Categories: Travelogue

by chris


Ranworth to Beccles via Breydon Water

We’ve had a fairly full-on transition from winter to spring this year having re-built the engine and stripped the headlining of grotty old paint (probably something nasty from a DIY store that looked like a good idea to a previous owner). I re-made the hand-rails, re-varnished the curtain pelmets with 7 coats of Epifanes and re-carpeted the floor. All of this brought us very close to the deadline for the first major outing of the year to the annual Freeman southern Broads meeting at Beccles. It was a close call, but we were ready in time but had to join the fleet a day late as a third of the crew had to finish school.

With a slack water Yarmouth at 10:30, it made sense to get to the boat at Ranworth the night before and make an early start. We almost left on time but had bright, if a little breezy run down to the confluence of the Bure and the Yare. It’s quite interesting to see boats mis-judging slack water and flooring it to Breydon Water, only to find themselves punching the tide.

We were easily able to pass under both Yarmouth bridges with mast and screen up and then proceeded to cross Breydon Water. Around half way across I remembered it might be a good idea to let the recently re-built engine stretch it’s legs and as there was no speed limit, opened her up to near full throttle until reaching the speed limit at Burgh Castle. I was marginally concerned about what I thought were excessive exhaust fumes however on closer observation, it turned out to be steam which was increased by having a calorifier plumbed in allowing the cooling water temperature to rise post engine, but before the exhaust injection point. We managed just a shade under 8mph at around 2500rpm. (I’ll never get used to measuring speed on a boat in miles per hour, it just seems wrong).

The sun came out to play and the passage south to Beccles was beautiful and surprisingly devoid of other vessels. The south is always quieter, but we only encountered perhaps eight boats making passage between St Olaves and Beccles, most of which were sailing boats. We did encounter a few sailing dinghies racing at Beccles, but we won’t count those.

Arriving at Beccles we were greeted by a diverse selection of Freemans and found ourselves to be the only 22 MK II at the gathering. It was lovely to be welcomed by some familiar faces from last year’s Salhouse meet as we settled in to a weekend of sunshine at the Beccles Yacht Station.

Beccles Yacht Station is a premium mooring offering a basin with water, electric hook-up, waste disposal and a toilet and shower block. Our charge for two nights came to something like £24 plus a couple of pounds for electricity which uses a card system exclusive to them (normal BA cards don’t work). The men’s toilets did remind me of the smell of Colchester Zoo and didn’t come across as very clean. I decided on a flannel wash on board rather than use the showers. The staff were pleasant. One thing to be aware of when mooring stern-to on a small boat is the overhang of the quay. When the tide is out, you boat can easily drift under the overhang and then take a beating when the tide rises. One of the other vessels lost their flagstaff that way. Our solution was to hurl the mudweight as far as possible from the bows to help keep the boat off. Big fenders won’t help much either as they will fall between the piling corrugations.

Beccles is a lovely little town. We grabbed an essential Full English breakfast on the Sunday at the Kings Head Hotel (Wetherspoons) which serve until midday which was reasonable value for money. I was quite surprised to see a couple of ‘old boys’ on their third pints at 10am however ! It was also quite amusing to eavesdrop on a few live-aboards discussing their various bodges and dodgy mooring locations interspersed with conspiracy theories undoubtedly extracted from social media.

On the walk back to the Yacht Station we discovered this great little ‘pop art’ ice cream shop at the corner of the old market near the bus stops.

I wandered up to Morrisons to the east of the yacht station, perhaps 15 minutes walk, with a jerry can to top up the fuel tanks.

On the subject of fuel, I was truly surprised how much our fuel economy had improved from before the engine re-build. Our last Ranworth to Beccles trip used around 35 litres and this time we used a shade under 20 ! If you ever needed an excuse to sort out your engine, you have one now. Technical stuff to follow: I think the flange between our carburettor and inlet manifold was badly warped by previous over-tightening against a relatively soft spacer. This resulted in a major air leak with the engine almost sounding like it had a turbo last season. To compensate for the leak, much more fuel had to be drawn in and thus the fuel efficiency was terrible. We’re now using a shade over 2l per hour at around 1200rpm cruising speed

After the weekend of the meet, we didn’t realise that most of the fleet were sticking together and had planned to watch the power boat racing on Outlton Broad. Instead, we pursued our plan of pushing on for Norwich. I think this was a good move as the weather started to become rather grey and dreary for most of the week.

Beccles to Norwich via Loddon

While the bulk of the Freemanites were on Oulton Broad, we set up for the journey to Loddon at the head of navigation on the river Chet. Tides were favourable and passing under Reedham swing bridge, through Reedham and on past the Reedham Chain Ferry was uneventful. It’s often a bit of a thrash at Reedham with fast-running tides and one of the reasons I prefer not to stop there.

Turning into the river Chet is always a wonderful transition from a broad fast exposed river into a cosy and twisted little waterway which treats you with Marsh Harriers and Chineese Water Deer among shaggy ‘steer horned’ cattle often resting on the river bank. The Hardley Flood is an inaccessible broad which teases with the few glimpses between the bushes and reeds half way down the river.

Pyes Mill is my preferred mooring however on this occasion, given that everything was so quiet in terms of river traffic, we made our way past the boatyards, on the way offering a tow to a floundering private day boat which probably failed on a test run and was being furiously paddled back home by a good spirited trio of adventures. Loddon Staithe was pretty much empty and slightly tired looking by comparison to the luxury apartments of Loddon Quay opposite. It was fine as a stop-off however and would probably be useful if electricity, water and showers are needed. We just needed some provisions and hoped to grab a bacon sandwich from a cafe but Loddon appeared to be closed for business (It was a Bank Holiday Monday). A co-op was open as was a charming café called ‘Rosy Lee’s’. We had missed the breakfasts and officially they were closed but opened up for us providing some fabulous cake and a vat of tea. It turns out, Rosy Lee’s had only been open for a week and had moved from across the road. The proprietor and staff were hugely welcoming and we got chatting to a lovely retired fellow who was celebrating his birthday in good company. It’s well worth a visit, just around the corner from the staithe and we’ll be back in the summer for a Full English for sure.

We chose to leave the staithe and overnight at Pyes Mill moorings where the remainder of the day was spent with ongoing repairs of our aged canopy.

Leaving Loddon, on moorings just outside the town I saw what must have been the sistership of the first boat I’d been on as a child on the Broads. I’d been invited to join my best friend and his father on a holiday for a week on a Moore’s hire boat called Aviemore. For me it was a trip of a lifetime and I often try and re-trace where we went from fragments of my memory only to fail as so much has changed since what must have been the early 80’s.

The sistership of the first boat I ever travelled the Broads on in the early 80's

It was a pretty early start to get up to Norwich whist still having a useful amount of time in the city. The weather started out grey and didn’t improve with some light rain approaching Postwick Viaduct. It was a pleasant enough run with the canopy up, but we were more travelling rather than cruising. Norwich was threatening to be busy with the Bank Holiday the day before but thankfully it had cleared out by the time we got there and were greeted by a ranger we had met the year before in another job at Loddon and Brundall. He was a great fellow and was keen to find out more about our little Freeman 22 as he was hoping to get one himself.

It was fantastic being a tourist in Norwich. It’s got to be one of my favourite regional cities. We made a bee-line for the static market to sniff out the best street food using the length of queues to judge which was best. The longest and most authentic looking queue led to a stall which we were also drawn to last year called the Tase of Shanghai. The couple running the stall were amazing with the chef being wonderfully cheerful and charismatic. This stall is unmissable with the honest and delicious food not costing the earth either.

Whilst waiting for our food, I discovered a fabulous retro clothing stall and picked up a stunning Hawaiian shirt a size up from last year as all this lovely food has me putting on the pounds !

The rest of Norwich was a joy to wander around with my daughter insisting we try ‘Bubble Tea’ for the first time, going into a K-Pop fuelled sensory overload. Despite nearly choking on the tapioca balls, I have to say it was superb in a cyber-punk kind of way.

Rather than stay on the Norwich moorings overnight, we withdrew to one of our favourite moorings at Brammerton Green, just down from the posh pub that once wasn’t at Woods End. I like to see progress but sadly can’t afford that particular kind.

Meeting up again with the Freeman fleet at The Ferry House, Surlingham

Bramerton Green is one of my all-time favourite moorings, particularly the landscape approaching it. Perhaps it’s something to do with the steep riverbank.

The Freeman fleet was due to congregate at the Ferry House Pub at Surlingham. It’s a place I’d always wanted to stop off and try out but normally, on a nice day, too busy to find a mooring space. With moorings pre-booked and arranged by our concierge, Ray Underwood, we were greeted by a reserved board on the mooring with our name on it. It was one of those small moments that make you smile inside knowing you had a nice berth and a tasty meal in good company ahead.

We arrived around quarter of an hour ahead of the fleet with Bojangles (an F26) and Lady Elizabeth (a 22 MK I) arriving first. The mooring is surprisingly deep, discovering this when casting out the mud weight to keep White Lady tidily in line when moored stern-to.

The menu represented simple and classic pub food with big portions, well cooked at a good price. The chips were fantastic and I had to give the Whitebait a go. In fact I think I had far too much to eat after a ham, egg, chips and peas main. My crew were equally happy with their food but none of us could fit in a dessert (I saw a few doggy bags too !).

We all joined in a quiz which was split up in boat teams and we actually won ! This was more down to luck than judgement but will take the win regardless.

The crew of White Lady, including myself, were slow off the mark in the morning only realising that breakfast was being served. This opportunity couldn’t be missed given that in all my years of coastal sailing the destination was generally defined by the quality of breakfast at hand. Casting all health considerations aside, I enjoyed yet another Full English and we promptly missed the mass departure of the Freeman fleet making their way back home

Sadly it was time to head back up north given the weather wasn’t great and the weekend of the Three Rivers Race was looming.  It was agreed the fleet would gather for a breather at the Hardley Cross mooring before setting off across Breydon Water. On leaving the Hardley Cross Staithe, one of the boats picked up a stray mooring line around their prop. Fortunately the wind blew them back on to the staithe for them to clear the rope. Passage through Reedham and across Breydon Water was untroubled despite a bit of a crosswind and rain. We stayed on the quarter of Ray and Maureen’s MK1 in case they had engine trouble although it was unwarranted. We hit slack water Yarmouth on time and proceeded up the Bure as a flotilla until Acle where much of the fleet pulled up.

This left us on White Lady, Martin and family on Wey Rambler and Tony Anderson on Swift, with Tony peeling off north up the River Ant on his homeward leg.

And then there were two. Wey Rambler and ourselves continued up to Wroxham in the hope of getting some food on arrival although it was getting late. It was a bit of a ‘hold your breath’ moment passing under Wroxham old bridge with our screen and canopy up (with mast down) with the tide gauge reading a shade over 2m. In the end we had plenty of clearance.

As we were running on empty with our water, it was a matter of tracking down where to re-fill. In fact there was a chargeable water point costing £1 opposite the Free Moorings. The Wroxham Staithe had plenty of available space and fortunately the kebab shop next to the old bridge was still open. The portions were huge and quality was what you would hope for.

On the Friday we spent a relaxed day shopping for food, browsing around Angling Direct and popping in to Norfolk Marine to find a replacing sink plug which mysteriously went missing. The rest of the day was spent with more haberdashery of Lady’s canopy. Late afternoon we slipped lines with Wey Rambler in company back to our home berth for the night. It was a beautiful evening and enchanting sunset with sailing yachts dotting the trip, gathered for the Three Rivers Race at the weekend.

Saturday morning was time for washing the boat down and tidying. I’m trying some automotive ceramic wax hybrid product in the hope I can avoid more harsh polishing of the topsides gelcoat by washing more frequently.

So that was our spring break. The take-aways were that I don’t like tinted hire boat windows as you can’t see if people are waving and that we can now go nearly twice as far on the same tank of fuel over last year.

White Lady on the Bure near Acle

White Lady going under Wroxham Bridge
(Thanks to Kelly Bulldeath)