Sailing through history

I’ve had two sailing experiences in the last couple of months, very different from one another. The first was a return visit for me, on the historic sailing Broads trading wherry Albion. It was her first trip out this year, and the idea was to celebrate the launch of a new beer created in her honour. Called Jenny Morgan, after the figure on the wind vane at the top of Albion’s mast, a firkin of Green Jack Brewery‘s tasty new brew had pride of place on her foredeck as we sailed from her base on Womack Water to the Maltsters pub at Ranworth.

Here we were met by the Golden Star Morris dancers from Norwich, who ceremonially danced the beer from the quayside to the pub. I’d been told that the beer would actually need to settle for a couple of days before it could be served, and was therefore relieved to hear the pub had some already in place, so I did get to sample a couple of pints. And for every pint sold, a percentage of the profit goes to the Wherry Albion Trust to help keep the grand old lady of the Broads afloat.

Funnily enough, while hoisting Albion’s sail involved pretty hard work turning the handle on a winch, my next spot of sail-raising was rather less tiring. A day trip from Harwich saw me on the 47ft sailing yacht Viking Blue, where all I had to do was push a button and watch the sail go up the mast! The boat was operated by Ipswich-based Viking Mariners, and I was on a trip which included a night in The Pier Hotel, a lovely boutique hotel in old Harwich. The town has a long history both as military and commercial port, as well as the HQ of Trinity House, the organisation which looks after all the lighthouses and navigation buoys in British waters. All that nautical history is ingrained in the hotel, where I had a room with a fantastic view across the harbour, and the quirky Ha’penny Pier.

It was from here that I set off with one or two other guests from the hotel on Viking Blue. It was one of those days where people could do as much or as little as they wanted, so apart from pushing the button to raise the sail, I did, along with my fellow guests, get to take a turn at the helm. It’s a fascinating area to sail – just across the water from Harwich is the huge container port of Felixstowe, at the confluence of the rivers Orwell and Stour. We cruised along the coast for a while before exploring the rivers. And while we didn’t quite make it as far as the impressive Orwell Bridge, we did pass historic Pin Mill, once the place where Thames sailing barges came to be repaired, and the subject of two of Arthur Ransome’s famous “Swallows and Amazons” books.

Yachting as an activity began in the Netherlands in the 17th century, so it’s logical that here would be the place where it first started in England. It was certainly much in evidence the day I was there – modern craft with brightly coloured spinnakers ballooning in front of them, and a variety of traditional wooden boats taking it rather more leisurely. As for me, not having been at sea in a small boat for quite some time, it was nice to note I still have good sea legs!

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