Page published 13 February 2021

Originally posted on what used to be "The Blog", this page records the first race, on 18 September 2011, that Just 17 had taken part in since being renamed.

The Race

Diana is down for the weekend so it's time for Just 17's shakedown cruise after her launch earlier in the week. Diana claims not to be a sailor, although, when pressed there is mention of sailing dinghies a long time ago and sailing aboard other friends yachts in exotic Caribbean locations. I'm not convinced she's as ignorant as she makes out. Although she accepts that she is more used to turning a wheel and pushing a throttle forward, than holding a tiller and mainsheet, she rejects the moniker "Gin Palace" that I believe describes her more recent boats accurately enough.

Regardless of her reticence I let it be known that I planned to enter Just 17 in the "Hickling Passage Race" and it just happens to be the weekend following Just 17's launch. Accordingly I am up early and, by the time Diana is up, breakfast is on the table. Then it's time foe everything to be put in the car to be ready for our day out. That's the theory! Somehow over the course of the year I have managed to mislay my boat packing list and am sure that I will forget something amazingly obvious.

David Church spells out the rules

David Church starts the race briefing by spelling out where the marks are to be found and finishes with the safety briefing. "Look after each other. There is no safety boat!".

We reach the boat with only half an hour before the race briefing. On the way I recall I've forgotten something. Within minutes of reaching the car the list expands to four items: gas cartridges (How could I forget them, when they were in the garage right beside the cooker that I had brought?), tea towel, kitchen roll and beer! Actually, the beer turned out to be completely unnecessary. We drank the bottle of rosé that we had remembered instead.

However, we did not rush home immediately. We could easily have discovered we needed something else and there was certainly only time for one trip home and back before the briefing. As it turned out there was a serious problem. Somehow, over the winter, one of two split pins on the boom had gone missing. Without them the main sail cannot to stretched out and held tight. Luckily, however, my ice cream carton labelled "Chandlery" came to the rescue and I managed to find a split pin that would do - though it was a bit thinner than the original.

The Lap Board Displayed

David holds up the board that will be displayed if we are to do a lap round the Broad.

Once the boat was rigged, we made a dash for home and picked up the four items, getting there and back in just less than 20 minutes, bang on 10:30, the time allotted for the race briefing. We ran past the Pleasure Boat and on to the end of the dyke to find the briefing on the point of starting.

Into the Narrows

I forget about my camera until we are reaching the narrows above Heigham Sound. We are already trailing the fleet.

There was just enough time to hand over the entry fee. The guy in front paying his fee gave his name as Mat Gravener. I'd been wanting to meet Mat for ages, as friend, Sue Hines, had put me in touch with him a number of months ago. We had promised ourselves a meeting that we never arranged. Then, briefly we had both been working on our boats at Wayford Bridge, but he had taken Jamesia II home before I realised he was there working on her.

The race briefing was reasonably straight forward, assuming you knew the geography of Hickling Broad. Probably everyone except Diana did. It was only complicated by the fact that it hadn't been decided whether the winds were going to get strong enough to allow the usual lap round the Broad as well as the passage down the Thurne towards Martham.

Enjoying the helm

I passed the helm to Diana after we pass the Catfield mark. The only trouble she has is getting used to the sensitivity of the helm.

After the briefing there was a general rush to the boats. Being at the back of the dyke we had furthest to go and would have to paddle all the way out. I had decided on Friday that my battery was completely shot and, although I had the Minn Kota in the car, there was no point in attempting to run it.

We cast off and paddled for the broad. Diana's knees were causing trouble, so she couldn't kneel on the cockpit benches, and she only managed to wave her paddle around, with hands far too close together to get much push in the water. However, it didn't matter too much. Other boats in front of us we doing much the same and, if anything were slower than us.

The Fast Boats on the return leg

Buccaneer, one of the faster boats, on its return from the down river mark, as we work through Heigham Sound.

We manage to moor head to wind and hoist sails right by the stewards tent at the entrance to the dyke. Then it's a simple push off and we're under way. I take the helm and work our way across the Broad a few yards behind the start line. We almost reach the far side when I decide we need to come about to ensure we don't run out of water. I've timed things beautifully. We head for the line. It's only then that I realise I've made a big mistake and we are at the at the extreme downwind end of the line.

Still trailing the fleet

As we approach Duck Broad where we are to turn, we can see there's still a good number of boats going our way.

I don't know how I managed to miss the fact that I was aiming for the end of the line where every other boat would be stealing our wind. Put it down to not having sailed for a year! However, all was not lost. We seemed to be keeping other with the other stragglers, while the really large rigged, slender hulled, river cruisers just moved ahead and out of the way. Three boats just up wind of us seemed to be getting ever closer and were clearly taking each others wind as they approached the Catfield mark which we were to leave to port. They appeared to be so concentrating on avoiding collision that they lost track of the buoy and it allowed us to sneak past it inside them.

Then we were on a downwind leg and could gull wing. This is where I took over looking after the jib and passed the helm to Diana. I used a technique I always associate with my brother, using my boat hook to hold out the jib to best catch the wind. However, we were never going to hold off the boats behind us, all of which had significantly bigger rigs than us. I'd have dearly loved to have been able to stay ahead of the Prelude, but that found its way past us too, so before we left the Broad, we were at the back of the fleet.

Jamesia II passes Duck Broad

Mat Gravener, aboard Jamesia II, seems to be reasonably well up the fleet as we approach the Duck Broad mark.

Once past Deep Dyke moorings I remember my camera. I haven't taken any photographs since the start, so take a picture of the fleet as they are about to pass out of sight through the dog-leg before the White Slea and Deep Go Dyke moorings. There's the inevitable brief period when I think we may be catching them, but it turns out to be the bunching effect you always get there as the trees take all the wind from the boats ahead.

Lapping us on the Broad

As we make it back onto Hickling, Kenmure is either going home or half way round her the lap of the Broad.

Once through the narrows ourselves it's a pleasant sail to the mark. I even have the confidence to go below and take a photograph of Diana at the helm. By now the fastest boats in the fleet are already making the return leg. I managed to snap Buccaneer followed by Black Bess as they come by. It was tricky trying to decide on the best course.

I had failed to check the times of the tides (I really must take this racing lark more seriously!) but I had kept a close eye on any bubbles near the bank and saw no trace of current in the water, so I wasn't entirely sure whether it truly was slack water and whether it was important to stay in or out of the channel on this leg. By channel I mean the deepest water. I did get a little worried when, as Jamesia II approached us, I saw a green buoy on its side. Did that mean it was aground? We did manage to kiss the sludge on the return leg, at one point, but we didn't actually grind to a halt.

Still Having Fun

I try to find a different angle to take a photo of Diana. By this time we have consumed all the rosé!

As we approached the narrower tree lined reach down to the "The Holt", the thatched wooden chalet just before the eel nets, I began to worry. I could see no buoy to mark the turn. I must not have been listening properly at the briefing. A shouted enquiry to another boat got the reply that we had to turn level with the last red can, not post.

Not Exactly Speeding

I remember that my new phone has "Saildroid" installed. The fastest speed I see us achieve was 3.4 knots.

We turn without incident and begin making our way back to the Broad. It really is fantastic weather and quite unexpected, given the forecast earlier in the week. It is an almost perfect day to introduce Diana to Just 17. Perhaps I could have asked for a little more wind. It is so much easier for a new sailor to sense how wind and tiller interact when you have a steady breeze. Today you need a very light and sensitive touch on the helm. We'll blame the rosé. By now the whole bottle is gone and after only a light breakfast it is beginning to take effect on our empty stomachs.

Last Time we see the Prelude

The Prelude is already half way back across the Broad and I am too busy playing the ukelele and singing my heart out to worry about the course we are taking.

As we work upwind towards the Meadow Dyke junction, we gain quite a bit on the Prelude. Diana gets the hang of doing gentle tacks and relying on Just 17's momentum to carry the boat through the wind. However, by the time we make it through the narrows and by White Slea and Deep Go moorings we've lost touch with them again. We do, however, make short work of overtaking Jade, one of Martham Boats hire yachts. She should have beaten us easily through that part of the river. Her long and comparatively slender hull, taller mast and gaff rig should have found the wind that we couldn't.

The finish in sight

As we approach the finish we clearly see the "Lap Board" that indicates that the race has been extended.

Out on the Broad Diana is a little less certain about the course to take. Tacking towards some distant mark can be confusing as you first have to steer to one side of then the other. The glare was also not suiting her eyes and one tree on a distant bank can look much like another. Or am I being too kind? Had the wine got to her the way it had to me? I am sure I wasn't helping her concentration, having largely given up handing out any advice on helming technique or the course to take, and gone below to retrieve my ukelele.

While in the cabin I remembered that one of the things I had meant to do on my canoeing trip with my brother. I should have recorded where I was using "Saildroid" an application I have installed on my phone. This time I took a photo of our speed and bearing, rather than position. Returning to the cockpit I then spent most of the time giving forth full volume versions of "San Franciso Bay Blues" and "Puttin' on the Style". Well, I was when I wasn't trying to compose a suitable blues to describe our progress across the Broad. Perhaps I should have tried Jimmy Oden's "Going Down Slow"!

The Trophy

Diana clutches her first sailing trophy, proudly supported by me. Shame it's the wooden spoon! Not only were we last to cross the line, but last by a fair way on handicap too!

At one point I even drew an audience as a half decker came over to cruise along side for a minute or so. I can understand why a minute proved enough for them! And then, eventually, we crossed the line. Actually glanced along it would probably be more accurate. I remember that last time I did the Passage Race I was told I did this. I think we did it again.

At Rest

After her first cruise under her new name, Just 17 was moved across the dyke to her new permanent mooring.

Having heard the bell, indicating we had crossed the line, we swung the boat head to wind, now 180° from the direction when we started. I dropped the sails and we paddled back in to our berth. Glenn asked us to shift across to the other side of the dyke to the space which was to be Just 17's permanent mooring. We'd just got the boat secure when we had a message that we'd won a prize.

On entering the bar we were greeted by a loud cheer from the assembled throng. David Church handed me an impressive trophy - the Wooden Spoon. It seems we weren't just last to cross the line, but last on our mighty handicap. Once outside, I let someone take my camera and take a few photographs. So that is it - ignominious defeat on Just 17's first outing under her new name. Never mind, it was all great fun, and I reckon that Diana will soon be making a great helm.

Blog Comment

Mat Gravener
Oct 01, 2011; 9:00am
Re: Just 17 - Her First Trophy!

Brilliant write up Greg! We had a great time on Jamesia II, and like you got slightly confused where to turn at Duck Broad. We went as far as the last red post as the river narrows, then realised it should have been the red can, still it was all great fun and well organised, and all so laid back. Both the passage race and earlier regatta at Hickling have been the best two events I've been too in a long time and I've enjoyed meeting so many pleasant people.

Look forward to catching up soon,


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