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Norada (Lady Edith) 1959-1961

By John Barrow

1950s History 1950s Memories 1950s Gallery

We did not know what to expect. The Lady Edith’s owner Frank Andrews invited my parents and my best friend John Collins and me to go on his boat. It was 1959 and “boats” were dilapidated wartime things held together by hope.

Frank, who we learned was “Mast’ Andrews” to the skipper, drove us in his Sunbeam Rapier, through Nottingham still decorated with flags from the FA cup, cross country at speed on that Friday evening, over to Norfolk. Eventually we arrived and there, down a stretch of grass from the road, was a river and a dark quay. We saw moored there an elegant long white hull, with grey weathered canvas canopies, and one enormous mast. The lights were on. Being boys, John and I ate, and immediately found the two beds in the fore cabin with smooth white sheets. All I remember is the lapping of water against the hull, the gentle smell of the calor gas lamp mantles, the river smell, the varnished wooden panels everywhere, the white wash basin between the bunks, and a small loo with a very strange big handle.

The wherry yacht Lady Edith

It must have been nearly midsummer because around 4.30 am, John and I woke to wood pigeons cooing and to the dawn chorus. Without much thought we reckoned it would be excellent to leave the others asleep and to creep up out of the side hatch to explore. Everything was covered with dew. An unknown world waited for us, still water, the white hull with white fenders against the black quay, and aft and downstream, a thatched hut accessed by a plank and surrounded by a little moat, contents never discovered. Under the Lady Edith’s counter was a rowing boat. We knew about those. We got in. Having wiped the seats (not sure with what) we cast off silently, fitted the oars, and rowed upstream.

The water was perfectly clear, glassy and smooth. We didn’t speak to disturb the white morning. The river led into trees. This was exploring. A huge house set behind riverside lawns reminded John of Toad Hall. Eventually we branched right and reached a broad pool, with its gravel shallows visible below us, and a big white boarded mill (now gone) on the far bank. Very impressive. Then we went back up the other branch to the rusty lock gates that held back the Upper Bure. We turned round, and headed back to the sleepers on our boat, downstream and past the Rising Sun (the Risers). We went to bed. It was 5.30 am.


Later everyone got up and had eggs and bacon in the well and in the saloon. There was no mention of our expedition. We were introduced to Skipper Jim, always in a navy sweater and flat cap, who as far as we boys were concerned lived in the forepeak under the awning by the mast.

The grown-ups did the clearing up and we explored the mysteries of the awnings and the decks and the gear. Two huge poles lay on the side decks, quants. Soon Jim was using one to push the bow off from the bank, letting the boat swing out with the current, keeping the stern clear, then going “forrard” with one quant to keep the bow clear of the far bank. We watched the gravel bottom shelving up to the bank, the world turned gently round the Lady Edith, and we were pointing downstream. It looked easy.

Surprisingly, John and I were not allowed to take charge, but sat on the counter seat, or walked round the decks, as we motored down river. The water was smooth, the engine quiet, there were no other boats. We slipped round bends and past fields. As the water sucked away from the banks alongside, Jim and Frank were discussing the damage the coypus were doing burrowing the riversides. Jim warned us never to steer too close to the bank, or a suction developed and the wherry became unsteerable.

A church tower appeared alongside on a hill. Half an hour later it appeared again, on the same side, but we had gone miles. The grown-ups tricked us into believing there were two different but identical churches, not one. We know now it was Belaugh. Soon we reached a town, a port to us proto sailors, Wroxham. Jim did things, and without the boat pausing, down came the mast with ropes falling easily all around us on the counter. A surprise for the passengers. The mast cap was shiny. There was a large metal hoop now pointing down, and the blue burgee and its stick now hung over the stern. In front of us a red brick wall appeared right across the river, with only a dark, small, low arch. The passengers were told we would all easily go through. We thought we should put our hands over the mast to pull it down. The grown-ups warned us of skinning our knuckles on the bricks. Then darkness and brick work all around, through we went, amazingly tight but snug, and out into the sunshine. Jim was doing things forrard. Up went the mast, majestically, and after passing some elegant riverside houses, we turned right (“starboard”) through a gap in the bank and the trees, into Wroxham Broad.

This was the first wide stretch of water we had seen. The sun shone, the surface rippled and shone in the breeze, and while Frank steered, Jim was at work with ropes and canvas and spars up on the coach roof. Then Jim went forrard and called us boys to help him. We were given a handle each and told to fit them and start cranking the halyard winch. There was not much room. The sail was quite unexpected. It rose like a moth or butterfly unfolding its wing. First the jaws of the gaff climbed the mast, with its parrel balls, exposing and dragging after it very white canvas with narrow vertical cloths and the mast hoops. Up it went. We boys did the work but Jim was careful to check our winding and the sail’s progress. As the jaws reached the top an extra gear was added on John’s side. Then the end of the gaff started to rise. We wound away to fully stretch the huge sail.

This was the first wide stretch of water we had seen. The sun shone, the surface rippled and shone in the breeze, and while Frank steered, Jim was at work with ropes and canvas and spars up on the coach roof. Then Jim went forrard and called us boys to help him. We were given a handle each and told to fit them and start cranking the halyard winch. There was not much room. The sail was quite unexpected. It rose like a moth or butterfly unfolding its wing. First the jaws of the gaff climbed the mast, with its parrel balls, exposing and dragging after it very white canvas with narrow vertical cloths and the mast hoops. Up it went. We boys did the work but Jim was careful to check our winding and the sail’s progress. As the jaws reached the top an extra gear was added on John’s side. Then the end of the gaff started to rise. We wound away to fully stretch the huge sail.

The foredeck tilted gently under us. We noticed people on motor boats starting to take photos. The Lady Edith heeled and accelerated. Frank put the gear into neutral. Wow, we were sailing, this was good. The engine was cut, a pause, and the vibration and noise ceased, the only sound was the rippling water along the sides and far away sounds. John and I were over awed by the reality of sailing gently under that enormous sail. We went aft along the weather side.

Coming out of the wide shining broad, and turning right through the narrow mouth into the busy river, seemed a mistake to us boys. The broad was better. But the grown ups obviously had somewhere to go, probably for lunch. Once surrounded by the pleasure traffic of a Saturday morning in 1959 we saw that our tall sail had the advantage of catching any wind above the surrounding trees. We realised that our boat was a large and indeed superior being. And very orderly. We motor sailed gently, with hardly any wake. Most motor boats made enormous sharp waves which ran along and splashed our sides.

Lady Edith sail On board the wherry yacht Lady Edith

The yachts all had much smaller masts, and moved slowly. We felt undeservedly grand. Jim explained to his passengers that there had been things called wherries with tall masts designed for these conditions (but with quant poles not engines) and we were like them and caught any wind. We learned that Frank had fitted an Austin Seven engine under the right bench in the well, controlled by a shiny chrome gear lever with a black knob, and by black and chrome switches in a box on the bulkhead, where the cigarettes also lived. The engine chugged us effortlessly along and the sail helped a bit sometimes.

Frank asked Jim whether parts of the river had any names, and this prompted Jim to recite the bends and reaches all the way from Coltishall ( Co’l’shal ) to Horning. We were just passing “Old woman’s pulk” but Jim would not explain that one in front of ladies and children.

Lady Edith underway

Horning, when we got there, seemed a place purely for the boats that lined the river. The black soil on the banks showed how many new berths and inlets were being dug. Turning right, into the town’s main reach, we saw a gap between the boats on the port bank, in front of a lawn and a pub, the New Inn. Arrangements must have been made, because it was just enough for one long yacht. This was looking good. Rituals went into action which later became second nature. Jim decided we boys could be useful. We were quickly shown how to tie clove hitches (easy and useful) to fasten the white leather cylindrical fenders to the bulwarks to protect the hull from the quay. We were shown the gaff line and told to hold it, to guide the sail when Jim released the winch, and at all costs to stop the gaff from going into the water. John and I felt responsible. All went well berthing, men jumped ashore with warps, we admired the fenders doing their job, then gathered up the white canvas on the coach roof into ties. We felt part of the crew at last. The men disappeared, either to the pub or to bring up the cars from Coltishall

After lunch we cast off for Ranworth. The river here in Horning seemed a much more serious thing, and less of a holiday feel, than in Wroxham. Large houses with Norfolk thatch, and inlets with white half deckers, seemed to be the thing among the trees. The river was wider, and after a bit, John and I were given turns on the tiller. This was not as easy as it looked. The magic word from Jim was “PUSH”. Frank reminisced that Jim had once said Push to a visitor on a windy day, they had pushed, and slipped a disk. John and I, we thought, did well, but there was an issue with the engine and the propeller shaft being to starboard. If you didn’t watch out, the bow gradually swung to port, and then we had to PUSH to correct it.


The  Steering Photographs

Steering Lady Edith Steering Lady Edith

As part of making us useful, Jim again had us forrard to raise the gaff. We were shown the handles to put on the winch, Jim took port (with the gear), and we in turns took starboard, to wind up the sail. Then there was the refixing of the port handle to get the last bit pulled tight. There was a special skill guiding the rope to lie evenly on the barrel (a useful skill for garden hose reels). It was always for Jim to watch and control us on the winch, and on his foredeck.

Under sail and motor, we reached the cut to Ranworth, and turned hard a starboard. This was our first view of a long man made cut, joining the river and a broad. It was great to come out of the restricted, sheltered cut, and to sail across Malthouse Broad to the staithe. Again the planners had secured a berth for the Lady Edith on the inlet on the far side of the staithe, the bow and half the boat by the quay, the rest projecting into the broad. John and I helped lower the sail then were released to explore in the dinghy. In retrospect, complete trust in two boys and a largish wooden dinghy, and no modern health and safety worries. We could after all swim.

A speed boat arrived with a party who set up a picnic on the staithe, and then took turns water skiing round the broad. There was a lot of wash and splashes, but everyone seemed happy to watch their fun. Again, there were fewer people then, and the noise didn’t last all that long, and everyone was tolerant. John and I contented ourselves with rowing around and exploring.

Sailing the wherry yacht Lady Edith on the Norfolk Broads The wherry yacht Lady Edith

In the morning, we were to sail to Acle, then back to Horning to finish the weekend. In one day, John and I had grown to feel part of this watery world, may it last for ever. As we went back to the Bure, and turned right downstream, it was a new thing to see the banks clear of trees, and to be able to look across fields with distant sails cutting through the landscape as if they were on roads. We passed the remains of St Benet’s Abbey with the wind pump built into the medieval stone, and Frank explained that the Bishop still came on a wherry once a year from Norwich, to hold a service there. We also found that with the engine, the Lady Edith pointed a little closer beating down the Bure, but as the wind grew stronger, the engine came off. Jim took the unusual precaution of holding the mainsheet, himself, instead of cleating it on the block, and Frank steered.

The boat heeled, and it was great. Jim explained that on this part, between the Ant and the Thurne, the Lady Edith had once caught a whirlwind in her sail. These whirlwinds had a local name (sorry) and were well known. Anyway, the previous owners were two lads who were much too daring. They had carried too much sail and got this whirlwind trapped in the mainsail and couldn’t get rid of it. The boat heeled right over on its ear, until (dramatic pause) one of the sherry glasses slid out of the rack on the bulkhead in the saloon and broke on the floor. Then the whirlwind escaped across the fields, and the ship righted.

I am not sure whether the men engineered a late morning stop at the pub at Thurne Dyke on this run, or whether it was straight to Acle Bridge. Acle Bridge seemed to epitomise the Broads sailing tradition. The pub had great photos of the regatta in about 1911, all jackyard topsails and whisked out jibs and long booms filling the river from bank to bank. And there was plenty of clean wind and no trees. What more could we need?

That time, we definitely turned round at the bridge, although later we did go through to Yarmouth and Breydon. By now John and I were seriously at home on board, and discovered we could improve the look of the ship by coiling down every rope we could find, including all the fenders, into neat spirals. They looked well on the clean decks. On this smart ship, we boys got more steering in, once we were back in the trees and motor sailing up the Bure towards Horning. Then it was goodbyes and sleeping in the car, all the way home to Derby. Grown-ups were a lot tougher, but we did not admit it.

Sailing on the wherry yacht Lady Edith

Frank and Jim decided to take us up the quiet river Ant, which meant motoring. After the excitement of going under Ludham bridge, it is a long way to Barton Broad up a narrow river. To save the river banks, we were motoring slowly. The dinghy had acquired a new outboard, a little Seagull, and the adults thought we boys were best off amusing ourselves, and could manage a motor of our own. So John and I went over the side into the dinghy, whose worn grey canvas fender round the gunwales protected the yacht’s white paint. We were given instruction. Pull the brown string to start it, regulate it with one metal switch, the person not steering counter balances. Easy. And there was always a rainbow on the surface of the water, spreading from the steel shaft. Off went the Lady Edith. John and I pulled the string. The engine fired, and off we went too.

The dinghy was old. Black painted with green below water line, and pale grey inside with pale grey floor boards. There was a hole in the front thwart for a mast, but she was too old to carry sail. Nevertheless, we were sure she was the best boat, anywhere. She rattled a lot, but took the outboard, screwed to the transom by steel clamps. Unlike the serene big yacht, progress was noisy. Very noisy if we revved. We were not going to see many herons. But we had our own ship under our command, that was the point, and we could swerve about if we wished. So, a magnificent voyage up the Ant to the start of Barton Broad.

As the water opened ahead and to our sides, and large posts with white tops appeared to mark the channel, there was the Lady Edith going slow ahead waiting for its noisy tender. We motored in beneath the overhang of the counter, cut engine, and grabbed upwards for the gunwales with the painter. Very much chickens returning to mother hen. John and I considered we were clearly now the dinghy men.

That first family trip on the Lady Edith (Norada) in early summer of 1959 had two results for this twelve year old. I promptly fitted a gaff line and a topping lift to my model yacht, and I painted water colour of a yacht wherry reaching on a sunny day, family on the stern, red ensign flying, and as many boaty details as a boy could remember. It won a second prize. It must have been the next year when we were invited again. My memory of overall stories is a bit wobbly, but individual incidents remain clear.

The wherry yacht Lady Edith

Later we visited Neatishead, the Lady Edith gliding in so quietly on low revs, or even neutral, through the trees, with no wake, to a small quay that seemed just for us. The Broads were a lot less busy in those days. Then we went up Barton Broad to Stalham for the night, a real outpost it seemed to us. I remember rowing before breakfast down a long straight wide cut, new soil still piled among cut tree stumps on the banks. The water surface was perfect glass, spoiled only by rings from our oars; the clear sky and morning sunshine stillness were uncanny. Getting up early was still good. And someone else worried about milk bottles and the like.

There are no photos from the dinghy, for good reason. Or in the rain or at hectic moments. John was very brave to risk his camera at all, and my father’s was pre-war.

Lady Edith

Maybe on the same trip or on another, we had a windy day near Thurne Mouth. Jim had taken in two careful reefs before we set off, and we went down the Bure bound for Acle. I learned we made some leeway close hauled. There were many half deckers enjoying a regatta, brown hulls with single standing lugsails, and white gunter rigs with small bowsprits and large jibs. We sailed through them on the Bure. They were very active. It was a beautiful sunny day with rising wind and blue water. Well along towards Acle, about Upton Dyke, a decision was made that the wind was too much. A hurried conference between Frank and Jim, a request for everyone to watch out and hold on, and to keep out of the well, and Jim went forrard to tighten up the topping lift and to bring the gaff line aft. The Lady Edith was roaring along, heeling over well on a starboard close reach. On his return, Jim told John and me to hang on to the gaff line at all costs, not to step overboard, not to fall into the well, and to pull hard on the gaff line at the right moment to avoid a Chinese gybe whatever that meant which could split the sail. Then to cushion the gybe when it happened.

Jim went forrard again, and let the halyard winch run under the pawl, until the gaff was horizontal. No more weather helm. Suddenly John and I were holding a very tight gaff line. At the same moment, Jim called to Frank to put up the helm. We bore off fast towards the far bank, in a tight turn. I remember seeing the white sail out to port, Jim in the well pulling in mainsheet for all he was worth, Frank holding the tiller up to starboard, then I was closing my eyes and ducking as the boom came over, followed by the gaff (we must have pulled). John and I were on the counter and I think we lay down on deck while as it happened. Then the white sail out to starboard as we luffed up.

Next moment we were reaching fast on port tack, heading back north, with the sail flapping out to leeward between the horizontal gaff and the topping lift. Lots of white wake following our quarter, and still heeling well. Phew said the visitors. Well done said Frank to Jim. Relief at a seamanlike manoeuvre. Gaff line cleated in the cockpit bulkhead.

As we approached the mouth of the Thurne, we were on a broad reach going fast, and the regatta fleet was now right ahead, beating towards us, all heeling wet hulls and flapping sails, boats going in all directions and intent on their racing. On the starboard bench in the well sat our only sound signal, a red painted cast iron hand klaxon. Frank put all his weight on the palm shaped handle and it made an unholy harsh squawk. He repeated this, urgently, and a gap appeared in the fleet. Wet half deckers made space for the descending mass of yacht wherry with its scandalized mainsail. There were no foolish shouts of “Windward boat keep clear!”

Seconds later we were through the fleet, Jim was dropping the gaff and John and I were hauling on the gaff line to bring the sail aboard, as the wind came dead aft and we turned into Thurne dyke by the windmill. We lay on the gaff to heave the sail into its belly and pass round the ties. Very tidy. Then we could all have lunch. It felt good.

Jim told us later that the “new” music, jiving, was called after gybing. It conjured up wonderful thoughts of wherry skippers dancing rock and roll to shouts of “gybe ho”

Approaching Thurne Dyke

So what was so great about going on a yacht wherry? You can only answer by trying it.

 In 1959/1962, “character building” was the unspoken good thing. Exposing two twelve year old boys to the adult world’s challenges of a big yacht in a safe place, was good for us, provided it didn’t make us big headed. We learned respect, safety, and confidence. And the absolute need, even on such a big luxury boat, of doing everything right, or else bad things would certainly happen. I have spent a life tidying my desk, or fastening a door back, on the principle I would not leave something sloppy on the Lady Edith (if that doesn’t sound too corny). Of course it was also fun. I do admit that it has affected my driving style, trying to achieve a smooth steady glide. Tricky on the M25 and on roundabouts.

This does link to Horning Reach. Frank and Jim could turn the Lady Edith’s long narrow hull round in the middle of a busy river, among passing hire launches and tacking yachts, without disaster. I compare this with backing a long estate car into a high street. Don’t do it, you say. They did multi point turns, without the klaxon and without shouting, in a gentle and determined operation. A lot of patience needed all round. I never mastered the reverse gear on the engine, the offset propeller, and the operation of the tiller and rudder going astern.

Horning was also the place for Jim’s friend, the eel man. John remembers him operating on Ranworth. I remember my father pointing down Horning Reach from upstairs at the Swan pub, to a grey old open boat chugging along the reach towards Ranworth, blue smoke rising from its engine, and towing astern a wedge shaped grey box with holes in for the eels to breathe. That was the eel man, and Jim had done a deal. Jim was filleting and soaking a new eel, or eels, in the forepeak. Usually we never looked down there, because it was Jim’s home and private world. This time it was permitted. We were shown the white fish in a pan with the backbone out, looking just like an ancient fossil of a snake. Jim was left in charge of cooking and I remember we all thought it tasted good.

We also ate at the Swan, or maybe it was at a country club, for a special meal. There was red wine, and steaks, and they had wall paintings of large black sailed traders. (This led to another water colour at home). They even had two musicians to provide live music for diners. I troubled Jim with questions about the correct names for the sails on a tea clipper, and Jim avoided replying, but with inscrutable wisdom.

Horning was another good centre for dinghy explorers. Late one evening John and I found the entrance to Hoveton Little Broad. Between the rushes and spanning the wide entrance, was a chain of grey shiny metal on posts, links almost touching the water. If we had had a duck punt we could have slid underneath the chain easily. Once inside the broad and past the chain, we looked at the water stretching silver in the half light to a dark shore away in front, and a very long way both sides. Perhaps we did trespass a bit onto the broad, but we reflected that someone was bound to see us there, rowing on that empty space, so we sadly gave in and paddled home to base.

Ranworth was different. One evening we took the dinghy up to the top right corner (viewed from the staithe) to discover whether there was a (North West) passage to South Walsham Broad. Having fought past and under thick trees, we paddled down a straight narrow dyke with the mud bubbling marsh gas around us. It smelt very rich, and emphasised the quiet alien world. Well, alien to Midlanders. Twenty minutes on, and it was still not looking good. There were turns and junctions. John believes we reached the course of the old river, which on the map is a real achievement. I was more lost than he was. Eventually we gave up, as the evening drew on, and we got back to the Lady Edith after about two hours. It was a great try. None of the adults had been worried about us at all. We had been competing with the ghosts of intrepid pioneers.

Ranworth also had its own shipwreck. On the way in from the Bure, a cut to the right led to Ranworth Broad proper. The cut was chained off, as Ranworth Broad was private. Just inside the chain to the left and under the bushes was the grey wreck of a huge wherry, all bare grainy wood and broad clinker planks, with a wonderful sweeping sheer, heeling to starboard  An inspiring reward for a long row.

Mooring up

We sort of shipwrecked ourselves on Malthouse Broad. I cannot recall whether or not the sail was up, but the Lady Edith had been coasting gently and quietly down the starboard side towards the village, about a hundred yards out from the reeds, with a gentle breeze from the port side. Suddenly about four hundred yards from the quay, we became aware we were no longer moving past the land. There was a pause, then Jim said we were on the mud. Another pause. He was very cross with the authorities for not dredging the broad properly. We decided to take advantage of our privileged and unique mooring. Salad lunch was served. We were listing very slightly to starboard, but very firm. My readers will know whether a few inches of tide reaches so far inland, but after eating, Frank started the engine. We motored off as if nothing had happened, moored and went to the shops.

Lady Edith on the Norfolk Broads

All the time there, we did not see other boats like us. The Blakes catalogue had White Moth and Olive as house boats, to rent. To my young eyes, there was no reason from those photographs why either of them could not be made to sail. The old wherries had gone. There was a wonderful old yacht at Horning with a low turquoise hull and diamond stayed mast taller than the Swan. I was given a picture of (probably) Hathor hoisting sail after Wroxham bridge. We may have seen her, or Solace, moored. We certainly saw Albion sailing. She was in the middle of a broad, coming towards us heeling on starboard reach, black sail, with lots of ragged and happy people up on her hatch and decks. She was painted black and white, blue and red, very unlike the Edwardian graces of our varnish and our white and green hull. My parents did not approve and said “Probably water gypsies”. Jim wasn’t going to risk any comment. With the wisdom of fifty years’ hindsight, I know that was Albion newly afloat with her restorers aboard. Albion the eel catcher, and surviving Edwardian hire yachts aside, Norada/Lady Edith was one of the few links with the past.

I don’t know how long Frank Andrews had owned the Lady Edith when we first went in 1959, but he did look after her. The varnish was thick and clear, the decks clean, well caulked and water tight (contrast later hire yachts), the white paint on the hull very white, and the sail, the fenders, and the ropes always looked clean and new. See the photos. It really impressed us. There was a missing mast hoop, later on two missing, and we never figured how you could fit them. Are they steamed into place?

Lady Edith 1962 and Norada 2012

Below water line Lady Edith was painted green, probably Ernest Collins standard. We did get a look into a boat yard once, to HT Percival in Horning for a cap for the outboard, to replace the cap lost overboard at Ranworth. It cost 2/6. Now a housing estate, but then the sheds covered a slipway, and there were boats, in and out of the water, in various states, all wood, and lots of cream paint, brown varnish, and green anti fouling. The absence of electrical power aboard the Lady Edith (except inside the engine) was no problem to us. We never seemed cold, but it was summer. The radios had been left in the cars, so it was a quiet, remote and comfortable world, away from the every day. We did spring a leak in the water tanks one trip, and John and I were engaged an afternoon at Ranworth filling water from the tap at the pub, and pouring it from buckets into the tanks next to the mast. What else are teenagers for? The tanks provided clean water for the kitchen and cabin sinks, but the loo pumped from the river, and there was another pump from the river to the galley sink. We boiled that water. What would they have done in 1912?

On two trips we ventured through Yarmouth and down Breydon. There was lot of excitement among the visitors at going under Acle Bridge, leaving the mast down, and going down what became a fast tideway to reach the Yarmouth bridges at low water. Jim explained as we watched our wake, that when we were in salt water there was always froth that lasted after the boat had gone, whereas in fresh water there was little to show we had passed. We saw Smith’s potato crisp factory upstream of Yarmouth as we hurried past. I remember sailing slowly and quietly along Breydon Water, the white sail against the grey sky, the Roman castle on the hill between us and the sea, when our peaceful afternoon was shattered by the approach of the double decker tripper launch from Norwich, blaring out “The Green Leaves of Summer” over the landscape. They were in their bubble, we in ours, and they soon passed.

On our return the adults moored up at the Yarmouth yacht station through the bridges on the Bure, and gave John and me shore leave to see the town. We decided to walk to the sea side and beaches, but had no Satnav. Somehow we walked on south forever, always in the town, down the narrow peninsula, without finding any sea. On our disappointed return, ropes were cast off very quickly and some things were said about nearly missing the tide by being gone over an hour.

Lady Edith

On another trip through Yarmouth, it rained and rained. Jim was determined to sail down Breydon, so I remember looking forrard at the close reefed mainsail bellying to port, the boat heeling on starboard tack, and the light rain driving across the empty landscape from the windward mud banks. The soaked sail went a yellowish grey. It was a long sail. On our return the rain was even worse. The grown-ups resolved to drop the mast on Oulton Broad, and stop up the fore hatch with an awning, so we could motor non-stop straight under Somerleyton Bridge and through Yarmouth, back to the Bure where the sun always shone. I don’t think we boys volunteered for wet steering duties.

On our third or fourth trip, the much loved black dinghy had gone, and we had a new dinghy of varnished strong wood throughout, with a white canvas rubbing strip. This dinghy was strong enough for sailing. She had a cast iron centre plate with pulleys and ropes either side led to tube metal jamming cleats.  The mast went through the forward thwart, and was rigged with one block on a short lanyard at the top. Jim and Frank with some ceremony produced the sail, boom and spar. It looked straight out of a shop. I was totally amazed. The sail was white or cream cotton with narrow cloths and two rows of cotton reef points, each point perfectly whipped. The spars were beautifully varnished. All the ropes were clean. This was going to be a challenge.

Jim bent the long cotton halyard to the spar, threaded it through the top block, and hoisted the sail full height. The boom flapped around noisily. Jim took the halyard down and made turns round the mast and boom (I think) a foot or two from the tack, down through an eye on the keel and up to the boom, then pulled tight as a down haul. It looked easy. We had a standing lug with a very flat sail. Jim was proud. Frank was impressed. I forgot how to do this, when I hired a half decker with the family twenty years later. At the end of the boom were two small wooden blocks, and the sheet led to a third small block mid boom. The boom looked far too long, taking the sail about three feet over the transom. John and I felt challenged. We were now Enterprise racing dinghy sailors, so we saw the snags. The plate weighed a ton. We left it half down. Off we went. The tiller and extension were very short, so no moving forward and leaning out. With the fixed lug, we figured that long boom would not lift even an inch. When the breeze hit us in the middle of the broad, we could not afford to heel or that very clean cotton sail would go into the brown water, and also we would lose control. There must have been a better way of doing this, and we sheeted in, or luffed up, or spilt wind.  John and I are open to offers of re- education if any one still sails one of these It was not our usual performance as intrepid dinghy men. Maybe we needed practice or weight or agility or another crew. We did meet someone from our sailing club by extraordinary chance, and recovered a bit of honour by borrowing his Scorpion.

The heavy fast and powerful fixed lug dinghy, which we flunked, was no doubt seen by the adults as a very special treat. It was unrepeatable, around 1961. I am sure Frank or the boatyard were determined to give the Lady Edith the boat she must have had in 1912. The dinghy later featured on a Broads calendar, running along with boom out over the sunny Bure in Coltishall, with the Rising Sun in the background. She is on the very first photograph, here, taken by John in 1964.

Wherry Yacht Lady Edith

The greatest thing about the Lady Edith was always the moment when the engine went off, and we were sailing. The magic never got less.

Conversely, when approaching port, there was always the reverse ritual. The engine went on, Jim went forward, and the sail came down, us taking the gaff line to guide it. Then there was a lot of hurried work mounting the boom crutch, so the spar didn’t obstruct the helmsman, gathering and tying the sail, and slacking the topping lift. Then Jim getting the warps ready fore and aft, and John and I being told where to tie the fenders with neat clove hitches round the bulwarks (Jim checking them), but the fenders never went over the side until the last minute. They lay with the large quant poles on the side decks.

As the quay approached, the engine was cut, and we glided the last hundred yards or so. Then last minute tidying and panics, and then fenders over the side, and people jumping ashore with the warps and hauling us to a stop.

That is how I remember it ending.

John Barrow acknowledges the help of his fellow sailor John Collins in these recollections. The postcard is by St Albans Series: the photographs were taken by John Collins, by my father Wilfred Barrow, and one by a floating professional in a launch. The moral rights of the author have been asserted and all rights are reserved

Copyright John Barrow 2014

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