Saturday 15 December 2012

"Albion's" Home Run.

On Saturday, December 8th, I joined a volunteer crew from the Norfolk Wherry Trust to bring "Albion" home from Oulton Broad.  Albion had been at Excelsior's yard on Lake Lothing for winter maintenance. She became stranded at Oulton Broad due to bridge repairs on the Waveney and the Bure.

At 8am, seven volunteers and their equipment were dropped off at Oulton Broad yacht station and the cars departed leaving the crew to make "Albion" ready for her return to base.
The plan was to cross Breydon and reach Great Yarmouth at slack water, and be back at Ludham before dark.

Early morning at Oulton Broad

Every member of the crew knew exactly what was needed and set about their tasks.  Most of them had made this trip several times before.   The frosty morning had covered "Albion's" plank-ways and hatches with a  veneer of ice, making movement around the vessel quite treacherous.
Everyone of the crew were either Skippers or Mates - I was the only "Greenhorn" on board.
My job was to record the journey.  For my part in the proceedings conditions could not have been better.   No wind, crystal clear light and winter sun - absolutely perfect.

"Albion's" mast had been removed for overhaul some weeks earlier, so "Badger", a motor cruiser, was tied alongside to power the wherry on the return journey.

Making ready.

 "Badger" and "Albion" had an overall beam of twenty six feet, with "Badger" providing the power and "Albion" providing the steerage.  Additional power, if required, could be supplied from "Albion's" tender hitched to the stern of the wherry.  After about forty minutes preparation our little flotilla cast off.

The tender was quickly pressed into service nudging "Albion's" bow through forty five degrees until she came about and headed toward Oulton Dyke.

Great shots from the tender

I was able to get some some great shots from the tender as it manoeuvred around the wherry.  Then we were back on board and heading up the Waveney toward Great Yarmouth.

This was the first time I had travelled on this stretch of water so everything around me was very fresh and new.  From a photography point of view, if I did this trip one hundred times, the light and conditions would never be as good as this again.

River as calm as a mill pond

Ahead of us the river was as calm as a mill pond, golden coloured reeds reflected in the still water as we glided by - absolutely priceless!    Astern of us the wake from "Badger" glistened in the early morning sun.

Through St Olaves bridge and past Burgh Castle, "Badger's" engine never faltered, we were bang on schedule to reach the Breydon bridge at slack water.

St Olaves

There was a burst of activity on the plank-way as chains and mudweights were deployed, in case they were needed.

Chains and mudweights.

 Across the desolate, but strangely beautiful mudflats of Breydon.  Experienced eyes noted the tide was slowing by watching the current flowing around the navigation posts.   Under Breydon bridge at 12.10 - perfect timing.

Breydon - desolate and beautiful.

  Next, the old Vauxhall railway bridge, we were on time, on the Bure and on our way home.
 "Badger's" engine note changed tune as the "wick was turned up".  Behind our flotilla the wake was decidedly more agitated as our speed increased. Home before dark was the plan.   The sun was following an ever lowering arc creating longer shadows but still perfect for filming.

Albion at Acle bridge.

The cold air was beginning to nip fingertips by Stokesby and one last foray in the tender captured great footage of "Albion" shooting Acle bridge.  A setting sun made the water sparkle and "Albion's" crew became silhouettes against an evening sky of burnished gold and blue.

The crew became silhouettes

Into the Thurne and faithful old "Badger" was cast off and literally drifted off into the sunset.  The tender's outboard powered "Albion" on the last leg of the journey along the narrow channel of Womack water.  Six and half hours after leaving Oulton Broad "Albion" was home.

"Badger" drifted off into the sunset

For the folk who regularly sail the Norfolk and Suffolk waterways I guess this journey would be nothing out of the ordinary.  But for this "Geenhorn" sailor it is a trip I shall always remember.