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Surlingham Staithe: The Attempt


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Today Shiela and I went on a bit of an 'expedition' having spoken here in the recent past about getting to Surlingham Staithe I thought we would give it a go.  I had looked up various aerial photos and had a good idea of the direction we should be headed in along with the hope it would be possible.

We launched Picca (the RIB) just freshly Tolled and headed off to Bargate. Initially things had not got off to the best of starts as I now have gremlins with the RIBs electrics, earlier the RPM gauge worked with the hour meter, but the speed and fuel did not. This caused us to head to Brooms for Petrol only to find there was actually plenty of fuel in the tank and it was a gauge not reading right. Now out on the river I had a fuel gauge working and speed but no RPM.

Be that as it may we arrived at Bargate and headed into what I dubbed 'The Surlingham Complex'. This is a very winding series of inlets and it was pretty good going, nice and wide and we were at the top of High Water so had bags of depth. We took a quick detour into Kings Fleet, nice and spacious but lots of thick weed around and Lily Pads. Amazingly once we had turned a chap in his own centre console boat arrived. I then found I a very stiff gear linkage and no easy way to engage astern (in the Williams RIB there is no neutral you always have drive while ever the engine is running). He of course had no idea of this and we went right as he went left and fortunately he had a good old fashion outboard so could easily go stop.

Slight issue out the way it was back the way we had come, this time doing a right - through a very narrow section with the Reeds touching both sides of the RIB but soon opened back out into a good sized dyke. We continued and it soon became apparent at the various turns and twists that on the ground and in the air are vastly different. Really needed GPS and Google Maps to keep us on track.

We then came to the junction (if you wish to call it that) where ahead would be Surlingham Broad - no chance. To the left the main dyke continued but it was getting more and more touch and go as we went and soon we were having to push the Reeds to the sides as they came in and overhung the RIB. I called it a day for ahead I could see it got even more narrow. I then managed to get astern and we crept back, and seconds later lots of white smoke...

I killed the engine, she was overheating and no warning lights or buzzer had gone off (another issue no doubt) but I knew what the issue was, a clogged jet intake which serves to both cool the engine and provide thrust. Here we were in a dyke no wider than our RIB and unable to turn, we tried to use our Oar and go out back the way we came but made no progress as the Reeds simply acted to hold us where we were.  I was calm and thankfully Shiela was too, we decided to spin the RIB around using the Reeds to grab hold of, and with me tugging at the ones astern of us and Shiela doing the same at the bow we got the RIB facing the way we had come and then we took turns 'rowing'.

Once we were out of the really narrow section things became easier. I then decided to get out the RIB on the tiny 'swim platform' and then managed to get my arm under the transom to the intake and started to pull all sorts out. Whole Reed stalks, various other water weeds and we then tried the engine again - she fired and we had drive but an unhappy impeller, engine off I was confident that we could call upon this once we reached Bargate but for now we would take turns using out Oar.

I have to say it was actually beautiful to be there in silence, a place untouched with crystal clear water and yet we could hear a lot of traffic noise and the sound from the railway too - that surprised us. We also had the ebbing tide which was beginning to run and goodness what a surprise, it really does rush out the small inlets and we were being taken along at about 3MPH making the rowing work much easier. We got back to Bargate Broad and I got us under power and back to Independence.  Here we lifted the RIB and was shocked to find still so much weed all up inside the inlet grill, I was also pleased to find a stainless steel 'prop' which sucks up the water and fires it out the back, so at least no rubber to have burnt out. We also found a plastic bag up there which had clearly been there years, this all clear back in the water time to give her a test. All was good and ran smoother than ever it has.

So, what would be handy is a second Oar, even better a simple RIB with an outboard where you can raise it, clear debris and get on your way still.  I would have loved to have been able to say you can do it, and maybe in the winter when a lot of the Reeds have died back, but as it stands there is plenty of depth but just too narrow for anything even a rowing boat would not work really so I feel it is only going to be doable with a canoe.

I have a bunch of video, but that is on my 'main camera' - so here is a screen capture of 'the end' showing just how narrow it is...

Calling it a day:



How far we got:



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Have just searched U-Tube for help on sculling over the bow of a dinghy. A bog standard technique in harbours where boats are moored to buoys and actually a very pleasant way of moving forward. For whatever reason I can't paste a link on this forum but I did find a video of a Canadian Canoe being propelled sideways with a 'scull draw', a very good demo, the info is out there.

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3 hours ago, JennyMorgan said:

Have just searched U-Tube for help on sculling over the bow of a dinghy. A bog standard technique in harbours where boats are moored to buoys and actually a very pleasant way of moving forward. 

There’s a very good description of how to scull in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ if you can find it. 

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From the front of the boat would be difficult to scull.

Learn to Canadian canoe one side paddling

Simply rotate paddle inwards and outwards in a scrolling motion ( So each draw of the paddle is in opposite directions you should go in a straight line)

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  • 5 months later...
On 30/08/2018 at 09:28, JennyMorgan said:

Robin, extend the fleet, buy a kayak!

Yeah they're a great way to explore the nooks and crannies. I hired one of the Salhouse Broad ones last year and it's amazing how much there is beyond what you see on a Broads cruiser.

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  • 2 months later...

Spent an afternoon exploring the Surlingham backwaters by canoe in advance of a future visit under sail in my Wayfarer. Managed to visit three of the four lagoons - the second involved a long narrow "neck" which took a bit of nerve as we had visions of spending the night stuck in a reedy embrace.  Following the tidal flow we attempted the fourth lagoon but just seemed to hit a wall of reeds and eventually wriggled out backwards, defeated.

Next was a search for the staithe. One of the branches near lagoon 3 had a flow opposed to that in the main channel so I guessed that this was part of a loop. This was obviously well maintained by someone with a local interest as the vegetation was well back from the channel edge. Followed this for a distance, turned right at a T junction, ducked under a fallen tree and there was the staithe.  I guess the dyke originally went as far as the ferry road but it is now truncated and stops a couple of hundred yards short.  There are a number of stored canoes and small dinghies and a bit of quay heading.  The staithe is signed as being for villagers only - but this is aimed towards those approaching down the lane. The lane is signed as a public footpath. 

Leaving - we followed the other arm of the T and found ourselves passing Alder Fen wild camping site. Clearly this organisation has an interest in keeping the channels open - but not too open!  A right angle bend and we were back near lagoon 1,  having completed a square. At no time were we troubled buy the water being too shallow, indeed the entrance was more than 5 ft deep - the length of my paddle.

Next we paddled to Bargate, passed under the chains and looked for the entrance to (what I believe is)  Surlingham Fleet?  We managed to navigate this four years ago but several fallen trees now completely impede the way. 

 Having paid my canoe river toll I did not feel that the BA were doing much to maintain these wonderful channels for the small boat navigator and I was not getting value for my money. In several places trees were reaching out to block the channel. With the rate of growth of willow some of these channels, like the one behind the chains, will be blocked in a year unless someone cuts them back. i am sure that I reached lagoon 4 last time.

I am pleased to see that the sign saying "Danger Shallow Water" has gone from the backwater entrance.  I never did see that grounding on some silt is particularly hazardous. However, the bits of sunken wherry behind the Bargate chains could do some real damage. Be very careful if you venture in there!


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Wuffa, I have done it in my 21ft Drascombe so your Wayfarer will have no probs. As for fallen trees, the Authority is duty bound by the terms of the Broads Act to keep waters open that were navigable in 1986. Don't hesitate to report the blockages and ask that any obstacles are cleared. Have a chat with your local Rangers, if they are like my local ones then you'll find them very helpful. 

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If the fallen trees are smallish ones, why not try to remove them yourself, and cut back some of the vegetation. If i lived local, i`d go out and do a bit of careful "Nighthawking", (Doing something under the cover of darkness), and removing some of the smaller blockages.

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  • 4 months later...

The only way to take part in all of the interesting things is to buy a boat, unfortunately this may have a detrimental affect on your financial and mental faculties, I personally think that boat ownership is the only way to go but then I'm not exactly cash rich or mentally stable so what the hell do I know he said gibbering 

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