Back In The River Ant
My first Norfolk Broads boating season was now underway as High Seas was lifted back into the water.
I had spent the last two months working hard on this sailboat. This had given me equal time to think about what I was going to do.
Over countless barbecues and beers, I had almost certainly let myself get carried away in conversations with delusions of sailing away to faraway shores.
I think most of us on the boatyard was probably guilty of that in our shared naivety at the time. This was simply the levels of enthusiasm that we all shared and to this day it still exists.
That sums up us boaters. It brings out the best in most people. Boating really is special and I can only conclude that it is down to an affinity and relationship with water.
It is a metaphysical level which stirs primal latent instinct of adventure, travel, and even the essence of life itself.
It is a deeper fundamental level. So too are we as, after all, we all started our lives in water for the first nine months.
Therefore to me, it is no surprise that this is something intrinsic that will stay with you.
Finally being on the sailboat in the water and experiencing a Norfolk broads boating season was like turning up for work and your boss tells you to take the day off.
I slept like a log every night and woke every morning to birdsong. One morning I was woken up to what could only be described as a knock on the door. I assumed it must be a ranger or something similar. When I opened the hatch it was a swan pecking on the hull trying to attract my attention for some food. Wild birds they may be but they are not stupid, boats mean food and they know it.
Masts & Trees Don’t Mix
The north Broads is full of trees and by the time I went in the rivers, it was full of hire boats.
The first problem I encountered was remembering to watch the top of the mast as trees were leaning out everywhere like a jungle.
A really unique feature of the Norfolk Broads is the fact that you can drop your mud weight and wild moor almost anywhere.
I had the dog with me at this time, however, I was still able to moor out in the sticks.
No Mobile Signal
Even though I was in my element and enjoying every day my mobile phone just wouldn’t work anywhere.
I would be lying through my teeth if I wrote that this was not a problem. It was and I was going WiFi cold turkey.
I very quickly discovered where I could get data and where I couldn’t. The difference could be as subtle as thirty feet. A little bit this way and it worked and a little bit the other way and I couldn’t even get an email.
One of my favourite spots to moor with a good data signal was Sutton Broad on the River Ant. It still is to this day.
It does change every year as the reeds move around like a glacier. Their boundaries move all the time.
These changes in the reeds tend to create natural parking bays. You can navigate your boat into one. This offers some safety from the stampede of hire boats that floods out of Stalham and Sutton.
The hire boats were something I was about to get a steep learning curve about.
Norfolk Broads Reeds
The above photo shows the fresh reeds growing on Sutton Broad. This particular stretch shows at least half a mile thick of reeds. This must-have worked their way this far forward over centuries as the distant tree line is quite possibly the edge of the original broad.
Wayford Bridge Mooring
Totally new to the Norfolk Broads at this time, I was completely oblivious to the fact that literally behind where I moored was the disused North Walsham & Dilham Canal. I was to explore this in great detail much later on and I will come back to that subject further on in this series.
A Comfortable Yacht
This sailboat was a Bruce Roberts. She is 27 feet in length and 9.5 feet in beam. This was quite spacious and I was very comfortable. So too was my dog, she loved being in the boat. I would take her off for walks and she would love going back in the boat. She was too small to leave alone on the top of the boat as she would just slide off. I had to fish her out a few times. Larger dogs seemed to cope better being on the top of boats.
The boat was powered by a BMC 1500 diesel which are engines that you grow to love. They are awesome.
Learning To Sail
Nelson learnt to sail on Barton Broad and so too did I.
I grew up with every opportunity to sail but thought it looked so boring…how wrong was I?
The first time I put both the sails up I expected the boat to gradually pick up speed and start cruising. It was more like sitting on a horse and someone whipped its backside.
The boat took off like a torpedo, heeled over, I saw the dog go flying across the cabin quickly followed by the microwave…this was amazing and I was hooked.
Norfolk Has Huge Molehills
Just to put this into some perspective. That is my Jack Russell in the background. Molehills are everywhere. You don’t tread on them. You trip over them as they are enormous.
Exploring The Rivers
I spent all hours of the day exploring the rivers and lakes of the Norfolk Broads.
The Liveaboard Bug
It was roughly at this time that I realised I was going liveaboard. I had got the boating bug and by hook or crook, I had to make this work. It was just too good to end. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I also knew that nothing worth having should be easy.
Power is always at the forefront of your mind on a boat. Where does it come from?
These are all issues which one would never have faced previously. It is so normal to expect access to power all the time, however, when it comes to boating, you either make it yourself or simply go without.
In no time at all I was experimenting with inverters, petrol generators, Savonius wind turbines and of course the best of the lot…solar panels.
My yacht may have only been 27 feet but I installed a total of eight 240 volt sockets and I would recommend it to any boater.
When one plugs into offshore power and is able to power any light, power tool or laptop in any point of a boat, it makes life so much easier.
Boating At Night
The hire boats on the Norfolk Broads are not permitted to navigate at night. Private boats do not face the same restrictions and as most are moored up, it’s great to move around at night time.
The need for an effective spotlight becomes apparent immediately. The difficulty stems from the trees and reeds reflecting in the water at the edge of the rivers. This makes it near on impossible to actually determine where the river bank is.
Lady In Distress
You never know what to expect with boating and one particular day I came across a lady in the water. She had hired a canoe from Sutton and had somehow managed to capsize it.
I went to her assistance but it was impossible to pull her onboard with wet clothes. I flagged down a private cruiser who had the same problem. Fortunately, I had a collapsible ladder on the boat and this was enough to get her out.
I towed her submerged canoe back to the boatyard and got her off safely.
This was a wake-up call for me really as I realised that I probably couldn’t get back on-board most boats that didn’t have boarding ladders.
Whilst mooring up by mud weight on Barton Broad, it is hard to imagine that the lake is man-made. A very long time ago, literally centuries back folks dug this whole area out for peat. Peat was used for fuel and it kept people warm for hundreds of years. Sea levels rose and flooded these areas making the quarried areas merge with the existing rivers.
Sitting on any boat on the Norfolk Broads it is easy to travel in time. At any moment you expect some old Norfolk wherry to come sailing the river with its huge black sail.
Watching this chap stacking the reeds was one of those timeless moments.
I was moored up at a place called Gayes Staithe one afternoon.
It is named after John Gaye who was a wherryman and to this day his cottage remains.
These herons are the most underrated birds on the Norfolk Broads. To many they are ugly but to me, they are pretty ugly. They are the most fantastic hunters and even sound Jurassic. I have seen these birds flying with rats in their mouths.
Long Hot Summer
The Norfolk broads boating season was lazy and the sun shone most days. This was a great year and I knew I was lucky to be doing this boating.
However, my Norfolk Broads boating season experience was about to introduce me to a darker side to the Norfolk Broads.
The rivers had got crowded at times and a little close for comfort but what was to unfold was truly unacceptable.
I was moored up one evening and was walking my dog some 50 feet away from my boat. I could see this hire boat approaching my boat and looking like it was heading straight at it. My jaw dropped as this hire boat smashed into the port side of my sailboat. My pride and joy. My boat jolted violently as it absorbed the impact.
The boat that just hit mine was coming straight passed me as I was stood directly in front. I waved both hands in the air for them to stop. Their boat was now right next to me literally a boat’s width away. I saw the man onboard tell his female skipper to keep going and they fled the scene.
Not for long though as the incident was reported to the Broads Authority. They put out a radio alert and sometime over the next few days the boaters were approached and spoken to by the ranger who was serving at the time.
The woman at the helm told the ranger that she didn’t realise she had hit anything. Why would she? Crashing into a five-tonne sailboat is hardly noticeable.
To add insult to injury it was a Barnes Brinkcraft hire boat and the director I had the misfortune of dealing with was more obnoxious than the idiots who crashed into me.
This incident was sadly the beginning of what was to be an all too familiar experience on the Norfolk Broads.
Leisure 23SL Goes In Water
My father’s sailboat was lifted into the water.
The very first time he moored up at Sutton, a hire boat crashed into his transom. It left a great big black mark and fled the scene.
What the hell was going on here? Nobody told us about this hire boat problem. A problem that was rapidly becoming unacceptable.
I spent most of the warmer months of the Norfolk broads boating season 2014 travelling on the River Ant. Although 120 miles of navigable rivers awaited me, I still had a car, and trailer full of tools to contend with. Living on a boat with all these now redundant possessions was starting to become unworkable.
While I tried to figure out a solution I hovered between Stalham Staithe, Barton Turf, Gayes Staithe, Irstead, Wayford Bridge and Sutton Staithe.
A Dog’s Life
Meanwhile, as I tried to figure out a plan, my dog soaked up boat life as if she had been born for it. Funny that, as so did I.
Broads Family Holidays
Although I was here all the time, my parents grew to love it too. They came here on a regular basis, a few weeks here and there.
Where Not To Moor
Some places during the Norfolk broads boating season are just no gone zones in the high season. One of them is the Ludham Bridge. It is the craziest bottleneck of bangs and wallops on the entire Norfolk Broads.
Season Draws To A Close
Like all good things, the season started to come to an end.
Hire Boats Disappear
By the time October arrived, nearly every hire boat had disappeared.
The Broads Changes In Autumn
When all the boats disappear, something very magical happens on the Norfolk Broads.
The leaves fall onto the water and lay there only disturbed by the birds travelling through.
Wildlife seems to be more abundant. Otters are now common sightings rather than rare fleeting glimpses in the distance.
The rivers majestically echo ghosts of its ancient history. It’s spirit lets you know it’s watching you through eerie misty mornings and twilight.
It feels like you are standing on the shoulder of a giant who now awakens after hibernating through the chaos of summer.
The Rivers Whisper
Time stands still at this time of year. An inner primal instinct is evoked and you just know you are somewhere special.
There’s Liveaboards & There’s Liveaboards
A private boater once said the above to me whilst moored up one day. What he said was just so true. There are liveaboards & there are liveaboards.
During my first Norfolk Broads boating season, I was so excited about being on my boat that I was prepared to speak to everyone and that’s exactly what I did.
I have always stated that boating brings out the best in people…very true. However, some folks are on boats for the wrong reasons.
Wrong reasons could include a drink, drug, mental and even criminal issues.
Having been a liveaboard now for multiple years, I am reluctant to introduce myself or to socialise with just about anyone on a boat.
My reasons for this are quite simple and it is because of being nieve when I first moved on to a boat. I have mentioned already that I assumed everyone was on boats because they shared an interest in boating.
I initially came across a few boaters who seemed to be really down on their luck.
On many occasions, I would offer some form of assistance to an apparently distressed liveaboard. Every time I would be disappointed in their lack of willingness to resolve their issue or they would bring negative issues to my own environment.
The boat above was no exception. The man who used to live on that wreck with a rottweiler was seriously struggling with alcohol and other substance abuse. He was barely clinging to survival and often never had a penny to his name. This was self-inflicted in every sense.
The transom on his boat was half missing and covered in mushrooms that thrived on the remaining rotten wood.
Basically the boat was one strong wave away from sinking. A fellow boater offered to fix it for him but he was in such apathy that a favourable response never happened.
I offered him a leather jacket in the winter as he was without a coat. I also gave him some navigation lights for his boat. Neither items went to their intended purpose and it became apparent that one was wasting their time.
Within 3/4 years time, the individual had driven himself into near-total river social isolation through his nefarious manner.
He was not to survive long and died prematurely in his mid-fifties.
The boat on fire above was another example of a bad element on the Norfolk Broads.
The boat had been sold to an individual who made an arrangement with the former owner to pay for the boat in increments.
He gave the elderly lady less than £80 and agreed to pay the remaining £300 asap. He made the decision not to pay her any further funds and advertised the boat for sale for £3000.
A couple of potential buyers came to see the boat one morning with the possible intentions of buying the boat.
Approximately half an hour before the buyers came to view the boat, the skipper went off the boat to meet the people coming to see the boat.
He left the door open on the wood burner and the boat burst into flames.
When the people arrived to see the boat for sale, it was an inferno and was completely destroyed.
Hand Ups Not Hand Outs
I was experiencing a dark side to the Norfolk Broads which up to now I had not experienced.
I was discovering a small group of people who did not respect the rivers. They did not want to contribute and were even flytipping rubbish.
I struggled to understand this mindset and to this day I am none the wiser.
I was quickly realising that just as in society there was a bad element on the waterways.
The really disconcerting element was that these activities appeared to go with impunity. This frustrated other boaters to such an extent that prejudice towards liveaboards was rife. It was this discrimination that to this day I refuse to be a party to. So too do every other liveaboard that I have met that plays the game and does not abuse the waterways.
Changes In Attitude
My perception of what I was doing on a boat and towards other boaters was changing drastically.
The final straw for me was when a small man on a sailboat had asked me if I could show him how to lower and raise his mast.
I spent the best part of three hours walking this stranger through the process. I was to even give him some spare shackles.
A few days later he was standing opposite my boat shouting and screaming because I had spilt a drop of diesel in the water when I was filling up my tank.
Despite the fact that he was trespass mooring, he insisted he lived at this spot and then ran off shouting threats to throw paint over my boat.
To be honest, I was so fed up with encountering idiots at this stage that I decided to start assessing other boaters up much more thoroughly. Wasting my time and attempting to download their problems towards me was not on the agenda and never had been in the first place.
Time To Go South
Winter was here now and I had sold my car which meant I could go and explore the southern Broads.
Softly, Softly, Catchy Monkey
The rivers were deserted. I probably passed two or three boats a day, if that. I was in no rush as I wanted to take it all in. I had no choice in the matter to be quite honest as being a sailboat meant exposure to the cold weather.
I was good for a couple of hours but after that, I would have to stop and warm up in the cabin with a hot drink.
A Truly Majestic Time
I can not begin to describe just how incredible this journey was becoming.
It was so cold but the river felt so eerie in a truly majestic way and I have rarely felt so at one with nature.
There was an unusual dualism being experienced here. My discomfort from the cold was being balanced by a natural phenomenon that was spellbinding.
There is something magical here contained in and around the Norfolk Broads. When the crowds have gone something changes. It is just you and the whispering river ghosts. The dark waters mirror like an invisible entity is all around.
Now it was cold and damp all day and all nights. This made any leaks on my boats harder to notice as it became the norm for everything to feel cold and wet.
I had no heating on my boat whatsoever and I was becoming increasingly aware of this lack of basic facilities…it was getting cold.
A leak developed under one of my stanchions and in no time at all I had these most bizarre mushrooms growing but of the damp plywood. I was later to discover that this wood was far eastern plywood and not marine plywood. This was later rectified.
There was something otherworldly about these fungi and wherever a leaked formed, so too did these mushrooms which helped flag the troublesome areas. An unusual system but it worked.
Another weird discovery was the importance of allowing a resident spider or two. They really are your best friend when it comes to mosquitoes and annoying flies.
Winter Boating Season
I awoke one morning with the sailboat covered in ice. This was great. I had a sense of vulnerability mixed with the irresistible urge for adventure.
My initial thoughts of this unorthodox ruins were one of disdain and ridicule. However, over time this was to become a site of great fascination and intrigue.
The reality of the situation is that deep inside the mill is in fact much more in terms of archaeological ruins. The building of the mill in this fashion ultimately preserved the most significant remaining section.
It is often stated that this once thriving abbey escaped the dissolution of Henry VIII, however, within a few years the abbey was so broke that the occupants were selling off the masonry to raise funds. The mill came later than the 16th century so how it even found enough remaining masonry to build upon is a mystery to me.
I Love Boating
I have lived a colourful life and certainly one that has not been deprived of adventure and challenge.
However, being on a sailboat alone with my dog in the middle of winter, whilst exploring these rivers for the first time was one of the most profound and spiritual experiences in my adult life. It was truly awesome and I was loving every minute.
Great Yarmouth’s Strong Currents
Arriving in Great Yarmouth was a real surprise for the senses. I know for sure that most experienced sailors would have raised an eyebrow on meeting the formidable current at ebb tide. It is nothing short of dangerous.
The idea is that you arrive in Great Yarmouth an hour after low tide which should see you meeting the slack tidewaters. This very rarely comes right as the water floods out of the River Bure for ages after low tide.
I arrived at slack water but at 10:30 at night. Although I had done my research and I knew the area had many bridges, some which were in fact very low.
I had the mast up and had planned to lower it the following morning.
On arriving at Great Yarmouth I could see well enough to detect the low bridges ahead but I was totally mortified to discover the demasting area was directly in front of an extremely low bridge. In addition, the River Bure was still emptying like rapids.
I lowered my engine speed and carried on drifting with the currents. So fast in fact that it was impossible for me to turn the boat around as there was just a narrow channel to navigate.
I was now rapidly approaching the low bridges with my mast up. I would most certainly be dragged under the bridge and the boat capsized as the huge forces pulled my craft to sure destruction.
My only option was to put the boat in reverse quickly. This immediately sent my boat into an aggressive spin. After several attempts to pull my vessel out of this spin, I was finally able to get my boat facing towards the aggressive current and head back up the river.
I was forced to maintain this direction for at least 45 minutes until the flood tide initiated and then I returned to Great Yarmouth and was finally able to moor.
I knew I had just had a close call and poured myself a strong drink.
A Steep Learning Curve
The following day, I lowered the mast and made my way across Breydon Water. I was really shocked by just how dangerous Great Yarmouth is for any boats, not just those that can’t normally fit under the bridges.
It is a most unusual sensation to stand in a two-thousand-year-old Roman garrison whilst looking out upon the bleak and vast wetlands of the southern Broads.
North & South Divide
Just like so many places in this world, there is a north and south divide. The Broads is not an exception. In the above photo, I moored at St.Olaves on the River Waveney. Even here the current was formidable.
Too Cold To Continue
Even though my spirit of adventure was in full swing, I had to face some truth and that was it was just too cold to be moving around in a sailboat.
Looking back now, I am convinced that with a sprayhood/cockpit dodger and some good internal heating I could go anywhere in a sailboat.
Standing motionless for hours a day at the tiller whilst exposed to the wind and horizontal hail was just not working out.
I was heading towards Beccles to sit the winter out. About five miles away I came into moor at a quiet Broads Authority mooring. I just couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing. It took me three attempts to orchestrate the most simple of moorings…I was showing symptoms of hyperthermia.
Arrived At Beccles
Finally, we arrived at Beccles and I knew we were going to be here for some time. In fact, it was to be three months. Christmas was days away so I decided to see the new year in and then do something creative with the winter hibernation that was imposed on me and High Seas.
Since arriving on the Norfolk Broads I had taken a lot of small video clips. I never had any intention of doing anything with them until one day I was sat at a computer in Beccles library.
I put all the video clips together in one long video, sat back and watched the whole video. It was interesting to reflect back on my adventures. It was at this moment that the idea of creating my Youtube channel, High Seas was born.
It was freezing and it was something I had to take seriously.
I had plenty of sleeping bags and myself and my dog did not suffer at all.
One morning I woke up to see the condensation on the ceiling of the cabin had frozen. It twinkled at me like stars…very peculiar.
I was without any electric points for the next three months so I experimented with flower pot candle heaters. They did not offer any heat realistically, however, they were very effective at dealing with condensation. This is any boaters worst problem. Anyone who has slept a night in a car will know exactly what I refer to. You can awaken to a boat interior that looks like it has rained inside the boat. The candle heaters proved to highly dangerous and flash flared one nighttime. I would advise all to avoid them entirely.
This was to be the most deserted time I ever saw the Norfolk Broads. The only neighbours I had were a Slovenian boater and his dog. We became friends and the only unbearable elements were him playing his violin when he was drunk.
Winter Draws To A Close
Three months moored up at Beccles. I had no heating, no electricity and very limited moorings to move between. Although it was tough, I had enjoyed every moment. It had been an adventure and a thorough test out of my comfort zone. I now knew what I needed as a liveaboard, what did and didn’t work and above all else…how to survive a winter on a boat.
The winter was now over and a new Norfolk Broads boating season was on the horizon. It was time to leave Beccles and return to the north Norfolk Broads.
I had completed my first boating season as a liveaboard. It had been a harsh winter and I came out of it in good shape…I was ready for a new Norfolk Broads boating season.