My first ever Dinghy Cruise

Finally after:

Years of dreaming

Months of planning and refitting

Weeks of packing

25th December 2022, my first dinghy cruise.

Red Day 1 Hickling to Thurne Mill. Orange Day 2 on to Horning. Magenta Day 3 back to Potter. Black Day returning to Hickling. Total 26 miles

With a free Christmas I decided to trek 200 miles East to the Norfolk Broads. The logic being the East is dry and I’ve met people who raved about the sailing.

I launched at Hickling Broad where the setup was impressive. Nice little ramp with a hand winch. Two parking spaces for trailers and ample parking designated for visitors. All for £5 plus £8.90 Broads licence.

Just as l launched a local wandered by for a chat, I now had an audience as I rowed for the first time in nearly 40 years out of the narrow cut with boats moored either side. No dramas and I got into clear water an raised the main.

The wind was about twenty degrees off the nose so it was short tack, long tack to keep to channel marked with substantial piles.

Hickling Broard

Eventually the broad narrowed and became more river like but still with piles at wider parts. Each pile had a cormorant on it and I feel guilty as I passed the cormorants would plumet to the water before eventually taking flight.

I had now taken to sailing beyond the piles and not encountered any weeds. The error number one. As I tried to pass a pile to windward the topping lift caught on a pile, first stopping me then blowing down wind. So here I am firmly attached to a pile with the end of the boom off my quater. There is alarming heeling as I wheeled my knife in the general direction of the topping lift. Eventually we head up a bit, the boom centred and I managed to cut the topping lift.

I’m free and accelerate out of control into the reeds. Few tries with the boat hook just brings up a mass of stinky weed. Luckily I have a telescopic paddle to hand and reverse out and back to the sailing.

I leave Candle Dyke and turn to starboard and join the Thurne heading for Potter Heigham. This is a different river, the reeds are replaced by wooden holiday cottages. As it’s winter they don’t look their best but I’m sure they are fantastic in the summer. As we near Potter Heigham the cottages become more modern and I thrill as I see our reflection in a wall of glass as we glide past. We look good.

We arrive at Potter Heigham and I’m delighted to find a long, deserted quay for demasting. I hade only ever done this on land and I’m a bit nervous, I had a well sorted system and it all goes like clockwork. Rowing however is a different matter. With the mast to port and the port oar barely clears the water and crabs are a plenty. Between bridges my sister calls and we exchange Christmas greetings. Next the stone bridge, we didn’t hit it but my hands touched a lot of the underside. Before resetting the mast I have my flask of piping hot curry, fantastic.

Not quite as organised as I would like
Potter Heigham Bridge

The mast goes up with ease but in my haste I head off with a few tangles, sorted quickly. More cottages and I’m still mostly close hauled but it’s good sailing especially when I’m able sail a little bit freer. Eventually I’m among the reed covered banks smiling.

The phone goes and it’s now Christmas Wishes from my daughter who impressed I’m sailing and chatting, I even give her a ‘ready about lee oh’ to egg myself up. The sun is now low in the inky sky and I’m in constant search for somewhere to stop for the night. I eventually stumble across Thurne Mill and a cut with no private signs. I moor up. Wise decision number one, I’ll camp ashore.

Thurne Mill, postcard Norfolk

I sit on a nearby bench just relaxing and letting the sun set on another Christmas. After dinner I wander to the pub, Dr Google is wrong, it isn’t staying open until 8.00, firmly shut. I good read of Bernard Moitessier and I’m soon in the land of nod. When I say tent, it’s a tiny hiking tent, room for me and a small bag. By midnight I’m awake as a storm passes, wind and spray can be felt in the tent, error number 2 I had erected the tent in a very exposed place. Earplugs don’t do much for the noise and mounting anxiety, most of my kit was ashore and surely spread all over Norfolk by now, the boat is likely sunk, little more sleep.

As I woke I decided to book hotel for night two. I wasn’t sure I could get to the cheapest so spent more and set my plans for Horning

Up at seven and it was cold in the breeze but layered up only my hands feeling the cold. As I had my brew the sun rose and was amazed how quickly my hands felt relief.

Error number 3, I have completely overpacked and deciding to bring it all ashore this was not wise. Somehow between getting up and setting sail took 3 hours.

Morning Day 2 – 3 hours from Rising to Raising Sail

Once repacked I headed off in the fresh breeze and cloudless sky’s under full main and reefed jib. Pretty well on the nose again, I unfurled the jib pretty quickly and enjoyed some more champagne sailing. Past Bennet’s Abbey simply enjoying being.

Glorious as I pass St Bennys (I think he was the patron saint of woolly hat wearers)

The river was a little busier with motor cruisers today but everyone was supper cautious slipping past me with a cheerful wave. Slowly the South bank became tree lined and properties on the North bank, some very impressive with deep private cuts. The obstructions blanket the wind but I just relaxed and made adequate progress.

Soon I was in metropolis of Horning, big boatyards, waterside pubs and tidy riverside properties. In the distance I could see people stood outside at the waters edge and racing dinghies, Snowflakes Sail club Boxing Day racing.

At this point the river does a 90 degree bend and now the wind was free and fresh giving a great race course. I picked my way through the fleet, I recognised the helm of the lead boat, Yeoman, one of my Daughters Topper coaches, James. There was a good turn out in addition to the Yeomans there were Lasers, Toppers and a few other classes. Error number four. It was a bit blustery and I was having to tack a lot to avoid the racers so I furled the jib. I was now used to tacking within inches of the bank but as I tacked without the help of the jib I lost way and end pinned to the rather nice piling bank. As I did this James went past again, saw my plight and asked the club rescue to help me.

So embarrassing

Free l unfurled the jib proceeded past the race course enjoying the breeze. As I saw the last of the race boats pass the windward mark I turned and enjoyed returning, the first downwind sailing in two days.

I found my hotel with mooring and tied up. I put up the over boom tarp, first time on water, to protect my stuff, worked well. However next morning when I look it down there was more condensation on the inside than the outside

I went and had a pint, checked in and had a snooze. I wandering out for some dinner and checked on my Gull, a heron was watching over her. The luxury of film, warm bed and cooked breakfast in the morning.

The Heron guarding my Gull

The morning forecast promised a light SSW breeze backing and increasing during the day. It would be a bit of a fight to get out of Horning but then possibly some freer sailing. Another front was going over tonight so the key objective was somewhere sheltered to camp.

Well the wind didn’t quite play ball, but it light conditions that would send me ashore if racing I just kept on going in bliss for four hours. I did intermittently row, mainly just to warm up a bit. As we turned the corner onto the Thurne the wind picked up and the new direction enabled me to finish the day with a glorious down wind sleigh ride. At Potter I was supper slick lowering and raising the mast. All tied up I went for a Jacket Potato and a well deserved cider.

I set myself up to camp on the North side on the ground near the fence which should shelter me from the evening storm. I was a little worried as 3 flood wardens where wandering around the waterfront. There was apparently a high tide due, I figured it must be close to high tide so despite being less than a foot above the river I was not concerned.

It was a rough but warm night, I was dry and happy to pack away the sodden tent in the rain that was an ever present feature of my final day.

Luckily there was a cafe open at 8.30, mug of coffee, full English and rest bite from the drizzle. I even got my flask filled.

As the wind was forecast to be top end of a F4 and increasing I put reef in the main and no jib.

Reefed and rainy on the final day

The four and a half miles back to Hickling was all off wind and I was probably at hull speed most of the way, it was still raining but mild and I was snug as a bug smiling all the way.

Rapidly the end of Hickling was in sight and I tied up at the deserted sailing club and dropped the main, rowing back through the narrow cut to the slipway. The car was loaded with sodden kit and I thanked my planning, recovery night in a pub before driving home.

The final run home

Reflecting, the Gull, the Sailing, the Norfolk broads all fantastic. I had planned well, was well equipped and adjusted my plans to the changing situations. I brought far too much stuff and Christmas openings made the long dark nights a challenge. Prudentially I didn’t sleep on the boat as Norfolk is exposed and even camping was tough. All that said it was fantastic sailing and with better domestics I’d do it again, maybe not tomorrow, but next week certainly.

My practical takes,

Bit cheeky for a novice but here goes.

Clothes, was never really cold, multiple layers of polyester based long johns, fleece lined trousers and tops. Warm when wet. Best item of clothing, Seal Skin Balaclava – that little extra bit of protection in the fresh mornings.

Best bit of kit, Lomo extra long manual bilge pump, great for removing water without getting wet.

Next time, much less kit, simplifying eating with hiking ready meals. Cooking and washing up in winter with limited daylight isn’t fun.

What kept me going. Always had a flask of decaf green tea to sip on, (other hot drinks are available).


  1. Great read I am a returning sailer after many years I hope to overnight or camp much more without restless family in tow feeling like I am forcing them into my gigg


  2. Congratulations on making the trip! And in winter too. Looks beautiful and very different from our cruising grounds down here in Tasmania. Best of luck, from the Kids Afloat & me 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      • That’s so kind of you to watch! We aren’t having much of a summer this year. Literally 10 degrees c one day and 37 the next, strong winds and chop make for rare sailing days at the moment 😦
        I hope you can come and see Tassie one day! If you do there are plenty of sailing opportunities. We hope to get up to England and Europe in 2023 or 2024.


    • I was never really cold, lots of layers of polyester, thermals, fleece lined trousers, tops and windproofs. It was never below zero other with wind chill probably was one morning.


  3. all good mate. Holly is probably tougher than most of us, but then she is a Kiwi. Be down there next month for the woodenboat fest. About time.


  4. Camping in December!!!? I was blooming cold last night in April at Snow Hill! I much enjoyed your account, Mark. If you get a Heron dinghy, I’m sure a gull will guard it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Christmas night on the highest bit of Norfolk (well it felt like that) in a storm was a character building experience – my character decided a nigh in a hotel was needed. However the sailing was very special.


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