stepping stones of truth

A journey along the path of life - the stones can be rough, smooth or even wobbly!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Magic moments on the water

There was an opportunity I couldn't pass by - a chance of a sailing weekend on the Norfolk Broads, hosted by two very experienced sailors who are also dharma teachers in the UK Community of Interbeing. It wasnt a meditation retreat, but it was a lovely experience to be with a group of people who are trying to live mindfully. And you couldn't help but learn, not only about sailing and the wildlife of the Broads, but also about yourself. Eight of us, living aboard two old 24ft gaff rigged boats (Wood Sorrel and Wood Avens) and with no engines!

The weather was sunny, and there was a nice 15mph (not sure what that is in knots) wind that made you need to wear layers of fleeces and to take two reefs in the sails when out on the open water. But in sheltered spots it was T-shirts.

I will just post a few photos of the weekend generally. My camera wasn't up to capturing images of all the bird life :- great crested grebes, herons, swallows, loads of warblers (only heard those!) hobbys, marsh harriers (four foot wingspan, amazing), coots, ducks, four ordinary cranes (10% of the entire UK population they are so rare) all sorts of geese, and also I heard the first cuckoo of my summer!

Some of the crew looking over their home for the next two days.

The Broads are made of up rivers, lakes and hand-cut dykes (some cut by the Romans) A fascinating ancient place well worth reading about. However, the few bridges are old too. This medieval one at Potter Heigham is well known - you have to let the mast down every time you want to go through it as it only has under 7ft clearance. And with no engines, just punting type poles called quants, it takes a bit of skill.

What a lovely view - I eventually worked out the difference between the ropes (sheets) for the topping lift and the peak, and other various halyards. I never did learn how to tie any knots - but at least I know why a reef knot is so called now!

After a morning tacking up Candle Dyke, a spot of lunch and a cup of tea were called for. Meditators know how to relax! The china is original 1930s willow pattern. We used a gas ring - strict safety precautions needed, because the gas is heavier than air and sinks into the bilges if it should leak. Sadly at least one boat per year (there are loads of motor boats too) on the Broads explodes because someone forgets to turn the gas off.

Out on Hickling Broad there was ample time for all us to take a turn at the helm, and learn to feel the wind and anticipate changes. Just a few trees on the bank way off could make a difference. Both boats took in a couple of reefs in the sails to make life easier for us novices. There were few other boats, apart from some dinghies and board sailors whizzing about. The water is so shallow that the board sailors can stand up when they come off. Our boats have no keels, but have leaded bottoms - even so, running aground is a distinct possibility. An experienced skipper is invaluable!

Having local knowledge also means we got to see hidden treasures like Catfield Dyke. After the exhilerating strong winds and open water, the calm and tranquillity was amazing. A long straight tunnel bounded by green alders and reed stretched ahead of us. Just enough wind coming over the top of the trees gently hit the top of the sail to send us silently and gently down the dyke, as if by magic. It all seemed so secret, and a world away from reality. The stillness was intense, we hardly disturbed the air or water as we ghosted along.

We moored up at the top of the dyke among bluebells and willows. We sat companionably under blankets, and watched the moon rise and listened to the deafening bird song while dusk gently fell around us. Some quiet songs were sung before we snuggled down for the night. A tight fit meant a warmer cabin.

The landscape reminded me of Constable paintings. We don't get oaks quite like this in Dorset, in fact I was surprised at the amount of woodland. I had imagined it all to be just reed beds and narrow meandering rivers.

However, the next morning, the narrowness of the dyke meant that tacking was impossible, so a gallant few quanted all the way back to open water. Another morning of exciting sailing on bright water, led us to another secret place for lunch - with so many oxides in the water it was a bright orange dyke.
Can you spot the ship's dog? She even had her own lifejacket and ship's biscuits, but was never far from Jane, our skipper (in the white hat)

We had a short walk in the afternoon to visit a National Trust windmill. They didn't grind grain but pumped water to keep the levels safe. We were moored up behind the furthest band of trees above the narrow arm of water to the right.

We sailed back to the boatyard as the sun lowers in the sky, with the wind behind us - our booms out to catch the wind. No sounds but the chuckling of the water under the bows and the wind in the sails. What a magical weekend.

P.S. However, I have been sailing a boat like this once before - in 1970!

The LLF (who knew how to sail) invited another friend, myself and the Man Of The House (yes were were married even then) to the Norfolk Broads, in March. It was very, very cold. It snowed! From the look of it, I didnt enjoy it much.

I only remember The MoH slipping overboard up to his armpirts, and being unable to change into his spare clothes as he was wearing them underneath his ordinary ones. Likewise his pyjamas! We ran his clothes up the mast to dry, and they froze solid, like rock. I learned to drink dark rum and pineapple. I was very, very cold. Remarkably, I am still friends with the LLF.

I am the one looking worried and cold and inwardly saying "I want to go home". I remember the anorak was bright orange, I probably still have it.

The LLF looks young and confident.


At 4:49 am, Blogger Val said...

Boat, sail, tea set : charming!

Cranes: lucky!!

MoH's clothes freezing and hoisted on the mast: LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At 9:03 pm, Blogger Tabor said...

Only the Brits can serve tea in China while on a sailboat! I love the attention to detail. We drink our drinks in plastic cups...must change that on the next boat trip out.

At 12:49 pm, Anonymous Penelope said...

This is the LLF here.........
I can't imagine what I had to smile about, possibly we were on the home stretch. When I got home I was bruised from shoulder to hip as in those days I weighed so little I had to cleat the rope in on myself to hold the mainsail.
Much better padded now!

At 3:18 pm, Anonymous tash said...

It looks like you had a real adventure in the water! What lovely photos - it looks like something from Swallows and Amazons, especially the 70's photo!

Thanks also for your comment on my Sanity Mechanisms post (and the Future in Farming post too!) - I found writing it very cathartic, and it let me get alot of my frustration written down. I agree it's hard not to use imported food, heaven knows I buy lemons and oranges, but we are mindful and don't buy things that can be grown over here. I have a feeling that we are meant to eat foods that are in season, when they are in season - it's nature's way of keeping us healthy. :)

I've been passing all of these comments along to said friend - maybe it will make a difference, I do hope so!

At 10:41 pm, Blogger Zen said...

A wonderful adventure!!
One of those goes in a book memories.

At 4:35 am, Blogger Kerri said...

I can't resist commenting on this post too! Our youngest daughter, Kathy, went to Norfolk Broads 2 years ago. She loved it. No sailing though.
You've been having some wonderful experiences lately Val. I haven't had time to stop by. It's been fun catching up.
Love, love, love that china...and on a sailing boat, no less! :)
Pretty flowers below. Love that abutilon. I found it for the first time this spring (a different one from yours).
How exciting to see and hear all those birds.
The first earlier trip...ack! Sounds too cold for me, and poor MoH! :) You definitely don't look happy.


Post a Comment

<< Home