My life, for the past few months, has been submerged in the life of Norfolk’s very own Horatio Nelson. His battles, his injuries, his affairs and his seamanship. So it was rather fitting that I was recently given the opportunity to take charge of a ship of my own.
Slightly blurry-eyed (I’d been up late listening to the Shipping Forecast), I took possession of the vessel a little after 9am. “Push the handle all the way to go forward and all the way back to reverse. Use the steering wheel just like in a car. But remember, when reversing you can only go straight. Oh and pull that handle to stop the engine. That’s it. Have a good day.”
My crew consisted of two able sea(wo)men and a First mate, none with any actual experience at sea, although the First Mate had driven a train once for a birthday present.
Nelson was a man of the people. A leader. Someone his crew looked up to and respected. This was my moment to emulate this local hero. My time to lift the spirits of my officers and lead from the front. “Off we go then,” I said hesitantly pushing the handle all the way forward. “We shail into hishtory”, I added in my best Sean Connery voice, forgetting that he was depicting a Russian submarine commander on the brink of defection. (The Hunt For Red October)
We were off. Our nautical journey aboard the good ship nameless that seats only four and has a top speed of 5mph and is referred to in the documentation as a ‘boat’. The only amenities on board are a steering wheel and a handle that makes you go forward and back. There’s also and fire extinguisher (powder) and a lifebuoy. Below deck there’s the River Yare.
I have to admit I was looking forward to the day out on the Norfolk Broads. I’d heard stories of Ice Cream Boats and frolicking otters. Not once was I told that the ‘Bridge’ on the four-seater boat was actually designed for use by Warwick Davis that and by the end of our eight-hour trip I would be contorted in such a way that I would never again struggle to put sock on while standing up.
Many years ago I drove a 2CV car. Other 2CV car drivers would wave merrily at me as we passed on the road. On the river everybody waves at everybody regardless of what they are sailing. Even people not on the river wave. The secret is to not to wave too soon. Because you are only travelling at something a little faster that walking pace, you can get into that awkward situation where you have run out of wave and have to move on to nodding or making some comment about the weather or reading out extracts from the Ancient Mariner as you drift by.
The views from the river are lovely. Kingfishers dart about, Cormorants dive and Swans play chicken by refusing to get out of the way. But one of the most welcoming sights is the riverside pub. All we need to is park up, or moor to use the correct expression. I pride myself on being a long time driver with an exceptional record when it comes to knocks and scrapes. I quickly realise that this isn’t going to help one bit.
Forgetting I can’t reverse and steer and going forward takes me away from where I want to go doesn’t help. My First Mate explains helpfully the physics behind why I can’t steer and reverse and I drive straight into the pier to prove his theory. Through a series of choice words and clever rope pulling we’re tied up and back on land. Lunch.
On the way back the weather takes a turn for the worse. The wind picks up and the grey clouds move in. Just twenty minutes from dock the heavens open and just for a moment I thought I saw an Ice Cream Boat coming out of the rain. I bet Nelson would have given his left arm for a 99.
Definitely going to do that again. Great fun. Great views and next time, all being well, great ice cream.