Back to work and a bulging inbox after the Christmas break and freezing fog out the window to dampen the dreams of sailing…. but… We had a weekend booked in Norfolk and were hopeful of an outing if possible. Saturday was more fog, followed by a biting North east wind - DIY tasks for mum and a “bracing” walk on the beach. Forecast for Sunday looked good, with bright sun and a gentle North Westerly once the fog cleared. I woke early and decided to rig before breakfast for a quick getaway.
The cover was tricky to remove as frozen solid with a thick rim of frost. Scraping the ice from the car took longer than towing the boat round to the staithe, but it was a wonderful day with bright sun and a gentle breeze. Problem was that there was still a film of ice on the dyke, but fortunately, someone had gone before us in a motor boat and cleared a lead through to open water – or so we thought. We decided to give it a go and rigged and launched. Progress down the dyke was sailing, assisted by a paddle when we were slowed by a pack of broken ice. Once we got out onto the broad and into clean wind, there was enough momentum to keep us going, but we were restricted to the ‘lead’ opened up by the motor boat who had headed down the river ahead of us.
We carried on, reckoning that there would be clear water in the midst of the Broad – which there was, but not much of it… Despite the cold, it was a glorious day, with a dazzling blue sky reflected off the water and thin skin of ice. Amazingly, all the water-birds had been concentrated onto the small areas of clear water, and we sailed about amongst coots, herons, geese and sea gulls. After sailing around the broad for a bit and simply relishing the glory of the day, it was time for hot chocolate. We could not get to the bank
because the shallower water was still frozen. But no problem. We just nosed slowly into the ice until with a crackling crunch, we came to rest – as effective as any anchor. Warmed by hot chocolate, we set off again, determined to get to the river and clear water if we could. Slow progress as some of the channel cleared by the motor boat was now re freezing, and poor Kittiwake had her debut as an ice-breaker at times. It made me realise the incredible power of a sail, as even with a light wind, we made steady progress with an extraordinary crackling sound as we went.
I was slightly concerned for the paint, but no obvious damage being done. After a brief pause to look at the Broads Authority dredging barge, we got to clear water at the river mouth and some quay heading to climb ashore and stretch cold limbs. Picnic lunch and a march up and down. Conversation was interrupted by a strange booming sound – was that a fog horn telling us that fog was rolling in off the sea and it was time for us to head home? – but carefully listening identified the rarest of all broadland sounds – the booming of a Bittern on the still frosty air. After more listening and the necessary ‘selfie’, it was time to head back. Progress up the river was very slow against the flow, but patience was rewarded as a Marsh Harrier swooped directly ahead of us – and then a fleeting sight of the Bittern itself flying low across the reeds.
Slow progress also meant that the sun started to dip with the short winter day – and as the temperature plummeted, the ice started to set in again. Definitely time to head home as we did not want to get ice-bound. We sailed most the way, but did have to resort to oars at the end as the broken ice had piled up at the end of the dyke and there was not enough wind to push us through. It’s a strange sensation rowing though ice, as sometimes the oars just skid across the surface. I didn’t fall over backwards – but came very close.
A rapid de-rig before heading home to warm up and the long haul back to Essex on a darkening Sunday evening. A truly magical experience and a fantastic way to banish the January blues. I checked the boat pretty thoroughly for ice-damage, and the only problems are a couple of varnish chips on the ends of the oars and paddle. Easily touched up before the damp gets in.
[Well worth the chipped varnish to see a Bittern! Chris]
I decided to take advantage of unusually benign October weather and a free weekend, and trail my Gull (a GRP mark 1 / mark 2?) [mark 2] which is 1969 vintage, to Balloch on the southern shore of Loch Lomond. Launching in at the national park's public slipway, beside the old railway pier to which the paddle steamer "Maid of the Loch" is berthed. The paddle steamer is undergoing a refit by volunteers who hope to have her sailing again in a couple of years time. I recall family trips on her during my childhood, and visits to the engine room.
Duncan Mills Memorial Slipway has good car & trailer parking facilities, toilets and showers, and a ranger station where you register to launch. As I was launching in by hand using a trolley, there was no fee to pay, but if you're launching with a car there would be. Also, since my Gull (Stroppie) has no engine, there is no need to register her for use on the loch. I was carrying oars as well as sails....
As can be seen, the loch was like glass at 10.30am, as I ghosted away from the pontoon and out into the southern end of Loch Lomond and past the paddle steamer.
Progress was slow going for the first mile or so, but I was in no rush, enjoying the October sunshine, so unusual in this part of the world. A breeze began to fill in, and the sky clouded over, so it was time for a jacket and a decision as to where to head for. I had initially considered Balmaha as a destination, but decided against this once out into the open water, as the wind would have been right on the nose and a beat the whole way, so instead I decided to make for the village of Luss, on the western shore, around 8 miles away from Balloch.
I sailed on northward, past the marina at Cameron House Hotel, then Duck Bay Marina (a strange name, as no boats are moored there), and aimed for the western end of the island of Inchmurrin (apparently the largest island on fresh water in Great Britain). There is a pub on Inchmurrin, but it was a bit early in the day for a pint! The breeze was steady now, around F2, and progress was steady but not that quick. My next decision was which way to get to Luss, as there were a group of islands ahead of me. To my left, I was passing the golf course and Rossdhu House. I made the decision to go west, and sail through the narrow channel between the mainland shore at Aldochlay and the island of Inchtavannach. I skirted round the eastern shore of Inchgalbraith (a man made crannog, with remains of the Galbraith's castle), and swund round west towards the channel. The wind died.... It was time for the oars to be deployed and to head between the 2 sets of port and starboard can buoys into the narrow, glassy channel. Boats on swinging moorings ahead of me, though it seemed lots had already been hauled out for the end of the season.
About halfway through the channel, some of the breeze was managing to filter through and sailing was possible again, though progress was slow. I was getting hungry now, and sandwiches were waiting to be eaten at Luss village.
As I sailed past Aldochlay Boat Club to my left, the channel opened out again into open water, a man fishing from the shoreline, but not much sign of activity. I skirted the land, and came in a bit too close to the shore and felt the centreboard grounding on the sandy bottom, so I sailed eastwards and further out into deeper water. There were a couple of small motor boats about now, and a small passenger ferry boat. Not long now until Luss would be in sight.
Steady light breeze once more, and now Luss pier was in sight, with the village behind. I sailed to the north of the pier, although I could probably have tied up to the pier itself, as it wasn't particularly busy, but I decided on the beach instead. The wind had swung northerly now, and there was a bit of a nip in the air as I turned for shore, furled the jib, raised the centreboard and the rudder and swung Stroppie head to wind, and stepped out on to the coarse sandy beach. I dropped the main and pulled her up the beach. Time for sandwiches!
The video camera attached to the boom had run out of battery by this stage, so it was on to the phone for photos now....
Luss is a pretty wee village with shops, cafe, toilets, petrol station etc.... A couple of Japanese tourists were having their photos taken next to my beached Gull on my return from the village. Kayaking and stand up paddle boarding was taking place off the beach, with some other hardy folk enjoying the autumn day on the water.
Time to head back for Balloch.... An enjoyable day cruise in beautiful scenery and uncrowded water.
Thanks Steven for a superb post. It's just what we need to keep the blog active and encourage Gull sailing. I may be relying on other Gull sailors more now for content as our baby is due at Christmas and I may have less time to post! So please send pictures and text for the blog. It's always appreciated.
John has designed an excellent solution for securely holding heavy items in a Mark 6 Gull....
The Mk6 has quite a bit of space under the foredeck, but the shelf moulding slopes, is too small and pretty much useless for the purpose.I wanted to be able to store securely an anchor (plus chain and warp) and also fuel for the outboard as a minimum.Preferably at the front because it will help to balance the boat, especially with the outboard fitted.I have been working on extending the shelf backwards towards the mast to provide a more useful, flat area.By using existing fittings; mast foot and mooring cleat, I believe I have been able to make a very strong shelf.
Reluctantly I had to screw a couple of nylon locking shelf supports to the hull but these are pretty much invisible.Its made from 8mm polyethylene sheet, braced with L section and tubular aluminium, and stainless fixings. The raised profile on left is to hold a 1.5Kg anchor and the one on the right to retain a plastic fuel container. There are a couple of tubular braces between the mast foot and the central web.
We had a Norfolk weekend booked for early September and were determined to sail and do an overnight camp if at all possible. Because of the volume of motor cruiser traffic downstream of Potter bridge on our last jaunt, we decided to explore the Northern Broads and find some quieter water. Saturday dawned overcast, and forecast promised showers, but the wind looked manageable. Boat-packing was much quicker this time as we had learned what went where, and we managed an early launch from the Parish Staithe with a plan to sail up to West Somerton and the Red Lion for lunch. Saturday is hire-boat changeover day, and we were outside school holidays, so the river was wonderfully quiet, with just a few fishermen and fellow sailors. We had a rapid run down to Martham, only to find that the swing bridge was closed, with trailer loads of cattle being driven on to the marshes for grazing. The very helpful tractor driver opened the bridge for us and a great sail on up to West Somerton for Lunch. It’s a short walk from the Staithe to the Red Lion and food (and beer) was good.
After a leisurely lunch, we sailed down to Potter Heigham to buy milk and a picnic for Sunday. The trees and riverside chalets make for some pretty tricky wind conditions, but we had the river almost to ourselves, so plenty of space to follow the clean wind. After cups of tea and shopping in Potter Heigham we rowed back up towards Martham to find a quiet camping spot for the night. We had determined that we must arrive in good time, as pitching the boom tent in the dark last time was not ideal. Being moored alongside and some daylight made tent-up much easier, and a picnic tea and a walk across the marshes rounded off the evening.
And so to bed…. It’s pretty cosy for 2 sleeping aboard, but manageable. The night was very still and it was amazing to hear the fish jumping after insects. The cloud cover cleared to give an amazing view of the moon through our tent flap, and it was truly eerie to hear an owl calling in the stillness. I think I slept better than Paula, and if we do this again, we need to upgrade our old foam bedrolls for some self inflating ones. A jam cleat in the hip is not conducive to a good night’s sleep apparently.
We woke early to a beautifully still dawn and after strong coffee and Muesli bars for breakfast ghosted down the river with the tide and plans to head for Horsey Mere. The cut up to Horsey is very narrow which led to some tricky sailing in the light winds.
We had hoped to stop for coffee, but mooring on the National Trust staithe is now £4:00 which seemed a bit steep, so we enjoyed some great sailing on the Mere, chasing a Wanderer which was the only other boat out, before heading back down the dyke to a free mooring on the river for lunch. Then back up to Hickling Broad for some glorious sailing, avoiding the racing fleet from HSBC who were having a challenging time in variable winds. After two long days in the boat, legs were getting stiff, so reluctantly home to Hickling staithe and tea.
A really excellent couple of days sailing and a more successful camp than last time. It really does work better to moor alongside so you can get out of the boat and stretch the legs. I also feel much safer using the stove outside of the boat!!!
Plans for the winter are some better sleeping mats, a gas stove to replace the current solid fuel burner and a Mk II tent to give us a bit more headroom. And paint the hull…and re varnish the deck… and fix the leak around the centre board case… ad maybe a little winter sailing as well. If you have not tried dinghy camping, I would really recommend it. There is something magical about sailing late into the evening as the light fails, and sleeping on board. It’s not luxurious, but very satisfying for a couple of days.
I've decided to keep my Gull at Buckler's Hard on the Beaulieu River. I can now sail on the Solent without having to collect my boat from the sailing club and tow it back afterwards. All I need to do now is throw a couple of bags in the car, load up with outboard fuel and head south.
I managed a quick sail down to Lepe on Sunday but the wind was strong and building to what would become force 7. I made it back up the slip to leave "aurora" to enjoy her new view whilst Jo and I enjoyed tea and cake at the Lepe cafe.
Getting Aurora ready for a trip to the Solent next week I noticed the roller block on the trolley had begun to deteriorate. I don't begrudge buying a replacement as it's given me 13 years of faithful service. I didn't enjoy having to lift the boat up onto the workbench in order to get to it however (see top pic). But this did give me the opportunity to check the centreboard now it has been reinstalled and tighten the screws on the friction brake (small piece of rubber hose inside the centreboard case that holds the board in it's desired position). I've done plenty of sailing recently but only racing my Streaker so I'm very much looking forward to getting out in the Gull again. Plenty of pics next week hopefully.