I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tideIs a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
Actually, sea sailing came later. William was anxious that I should enjoy it and thought sailing on the Broads would be a gentle introduction. We all met up in Yarmouth – there were six boats and crew. Bertie, who had planned it all, was in charge. His side kick was Cyril who was also his crew. Bertie ordained that the skippers i.e. the husbands would meet up each morning to discuss the day’s sailing and the crew i.e. the wives would be informed in due course. This was years before Women’s Lib but I have always had a Bolshie streak and the idea of the ‘men’ telling the ‘little women’ how they were going to spend each day of their holiday had me muttering. Quite loudly.
The first task was to get the flotilla safely under the bridge and out the other side. Bertie said he would go ahead and guide. All the boats would be tied to him and to each other and Cyril would bring up the rear in a small dinghy tied to one of the boats. William, who had been brought up on the Broads knew that with wind and tide this was not going to work but he couldn’t persuade Bertie, so we quietly sailed through alone, moored the boat and watched from the bridge.
As soon as Bertie started leading the flotilla it all went horribly wrong. The boats caught up with him, overtook him and swirled around, bumping and banging whilst the crew frantically threw out their fenders – designed to protect the boats from damage. Skippers screamed at their crew to rescue all the cushions now floating in the river and Yarmouth came to a halt to watch the funniest sight they’d seen for years. William tried to help by shouting instructions but couldn’t be heard over the melee. Just when we thought we couldn’t laugh any more, Cyril who resembled an older Billy Bunter seemed to be going backwards, his stolid frame dwarfing the dinghy. Sadly the rope attaching him to one of the boats had broken.
It was almost sun -set by the time everyone was on the other side of the bridge and it was decided that in future, a destination would be decided each morning and then we would all make our own way there and meet up in the evening. Sounded good to me! I was enjoying seeing William in his element. He was a natural sailor and being on a boat brought out the best in him. He worked hard to teach me about wind and tides and slowly I began to absorb it - mainly through hands on experience; getting the feel of finding the wind and learning when to come about when tacking. Tacking is when you have to zig- zag to find the wind to push you forward and it is an art to know how long to leave it before yanking the tiller over and going on the other tack. William was the most generous of sailors and there was no hogging the wheel as some men are wont to do.
I loved the Norfolk countryside with its rushes, reeds and prolific wild life; the only sounds bird song and the ripple of water as the breeze nudged us along. Occasionally we would meet a motor cruiser or gin palace. They were meant to give way to sail but the message hadn’t got through to some of the skippers, in their yachting caps and blazers, and we had some near misses. There was always lots to do; lowering the mast when we came to a bridge, cooking, tidying up, cheesing the ropes but doing chores was much more fun on a boat. When we reached the open broad we could really let rip and cut through the water like a knife, heeling right over. William encouraged me to go out alone in the little dinghy. At first I was slowly drifting in circles and then the wind caught the sail, I pulled on the rope, hand on the tiller and whoosh- we were off and I was poised between elation and terror.
William took the photo and was so pleased with it he sent it to the Daily Express MISS ZIPP competition.
“A girl steers a boat thoughtfully, as serene as the sea she sails on.”
He won five guineas. In fact we were tied up at the time. No way would I go to sea dressed like that.