Sunday, 29 June 2014

Into the unknown

Coming into Wisbech past the beautiful North Brink
Tonight we are moored in the Port of Wisbech looking forward to – no let me correct that; nervously anticipating – our trip across The Wash to Boston tomorrow.
Nervous? You bet we are! We've already come down the Nene from Peterborough on an ebbing tide that had us fairly racing along as we steered through the sweeping curves of Wisbech. Now, as we sit here, it's whizzing back in.
Tomorrow morning, weather permitting, under the guidance of our Wash pilot Daryl Hill we will be heading out on the ebb into the Wash where we dilly dally, perhaps on a sandbank, before picking up an incoming tide for Boston. That's the theory anyway.
For the moment, though, us and our travelling companion Nb Sea Eagle look desperately out of place among the tall masted yachts and bluff trawlers that we are moored among.
It's not exactly scenic, is it
The trip down here was desperately dull until the final helter skelter ride through Wisbech. The Nene is an artificial channel (albeit a 600 year old one) that runs ruler straight for eight miles to Guyhirn, before gently bending left and then heading straight on once more.
Bird spotting provided pleasant relief from the tedium: we saw little egrets, oyster catchers, sandpipers, plovers and even a solitary seal along the way.
And then it rained. Oh boy, did it rain; absolutely slashed down and every time we said "I think it's clearing up" it rained even heavier. Only as we neared Wisbech did it finally ease.
Coming past the Wisbech yacht basin
Wisbech itself is a gorgeous gem of a place – albeit one that's a bit down on its luck at the moment. North Brink, that runs alongside the river into the town, is a stunning mixture of Georgian and Victorian houses and hidden in the centre of the town is tucked away 'The Crescent' and its surrounding streets, another Georgian mastepiece that was modelled on Bath. Everywhere you look in the centre of the town are more lovely buildings. Once it was a very wealthy town and the port was central to that wealth.
The Georgian glory of The Crescent
Today's port is still a working ares to which has been appended a modern yacht basin of floating pontoons which is part of a major regeneration project for the area – part funded by the EU, please note Mr Farage – which already includes a stylish new office block and pedestrianed frontage.
Let's hope it works – the town deserves it.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Off the Ouse

We are off the Great Ouse waterways, pretty much two months to the day after we arrived on them. And we are back on the Middle Level.
But only just!
The short tidal hop from Denver to Salter's Lode almost proved the undoing of this helmsman.  Running against the incoming tide, you have to go past the lock (whose entrance is angled back, dog-leg fashion), turn and come back in with the flow. Except I didn't - turn that is. After a couple of months of turning gently on quiet rivers my mind had switched off to tidal flows so I turned too gently and found myself heading for the far bank before I was even half way round.
After that it was mayhem, the fast running tide pulled my stern round and started pushing me relentlessly backwards the way I'd come and almost broadside to the river too. Fortunately the big Lister has plenty of power so, after a couple of false starts I managed to reverse fast enough to outrun the flow, get some steerage on and straighten up the boat - by which time I was a hundred yards past the lock.
Still, plenty of space to try again. This time I turned with full power, spun round with no trouble and aimed for the lock entry. Phew! We were in. And Paul the lockie, chuckling quietly, told me all my mistakes "but I did enjoy all the smoke rings your engine was blowing out when you were sorting it all out".
All of which doesn't auger well with the crew for our next tidal trip .... across The Wash. This was going to be from Denver to Boston but our pilot - you need one of those to steer you through the tricky sandbanks - wanted to take a second boat for safety in numbers and both he and the other boat preferred the trip from Wisbech on the Nene as being safer and less weather dependent. So we are on our way back across the Middle Level to Peterborough and then down to Wisbech where we link up with the rest of the intrepid Wash crossers at the weekend.
Next time: highlights of the Ouse waterways.