Passing Narrowboat

A cheery wave from one of the crew aboard the narrowboat that, earlier, we had seen crossing Hickling Broad.

After mopping up the coffee I went below again, intending to tidy up the things that had become dislodged in the earlier gust. I guess, by now, we were approaching the lee shore. I can't recall whether I heard a "Ready about!" or "Lee ho" from Simon, but the next thing I recall was finding myself dumped unceremoniously on my back on the starboard bunk. In the few seconds I lay there unable to work out which way was up and, therefore, the quickest way to get vertical, I was conscious the sounds of scuffling from the cockpit, of rope running through blocks, of the slap of sails and of the clank of the swivel of the end of the boom snapping into a new position. The order in which they occurred, however, still eludes me. I never did ask Simon what happened, but in reviewing the incident afterwards, he did say, "The boat was fine. I didn't feel scared by it for a moment."

Broads Sailing Techniques

The incident seemed to leave Simon feeling that stooging around the Mere offered a little too much excitement. We aimed for Meadow Dyke. Now for the real challenge, I thought. We started off well enough. For the first hundred yards or so the dyke's width is about two and a half times the length of a SeaHawk and there are no trees or shrubs lining the banks, but then it narrows to around twice the length of a SeaHawk and in a couple of places less than this.

Simon was struggling. He found what I had told him was true. It's important to ask for the jib sheets to be released a little earlier than instinct might tell you to, in order to relieve some of the pressure on the headsail and bring the boat upright. This, in turn, make the boat more responsive to the tiller.

At first, Simon turned a little early and didn't make full use of the width of the river. I told him not to worry about the new paint and to use it all. He didn't need telling twice. He seemed surprised when I also told him to use the momentum of the boat to glide directly into the wind on each tack, saying that while he would expect to do that with a larger boat, but not on anything as small as a SeaHawk. My final suggestion was to be prepared to use "hydro-dynamics". That was his word when I explained what I meant.

Angler's Boat at White Slea

In the narrows by White Slea we have an encounter with anglers. I think we spotted them just in time to miss the lines.

I had discovered, a while ago, after following a number of half-deckers along lee banks that it can be possible to sail dramatically closer to the wind along a bank than you can in open water. If the wind is at such an angle that you have to do a short tack directly across a river, then you should not come round too early at the end of the following long tack. I learnt that as you get almost parallel to a bank with the bows of your boat pushing the water towards the bank, it has nowhere to go and so builds up to a slight head as it reaches the broadest part of the beam. This head of water holds you off the bank and you can ride it, in almost the same way that a surfer will ride a wave.

How well you can perform this trick depends on the strength and angle of the wind relative to the bank. On the SeaHawk, at least, it works best when the winds are light and consistent, so the hull does not roll. Rolling seems to dissipate the head of water. The effect also disappears if you get too close to the bank and there's not enough mass of water between the boat and the bank. However, it is often possible to rebuild the head by using the boats momentum to head slightly into the wind. This allows the bows to move out from the bank and capture a wider wedge of water. You then turn back slightly and re-build the head of water between the boat and the bank and carry on. It does mean that you can carry on on a long tack doing what would be impossible on open water.

Simon and Diana on Just 17

Things are still quite lively on Hickling. We spot a SeaHawk while looking for an anchorage at the edge of the Broad.

I tried to demonstrate this at one point, but it wasn't really an appropriate manoeuvre and I made a hopeless mess of it, catching the broadest part of the boat on the bank and turning the boat into the bank. Luckily it happened where there was some quay heading and I could hop ashore and push the bows off. Around this point I had also realised that not only was the wind against us, but so was the tide. However, that should actually help the boat to respond better to the tiller as you retain retain a level of steerage way even at slow speeds over the ground.

I guess that somewhere along the way I was suggesting too many Broads and SeaHawk tricks. We found ourselves repeatedly, getting hooked up in the reeds, so I took over the helm for a spell. I certainly managed a little better. However, I'm not certain that I can claim superior helmsmanship. Simon suggested it was wider at that point. Whatever the case, I did normally manage to get enough speed on the boat on each tack to use it's momentum to make the turn and, importantly, left enough room to move the tiller over towards the bank and so fill the jib as we came onto the opposite tack, although even with my knowledge of the boat, we still needed to pull ourselves round using the reeds on some tacks, especially as we moved on to the starboard tack, as I often got too close and caught the outboard in the reeds.

The Wind Drops

Somewhere along Meadow Dyke I realised the fierceness in the wind had disappeared. I had already handed the helm back to Simon by the time we emerged onto Heigham Sound. It was now after one o' clock and, just as the BBC forecast had suggested, the sun was beginning to break through the cloud and we had the first of a few brief sunny intervals. Simon was keen to turn towards Martham so this we did. We went all the way down to the mouth of Candle Dyke where we turned and worked our way back onto Hickling.

As we passed "The Holt", the attractive thatched bungalow just above the Eel set, a swarm of canoes passed by. I heard Diana make a comment in reply to one paddler about how it was easier sailing. It was good to hear her say that. If you can still be happy sailing after a period sitting squashed on the windward side of a cockpit, then pirouetting in unplanned manner in a squall, and finally working upwind through the full length of Meadow Dyke, which means taking every fifteen seconds then you are not likely to be phased by anything aboard a sailing boat.

The next boat we passed was the narrowboat we'd seen earlier making it's way across Hickling. This time I had time to notice the two young, well wrapped and life-jacketed children on the roof who seemed to be enjoying life. We even got a cheery wave from the from one of the adults on the cruiser stern. "What did you say", asked Diana, as I made a comment under my breath. "Oh, just get back to the Grand Union, where you belong", I responded, though not entirely meaning it. The modern steel narrowboat is just another pleasure craft, an exact equivalent of the glass fibre bath tub you normally see on the Broads these days. Had it been a traditional wooden working narrowboat, in Fellows Morton & Clayton livery then you could argue it was out of place.

There was one more encounter, but I was too late with the camera for a good shot. We were coming through the narrows by the White Slea moorings. There was an apology shouted by Simon. It seems he had spotted some angler's lines too late and made a hurried tack. At least these were boat-based, so one hoped appreciated some of the difficulties in seeing their lines. Soon we were back onto Hickling. I spotted Eos in the distance, perhaps the SeaHawk I see most often out on the Broad.

Mooring for Lunch

We had made the decision to moor and have some of the bread and soup that Diana and I had brought with us. We aimed for the large bay off the main channel at the southern-most extremity of the Broad. Eos was headed for the same area, but I was concentrating on the far corner of the bay where I hoped we could shelter under the lee of Coll's Plantation. However, the wind didn't seem to be in the right direction to get the best of the shelter. Nevertheless, tucked right up under the reeds and with sails furled it turned out to be a very pleasant, calm, mooring.

We agreed on the mushroom soup, we had a choice of three, and I soon had it heated. Diana came below to drink hers, while Simon preferred to stay in the cockpit, though there would have been room for him in the cabin. As we prepared to leave, Diana volunteered to do the washing up. For some reason I was taken aback. I guess it was because I had always considered it "my" galley, having built it and knowing where every little thing had its place. However, it did leave me free to hoist the sails again.

Diana in Just 17's Cabin

Diana about to start the washing up! A beaming smile must mean she really had enjoyed the day.

The Wind Changes

As we left the bay we saw Eos tucked up neatly in the reeds to the north of Rush Hill - I have never understood why a circular pond, hidden behind reeds and invisible from the Broad should have "hill" in its name. I hope someone explains its origin to me one of these days. I hadn't realised that such a mooring existed. I'm not surprised I had missed it. I doubt anything longer than seventeen foot could get in there. I definitely want to explore it the next time I'm out on the Broad.

"You know, the wind's changed direction", announced Simon, as we emerged from the bay. It certainly had. I got out my phone and had "Saildroid" check the bearing. It was North-West. That, too, hadn't been prophesied by either forecast I had used. No wonder I had been surprised as we had approached our mooring. The wind had also dropped quite considerably.

Thinking about it, the wind had probably begun to subside as we started the return leg on Meadow Dyke and the sun had begun to appear. Now, looking across Hickling, there were no longer white caps to the waves in every direction and no longer the obvious long plumes of froth on the surface. Nevertheless, Simon commented on how much more placid the boat was, as I had taken four turns round the boom when hoistin the sails after our lunch.

The Return to our Mooring

With the wind in the north west the approach to the Pleasure Boat would be easy. As we entered the dyke, I first raised the topping lift and then lowered the main. However, a flapping jib was still enough to bring us to a halt so, I succumbed and we ran the motor. It went against the grain a bit. I had become quite proud of not using the engine at all.

Mooring was straight forward. At the head of the dyke, and right outside the pub, it really is remarkably sheltered. As we stowed the sails Simon discovered that some people don't use shackles with captive pins. I guess I needed a further excuse to visit Norfolk Marine. The Porta Potti had been charged with my last blue bag the last time we went out.

Teresa and the others had been in the pub a while by the time I joined them. I had got involved in conversation with the new owner of Jeff Coy's old boat. I had understood it to be a "Sealord", from both Jeff and Dylan Winter, of Keep Turning Left fame. Dylan used to own one. But the new owner thought it was a "Seafarer" - I think that's what he said. He did explain that he believed the boat had been built by a number of builders under several names, though he didn't recognise "Sealord" as one of them.

It was good to sit and chat in the pub and review the day. I think I must have been considerably more tired than I thought at the time, as I can't remember much of the conversation. Eventually, our party broke up. On Diana's prompting I did remember to go to the bar to pay for the meal Diana and I had had on Friday night. I do seem to get distracted when playing on a Proper Jobbies night - but that's another story and not one for this site.

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