The least of all evils
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