The least of all evils

Yachting Monthly - - HOMEWATERS -

be­ing 2001, but, on the ev­i­dence of our brief visit, his suc­cess has been lim­ited. We saw fish­er­men, wind farm boats and small com­mer­cial ves­sels, a mo­tor cruiser or two, but no yachts.

Irv­ing is a com­mit­ted and knowl­edge­able cruis­ing com­pan­ion with a colour­ful turn of phrase. Ber­tie and Ruth be­gan read­ing out pas­sages to make us shiver. We learned of ‘the mur­der­ous break­ing swell’ out­side Overy Staithe and the ‘ap­palling dan­gers’ of an ‘ill-con­ceived’ en­try into Wells-next-the-Sea. Our Im­ray Y9 chart was scarcely more en­cour­ag­ing. Bran­caster Har­bour, it stated firmly, ‘should only be used by those with lo­cal knowl­edge.’ We were also put off go­ing into Blak­eney Har­bour by the un­cer­tainty of dry­ing out on hard sand at low wa­ter. Wells still seemed the least of all these evils so I called the har­bour mas­ter and we mo­tored with be­gin­ner’s cau­tion along a lengthy well-marked chan­nel, past a scrupu­lously-pa­trolled hol­i­day beach and into the friendli­est, best-man­aged small har­bour we could have imag­ined. The con­trast with the bleak quay­side of Great Yarmouth could not have been greater. The vis­i­tors’ pon­toon had re­cently been dredged and ex­tended; there was wa­ter, elec­tric­ity, fuel, an at­trac­tive shower-block and har­bour staff avail­able to meet vis­it­ing yachts and of­fer as­sis­tance with moor­ing.

There’s a sense of guardian­ship at Wells. The RNLI is strong (a fac­tor for which Peter Duck would soon be grate­ful) and the har­bour mas­ter’s most re­cent re­port de­scribed the ‘ex­cru­ci­at­ing’ ten­sion ex­pe­ri­enced by har­bour staff in North Sea surge con­di­tions, ‘wait­ing for the top of the tide to peak and in that short du­ra­tion af­ter­wards, be­fore the level starts to fall, which should be min­utes but can seem a life­time.’ Such watch­ful­ness is not mis­placed. A plaque out­side the har­bour of­fice records the surge of De­cem­ber 2013 when the of­fice it­self was flooded to a depth of 1.2m (5.215m above Ordnance Da­tum New­lyn), well above the pre­vi­ous high­est tide in 1978 and sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the East Coast floods of 1953.

Ini­tially we were only in Wells for a sin­gle night be­fore con­tin­u­ing to King’s Lynn. Ac­cord­ing to Irv­ing our choice of moor­ings there would be be­tween the all-tide Boal Quay with its ‘frag­mented and silt-en­crusted quay lad­ders’ or tak­ing the ground against the South Quay where the six-me­tre rise and fall of the tide (at neaps) would ne­ces­si­tate mast­head lines and con­stant vig­i­lance. We were prop­erly grate­ful when the har­bour mas­ter in­formed us that there were now two pon­toons for vis­it­ing yachts, book­able through the bor­ough coun­cil. He also men­tioned that they’d re­cently had to change their en­tire en­try chan­nel sys­tem due to the con­stant move­ment of the sands. Such is the na­ture of The Wash. A vis­it­ing Dutch yachts­man, who was the only other oc­cu­pant of the pon­toons, made a good tale of his be­wil­der­ment as buoy af­ter buoy on his care­fully re­searched en­try plan came up on the wrong side.

The har­bour mas­ter sug­gested we an­chor near the new num­ber one buoy and wait to fol­low a cou­ple of com­mer­cial ves­sels as they were pi­loted in. This wasn’t strictly nec­es­sary as the new chan­nel – Dase­ley’s Sled – was very clearly marked but it led to one of the most mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences of our hol­i­day. We anchored off the Seal Sand and lay there qui­etly in the sun as these crea­tures’ sleek

The long, well-buoyed chan­nel into Wells-next-the-Sea runs along the beach

Wells-next-the-Sea was ex­tremely wel­com­ing to us and had re­cently ex­tended its vis­i­tors' pon­toon

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