This year in sailing : part 1.

Title photograph : Wells harbour, Norfolk UK. ( unknown Tjalk)

By the time this post is scheduled for publication it will be early October and the sailing season, for most, will be over.   I will, hopefully, be back on the water doing some autumn trips aboard the Liberty even if that is going for a motor on the river and having a couple of overnight trips in my usual anchorages.  All of my other plans depend on whether i can make the transition back to work : i’m not exactly looking forward to that. My main autumn and winter focus will then be to go and do some boat visits and most of that will, as usual, require a lot of time on the road.     In this post though i thought i would do a round-up of my own actual sailing trips this year : while i ‘only’ did 2 sets of passages they were both very challenging.

Before i dive into that though i just want to mention what we did for a short break just recently which wasn’t actual sailing but naturally boat related.  In short we went back to north Norfolk just because the weather looked as though it would be sunny and warm….good for a short break away and a bit of camping.   My physio did think i was more than a bit bonkers when i was talking about that when i saw her just before the trip , i think she was a bit alarmed about the idea but it only really represented one new major challenge : that of getting up off the ground/off a camping mat.                 As things happened we had a good first few nights in another area that we like in Dorset and then a much less good time in Norfolk.  In short it was both wet and cold quite a bit of the time , i pushed the walking far too hard or just too long and ended up having to rest-up when we bailed out.   The early bail-out also meant that we didn’t go boat viewing in north Wales. That means that i am almost completely out of new material for the blog, there being only so much i can say in the round-up of the year.                In terms of my blog work i really struggled to get any decent new photographs from an area which often has extraordinary light and visual appeal in the creeks, harbours and the amazing ‘big’ sky.   Compared to the previous trip a lot of it just looked flat and grey a lot of the time although we did have a lot of fun ‘name’ spotting…….

Washout, Grandad and Slack Alice.   Someone definitely has a sense of humour in Wells and Blakeney.

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I did try and get something useful out of the trip, that being to see what actual boat solutions that regular ‘thin water’ sailors use….what kind of boats are actually there and in sailing condition.    Walking along the sea front at Wells and then around the heads of the creeks around Brancaster and Blakeney i really took a lot more notice of the many small and functional day-sailing and multi-use boats.  By that i mean boats that aren’t necasarily ‘pure’ out and out sailing machines although that side of things was well represented in Wells with the 12 sq meter ‘Sharpie’ class.  I didn’t get any pictures of them because they were all tightly covered : they are essentially a big and heavy wooden dinghy with a gunter rig.   Of interest to boat restorers Nick Gates did a whole series of his films based around restoring a vintage Sharpie.

I had to borrow this picture.


In each creek and harbour that we visited certain boats are very obviously common and seem to fit the area.  The Drascombes are just about everywhere, i guess they make a useful multi-role boat inside the extensive shallow water areas…..potter about, do a bit of sailing, do some fishing, maybe get some exercise on the oars etc.  The obvious wolf in the pack was the very purposeful looking Devon Yawl….had i gone forward with my own version of this design this area would be a great one for the boat.   I was thinking that while the Drascombes are great boats inside the harbours and creeks it is the Yawl that i would chose for the short coastal hops between them…..a much more powerful and seaworthy boat all round.


Two other common small boats were the Hawk dayboat and the Cornish Shrimper.  A friend of mine regularly teaches in a Hawk dayboat….essentially a big and stable Dinghy with a half-deck and a huge cockpit for learners.  The Shrimper of course is a common boat in all shallow water areas and one that i have often thought about owning myself.  A few years back i met a lady who cruises extensively in a Shrimper and while too small for me inside the cabin it seemed to suit her perfectly…..quite a petite lady though  compared to my bear-like bulk !    By chance we did a passage in company along the coast here and she was well able to keep up with my Frances 26 in moderate downwind conditions.

Brancaster i think.


What was more difficult to pick out was what the larger cruising boats actually were, Wells wasn’t too bad because i could ‘pull them in’ visually with the zoom lens on my working DSLR camera but i couldn’t get anywhere near enough in the main harbour at Blakeney without a very long hike.  The main moorings creek in Wells had the usual bilge keeled suspects, a couple of multihulls and some lifting keel boats.  Afterwards what i thought i should have done is gone out on of the seal clubbing* trips from Morston and done a load of photography from a tourist boat.  I did look at access onto the tour boats but a combination of greasy ladders and creaky stages put me off a bit and i’m not quite at the stage of being handed into the boat like a sack of geriatric potatoes !


These 2 boats in Wells look straight out of the ‘rugged steel bus’ school of cruisers….both sitting neatly on the sand of the main harbour.


On the previous trip another boat in the same area kept catching my eye : very dutch looking with a round bluff bow, short curved gaff and a big pair of leeboards.  She wasn’t there this time but during our walks one day i saw a long bowsprit poking out from behind a shed and had to do a bit of fence-hopping and nettle-avoiding to get these pictures…..Jackie i think tried to pretend that she wasn’t with me !

Seen out in the harbour last year.


Behind the boatshed this time.  I did try an extremely risky walk down the greasy and muddy slipway behind the boat just to see if i could get a good shot of the hull shape but even i could pick up the fact i was getting ‘the look’ at that point…..interestingly the aft face of the cabin seems to nearly all windows just like an 18th century warship. I must admit that i am a complete fool for this kind of boat even though they almost certainly don’t go upwind. Way back i do remember a short piece in Maurice Griffiths writings about sailing a small Tjalk or Botter-Yacht in the Thames estuary and even he couldn’t make it sail upwind.    I did find a much smaller cutesy-cutesy one in the Yealm this year , for their length they have enormous volume and the bigger, barge-like versions make lovely houseboats.

Tjalk yacht i presume although sometimes i get the nomenclature wrong with Dutch boats.


Just for a nearly complete digression today this one somehow slipped through all the filters when i did my long internet searches for potential boats.  How it came through i have no idea but it’s great fun whatever.  Inside is larger than our cottage, the forepeak looks like somewhere i could get lost in for days and our man Al would love the engine room….in fact i think he would live in there !   At the end of the Boatshed advert is a short clip from inside the engine room with that big Gardner diesel’s tappets tap-tapping away just like the engine room scene from ‘Das Boote’

Boatshed photographs of course.

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All it needs is a beard for the driver and a mortgage….or a lottery win this weekend…..come on it’s perfectly practical for my requirements : shallow draft, beachable, big engine, the rig goes up and down, plenty of space etc etc.

*Of course what i meant to say was seal watching……my mistake !

Sorry but it had to be done……Its alive !!!

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