Cornwall to Scotland days 17 to 21
|24/07/2011||Filled under England, England east coast|
Day 17 – Faced with the prospect of spending several days here in Lowestoft we checked with the harbour master to make sure we were berthed in the right place. But thirty minutes after having assured us everything was OK he came over to our pontoon and explained that a rather large and very solid looking old ship was about to be manoeuvred past our pontoon and it may be safer if we took Cirrus out of the way for a short time. Of course, an hour earlier it had been calm but by this time the wind was whistling past us so our own manoeuvres were quite exciting, let alone what was shortly to be happening just upwind of us. But if we wanted a stunning example of what a professional tug-master can do, this was it. We felt like applauding after he had shunted the large and ungainly ship through a gap barely wider than the vessel itself and tucked it away behind a pontoon with no fuss or bother at all.
We wandered off to explore Lowestoft and much to our surprise soon found, beyond the ‘standard’ High Street’ with its repetitions of shops found in every town in the country, another older model which harked back to an earlier age. Here the buildings are small and narrow by comparison, but varied, Elizabethan timbers jutting out over the street next door to a much later brick tenement. Here we found a shop selling square-rigged sailing ships which could be flown like a kite, a barber’s shop complete with striped pole and a place offering computer repairs. Then, leading off between these houses are a series of narrow alleys known as Scores, many of which have steps leading down towards the sea which are enclosed with local flint stone walls. There is Crown Score, Herring Fishery Score, Rant Score and Frost’s Alley Score, to name but a few, all of which would have led down to the original fishing port. Names like this are just dripping history, most of which we will never know.
It was fishing that inspired the construction of many of Britain’s coastal harbours, something that is noticeably diminished today and I have commented before on how many of the small north-east coastal fishing ports have turned towards leisure boating for their livelihoods by laying pontoons for visiting yachts, thus breathing new life into their towns. But since our last passage around the country in 2009 there is evidence of a new industry which is giving old ports a new lease of life – the wind farms. New sites for these, forests of giant ‘windmills’, have sprung up along the south coast, in the Thames estuary and in the Wash and for both their construction and ongoing maintenance or repair this means more boat traffic coming into and out of ports. We noted this particularly in Ramsgate where there were many more vessels going in and out at all times of the day and night. Then in the near future we can expect tidal generators to appear as well, making use of the strong currents around our coasts, the same ones that we try to take advantage of when we are sailing. This will mean even more boat traffic (and also more things to avoid when out sailing). We have the feeling that we are witnessing the birth of a new age, something that is transforming our country, and particularly our country’s coastline, right in front of our eyes.
Just as a matter of interest, there is a generator tower mounted onshore close to the harbour here in Lowestoft which apparently is known as ‘Gulliver’. Does this mean that all such towers have names, I wonder?
Days 18 to 21 – The Royal Norfolk & Suffolk Yacht Club, in whose marina we are now berthed, is an ancient and worthy body. It seems the club was formed in 1859 to try to control the behaviour of yacht crews of the time who took their competitiveness rather too far by fighting with opposing yacht crews rather than trying to out-sail them. Things grew from there and in 1903 the present clubhouse, an imposing local landmark, was built at a cost of £4,500. Today, when entering the clubhouse lobby for the first time one immediately begins to suspect that time has somehow slowed down inside the walls whilst life continued outside at a different pace. There are many startling and astonishingly well preserved features which can only be of great vintage and for which, it is clear, no expense can have been spared. The one that really made my jaw drop is in a place only ever frequented by gentlemen (and I use this word in the very proper sense), the toilet. The urinal is by Twyfords, its porcelain preserved precisely as when it was first minted, and the polished copper cistern hanging above, which bears an engraved club crest, is a masterpiece of Victoriana worthy of the British Museum. I hope I am not breaking any club rules by revealing all in this photo.
There is also an atmosphere to the clubhouse which is clearly enjoyed and encouraged by many of the members, that belongs in a timeless world of its own. Appropriate dress is something that is seen as something important, to the point that our own over-casual apparel leaves us feeling rather intimidated. I don’t have a blazer to my name, I confess, and if I did it is unlikely that we would deem it an essential piece of equipment to have on board the boat. An evening visit to the club bar makes me realise just how wrong I am in taking this view.
None of the above should detract, however, from what is undoubtedly a successful and thriving club which offers excellent facilities to any visiting yachtie, whatever the cut of their jib. This is our second visit here (we stopped here in 2009) and were it not for its remote easterly location, we would make many more visits. Better still, perhaps the whole structure can be transplanted nearer to our home so that we might revel in the timelessness whilst studying the sepia prints of lateen-rigged sailing yachts in days long gone.
Our luck with the wind since Plymouth has finally run out and like a number of other yachts, we are now hunkered down waiting for the fresh northerlies to moderate a little and let us move on. We take the opportunity to shop, to touch up some varnish and to explore the town a little more. One of the nice things about staying in port is the opportunity it creates to meet and get to know others who are travelling about in similar circumstances, others who have committed themselves to a life aboard a boat. David and Trisha have a lovely boat called Lioness in which they have travelled extensively over the last 10 years or so. This year they had set off, like us, to sail around the British coast anticlockwise but back in May whilst coming into Lowestoft Harbour their propeller became tangled on a piece of a rope which caused considerable damage to the engine and gearbox. Extensive repairs have now been carried out but this has held them up and they will not be able to complete their round Britain circuit this year. They are not deterred, of course, and will start again next year hoping for better luck.
We are ready to move on now, fuel tank topped up (since leaving Plymouth our engine has burnt only thirty litres of diesel!) and food laid in for the next few days at least. We have a long passage ahead, across the Wash to Grimsby, and it will be an early start to take advantage of the tide up the coast.