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Boating Tales From The 1960s & 1970s

1960s History 1960s Memories 1960s Gallery

By Michael J. Hannant

The first boat we hired as complete novices in the mid sixties was Lady Erica, wood construction, 28 ft, 9ft 6 beam. This was from Knights Creek, Oulton Broad and through Bradbeers agency.  On arrival we were met by an elderly gentleman who introduced himself as not only the owner but also the builder. Introductions dealt with we boarded the craft for a tour of inspection. The daily checks consisted of dipping the engine oil and giving the greaser on the stern gland half a turn each morning. We found the prospect of living on board for a week quite exciting. The business of getting the boat to go where we wanted, however, was a different kettle of fish entirely. We had arranged a rowing dingy, whether this was down to some subconscious concern at the lack of lifeboats I am not sure. The dingy, whatever its true purpose, was across the other side of the broad, so the trip was used as a time of instruction on the basic skills of boat handling. We stood in a silent group in the cockpit as he cast off the lines, backed out from the jetty, turned round and set off across the broad. "There you are" he beamed, “nothing to it is there?" The response to this question was an unintelligible mumble and four rather sickly smiles.

We collected the dingy, a smart varnished affair and were informed that it was brand new. We were suitably impressed with this demonstration of faith in our ability to be trusted with a craft in its virginal state that we cheered up and started to feel a lot better. We received some more advice before dropping him off and setting sail. One bit of advice which still rings in my ears to this day was, if you come across a yacht tacking always go for her stern.

I don't know if he had second sight but that was the very first hazard we met not ten minutes after waving him goodbye. There it was, huge mast and sails, charging back and forth across the river like a demented shopper trying to find a parking space in the High Street on a Saturday. The crucial part of the advice for passing yachts was however sadly lacking. It came as a nasty shock, when we were halfway past it came on the other tack at at least five times the speed.  The years have drawn a veil over the scenes of panic in our cockpit and if we slowed down or sped up I cannot remember. Suffice to say we all survived including the two boats. They even called out thank you, for what I will never know. Somewhere on the river Waveney it was noticed that the brand new dingy was filling with water. We stopped at a boatyard and hauled it out. Expecting to sit around while the problem was fixed it came as a bit of a surprise to be given a tin of sealant and instructed to rub it into the seams. This we found to be good fun, completed the task, and settled down to wait for it to dry. After an hour with no signs of this happening I went off and reported this fact to the fellow who had given it to us. He told us it took at least two weeks to dry. When I informed him that we were only on the boat for a week he took great delight in telling us it could be put straight back in the water. Norfolk humour!!

Lady Erica 1967

Lady Erica 1967

Wayford Bridge springs to mind where a couple of incidents took place. The first involved a couple that we met in the local pub where we had gone for a evening meal. He said hello and being polite we returned the greeting. Bearing in mind that it is impossible to like everyone you meet, as the evening wore on we found this fellow to be a pain. I am sure that in the past others have thought this of me, however I do not carry a photo of our house in my wallet and bring it out for all to see. This chap did. On leaving the pub we found he was moored next to us and was on a hire boat, albeit a much better one than ours. He insisted on giving us a tour, even to the extent of lifting the hatch so we could admire the engine. He also informed us that the boat for next year had already been hired even though it had not yet been built. My brother, who has a rather dry sense of humour, then insisted that he toured our boat. After showing him every nook and cranny including the engine he could not wait to get away and we enjoyed the sight of him rapidly retreating back on his boat. I have never since found anyone who carries a photo of his house in his wallet, but I suppose it takes all sorts.

The other event happened a few years later. We had moored upstream of the bridge, noting on the way a rubbish disposal point on the right hand bank just below it. The sensible thing to do would have been to walk down and cross the bridge to get rid of three bags of rubbish. Too easy. I elected to row down in the dingy to carry out the operation. My first two attempts to pass under the bridge had to be abandoned due to boats coming through. The third time with the river clear I bent to the oars and at a respectable pace headed under the bridge. Why is it if you make a complete idiot of your self there is always an audience? A perfect mooring always seems to be done with not a soul in sight for about a two mile radius. Make a complete cock up and there is the attentive mob to mock you. In my haste to get started I had forgotten to unstep the mast in the dingy. By now travelling at some speed my progress was brought to an abrupt halt when it came into contact with the bridge. I was thrown from the seat and ended up in a heap on my back at the bottom of the boat. It goes without saying there was a crowd on the bridge whose mocking laughter I can still hear to this day. Dignity destroyed, and embarrassed beyond belief I rowed back to the boat. The rubbish I finally took down under cover of darkness.

It all adds to life’s rich tapestry, the characters you meet. Another one we came into contact with was at Neatishead Staithe in the late sixties. As we came in to moor a chap of about sixty bounded down the landing, showed us where to tie up and took our ropes. Safely moored we thanked him and then, to our astonishment, he went back down the stage and got onto a hire boat. From his actions we had assumed he was something to do with the staithe. In fact we had found ourselves a compulsive organiser. These people inhabit various walks of life. Dashing round the office taking up collections for some one who is getting married, having a baby, died. leave the company or break a leg snow boarding in Austria. The elderly suffer more than most from their unwanted attentions. When you are pushing ninety and been transported to the community centre the last thing you feel like is being exhorted to join in the fun. Or, for that matter, being told that three spoonfuls of sugar in your tea is bad for the bowels. Being forced to dance with some woman twice your size with large feet and bad breath, I could go on but you get the picture.

Santa Margherita 1969

Santa Margherita 1969

This organiser who we nick named the Admiral spent most of the afternoon trotting off his boat to assist every craft that came in. He came off once for a boat that was passing on the main river, returned looking quite disappointed. His finest hour was late in the afternoon when he sprang into action as another hire boat came in and he requested they pass their lines. For some reason the young lady on the stern decided she could step ashore across a gap of some five feet. The impossibility of this was realised as she fell in with a large splash. The Admiral sprang into action, supervising the ladies removal from the water and offering sage advice for her care and organising a hot drink. This done he retreated once more back to his boat and that was the last we saw of him. I suppose even organisers have to rest sometime.

In 1969 we hired Spartan Wings from Wing Line Cruisers at Brundall. Wood construction, 42ft with a 12ft beam. It was on the River Yare we were hailed from a boat tied up to the bank. Being of a friendly and inquisitive nature we slowed to a stop and enquired if we could be of any assistance. Apparently we were needed in the form of ballast rather than for any technical skills we might have. The cardinal sin had been committed. One of the stern lines had suddenly taken it upon itself to leap from the deck where it had been safely stowed in a mad and desperate attempt to gain its freedom.

This could only have one result of course. Forgetting that its other end was fastened to the stern cleat, it had fallen defeated into the water and met its fate, as had many stern lines before it, by becoming entangled round the prop. The effect of this had stopped the engine and brought the boat to an undignified and unscheduled halt, so I suppose the rope was able to derive some amount of satisfaction from this. The crew of the boat, it was a small two berth cruiser, proposed cutting the offending length of sisal with the galley bread knife. Our part in this operation was to gather in a rather tight knit and unsteady looking group on the foredeck to raise the stern out of the water so the prop could be reached. It must have looked like a rag day stunt as one by one we stepped aboard and clung rather uncertainly to one another. After some impressive gymnastics, and a good deal of splashing about a cry of triumph rose up from the stern and the somewhat bedraggled, and by now, thoroughly chastened rope was pulled from the water and held aloft for all to see.  Our important part in the play was now over, and as we climbed down from the foredeck to the effusive thanks of the owner of the boat, who by then was looking rather wet, out of breath, and more than a bit red in the face. We bade them farewell and set off with the flush of achievement that comes from helping a fellow human being in difficulty.

Boat gymnastics in 1969!

Boat gymnastics in 1969!

I remember with great pleasure the best entertainment we ever had from another boat. We were moored in Oulton Broad Yacht Station in the usual position of stern on. We had elected to stay until after lunch and mid morning found us sprawled about the decks in various attitudes with nothing to do except watch the world go by.  Our attention was alerted by activity on the boat moored on our starboard side. Crewed by what appeared to be Mother, Father, Daughter and Son in Law, this assumption being drawn from the remarkable resemblance of the two lady members of the crew. Being of a polite nature I will limit my description to saying that they were of  extremely generous proportions and very heavily made up, an operation that had clearly taken a great deal of time and effort. They secured a vantage point on the forward cabin top with an air of suppressed anticipation. The main players in the drama now appeared clad in stout clothing and life jackets. Dingy sailing was about to commence!!

The two men lowered themselves gingerly into the dingy which at that moment was tied between the side of their boat and ours. Some considerable time was taken up sorting out the sail and erecting the mast. Members of our crew, sensing that something of interest was about to happen started to gather and take up comfortable positions affording a good view. I'm afraid that we are all as guilty as one another in that, if there is the remotest possibility some one is going to make a complete ass of themselves we all want to be in the front row seats to appreciate the spectacle to the fullest extent.

Had more notice been taken of the wind direction possibly things would have gone off in a rather predictable and boring way, but of course the entertainment value would have been nil. As it was this basic rule for anyone proposing to use the wind as a means of motive power went completely by the board as an attempt was made to sail straight out into the wind that was blowing directly onto the bows of the moored boats. This rash attempt to get to clear water could only end in abject failure and , so it proved as the sail wrapped itself in a loving embrace round the bow of their cruiser in the manner of a seasoned Romeo enticing his latest potential conquest. Confusion in the dingy, hoots of laughter from the two ladies, and suppressed murmurs of amusement from our crew. Being unable to extricate themselves with the sail up it was considered prudent to lower it and start again. The two women grabbed hold of the mast and wriggled it round the bow and they disappeared from sight down the other side of their boat.

Watching closely we witnessed the sail being raised again and the second dash for freedom attempted. This time the loving embrace was afforded to the next boat down the mooring and signalled the complete collapse of the two women. The occupants of this latest boat to experience this novel way of sailing came up from below, made an instant assessment of the situation, and the action to be taken. Before the sail could be lowered the mast was grabbed by strong hands and thrust in the general direction of open water which, obviously with the wind blowing unabated put them onto the bow of the next boat on the mooring. The two women gave way to complete hysterics, shrieks of laughter echoed across the yacht station. The carefully applied makeup, mingled with tears of mirth, transformed their faces into mascara streaked objects wonderful to behold. We had also lost control, and any pretence of politeness evaporated as the performance with the dingy continued from boat to boat bringing their crews on deck. What innocent passers by made of it all I can only imagine.  Eventually they managed to free themselves and no doubt had an enjoyable sail, but I will forever be indebted to them all for a wonderful and thoroughly entertaining twenty minutes that I have never forgotten after all these years.

In the early seventies we hired King of Hearts from Hearts Cruisers of Thorpe. 41ft with an 11ft beam, all wood, with a sliding canopy over centre cockpit. Flush forward deck with portholes to the forward cabins. Lovely! We stopped for lunch at Womack Water, it was a nice day so we slid the canopy down.Very heavy to slide back up again as it was made of wood. My brother on one side, me on the other, and heave. After lunch we attempted to close the canopy which decided to come off the runners. We could not move it at all so we set off to Herbert Woods to get the problem fixed.

Half way there Monsoon season started and it absolutely tipped down. We attracted curious stares from other craft with their canopies up, who were not having half the fun we were, and probably felt envious.  We arrived at the yard looking the least likely candidates for a Burtons window display that you could imagine. The rain now stopped and I seem to remember a fellow called Jimmy effected the repair with his jemmy.

King of Hearts at Thorpe 1974

King of Hearts at Thorpe 1974

Michael J. Hannant 2007


See more of Michael’s photos from the 1960s here and the 1970s here