Getting to know my grandsons

A great joy for any man in old age is fine grandsons. I have four, two by my daughter and two by my son James. We keep in touch with the first two as they live a mere thirty miles away and have spent alternate Christmas Days with us since they were born. The other two (GS1, 17 years & GS2, 15 years) are more remote, some seventy miles away and almost strangers to us. On our day visits we hardly get a word out of them apart from during one proper meal. My biggest disappointment was on my seventieth birthday when they joined us for the day at Keyhaven on the Solent, which we were visiting in my tiny yacht Shoal Waters from the East Coast. As they arrived, the heavens opened up and with no shelter for all on board, they had to retreat home. By 2004, their growing interest in sailing suggested a solution. There is no better way to get to know a chap than sitting together for hours in the cockpit of a small sailing boat. If James and I hired two, two berth yachts on the Norfolk Broads for a few days that should do the trick. The choice of craft was simple. For over fifty years I have admired the Hustler class of engineless sailing craft built in the 1930s but never sailed one as I have always been in my own sixteen foot cutter Shoal Waters, usually with my wife Joy.

Jim and the boys picked me up at about six thirty on Friday March the 26th, having left Southampton as soon as they got out of school. They were a bit surprised at the amount of my gear but I had warned them that it could be cold & know from long experience that many items are needed sooner or later, from a towrope to three blocks of rich fruitcake. Not much conversation on route as the lads sat in the back with their CD players. After a meal at a Little Chef (Olympic Breakfast), we bumped down Marsh Road, Ludham to Hunter’s famous yard. Not a soul about but the anti burglar lights came on to help us round the back and onto the walkways with the silent boats under their tents. We found Hustler 2 with ease but Hustler 1 was more elusive until it occurred to me that as the first boat built, it may never have been numbered. Dumping my gear, I crept on board and lit the paraffin lamps. These are true Broads craft from the days of “Coot Club” with lifting cabin tops and canvas sides; the whole lot including the large cockpit, being covered at night by an awning over the boom from the mast to the stern of the craft. Unlike seagoing sailing boats, all cooking is done in the cockpit. The boys elected to sleep on 2 so Jim and I carried our gear into 1 and explored the arrangements. There was a bunk on either side with a supply of blankets and pillows so I need not have brought a second sleeping bag to put over my first. I insisted on my bedtime Horlicks (in my experience there are only two things that ensure a swift journey into the land of nod and Horlicks is one of them!), but the others didn’t trouble. It can be bought in convenient one cup sized packets rather than having to drag a bottle about. To our surprise, four other crews turned up later, having travelled down from Leicester.

No glorious sunlit dawn on Saturday, just gloomy clouds and a cold breeze growing from the southwest. I made tea soon after 0500hrs and had a walk along the riverside as Jim dressed and made tea for the lads. (I don’t think that they ever used their stove.) They showed no sings of moving so Jim, who wanted a cash machine and I drove into Wroxham. While he stocked up on cash I found a newsagent where I bought a tide table. Unlike anywhere else I know of, it gives the time of low water rather than high water, in this case at Yarmouth where the North and South Broads meet. Setting the time onto a sort of cardboard clock bought for one shilling in 1976, I can read off the times of high and low water all over the Broads. Hustlers have no engines (and thus no electrics) so when beating to windward; it helps no end to have the tide in your favour. Auxiliary power is provided by the armstrong method via a long pole with small block of wood on one end and a knob on the other. Dropped into the water by the mast, it is held against your shoulder as you walk aft, remembering to stop before you step off the stern and then repeated add infinitum or until the wind comes. By the time we got back, the boys were about and we folded up the tents and stowed them in the bows, noted the gear for lowering the masts, and then sorted out the halyards which have to unhooked out of the way of the tent. Jim decided the crewing and GS1 came with me. After quanting out of the yard into the narrow dyke I blotted our copybook by starting to hoist the mainsail, which let the boom crutch fall into the water. On my craft it is fixed until untied from the deck! Fortunately no one else seemed to notice. Down the River Thurne and into the River Bure towards Acle Bridge, some five miles, is one of the best stretches of sailing water on the North Broads, free of bungalows and trees so that the wind blows free and true. This seemed the ideal place to break in our crews. (In fact they have sailed in the Solent, the Caribbean, and the Greek islands but Broads sailing is unique). At least at this time of the year (late March) there were no processions of motor craft about.

The headsail is self acting so the sheets do not have to be adjusted every forty five or sixty seconds when beating, but the mainsheet is never fastened so there is something for the crew to do. In fact I showed him my quick way to do a bowline

which can be a lifesaver as it enables anyone to secure a line thrown to them if they are in the water and was pleased to see him persist for over half an hour. Over thirty years as an evening class instructor, I must have shown hundreds of people involving a crafty flick of the right wrist but only a few ever managed to do it. The bowline is such a vital knot but there are many ways to do it and other trades such as mountaineering are always ready to volunteer their particular method. My experience over the years is that if you show a chap one way; when he needs a bowling he will do one with no hesitation. Show him two ways and he will have to think it out. Show him three ways and he will not be able to do it all in an emergency. I still have pangs of conscience about the time I prevented a chap showing the class how to do it one handed and later noticed that he only had one hand!

After an hour or so Jim suggested a cup of tea so we moored together at the entrance to Upton Dyke. The cold was beginning to bite. I wore a vest, long shirt, a real jersey bought in Jersey, and thick woolly sweater, a suit of overalls, a scarf and a real canvas sailing smock. The lads were shivering, particularly GS2 and I decided that, though Jim’s wife, Hillary had provided meals that only needed reheating, we must find a proper meal at midday in somewhere warm. With the tide now on the flood, the obvious place was the Maltster’s Arms at Ranworth, perhaps the most popular venue on the Broads. Trees line the bank for the last mile or so and progress was slow but we made it by 1330 hrs and rushed into the warm. The store was open and I bought a quart of milk to secure our hot drinks. Afterwards we set off for Potter Higham, back into open country and the eventual warmth of a pub but it was slow progress over the flood tide among trees with the light wind. It was pleasant enough but the cold was biting even though they had now donned oilskins and I suggested to Jim that we shortened the trip at Thurne Dyke just before 1600hrs. I was happy enough on board but they spent the evening in the pub. To me, being on board when moored or at anchor is part of the magic of small boats but most people follow the maritime tradition of our seafaring nation and cannot wait to get to the fleshpots ashore. It was understandable after a five or six month voyage from Australia round the Horn, but my attitude as an essentially weekend sailor was,

“I didn’t get afloat yesterday; I shan’t get afloat tomorrow: so I will spend all the time I can in my cosy floating home”. This worked well during my six two week trips as Watch officer on the STA schooners Sir Winston Churchill & Malcolm Miller, when I was more than willing to stay to look after the ship in the evenings while the other members of the afterguard repaired to the nearest hostelry. A bonus is the interesting people who come by. In Campletown two old salts told me that once there were thirtytwo distilleries in the town,; each with it’s own schooner which traded a regular triangular course, whisky to England, metal goods to Ireland and barley for home.

Sunday dawned overcast again but slightly brighter with a light breeze from the southwest. GS2 who had obviously got very chilled yesterday was reluctant to get up until noon by which time we had reached Potter and the prospect of breakfast at Lathams. Unfortunately they were out of bacon! Overnight we had moored to the leeward bank (free if you go to the pub). I produced a light heaving line and walked round to the other, windward, bank to haul the craft across so that they laid head to wind to make it easy to hoist the sails. Then we walked the boats to the end of the dyke and off to Potter and its, famous bungalows; me on my own and Jim with GS1 and GS2 below. Now came the lowering of the mast and passing under the notorious little humped back bridge. At times after heavy rain, the motor craft cannot get under for days or even weeks; which is fine for sailing craft on Hickling Broad but tough on the pub at the dyke. A useful breeze had got up when we reached open water and the dyke, dead to leeward, presented an interesting problem but I showed them a solution and the craft in getting alongside, wouldn’t have crushed an egg!

After a roast lunch we sailed back down the broad and into the narrow Old Meadow Dyke to Horsey Mere and into the Staithe by the mill. It was early to stop and the sky seemed to be lightening but they got the cabin tops up and rigged the tents so they had obviously had enough for the day. It is possible to walk to the sand dunes along the coast from here and they talked of doing so but when I woke after my afternoon nap, they were still on board playing cards. As they were staying, I walked round the broad and across to the Waxhan New Cut. The sun came through and the reeds lit up. This was Broadland at it’s best; water, reeds and cattle meadows. That evening they retired to the “Nelson’s Arms” while I watched for barn owls with no luck, but chatted to several interesting walkers.

Monday presented a problem as there was no wind first thing and we had to get back to Potter Bridge while the tide was ebbing to help us get though. It should have been a simple matter of quanting but GS2 refused to get up early enough so we lashed the two craft together, lashed the tiller on one amidships, and I steered the other while GS1 and Jim quanted; one each side. At the entrance to the dyke which is only thirty feet wide, it is possible to walk along the bank for the first quarter mile so out came my tow rope and GS1 obliged. Then back to the quants for the other mile. Back at the main channel, we moored up for a brew and then made sail for a delightful trip to Potter as the wind had drawn a little more northerly. The gear came down easier this time and I fed on board while they got something ashore. As the sky lightened to watery sunshine, we beat down towards Acle again. This time GS2 was with me, and at his request, we made tea on route. Mid afternoon we moored together in warm sunshine to brew for the others and then sailed back to the yard. After a meal at Acle while the rush hour traffic eased, we headed for a smooth trip home. I was delighted to get a E mail from GS1 saying how much they had enjoyed it and hoping we could do it again one day.