Inspired by those who went before them, five intrepid sailors from South Bank booked a weekend on Hunter’s Yard’s beautiful gaff-rigged vintage mahogany sloops. Here’s what we saw and what we learned!
Consider making it a Friday-Monday trip
Unless you live in Norfolk, Hunter’s Yard is pretty remote, and you will want to arrive at 9 or 10am, for 2-3 hours of signing in, unpacking your gear, being briefed, uncovering your boat, finalising your plans and rigging for the first time.
The price of each day of cabin boat hire includes the whole night, so if your professional and domestic arrangements permit it, spending Sunday night aboard and travelling home on a Monday is an option to avoid a tired, nocturnal drive through the worst rush hour the UK has to offer.
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Take the opportunity to learn!
This is not a perfect learning environment; a shallow keel and a heavy wooden boom mean that tacks need to be assertive, and gybes need to be careful; but cruising on a reach is a great time for a novice to practice steering and sail trim, whilst raising and lowering the gaff-rigged main will require everyone to learn the literal ropes.
Watch out for traffic
The broads are full of other boats. The majority of motor helms know how, when and where to pass a sailboat even if it’s tacking across the river, but we did see an inexperienced crew crash a yacht under sail straight into the bank, then try to back out (still under sail) with their outboard.
Moorings can also be crowded. We never failed to find a spot from which we could reach the pub – but at popular Ranworth, it was quite close.
Do a little exploring on land
The yard’s recommended route for a first 2-day trip is to travel to Ranworth for Saturday night. Although the passage through the woods makes the Thames look open and windy, having sampled both the view from St Helen’s tower and the pub’s range of affordable whiskeys, we add our recommendation!
It’s also worth using the latrines on land, as the onboard head is impolite to use in harbour and very difficult to use under sail with the roof lowered!
Get in sync with nature
Near the autumn equinox, it gets light around 7am, which is also when the pigeons, ducks and geese wake up. Most Norfolk boaters seem to lie in a little longer, though those who like to catch fish will be up at first light.
It gets dark at about 7pm, and while some people are audibly having a good time for a while after dark, it seems boaters are, on average, early to bed and early to rise.
Book an electric engine
Unless you have a real passion for quanting (punting) your way between other people’s yachts in a strong breeze, the high-capacity battery and electric motor are a godsend for mooring, dodging party boats, and rigging the sails whilst unmoored. If you can avoid using the “mudweight” (mud anchor) it will save you a difficult lift and some significant mopping.
Breakfast is the best time to cook
Hunter’s Yard’s boats are remarkably well equipped with spotless cooking utensils, and it would be a waste not to take advantage of the gas stoves early in the morning when the pubs are closed; but sheltering the stove from the wind, cooking, serving and washing up takes considerable time and space. Bring biodegradable cleaning products to protect the fish (and the ducks, the grebes, cormorants, swans, geese…)
Get really lucky with the weather
Arrange for a huge Atlantic cold front to arrive a few hours after you finish your trip; it will drive increasing windspeeds during your trip, and it will hold back torrential rain until just after you’ve put the cover back on the boat for the final time!
The cabins are quite cosy once the boat’s canvas outer cover is on – during warm nights of about 13 C, I don’t believe the temperature inside our cabin dropped below a comfortable 17 C.