For years I’ve watched it and talked about maybe doing it in my own boat but always with the proviso that I do it at least once with someone who knows what they are doing! Well this year 3 of us got together and decided to give it a go …
The mighty Clipper (H1) achieved an excellent start under the expert guidance of Skipper Churchy – we were the first hire boat for all of 30 seconds! As we rounded the corner the enthusiasm fell somewhat when greeted by the sight of what seemed like all the members of the second batch of starts locked together in The Street
There followed a “short” period of good-natured interaction and banter as what seemed like 100, but was probably about 40, boats drifted gently down the river against the tide with no wind and being herded back into a solid log-jam by various stinkies (hire and private, dayboats and cruisers) whenever any gap seemed likely to open and allow the fleet to start to thin. We finally cleared the Waterworks at about 16:30 (the hire cruiser start was at 12:10!) and drifted gently on, revising the original plan as there was now no way of meeting Skip’s cunningly devised schedule.
New plan – push on! Acle next stop.
Proceeding with the tide and now just enough wind to actually feel as if we were sailing, the only dampener was the rain. At least there was variety: light spitting; gentle persistence; occasional clearing; irregular downpours – such fun!
South Walsham was a shorter leg than expected and rounded at about 1830. Still too early at current progress for the turn of the tide at Stokesby. Did we have time to head back for Ludham? Yes. New plan duly executed and managed to squeeze around the mark inside one of the production cruisers and just behind Martham Boats’ new cruiser “Jacinda” (launched on Friday, first sail Saturday 12:10 start!) who seemed to have been royally stuffed in the turn by lack of wind and a hire cruiser shooting the bridge at the wrong moment. After a ‘tense’ stern chase with Jacinda back down the Ant we sneaked ahead on the turn down the Bure. Jacinda turned off for South Walsham and we were then on our own for what became a very loooong time as the wind died away again. Stokesby plan for 22:30 eventually became 00:30 after losing all but the slightest (lol) breeze and crawling downwind over the early flood. Back towards Acle and the slight breeze could now hardly even be termed a zephyr but the tide was at least doing its best to help. I had never realised just how long that stretch between Thurne Mouth and Acle Bridge is until last night and this morning.
Having shot Acle again - tense stuff at 1mph - crew rest started with Skip heading down first for a pair of hours, followed by our other crew member at about 03:00. Yours truly attempting to keep us moving and out of the reeds which was no easy thing in the mist with no moon even with many years of night watch-keeping experience to fall back on. At about 05:00 on the stretch before Womack and now making very slow progress, it was my watch below What seemed like 2 minutes later and movement on deck and a comment about crutches woke me – OMG had we reached the bridge already? Why had no-one woken me? Appearing as quickly as possible after wriggling back into various layers, boots and foulies – no easy thing in a space that seemed somewhat smaller than the average a rabbit hutch – I discovered that, in fact, nearly 1 ½ hours had passed and we had achieved the massive distance of 150 yards! Skip and Julius had done the maths and worked out that there was about the same chance as a snowball surviving in hell as us making Hickling and then back to Horning in the next six hours!
06:24 and the trusty iron topsail was coaxed into life and we ended our 3RR challenge.
Disappointed but pleased with our progress having managed to get and stay ahead of pretty much all of the hire boat start (only Jade was actually ahead of us and we knew she still had to do the legs) now was the time for a nice hot cuppa – note to self: next time, take a lighter as matches don’t seem to like being stored in a damp hire boat cabin! Coffee/Tea had to wait until we had formally informed the Potter Guardship of our retirement, handed over our ID boards and headed on upstream towards Martham to roust out SWMBO and our other crew member’s better half who had, for some reason, not remained on the quay-heading all night waiting to cheer their heroes on but retired to bed after much Prosecco and Gin
Overall, it was a shame not to finish but we are in good company as only 15 appear to have made it! The organisation was fantastic and the atmosphere was excellent. The spirit of the race seems to be summed up in that 4 hour stretch from the Swan to the Waterworks with not a cross word (that I heard anyway) between any of the boats (both racing and not) and plenty of good humour being a pragmatic replacement for the letter of the racing rules!
Roll on next year ... maybe