Club members Neville and Scilla bought a Broom 9-70 from Broom Boats brokerage in April 2008. Neville decided to sail her round the east coast and up the Thames to bring her home to her mooring at Penton Hook Lock and wrote this article to share his experiences with the club.
When I informed Broom of my intentions, they advised that the fuel tanks be cleaned, the fuel filters changed and new spares carried. All this was done prior to my taking delivery of the boat in the middle of May. I had estimated that the sea passage, from Lowestoft to Limehouse marina near Tower Bridge on the Thames was around 150nm. I assumed that the boat was capable of making a safe sea passage of 100 miles with a good safety margin (it has 2x 60 gallon tanks and two 110hp Ford Mermaids). This meant that we would have to re-fuel on the way round. I also planned to come into the Thames estuary with plenty of fuel in our tanks to lower the risk of stirring up debris from the bottom of the tank (despite sludging) if it got rough.
I decided to engage the services of a skipper familiar with conditions on the east coast and Thames estuary, and in particular entry and exit from Felixtowe harbour which was where we planned to refuel. Broom offered me the option of using a freelance skipper whom they would introduce to me, or to use the skipper/trainer who trains Broom’s own staff. I took the latter option, although slightly more expensive, as it provided the assurance of quality. As it turned out, this provided some hidden benefits that I had not anticipated, as we shall discover later in this article.
Our journey was to take us down the river Yare, on to the river Waveney to Oulton Broad. From there we would go through Mutford Lock, under a railway and a road bridge into the Lowestoft channel that leads to the sea.
Scilla and I drove to Brundall on the Friday. At around mid-day, we set off downstream on the river Yare. The sun was shining, the temperature was an unbelievable 21 degrees, and the tide was on the ebb, assisting us on our way. We were making 8 knots over the ground. We considered ourselves fortunate to be on the water in these conditions. But the law of Sod had not yet made its mark!!
Brundall to Lowestoft
We had estimated a 4-hour journey time to Lowestoft. We had arranged with the lockmaster to enter the lock at 4.30, and go under the rail and road bridges to put us on the seaward side of the Broads. This meant that the road bridge and rail bridge would be lifted just before the Lowestoft rush hour (not that anyone rushes anywhere in Norfolk!).
Brooms had arranged for us to overnight on their mooring at the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Marina, enabling us to start the sea passage at 9.00 the next morning, to give us plenty of time to make it to Limehouse Marina in one day.
After two hours, we were in Reedham, a pretty village on the Yare. We were asked to wait for 10 minutes for the swing bridge that carries the railway from Norwich to the coast to open. We stood off outside the Corvette Marine yard and watched as two workmen put finishing touches to a brand new Corvette 320.
A short distance below Reedham a cut joins the Yare to the Waveney. This three-mile long cut, straight as a die, and featureless, also had the distinction of having little depth of water. On a falling tide, we entered the cut with only 4 feet of water. Shortly afterwards, this dropped to 3 feet and 6 inches! I cursed myself for not establishing exactly how much keel the boat supported. Was it three foot or three foot three inches? Holding my breath, we pressed on slowly. Fortunately, the ledge (for that is what it must have been) disappeared behind us and we continued carefully down the shallow cut, keeping a close eye on the depth gauge.
On entering the Waveney, we noticed one of the quirks of the Broads waters. Although we had been cruising on an ebb tide down the Yare, the water in the Waveney was on the rise! The complex network of rivers and cuts does not apparently always make for predictable tide conditions!
We approached Somerleyton Swing Bridge at around 2.45. We were making good time, and very much on course for our ETA at Oulton Broad. Half a mile from the bridge, a boat going in the opposite direction waved and shouted to us, but we were unable to discern what they were saying. A moment later all became clear. As we approached the bridge, we saw it. A small red flag fluttered in the light wind at one end of the bridge. The guidebook told us that this meant that the swing bridge was not operating. A check of bridge heights confirmed our worst fears. The boat would not go under the bridge! We had been told that the air draught of our boat to the top of the screens was10 feet. Bridge height was listed at 8’ 6”Our hearts sank.
I radioed the bridge to be told that the bridge had stuck. The warm sunny day had taken its toll. The rail temperature was, apparently, 30 degrees and the rail had expanded! There was no telling when it would cool off enough to allow the bridge to open. Oh dear! The best laid plans of mice and men…….
We moored nearby and prepared for what we were told might be a long wait. A few telephone conversations later and we had a new journey plan. The harbourmaster at Oulton Broad Yacht Station advised us to moor at Oulton Broad for the night and go through the lock and both bridges in the morning. The lock keeper had been informed.
At around 5.00 pm, the bridge attendant suggested we try to get under the bridge, as the headroom was around 10 feet. We approached with caution, edging our stem under the bridge, only to find we were about 2 inches too tall to go under. He suggested we try the other end of the bridge as there was “about 2 inches more headroom on that side of the river. This attempt also was to no avail. Back to the moorings!!
Eventually at around 6.45 the radio burst into sound again:
Attendant: “Born Free, Born Free – good news, the rail is now free and I am about to swing the bridge. Over.”
BF: Thank you for trying to get us under. And thank you for the arrangements you suggested. Your efforts are much appreciated. Out”
Attendant: “Safe trip round the coast tomorrow. Out”
The passage time to Oulton Broad Yacht Station was approximately one hour. We were right on the brink of being able to make it before dark!
We approached the Yacht Station moorings at exactly 8.00 pm, in the dusk. Our first priority after mooring up was to pour two large glasses of wine and get some fish and chips (the local fish and chips shop closed at 9.00 pm on a Friday!!) before we headed off to the railway station to meet our daughter Lucy who was to accompany me on the sea passage. (having shed a few tears on the railway journey at leaving her children)
Scilla took the train back to Brundall on Saturday morning to collect the car and drive home before meeting us at Limehouse marina with Lucy’s husband Richard, and two children.
I radioed the harbourmaster at around 8.00 to check the arrangements he had made for us. “ I don’t know anything about any arrangements, guv” he said. “I was off duty yesterday.” “Oh!” said I. He then continued, “The lock keeper is not yet on duty, but if you like I will walk along to the lock and find out if he knows anything about you”. A few minutes later he phoned us.
“You cannot go through the lock this morning. We are unable to lift the road bridge until 11.00 because of the traffic. And anyway, the railway bridge is being repaired, and there is scaffolding all the way under it” “Oh!”said I. “Umm,” I continued, “I am scheduled to meet my skipper at the marina at 9.00 to make a sea passage to the Thames, and I was told yesterday that I would be able to go under the bridges at low tide this morning at 8.30”
He phoned back a few minutes later “what is your air draught?” – “about 10 feet” said I.” “Don’t you know exactly?” “No, this boat is new to me” “Oh!” he said and went off the line.
I phoned Peter our skipper and told him what was going on. Then the lock-keeper came on the radio to say that he had checked, he had 10 feet and 3 inches headroom under the road bridge so would open the lock for us to come through. “ What about the scaffolding under the railway bridge?” I asked. “Oh! That is down to the contractors, but it should have the same headroom as the road bridge” Phew! At least the tide was still falling.
We went through the lock at 8.40 and squeezed under the road bridge. We approached the railway bridge with bated breath. Didn’t they use metric units of measurement in the construction industry? And how would this translate into headroom for us? What about the huge pieces joining the individual scaffold poles together? Did headroom allow for this? How reliable are these contractors?
Once through, we were clearly in a commercial shipping channel. Large vessels lined the sides alongside warehouses, on jetties with cranes doing their stuff. We motored the two miles to the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk marina. It was crowded. Boats of all sizes – mainly large – were everywhere, wearing German, French and Dutch ensigns. Lowestoft is our most easterly port and the closest to the Continent.
We entered slowly. There were no signs for the fuel jetty, so we stood off in a ‘pool’, about 150 feet across, in between some expensive, shiny fibreglass. Someone told us the fuel jetty was behind us, so we would need to turn. In front of us was a Fairline Squadron, behind us a new Broom 50 – worth some £850,000 – on its way to its owner. On our left were a couple of very large sailing boats sporting foreign flags. “Turn slowly, Dad” said Lucy who was on the foredeck admiring the boats “and don’t hit anything”
We were directed down a narrow channel with boats milling all around, to the fuel jetty at the end. I brought the boat round and the attendant took my lines. “Perfect!” he said, “we are a little busy this week, we have a cruise in from the Continent.” How would I have guessed that?
Lowestoft to Felixstowe
Peter, our skipper, turned out to be a jovial, experienced trainer from the East Anglian Sea School. We discussed the passage plan. I was to helm the boat; he would only intervene in an emergency.
We left the marina at 10.00. Fuel tanks full, water tanks half full, three persons on board. The plan assumed a cruising speed of 15 knots, which is what Broom had advised. If it didn’t we would have to overnight in Felixstowe.
Sunny with a slight mist, a force 3 blowing from the SE, and visibility around two miles, we settled into a cruising speed of 14 knots. After about fifteen minutes, I noticed that we had forgotten to lift the fenders. Peter crept forward carefully on the side deck, crouched and picked up port, then starboard fenders, while Lucy picked up the fenders at the stern.
With everyone back on deck safely I looked at the GPS. We were doing 15 knots! The dragging fenders had taken a full knot off our speed! We checked our position regularly to ensure we were on course. We were about 2 miles offshore and land was only just visible through the mist. Then the GPS failed to register. It kept telling us there was a weak signal. We tried everything before Peter brought his handheld one out of his bag. “This one has never let me down” he said confidently. Sod got to work again. Nothing would make his GPS register! Weak signal.
We cruised using traditional navigation methods. Each shipping buoy came up reassuringly exactly on cue on the bow. We approached Felixstowe, navigating past the numerous lobster pots, a myriad of motorised and sailing craft, and into the harbour area. A large container vessel lazily pouring water out of orifices in its side gleamed red oxide and grey in the early afternoon sun. The GPS sprang back into operation!
Felixstowe to London
We refuelled at Suffolk Yacht Harbour before heading back out to sea. Lucy had made sandwiches, and she and Peter sat down to eat and chat, leaving me to helm, navigate and keep a lookout while struggling to keep my sandwich in one piece. Peter simply said, “You know what you are doing, so I may as well enjoy talking to Lucy.” So much for the crew! Two miles out to sea the GPS gave up on us again.
Our course took us past Clacton and then out past Foulness and Maplin Sands. By 4.00 pm we were approaching the Thames estuary, out of sight of land, navigating by compass and sighting the shipping buoys as they appeared over the horizon. The mist had increased slightly as the temperature had dropped in the afternoon. Visibility was now around one mile. On one occasion we deviated from course by a mile or so, to close in and positively identify one buoy and verify our position. The water was a little choppier, but the wind had remained at around force 3 all day. We entered the ‘official’ mouth of the Thames at Sea Reach beacon at around 4.30. By now we had used some of the fuel in the tanks and the boat speed had crept up to over 15 knots. I phoned Limehouse with an ETA of 7.30.
We passed several ships leaving the Thames. We knew we would be punching up against the tide on our way in. We were able to maintain our speed throughout, passing Southend to starboard, the Medway to port and into the sheltered water of the tidal Thames. Soon, the water became millpond smooth. The GPS burst into life to tell us where we were! Under the QE2 road bridge, through the Barrier, past Greenwich, Canary Wharf, and the Dome and into Limehouse lock at exactly 7.30!
As we moored up in the marina, Peter said “Congratulations, that was a great trip. I enjoyed being on your boat. You clearly know about navigating and boat safety and can handle your boat. You meet all the requirements for the International Certificate of Competence, so I will send you the paperwork to apply to the RYA for certification”
What a marvellous trip, in perfect conditions - and the unexpected bonus at the end more than made up for what Sod had tried to do!
The next morning with the whole family on board we left Limehouse at 5.00 am, two hours before high water, and cruised through London on the flood tide. An early morning mist hung over the glassy water and the rising sun lit up the buildings as we approached. Our own personal daytime ‘Son et Lumiere’. Pure magic!
I phoned Broom on the Monday to thank them for arranging a genial skipper and to tell them about the GPS. Apparently they had had several calls from Broom owners who were unable to obtain a GPS signal that weekend. Perhaps the Americans were busy carrying out maintenance work on their satellites!
Key statistics – sea trip
Log reading at end of sea trip: 136 nm
Fuel consumption: 270 litres (59.4 gallons)
Average fuel consumption: 2.28 miles per gallon
Number of hours cruising: 9
Average consumption: 6.6 gallons per hour
Average speed: 15.1 knots