25 November 2020
You may not have done it yet but you will remember it forever when you do, that first time; the concrete piers of Great Yarmouths’ harbour ahead, behind the idyllic cruise through the Norfolk Broads, two bridge lifts and under harbour control, a gentle run past the historic quays and industrial relics of the past, the modern business of today and ahead, between those strong buttresses that protect the inner waters, the North Sea. Your debut, initiation, your first sea air and spray on your own boat, YOUR OWN BOAT, you are actually going to sea on your own boat!
As you leave the sanctuary of the river and the harbour entrance, the radio will come alive “Here we go” announces James Fraser. The bow will rise as the pace increases, no longer bound to the Broads speed limits, starting to move with purpose and determination. With the canopies off, the light wind cascading over the screen as the speed builds you will cheer out loud as she settles on the plane and there you are, at sea, at speed, on your first sea adventure and safe in the knowledge that you are in the company of the Norfolk Yacht Agency Cruising Club with the support, knowledge and expertise that allows you to gain confidence, friendships and experience of being at sea with your boat!
Now if ever there was one person and his team that encourages so many to head out to sea its James Fraser, the hugely enthusiastic owner of NYA. He and the team organise, plan, arrange moorings, provide mechanical back up, support boat and lead from the front allowing all to build the confidence and experience to do it ourselves. Yes you can and should do recognised qualifications in handling and competency but there is nothing quite like the experience of being in a group of like-minded owners, some with a lifetime of experience, others who like you will be going “off shore” for the first time, but all with the enthusiasm to experience what the wonderful East Anglian coast has to offer and then further afield as the club stretches its legs and heads further or off to Europe.
So you have just purchased your first coastal capable boat and the team at NYA have done the handover and familiarisation as part of your purchase and you are loving the tranquility of the rivers as it meanders from Norwich to Great Yarmouth, Oulton Broad or Beccles. Possibly restricted by bridge heights accessing the Northern Broads, the chances are that you and your very sea capable boat could be shackled and suffocated if left to the southern rivers of the Broads and the maximum 6mph allowed. The skipper and crew will be missing out on the joys of a boat designed, built and capable of taking them on adventures at sea. So whatever your experience and especially for the new, inexperienced owner, the NYA Cruising Club provides the safest, friendliest and most organised environment to help you experience the thrills of being at sea.
Many who aren’t in the know will dismiss the East Coast, all brown water and muddy marshes, well we know it better for the huge skies, open vistas, fabulous wildlife, great choice of riverside pubs and options for mooring as we head towards Yarmouth at the start of an NYA Cruising Club cruise. From Brundall the valley opens out as we come across the low lying marshes, iconic Broads wind pumps and the river gets wider. Passing Cantley sugar beet factory we then come to the only working vehicular chain ferry in East Anglia at the Reedham Ferry pub, a great place to stop and a favourite meeting point for cruising club boats congregating for a sea trip. It’s a stopping point before the final run and the start of another adventure where anticipation rises and drinks are downed.
At Reedham village we have to consider the tidal river height and the next hurdle of the railway swing bridge, it’s an old structure opening to railway times and summer heat which can stop it opening. Our final destination may be London, Holland or Brighton but Reedham swing bridge in the summer can determine if you make arrival tide heights at your destination so it’s always better to allow extra time.
And then a choice, the river splits, do we go to sea via Yarmouth and the two bookable lift bridges or do we access the sea via Oulton Broad at the lock and the Lowestoft lift bridge? For the cruising club the lock size is prohibitive for the number of boats in the group so Great Yarmouth it is. Before we get to Breydon Water we are at the moorings at The Burney Mill, another of the Cruising Club rendezvous points where James will often take the briefing for the skippers and crews, give information on the latest weather and sea state reports and ask for everyone to check their radios for inter boat communication and the boats readiness for sea passage. With the bridge times booked at Great Yarmouth, leaving Berney Mill the river suddenly opens up into a vast expanse of mudflats as far as you can see, the clearly marked channel heads east and now is the time where we can, while being considerate to other craft, start letting our hair down because unlike the rest of the Broads there is no speed limit on Breydon Water.
With the lifting road bridge at Yarmouth in the far distance the urge is to push forward those throttles and make sure all systems are working correctly, get on the plane and be reassured that your vessel is performing as required while still in the safe environment of the river system. Yarmouth arrives quickly and having booked ahead with the port authority and a quick radio call from James for the whole fleet has us through Breydon Bridge and after a short wait Haven Bridge opens and we are heading down past the historic quays of Yarmouth with its restored fishing vessels, ancient merchants houses, then the industrial quays that once served the herring industry, gas exploration and now wind farm development. It may not seem glamorous but it’s always interesting and that sea air smell is filling the nostrils urging you on.
And this is where the real Cruising Club fun starts. Port, starboard or straight on? Straight on? But thats Holland, Belgium etc! Yes and why not? You now you have a boat capable of doing it, you’re with the company of other boats and have the support both through experience and mechanically of the NYA team that leads the Cruising Club
from the front on the adventures.
Every time you exit the harbour entrance and James announces on the inter-ship radio channel “Here we go” the sense of excitement builds how ever many times you have done it before and for the first timer those words will stay with you forever!
But lets start closer to home, staying East Coast turn to port and head for the gem of the North Norfolk coast, Wells-next-the-Sea. Like most of our coastal cruising grounds, tides are vitally important to get right for arrival. Wells will probably be a long weekend trip for the club but all the planning has been done in advance by James and the team, each crew is supplied with an information pack with timings, contact information, maps, guides, etc. Most experienced skippers will do their own as well but for the inexperienced this helps build the confidence as you can check against your own homework and see you are getting it right, hopefully!
After leaving Yarmouth you follow the coast around, passing Winterton, Happisburgh’s famous lighthouse, Cromer and its pier, crabbing boats bringing in the catch, past Blakeney where the earlier cliffs have given way to salt marshes and then Wells and the outer marker for the entrance to the harbour. The channel is well marked and often the beach patrol will guide you in but you need depth of water so its been planed well ahead by NYA that you arrive at the correct tidal times.
Wells is stunning, on the visitors moorings with views for miles and a backdrop of redbrick and flint buildings, it’s a favourite. As the lead boat is always helmed by James he guides the fleet in, directing and allocating moorings as you approach the quay, making sure that everything comes together and everyone is safe. The team help with the mooring and everyone mucks in as the group completes their passage and finally as the last boat, the sweeper boat that has followed from the rear ties up, its time to relax, catch up with the crews, forge those friendships and reacquaint old ones and tell tales of the fun just experienced.
Wells has great pubs, good shops for every need, amazing beach
walks and there’s nothing better than tucking into award winning fish and chips on the quay, looking down on your own boat as the sun sets and birds come in to roost for the night. Then early morning as the first light of day starts to highlight amazing natural colours in the enormous sky, the channel filling with the tide and yachts gently swinging on their moorings, you know that if nothing else you can relax on your boat all day and marvel at how many crabs are being caught by eager children and even more competitive fathers from the quay and wonder if it’s the same 100 crabs that haven’t learnt or there are thousands down there?
Back to Yarmouth and we turn to starboard, the first port of call is Lowestoft, the historic fishing town, and while some will say its seen better days it has some fascinating history and does have the sanctuary of the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club, good sheltered visitor moorings, food, bar and facilities and is a regular meeting point before heading south or east for the Cruising Club. The calmness of the clubhouse and the haven it provides when Mother Nature doesn’t follow the rulebook and as the UK’s most eastern port, it is poplar with continental crews.
From here the club will set sail for the next destination, running as a group, the NYA rib helmed by “Rib Rob” is there to help with the transfer of super mechanic Speedo who supports any crew in need of mechanical help while at sea or in port. This invaluable service gives more reassurance to the crews, safe in the knowledge that there is immediate help available if needed. If any boat has an issue James will bring the fleet down to a
speed to allow investigation by Speedo and no one is left behind to have to deal with their problem or they are safely in a harbour. It’s this service that can give crews the confidence to enjoy and learn as a group, allowing experience to build until they feel confident to make their own sea passages.
After leaving Lowestoft heading south we have another gem in Southwold. Very tide dependent, a careful approach and care in the harbour are needed but very manageable. Synonymous with rich weekenders the quay is about 30 mins walk south of the town on the River Blyth, along its banks old black tarred fishing huts huddle together strewn with old nets, buoys and boats that are taking on nature in retirement. But between them in another shack looking building an amazing fish restaurant serving the catch brought in by the few local boats that day, a small popular café,
chandlers and repairers, a fresh fish stall, a craft shop and fish and chips.
From the moorings you access the river bank walks and cross the river by footbridge or rowing ferry to Walberswick, enjoy the pretty village and on return realise that Suffolk crabs didn’t get the memo either as they are dragged out by more kids and dads! Southwold will probably become the first solo trip for many but to go with the Cruising Club means that valuable tide and mooring experience can be learned with support giving confidence for the future.
From Southwold head for the River Deben past huge shingle banks and wildlife havens, past Napoleonic Martello Towers guarding the entrance and Bawdsey Manor, the WW2 radar station and at the end of its navigation Woodbridge. The entrance needs precise tide calculations, the entrance to the Deben is narrow and needs care, once in the sanctuary of the river things slow down and on summer evenings, as you head into the light, it’s a most beautiful and manageable cruise along a well marked
Tidemill Harbour is the destination, set in the ancient mill pond which fills
and empties on the tide so care is needed to clear the sill on entry, once tied up Woodbridge is a delightful town to enjoy with all the amenities, great pubs and the station just a few yards away for day trips further afield if needed.
Leaving the estuary and turning south of the Deben we have the River Orwell, its entrance dominated by the huge container port at Felixstowe. With the Harwich, its ferry terminal and the River Stour to the port head up the Orwell, a fine river that changes going upstream with stopping points at Levington, Woolverstone and finally once under the impressive Orwell Bridge and through the lock, Ipswich Marina. Revived in recent years the marina area of Ipswich now hosts a very pleasant place to stay. The town itself has all the facilities required within easy walking distance, the marina having restaurants, pubs chandlers etc are all to hand and as always once the Cruising Club is safely moored the socialising and story telling starts, often moving around the various boats and telling tales of sea going adventures.
A short trip back down the Orwell and the club will often stop at Woolverstone marina for a change of view from the excellent floating pontoons that hug the riverside overlooking the wide river and allowing lovely walks along to Pinmill and the Butt and Oyster pub and
beyond towards the sea.
So now the one that really does make you appreciate the NYA Cruising Club,
London! This is an experience that just does not get any better. The trip usually starts from Lowestoft, hugging the coast past familiar land marks suddenly for the first timer it all becomes new. Past Clacton, the Black Water estuary, Foulness Island and the long finger of Southend Pier you enter one of the most famous rivers in the world, the Thames!
Care needed to avoid the commercial shipping but again James is leading the way and communicating with the authorities by radio gaining permissions and instructions and the fleet follows line astern as it passes Tilbury before the looming Queen Elizabeth II Bridge encourages you to pass under, no air draft issues for the fleet here but it does make you appreciate how big some of the vessels that use the Thames are! Dartford passes, then Erith and as the bends in the river and increasing river traffic keeps you alert, aircraft tantalisingly close arrive at London City Airport
and next after passing Woolwich the incredible Thames Barrier is negotiated once passage has been approved through the huge metal armadillo like structures sitting in the water. Past the O2 on the south bank and now at Docklands and the Isle of Dogs and the once distant towers and offices are towering over you while to the south is the historic Greenwich, its college and the Royal Observatory, take a moment to check your chart plotter as you cross the meridian and see all the zeros! Past Limehouse and Wapping and the river hugging ancient warehouses now converted into
apartments, interspersed with old world pubs once frequented by dockers and seamen you approach the destination but are almost blinded by the most incredible Tower Bridge! It’s at that very moment that you appreciate exactly where you are and what you have achieved, it’s a seminal moment, never to be forgotten and with luck repeated time and again. The lock entrance to St Katherines Dock invites you in and once through and safely moored surrounded by the homes in converted commercial buildings, restaurants and pubs it’s time to relax and enjoy what London has to offer,
never quite getting over the fact that here you are, just a matter of yards from the Tower of London, in the heart of the capital on your own boat!
So with the East Coast and London covered the NYA team also organise at least one trip to Europe each year, Holland being particularly popular with the the Crusing Club. The options for Holland are almost infinite with the huge amount of destinations on offer, from sea ports to small inland villages, popular inland city destinations and of course Amsterdam. The Dutch have the most incredible facilities where commercial traffic is still in common use so making sure you are familiar with the rules and regulations is very important. All of which should be done in advance but its not
difficult, is well supported and suitable training is widely available in the UK so you can be prepared. As always James will lead from the front but it’s still always the skippers responsibility for his boat and crew.
The choices in Holland are vast and as it’s a long sea passage across the North Sea, the Club trip often lasts 10 days to 2 weeks which gives plenty of time to cruise the canals and rivers, stop at various locations and take in the Dutch way of life both on and off the water. From crossing the vast inland stretches of water passing wonderful old sailing boats, small dinghies and a huge variety of craft the Dutch seem to love and two hours later be mixing with the commercial and river taxi traffic in Amsterdam as a huge cruise liner approaches dwarfing everything as it get closer, it really is that varied. Spend time walking the canals of Amsterdam or choosing which cheese to buy in Edam, there is never enough time to see all Holland has to offer and with the Cruising Club its a perfect way of sharing that experience.
As any Cruising Club participant will tell you the friendships, memories, experience and confidence gained from each trip is fantastic but it’s the team behind it that makes each trip so special and memorable. James Fraser with super mechanic Mark “Speedo” Suckling, Rob “Rib Rob” Suckling on the support rib and support from Royal Yachting Association approved instructor Chris Bilson who often crews with the designated “sweeper” boat that brings up the rear of the fleet. But also behind the
scenes the rest of the NYA team who help make the trips possible.
If ever there was one person and his team that has encouraged us and so many more to head out to sea it’s James Fraser. Organised, planned, arranged moorings, providing mechanical back up, support boat and leading from the front allowing all of us to build the confidence and experience to do it by ourselves and what do they charge? Not a thing!!!
“HERE WE GO”