Graceland on the radio as we pull in to the sun dappled yard of the Hustler yacht station in Ludham Norfolk.
Weighed down by dreams of open (mostly) tideless water, stable winds and half the wine section of a Norfolk Tesco’s, 5 intrepid Southbank sailors embarked upon two of Percy Hunters finest “lovely ladies”, namely Hustler 1 and Hustler 3.
Constructed between the 20s and 30s, these custom built and designed 24ft gaff rigged mahogany speed machines were to carry the eponymous sailors of Jane SH, Elaine, Sina, Tommy G and Commodore Ben on an epic adventure.
Leaving on Saturday afternoon, the teams of Ben, Sina (adopted English lady) and Jane, took on the evil might of the US-Maltese coalition. What was meant to be a familiarisation sail turned into a 4 hour prosecco fuelled “race” with an abandoned pub stop-off and a SBSC style BBQ to finish off the evening.
Sunday was an early rise, the teams staying together for a fun but tricky sail down to the famous bridge down of Potter Heigham. The wind enabling a broad reach we shot down the 2 mile route in approximately 30 minutes before starting the surprisingly easy task of raising and lowering the mast.
With no engine to call on, we had to rely on the power, determination and balance of the Maltese falcon to push us under the bridges to enable us to continue the voyage.
After raising the masts, a task which in no way was fiddly, we jumped into the world famous Lathams to buy lunch. Imagine if you will.. a Woolworths of the 1980s, having an illicit affair with the offspring of a Poundland and B&Q and you shall come close to imagining this cave of wonder.
The wind having raised to approximately 16 knots and we shot down to the 2 mile long expanse of water known as Hickling Broad. With a dinghy race in flow, we tried to keep pace with the competitors and once again were very surprised to the horrible, very slow and accurately handicapped solos destroying the fleet of lasers and 420s. Once again, showing the absolute reliability of the PY ratings… 😉
Leaving here to sail up a narrow dyke to Horsey Broad, where we moored up for the night. We ventured on the short walk to the beach to say hello to the creatures of the deep before enjoying a cider, beer and music festival at the world famous Nelson’s Head.
The next day brought on the most challenging sail of the trip. Leaving early, Hustlers 1 and 3 used two different techniques to traverse the dreaded Horsey dyke. With the wind in our faces and the 26ft-wide channel winding through the reeds, Team Axis of Evil quickly went for the quanting option.
However, being more familiar with the river, the boat and the conditions, Commodore Thomas decided to go with the classic Norfolk sailor’s approach, using his quant pole only in emergencies and otherwise trusting his boat handling skills…..
Arriving at the bridge an hour after Team Axis, he reflected that he was totally right and it was all his crew’s fault for not backing the jib.
With the wind in our faces and the pleasure cruisers taking up the river, the trip back to the yard was a technical but enjoyable sail with all acquitting themselves excellently.
Due to the poor showing of his crew, Commodore Thomas made them all walk the plank into Hustler 1, taking on board one Tom G who had been deemed too lazy by his helm..
Having let the crews settle in for an hour or so, racing began again in earnest. Having worked a fantastic start, Team ESJ took a commanding lead. However, due to a fluke in the wind, team BT managed to just pull over the top and pip ESJ to the windmill post.
BT 1: ESJ 0
The last day started with a morning of slight trepidation, the wind having risen to 20 knots. Coming out of the home channel at approximately 8 knots, it was decided reefing was a good idea.
Tacking into this wind with a third yacht joining us, we reached the starting point of the race. Team BT – with a slight amount of over-confidence having let team ESJ have a running start – tacked and the the two windmills race was begun.
Having run this river before, Ben was confident. Tom less so. What followed was a true case of the apprentices becoming the masters…
Elaine on helm, Jane being her mainsheet lady and Sina on jib simply massacred the boys. Lifting round stationary objects, taking the tacks right to the reeds, the boys couldn’t close the gap. After rounding the mark, all tactics were tried.. loosening top sheet, throwing out the main sheet. Tom even had a wee over the side to lighten the load.. but all to no avail.
BT 1: ESJ 1.
The final race, the decider. In a dead run back to the yard, strict racing rules were observed.. the lead changing hands several times before on a lucky gust, team BT managed to time a wind stealing surge and leapfrog ESJ and claim the win at the post.
BT 2: ESJ 1
The purpose of this story, other than to announce another amazing victory of good over evil, is to try and highlight the great sailing that is available around the UK and close to london. The folks at Hunters Yard loved having us in and they are always available to take out new people to show them how to handle the “ladies”.
What sailing at SBSC gives you is an ability to read the water and adjust your plans depending on the wind’s whims and as such, all should go to Norfolk and have a go, as all are capable of sailing these lovely boats.
My hope is that when we get around to organising the SBSC Hunter trophy, we can take all 6 Hustlers out as well as all the 3 woods and the L classes.
Crew sign up for next year is starting now and we shall look forward to showing you all the delights of Norfolk with a bottle of red..