One of my good friends (a Clipper training crew mate) lives in the beautiful Norfolk Broads, and he invited me for a day of sailing on the broads. We hired an absolutely stunning traditional Gunter Rig half decker sailing boat (Rebel) from Hunter’s Yard, Ludham. She is the fastest boat in their fleet and is nearly 100 year’s old.
This was a sailing experience like no other. The boats at Hunter’s yard are the only boats on the broads that don’t have engines. We were assured that all would be fine, and if necessary we had a quant pole on board! That in itself was quite daunting – sailing off and back on to the mooring was a little tricky and is really only for quite experienced sailors, however we managed it and with no scrapes of scuffs to our lovely half decker.
The boat itself was literally beautiful. With comfortable benches either side, lots of ropes, a jib and main sail, there is a mass of ropes and you literally feel like you are being taken back in time to a golden era where sailing really was sailing. Our sailing boat was incredibly well maintained, perfectly varnished, perfect sails, and honestly breath-taking to look at and to sail.
We left Ludham, Norfolk early in the morning with a dreary weather forecast outlook. But were pleasantly surprised that mostly the weather held off for us. We sailed for most of the morning to a beautiful riverside pub in Ranworth where we stopped for lunch before heading back to Ludham. This took us pretty much the full day.
Sailing on the Norfolk Broads is not something for the faint hearted, we sailed on a Saturday and the broads were buzzing with motor cruisers being driven by lunatics who have probably about 1 hours experience and no understanding of COLREG’s or rules of the river! As a sail boat, we were obviously reliant on the wind, and also had to tack and jibe our way along the river. This caused much confusion to other river users, with some trying to pass us at slow speed just as we were tacking… and as such we had a number of near collisions. All part of the fun right!? We also got shouted at a couple of times… “What are you doing you are zig zagging all over the place” and “you are on the wrong side of the road” were two of the funniest. You have to kind of laugh these comments off, but keep your wits about you, and also I would recommend that you take charge and really make clear your intentions and give specific instructions and signals to the motor cruisers – who actually really valued that as they honestly had no clue what they were meant to do or when to pass us.
The Norfolk Broads are naturally absolutely beautiful. We saw herons and some other fabulous birdlife, we also sailed past mills and some stunning ruins. Dodging motor cruisers is worth it, and gives rise to challenging sailing in a beautiful setting, where trees over hang and the waters lap gently at the wildlife packed banks. Your eyes don’t know quite where to look, darting from flora to fauna. Speed wise, we probably hit 6-7 knots which is pretty fast in a small dinghy. Just beware of the wind holes! Occasional trees line the river banks, and with that the wind naturally dies.
Our boat was hired from Hunter’s Yard, Ludham – approx. day hire £100. Inc jackets. Very reasonable for an absolutely fabulous day out. The yard rely on traditional methods for maintaining their boats and the yard it’s self is fascinating, and really introduces you to the craftsmanship that was used decades ago. It was an absolute privilege, pleasure and an honour to borrow one of their boats for the day. They’re a charitable trust, and are well worth supporting.