Yachting on the Norfolk Broads

Swallows & Amazons Revisited!

When I was a wee girl my Swallow's and Amazon's book collection would always sit very proudly on my shelf. The 13 paperback books stacked perfectly and lovingly in their special little rack. I would spend many happy hours reading them, even if it were for the third or fourth time... Remarkably, the feeling of adventure never ceased to pour out from the chapters as the exiting and magical lives of these children unfolded page by page... Some things will live forever , and these stories are certainly one of them.

On the 30th of September, as the day was drawing to an end we sighted Zoe for the first time. Her counter stern peeping in towards the jetty, almost hidden by the surrounding boats.. 27 feet in length, and the oldest yacht on hire on the broads.. We really felt privileged to be sailing her...

Ellen MacArthur on the Norfolk Broads
Image © Ellen MacArthur

Our voyage which started the following morning, windless, and amongst the mist on the river Bure. Bacon sandwich's marked the start of the voyage, the smell of the cooking bacon, together with that beautiful smell of wooden boat bringing back the memories of cruising as a child...

Most of the other hire yachts from The Norfolk Broads Yachting Company were rather oddly out on hire by the Arthur Ransome Society - Ransome being the author of the Swallow's and Amazon's series! After an hour or so there was a breath of wind, and before we knew it we were sailing, albeit trickling along... We popped under Potter Heigham Bridge, after our first lowering of the rig, and before we knew it we had the rig up once again and were heading up towards Martham Broad.

As we wove ourselves along the winding rivers, the wind became more abaft the beam, and it soon became apparent that the more sail area the better. So tops'l it was, and bravely, without even finding a quiet stretch of river! Well the first time it didn't go too smoothly - but once it was set it did look beautiful, the topmast gaff bending gently in the breeze....

During the Sunday we went up to have a look at Martham Broad, then Hickling, before returning to Martham to return for the night. We sailed all the way up the Martham Cut - at one stage literally arriving at the end under full sail! As we approached our last 100 or so yards, an elderly gentleman standing by his rather splendid looking gaff dinghy pointed out to us that we were going to have to turn sooner or later... In fact we had tried just moments before turning the last corner, failing completely, and ending up in a beautiful pickle as we discovered that the river was in fact less than 27 feet wide!

Ellen MacArthur on the Norfolk Broads
Image © Ellen MacArthur

On our return to Martham Broad that evening we were to learn yet more of the art of Broads Sailing (and there clearly is an art to it!) as we ran aground on almost every tack as we left the Hickling Broad. The use of the quant soon became as apparent as the smell of thick black mud from the end of it!

When you run aground in water which is probably less than two feet deep, the use of the engine comes very much secondary to the quant... In fact we quite suddenly returned to our memories of pottering in dinghies in muddy creeks!

Each evening we popped into a local pub, visiting West Somerton, Hickling Heath, and Horning.. They were all very different, though the highlight must have been Hickling Heath, as the stuffed mounted fish by the bar begun singing, and dancing in tune to the music he sang!

There were many more fantastic moments, including simple things like a few hours swinging from the mud anchor on Horsey Broad, Sailing into Horning to return zoe as the day drew to an end, and 'squeezing' her up a very tight stretch of river which we were sure, if obeying the laws of physics we should never have managed....

Ellen MacArthur on the Norfolk Broads
Image © Ellen MacArthur

It was wonderful, despite all odds I managed to switch off, even if for just a couple of days, returning to a world, which comfortingly has clearly not grown out of reach.... Some of the happiest moments, with some of the widest smiles.....which I shall hold very close to me during the Vendee...

You could discover the wonders of the Broads yourself and if the thought of sailing on Zoe appeals nip along to The Norfolk Broads Yachting Company website.