The north wind blows strongly for most of the night, and neither of us sleep very well with the noise of the rigging, the lap of the waves, and the pitching and rolling. But at least the anchor holds and the alarm doesn’t go off.
Now we have to decide on what to do for the next leg of the trip. We had been keen to stay at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, as it is a convenient break in the 100 miles or so between the Humber and Lowestoft, and it is a picturesque town in its own right. A few days ago I had rung the harbourmaster at Wells-next-the-Sea.
“We were wondering about staying a couple of nights in Wells on the way sailing from the Humber to Lowestoft”, I say. “Early next week sometime. Would that be possible?”
“Of course”, she says brightly. “Visiting yachts are always welcome. What is the length and draft of your boat?”
I tell her. There is a slight pause at the other end of the line.
“Ah”, she says. “We normally only recommend boats of that draft to come in at spring tides. The entrance is too shallow at neap tides. Unfortunately it is neaps next week. Is there any chance that you could come the week after? It will be springs then, and you should have no trouble getting in then.”
It seems a little strange that a harbour can only be entered every other week, but that is how it is on the east coast – shallow, sandy harbours, often with a bar to complicate things further. It looks like we are in for a long passage to Lowestoft.
“I’ll talk about it with my First Mate”, I say. “We’ll get back to you.”
We discuss it over breakfast. The thought of hanging around the Humber to kill time for a week doesn’t really appeal to either of us. No disrespect to the Humber; it is just that we want to press on and complete our circumnavigation. But the First Mate is also not keen on an overnighter. However, with 100 miles to go, the logic is that we really have no choice if we want to get to Lowestoft.
“Ok, let’s do it then”, she says, resignedly. “I haven’t got any other suggestions.”
“OK, I say. “We need to leave at 1445 to get the most out of the tidal flow southwards before it turns.”
We weigh anchor at 1445 on the dot and head out from the anchorage to the buoy marking the edge of the deep water channel for the big ships. I call VTS Humber to request permission to cross the channel, which we need to do at right angles to minimise the time spent in the channel and avoid collisions.
Before long, we are being swept down river by the ebb current and out into the open sea again. We follow the red port hand side buoys for a time, then set a course of 120°T for Cromer on the Norfolk coast. This will be our course for the next 10 hours.
The wind is coming from the northeast on our beam and for the first six hours the tidal current is with us, taking us along at a healthy 7-8 knots. Soon we are out of sight of land. The First Mate had prepared some dinner in the morning, and all it requires now is heating up. We both sit in the cockpit watching the sun go down behind us. We are the only ones in the world. It’s beautiful.
At 2100 it starts to get dark. The First Mate is feeling a bit queasy and goes downstairs to sleep. I am left alone in the cockpit and prepare for a long night. Having not slept well the previous evening, and already feeling tired, I start to wonder if I can do it. Nine whole hours to go.
Soon it is pitch black. Ruby Tuesday continues on, plunging through the waves, her sails full. Only the faint glow from the instruments illuminates my little world. I feel a strange mixture of fear, comfort and elation – fear of the unknown of what is out there in the darkness, comfort that Ruby Tuesday will look after us no matter what, and elation that we are going to make it.
At first, I keep myself busy with making minor adjustments to the sails, filling out the logbook every hour, watching our progress on the chart-plotter, drinking cups of tea from the flask that I had prepared earlier. By the light of the torch, I even get a few pages of Dracula read. But then the tiredness comes.
Suddenly, I hear a voice. I look up and see Spencer the Spider scowling at me from the cockpit frame. I haven’t seen him for a couple of days. There are three flies now in his web; at least he is keeping his side of the bargain.
“Are you still here?”, I say, trying to keep the grumpiness out of my voice.
“Of course. Where did you think I would be?”, he replies, equally tetchy. It seems he is suffering from lack of sleep too. “Would you rather I wasn’t?” There is an edge to his voice.
“No, no, nothing like that. I am just surprised to see you, that’s all”, I respond. “Anyway, why did you come aboard in the first place? Life must be a bit easier for you on land.”
“Easier in one way”, he says, crunching a leg of one of the flies. “But I got fed up with my fellow spiders all wanting to do the same thing day in day out – just wanting to go around and round on those merry-go-rounds at Scarborough Fair, not trying to do anything different. With all the rubbish around, flies were aplenty and easy to catch, no challenge at all. Spiderdom is in danger of becoming decadent, of losing its soul. I want to get away from all that – do something different and develop my potential. And when I saw your boat down in the harbour, I thought that this was my opportunity. At night I smuggled myself aboard.”
“I have to say that I almost gave up last night”, he continues. “It was so windy and rough, and I threw up a couple of times before my stomach settled down.”
I push the thought of spider vomit somewhere on our new cockpit tent to the back of my mind.
“But I am not going to give up”, he says. “When we were growing up, our mother always told us the story of one of our ancestors who was in a cave somewhere. The walls of the cave were slimy and the web just wouldn’t catch hold, but she just wouldn’t give up. She just kept on getting up each time and having another go. Eventually she found a good spot and the web held. And you know what happened then? Just as she finished, some geezer wearing a crown got his sword out and smashed her web to pieces.”
I remember hearing a similar story when I was growing up, but the ending seemed slightly different.
“Are you sure that is how it finishes?”, I ask. “I seem to remember a story a bit like that where the geezer in the crown took your ancestor’s efforts as an inspiration to keep on trying until you win.”
“Ah, that’s what his ‘spin’ doctor wanted you to believe”, Spencer replies. “The real moral of the story is that if you keep on trying too much, the bastards will grind you down anyway.”
I was about to say that it all sounded a bit nihilistic and that we need positive narratives, when I hear a familiar name.
“Ruby Tuesday, Ruby Tuesday”.
It takes a few seconds to filter through my state of semi-consciousness. Did I really hear that, or did I dream it? Or was it Spencer?
“Ruby Tuesday, Roby Tuesday, this is ….”, says the VHF, the last words drowned out by the swish of the waves from the bow and the wind in the sails. I sit bolt upright. Someone is calling us.
I rub my eyes and look at my watch. It is 1200 midnight. Everything is dark around us. I grab the VHF mike and mumble in to it.
“Station calling Ruby Tuesday, I say. “This is Ruby Tuesday receiving. Go ahead.”
There is silence. Did I imagine it after all?
“Ruby Tuesday, this is Pride of Hull”, a voice says out of the darkness. “The Hull to Rotterdam ferry. I am coming up fast behind you, and just thought I would warn you so you don’t get a shock when I pass you. We are about five miles from you at the moment, and will pass you in twelve minutes.”
“Pride of Hull, can you see us?”, I say, realising as I say it that they must be able to as they wouldn’t have called otherwise.
“Ruby Tuesday, yes I can see you on the AIS, on the radar, and your stern light has just come into view. You are very visible”, he says. “I’ll be passing you on your starboard side.”
“Pride of Hull, thanks for letting us know”, I say, marvelling at the wonders of modern technology, and glad that I had installed an AIS transceiver over the winter to replace the receiver only that had been there previously. It is reassuring to know that big boats can see us at night. I strain my eyes through the darkness and in the distance see a glow of lights that look like a palace. It has to be the Pride of Hull. I check the chart-plotter screen and note that it is doing 25 knots. That’s fast. I wouldn’t like to be hit by that from behind in the darkness.
“Ruby Tuesday, you’re welcome. Good watch. Out.”
Sure enough, in twelve minutes, the Pride of Hull passes us on our starboard about 200 m away. She is huge. I recall that we ourselves had been on the same ferry last time we had driven to Holland.
I settle back. There is no sign of Spencer. Had I dozed off and dreamt the whole thing?
At around four in the morning, the wind suddenly dies to nothing. It is still dark, and I see from the chart-plotter that we are just passing Cromer. In several ways, it couldn’t occur at a worse time. The tide has turned about an hour earlier, and we are now being pushed back northwestwards in the direction that we have just come. Up until now the wind has been strong enough to overcome it. Normally, we would switch to engine and carry on, but my concern now is that we are rounding a rocky part of the coastline and there may be numerous lobster pot buoys, the ‘mines’ of the sea. Running over one of them and getting the line tangled up in the propeller would be a major disaster with no sail power and no engine power.
What to do? For the moment, to gain some breathing space, I decide to furl the sails and allow the current to take us further out to sea where there may be less likelihood of buoys. It works to some extent, although we are going parallel with the coast more than out. But with no driving power, the autopilot can’t steer, and goes into a frenzy trying to turn the rudder this way and that way but to no avail. I turn it off to save power. Then to add to our woes, a ship that we had passed the night before now appears on the AIS behind us and heading directly for us. I call him to check whether he has seen us. He responds quickly to reassure us that he has. One less thing to worry about at least.
I estimate that it might start getting light in about half an hour, so if we can hang on until then, it will be possible to see any lurking buoys. Sure enough at 0445 it starts to lighten slowly as the new day breaks, so I start the engine and motor gingerly ahead keeping my eyes peeled for any buoys. I don’t see any, but I am not sure if that is because there are none there, or because I am missing them. Woken by the sound of the engine, the First Mate joins me, and together we look out.
Eventually we turn south and for some reason the wind starts blowing again. We make reasonable progress down the Norfolk coast, passing the quaintly named little villages of Overstrand, Mundesley, Bacton, Happisburgh, Eccles. We hear later that just the previous evening at Happisburgh a woman had drowned trying to save her children from being swept away. A tragedy.
On a comfortable beam reach, we pass Great Yarmouth and arrive in Lowestoft at lunchtime. We motor slowly in through the harbour entrance and turn left into the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club with its iconic clubhouse.
With nearly two nights now without sleep, I am exhausted and crash out for a nap while the First Mate gets to grips with where we are. Ever one for a bargain, she books us in for dinner at the clubhouse, which just happens to be participating in the ‘Eat Out and Help Out’ scheme. We’ll get £10 each off our dinner, paid for by the government to get the hospitality industry going again after the lockdown.
From behind her mask, the waitress tells us that the Yacht Club was established in 1859 to support boating both on the Norfolk Broads and along the coast. The clubhouse was eventually built in Lowestoft in 1886, 27 years later, but was immediately found to be too small, and replaced by the current one in 1898. One wonders why a bit more foresight wasn’t given. Then in 1998, the marina was built with lottery grant money.
We order, and the food is brought to a table in the middle of the dining room to avoid the staff getting to close to the diners. We fetch it from there ourselves.
“I have to say that I am a bit disappointed”, says the First Mate.
“Why is that?”, I ask. “The food looks pretty good to me.”
“No, I mean the Club. It is called the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club and I kind of expected that there might be some royalty here. But the marina is little better than a working harbour with all those survey vessels tied up here.”
She has a point. There are a lot of survey vessels there.
“Perhaps they are just visiting to do a particular job, and will leave it to the royals again after they have finished”, I say unconvincingly. We gaze out of the window. The First Mate spies a jet skier down below.
“He’s got something about him”, she says dreamily. “I wonder if he is a prince?”
In the morning, I walk to the chandlers to get some new shackles to mend the outhaul. It is a long way from the harbour, it is hot, and I wish that we had taken the little bikes out and used them. It seems at first to be bad planning that a chandler should be such a distance from his prime customers at the marina, but all becomes clear when I arrive. They are at Oulton Broad, the take-off point for sailing and boating on the Norfolk Broads, and there are probably more boats there than at the marina. At least they have just what I need, so I buy some extra ones as spares. After lunch, I fix the outhaul mechanism. It is not particularly complicated, and seems to work perfectly, but the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
Just as I finish, another boat draws up alongside and the occupants ask if they can raft up to us while they sort out a berth with the marina management. The First Mate asks them over for a drink when they are settled. The conversation inevitably drifts towards Brexit and the implications for sailing. We discover they are committed Brexiteers and take the opportunity to find out why.
“It’s the East Europeans coming over here that did it for us”, they say. “It seems that if the parents have come here to work they are allowed to register all their children for social security in the UK whether they are living here or not. So what many were doing was registering their extended family children as well and claiming for them. The authorities in Britain weren’t checking to see if they were their real children, so they were getting hundreds of pounds more in benefits. Even the East Europeans were saying they couldn’t understand why the UK government allows it. That can’t be right, can it?”
We ask why laxity on the part of the UK government means that Britain has to leave the world’s largest trading bloc and go it alone rather than just plugging that particular loophole, but there is a reluctance to discuss anything in detail further, and we turn to the more neutral subject of the advantages and disadvantages of deep versus shallow keels. But it has given us a small insight into some of the concerns that the majority in the country have.