On a Broad Reach

Mar 25, 2020

It was my privilege to be invited for a jolly sailing jaunt on The Norfolk Broads, UK.

Up and away from the house by 07:30 and I’m on the water before mid-morning. Stopping en route at a Little Chef for a light Full English – a contradiction in terms, surely, if ever there was, was a must!

The October day wascloudy, and temperature around 13 deg C, although the threat of showers held off. The boat, ‘Kittiwake’, a comfortable, close-ish to nature Pegasus 700…..a winged horse! My companions – Rob (skipper/capitano), Richard (also very skipperish) and Cathy (birthday girl).

We headed out from The Weirs (bottom right of the aerial view) beating our way by saw-tooth tacking, like a dance. Two steps forward, one step back with an occasional unplanned jibe thrown in for good measure (now, if anyone has seen me dance, you’ll be building quite a picture). We travelled along the rivers to Horning, some 8km distant.  The wind was variable and sometimes limp, being masked by the trees that lined the river banks. On occasions, we shamelessly fired-up up the Mercury outboard. Well, we did want to get to our planned stop for lunch at Horning! (top left of the aerial view).

I’ve walked beside this route on a previous occasion and, as I went, wanted to be on the water – and today, here I am! I’m enjoying the pleasure of the new perspectives it offers. If I still smoked I would by now be filling my antique meerschaum pipe with aromatic Dutch tobacco and be deep in thought, inspired by the wild expanses of these Norfolk Broads.

The Broads is as unique an area as any in beautiful, natural Britain, and can be bathed in warming sunshine or battered by fierce winds howling across the North Sea, straight from the Urals.

Being here and catching sight of St Benet’s Abbey, located on the River Bure and founded back in the ninth century, reminded me of my late dear friend, artist David Poole of Norwich (1936-1995). No better person comes to my mind than him for capturing the life and emotions of this region through his paintings, skecthes and writings. I also remember being at the wedding of his daughter, Susie, also a writer and illustrator, which took place in a wonderful, romantic, Broadland, country setting not too far away from here.

 In 2010 I spent much of my working time at Ipswich NHS Trust. As I was being shown around the hospital site by their most interesting, knowledgeable and affable Facilities Manager, I started to notice a number of paintings and drawings adorning the corridors. The style of these paintings were familiar and instantly recognisable. 

“They’re by David Poole” the FM confirmed “one of the hospital’s past resident artists. People love his work. Such a lovely man, but now, sadly, dead.”

“I know,” I said “David stayed with my wife and me several years ago, when he was writing his book Cambridge Seven Hundred.”

“Come this way,” the FM continued “I’ll show you two of my favourite drawings; two beautiful, little girls. They’re located just outside one of the wards down here.”

My heart pounded a little faster. I just knew. “They’ll be his two daughters.” I said.

We arrived at the drawings and I found myself confronted with the past, although the girls depicted here were younger than when I’d first met them. I was looking at the faces of two, innocent and happy faces, their characters so lovingly and perfectly captured in a few, skillfully placed strokes. My heart was touched by the memory of our friendship with this young family. I stood there dressed as a city slicker supposedly in professional corporate mode, but with a tear or two rolling down my cheek. I felt sad at David’s passing, happy with the memories, a little protective towards his girls, proud of the artist. I was blessed through my feelings of humanity.

My thoughts were challenged as I was reminded that it is the quitessence of subject, place and emotion that an artist or photographer is trying to capture and portray. I was also reminded that expensive equipment is certainly no guarantee of success or a substitute for passion and skill. 

David Poole demonstrated something of real value with just a pencil, a piece of paper, and a few lines. The most rewarding pleasure is often gained from the most simple of things rather than from the most hi-tech and complex. Sail vs power.  It makes me think of that other David when he slew Goliath with the simplicity of a stone and sling.

It is sometimes better to use whatever is to hand, or even limiting the equipment you use. 

That reminds me of a story of a rather bored and unhappy current-day boy, who was going through a seemingly endless list all the toys, computer games and possessions he had, to his grandpa. The boy asked his grandpa if he’d had a happy childhood and what toys he used to play with. He was a little shocked when his grandpa informed him he’d had the most amazing childhood, but had only one thing to play with.

“What was that one thing?” the young boy enquired.

“The outside.” his grandpa happily replied.

Back to the present reality of The Broads and I find my mind and sight rudely assaulted by the hideous, floating, vulgar, brash artifacts of the Devil’s own craftsmen. What (below right) in the name of all that is pure, is that? OK, full declaration: our vessel is fibreglass, but it has sails and graceful lines.

Such unrefined, plastic structures (IMHO) really should not be allowed in such places as this, places to which people come in order to enjoy the peace, tranquillity and beauty of the views. I can see from the various ages of such craft the evolutionary stages of development that have taken place, clearly under the pens of myopic draughtsmen. That might seem a bit harsh, but it would seem that some designers fail to step back and really consider what it is they are creating. 

Some of these water-borne structures are the size of house extensions, so why shouldn’t they be subject to regulation, and aesthetic control. It might be nice to be onboard – peaked cap (with anchor motif) on head, feet up, gin and tonic in hand – but they form an unhappy visual relationship with their natural surroundings.

Horning is reached, and we’re moored up for lunch and cake! Happy Birthday, Cathy! And, indeed, to Rob, earlier in the week. A short-lived hint of the sun breaks through and clear blue sky can be seen on the horizon above the coastline to the southeast.

We head back and return to the mooring basin at The Weirs. At one point we first heard and then saw seven Curlews flying high across the water and away.  The Curlew, amongst others, holds a special place in the heart and experiences of many ‘outdoor’ and ‘country’ people. Their call is a remarkable, beautiful, yet, haunting sound. Literature has something to say, too.

William Butler Yeats

O Curlew, cry no more in the air,
Or only to the water in the West;
Because your crying brings to my mind
passion-dimmed eyes and long heavy hair
That was shaken out over my breast:
There is enough evil in the crying of wind.

Or Longfellow

The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town

Or an extract from Jeremy Hooker’s poem, Curlew

The curve of its cry
A sculpture
Of the long beak:
A cry carved from bone.

Burns describes “an elevation of the soul” on hearing “the loud solitary whistle of the curlew in a summer noon.”

But then, horror of horrors, when this (right) hoved into view, behind Cathy’s left shoulder!

Tell me, someone, please, what has the ‘Southern Comfort’, a fake Mississippi paddle boat – the paddles don’t even work, got to do with the Norfolk Broads? It’s just got to go! Thankfully, the ‘beast’ hung a right and disappeared from view, while more traditional, gaff-rigged sailing boats that actually grace the watery environment, sailed by to act as salve to my sore eyes.

tight For much of the way the light breeze was directly behind us, which meant we could run gull-winged, save for moments when the wind was shadowed by the trees.

A delightful day of about five hours’ sailing had rewarded us with fellowship, laughter, glowing faces. Feelings of contentment accompanied us as we headed back to Cambridge.

The Techi Bits

  • I wasn’t quite sure how stable a craft the Pegasus was going to be, so I was in two minds as to which camera to be prepared to lose! On the basis that it was a much bigger boat than the International 470 Class dinghy I once crewed (which ended up completely upside-down due to winds gusting force 6) I reckoned it to be stable! So, the Nikon D810 FX DSLR it was.
  • The 24-70mm was already on the body, but I decided also to take an ultra wide-angled zoom in order to try and get more dramatic, or more inclusive images, within the cockpit of the boat. 
  • Although cloudy, the day was quite bright. This means that with those vast expanses of sky the in-camera metering would act in a similar way as with snow, producing underexposed and silhouettey images.  I applied about +1EV to compensate. Shooting RAW also helped balance exposure in post-processing. An alternative in some instances is to use a little flash fill, or a reflector to lighten up nearby subjects e.g. people on the boat.  Honestly, carrying a flash about on a small boat is a crazy idea…..and then your reflector would be whipped away by a gust of wind! 

I hope you have enjoyed a little of this shared experience. If you have any photography requirements – weddings, corporate, headshots, portfolios, parties, gigs, blogshots, website pics, please contact me or give me a call and I’ll be more than happy to have a no-obligation chat with you.

Enjoy the gallery below.

Bon voyage! 


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