Bristol Channel Gaffer Keith trails ‘Dipper’ up to the Norfolk Broads from Bristol to finish off his sailing season.
I started my season with a first ever, fabulous few days sailing on the Norfolk Broads, in April 2023. As the season progressed, I very much hoped I would squeeze in one further visit before the weather and nights closed in. I live some 250 miles away so timing is important. I can’t just pop home! I watched the household calendar and the weather forecasts looking for a window of opportunity until finally, it looked like I would be able to escape for a few days in October.
I do enjoy the planning process for trips like this. Boat preparation, travelling, launching, passage planning, eating (in and out) etc. For this trip I had decided to try the Southern Broads. My initial passage plan involved launching at Brundall, sailing down the Yare and then up the Waveney. I soon realised that I didn’t have enough knowledge about the impact of the tides on such a trip. I knew the tides ran ‘quite quickly’ and the tide times at different locations, but didn’t understand what impact they would have on my progress. ‘Dipper’ is 16’ long and therefore isn’t that quick under sail or outboard motor. As has worked previously for me, the East Coast OGA WhatsApp group came to my rescue. Having posted a question and received several helpful responses I had a good chat with Joe Farrow over the phone and was able to complete my passage plan. He even pointed out a couple of Indian restaurants for me to try along the way! Thanks Joe.
Within hours of completing my plan, however, the weather forecast changed with expected winds from the NW featuring on the final days of my visit. The prospect of beating or motoring from Oulton Broad all the way back to Brundall did not fill me with joy and so a new, less ambitious plan was developed. I would spend my time exploring the delights of the Yare and leave the rest for future visits. I departed Bristol with ‘Dipper’ on her trailer at 4am on Tuesday 10 October. It was earlier than I had anticipated! But once awake there was no going back to sleep. Soon after 9am I arrived at Brundall Bay Marina and by 11.30 I was rigged, launched and ready to set off. It was a beautiful day with not much wind, but I really didn’t mind that at all as I set off down river on the ebb. I didn’t plan to go far following such an early start, travelling etc. and so I took the Fleet Dyke up to Rockland Broad and the Staithe at the top. And jolly nice it was too. Following brunch on board, a nap, time spent chatting to fishermen and a passersby, an afternoon walk, a good book and dinner in the New Inn I turned in for an early night. Bliss.
Wednesday dawned with a few clouds starting to appear and a reasonable breeze. My plan was to sail down river against the tide with the intention of reaching the mouth of the river Chet early enough to carry the last of the flood up to Loddon. Joe had pointed out to me that the Chet was narrow and therefore the tidal flows can be quite lively at times. It is indeed narrow, and I made rapid progress up to Loddon Staithe at its head where another pretty, and remarkably quiet mooring, awaited me. The public facilities here (important when living on a small boat like ‘Dipper’) are excellent, toilets and a shower! It’s the first time that I have ever come across tap-and-pay to access such facilities. At 20p a time though it seemed a bargain. I spent another quiet and enjoyable day getting to know Loddon and relaxing on board, culminating in a trip to the Raj as recommended. Very nice it was too. I departed Loddon on Thursday morning aware of heavy rain and strong winds being forecast for the following day. My intention was to tuck myself up, facing the wind, back in Brundall Bay Marina that evening. I motored down the Chet against the flood in order to catch the rest of the tide up to Brundall. I had been warned it could get ‘boily’ in the lower reaches of the Chet below Hardley flood, and it was, but ‘Dipper’ pushed on through it without any undue drama. Once back onto the Yare I made good progress soon passing the Cantley Sugar Factory and the Reedcutter.
I was surprised to see the moorings underwater as I went by, considering that there was still a few hours of flood to come and that it wasn’t particularly close to Springs that day. Good progress was made and so I continued just past Brundall, made my way onto the small Surlingham Broad (Bargate), dropped the mud anchor, in splendid isolation, cooked breakfast and watched the wildlife for a couple of hours. By mid afternoon I was back in Brundall Bay Marina prepared for whatever the weather was going to throw at us the next day. And it did! Friday was a wash out from a sailing perspective. Instead, I drove up to Martham Boats just to the east of Potter Heigham Bridge on the Thurne to recce a likely launch location for ‘Dipper’ in 2024, followed by a nice cup of coffee at the Granary Stores café on Ranworth Broad. For my final day I was joined by Al, one of our sons, for a sail up towards Norwich and a pub lunch on the way back. We made it as far as the Broadland Boat Club before turning back to arrive at the Surlingham Ferry House pub for lunch. Mooring was easy as again the river was quiet. Getting to the pub itself was surprisingly tricky due to the flooding water running between the mooring and the pub itself!
The water rose another foot or more by the time we left, and it was a case of shoes and socks off and roll your trousers up above the knees. On returning to the Marina in the afternoon Al headed back to his home in Ipswich whilst I took up my position in The White Heron sports bar and watched two games of World Cup Rugby. Sunday was going home day. Arriving back in Bristol, safe and sound in time for dinner. On reflection I am glad that I spent my time exploring more of what the Yare has to offer instead of trying to achieve too much and missing places and experiences in the process.
That’s it for 2023, but I’m already looking forward to spring 2024!
Words and photos: Keith McIlwain, Bristol Channel OGA Area