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!!
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
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.
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.
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.