Phil Latham Serial (1)

Gear-drop Volunteers 2014

Gear-drop Volunteers October 2014 resting after a successful bit of mast-wrangling.

I am delighted to have received a contribution to the blog and website for former Mate in Trade, Phil (Ginger) Latham. Phil got himself talked into helping out when Sea Change, in the Summer, made their heroic, 7-bridges trip up to Great Yarmouth and, even better, agreed to do us a write up. This write up is so generous and fulsome that I have decided to split it across three posts and ‘serialise’ it. I think it needs no further introduction.

Ditch Crawling

and the Cambria Effect

by Phil Latham (Part 1)

“I got pretty short notice from Richard Titchener about the planned trip to Norwich but quickly accepted his invitation. We only went there once when I was aboard in the sixties so it was going to be interesting to see the changes on the river. I arranged to leave the car at Maldon, but was then informed that we were leaving from Pin Mill! So with help from Neil Goldie I left it at Guss’s yard; found that my phone and Richard’s phone wouldn’t talk to each other so I did what any sailorman would have done and repaired to the Butt and Oyster for a pint and a sandwich: then down the hard to thumb a lift off, only to see Stretch arriving with the barge boat to pick up Mark Wakelin, ex-chief navigation officer for the Broads Authority and sponsor of the voyage. So, on board to meet the crew, youngsters Rachael and Simon, Jordan and his school mentor Neil plus the Zeberdees, black and blond, this may seem excessive, but if one Zeb is good then why not two?
In the port watch were Stretch and Tom, to starboard Richard and Hils plus one of their top- notch third hands Anna, bringing up the rear were Mark and myself (the embarked antique) making the stalwart crew for the voyage and so up anchor on the last of the ebb, but the wind died and we had to anchor on the guard as the flood came in. However, this is Cambria’s coastal passage so the wind, due no doubt, to the effect freshened and freed and she was off. We anchored south of Yarmouth Piers at the end of the afternoon, our marine genius (see last year’s report) was not available for 24 hours but the effect kicked in and the sea breeze came in light SE’ly so up anchor, light sail and gybe over to lay the piers and gybe back through Brush Bend and so gently up the harbour over the last of the ebb and land water to chuck round alongside in our designated berth, with the help of a convenient passer-by, on the first drain of flood. That seemed enough for one day so we renewed acquaintance with our old headquarters pub.
Next morning down to serious work; since I was last in Norwich they have added two swing bridges in the old port area and a low, for Cambria, fixed By-pass Bridge!! Passed by some non-marine town planner! So, to get right up we had to lower down flat. “You know”, said Richard, “the great thing about having you along this trip is that you can show us how to lower the mizzen; I’ve never done it”. Er neither had I actually, though I did have a good idea of the procedure. In the sixties it was taken out by crane for the Moll Flanders filming and ripped out by an illegally moored German coaster at Ipswich locks. Not a lot of use in the present circumstances but all went well to the Skipper’s plan and mizzen lowered with boltsprit housed across the fore deck that evening saw us recovering in the appropriate watering hole.

That night, however, serious amounts of midnight and early hours oil was burned by Mark, the Skipper and the Broads Authority on the need /or not for additional clauses in the towing contract. Luckily all was resolved with fifteen minutes to spare so that our tug, the Canonbrook,, an ex-P.L.A. dock tosher could take our rope. Apart from the crew she had the official Norwich pilot on board one Robbo of Sully fame (sully as in G.F.barge owners but more properly Sully Brothers or ‘SUBRO’ given the time that Robbo & Cyril worked there) plus his official understudy, Thalatta Cyril who had been his partner in crime for most of their respective careers. Now Robbo can hold forth on any subject under the sun, in great detail, short of the real meaning of the universe and female psychology (ask his wife), sandwiched between this pair in the wheelhouse was the highly competent skipper. Now I’m not knocking Robbo, he doesn’t beat about the bush, you get the true strength on all these subjects, there are just a lot of them!

So off we started and the Haven Bridge was no problem, but the Skipper got a severe attack of the “Kiniptions” at the Breydon Road Bridge which only opens on the thin side of half-way leaving little wriggle room between whipping the mainmast out of her or clouting the starboard pier fendering; he managed to avoid ,just, on both counts; once through the bridge we were met by a large, new Authority launch with “attitude” and a flashing blue light to proceed a few hundred yards ahead to warn any broads cruisers who hadn’t seen our towering mast over the reed beds that we were coming; we didn’t think this was necessary, but were proved wrong! We successfully negotiated the “apex” at the top of Breydon and avoided going to “Loostoft” eventually to arrive at Reedham with its famous rail bridge, which in the past has witnessed heroic feats of ship-handling and in in depth discussions between coaster skippers and sailormen on one side and railway employees on the other, including in depth discussions of family trees!

However, on this occasion all was well, the bridge already opened, with an electric sign informing us that it would remain so for a further ten minutes!! Broads authority tugs do not operate at night or over week-ends so we had to go to a lay-by a mile or so above Reedham, on approaching a port hand bend we saw a broads cruiser on our port bow who, at the last moment before passing us, went hard –a starboard into the reed beds for a third of its length, the lady conning it showing signs of distress; we continued up to our berth around a bend to starboard and were later informed by tug skipper that the lady feeling in need of a rest and recuperation had tried to moor on Reedham front but making a miss-fetch, stemmed the quay! You can’t always account for the Cambria effect but that must go down as unusual.

Meantime, it kicked in for us because our week-end lay-by was the river frontage of a PUB, called the Ferry as our bow was just short of the berth for the chain-ferry across the Yare. Faced with this dilemma – two and a half days moored alongside a pub – your stalwart crew didn’t flinch but explored the terrain, which included a friendly landlady, two barmaids, a phalanx of beer pumps and a launderette at the adjacent caravan park; work out our priorities! We set too on various jobs round the lowered gear and explored the choice of beer. We were after all occupying their river frontage for several days so “ambassing” was called for. We also received a visit from a reporter from the Eastern Daily Press who knew nothing about barges, river navigation or any other important topic so it was a pleasant surprise to read her “piece” which was largely correct.”

To be continued……

All this talk of lowering the gear makes a nice coincidence with the posting on Facebook by Maggs Casey-Kelly of pictures of the volunteers who heroically turned out over the last week to lower our gear down for the end of season, all snugged down in Faversham Creek and now able to put our poly-tunnel cover over . My pic is one such, showing the gang of volunteers resting after completing the task. Thank you Phil for the post and thank you Maggs and all those volunteers for the pic.



2 Responses to “Phil Latham Serial (1)”
  1. DAVID RYE says:

    Great to hear a first class detailed and interesting account.
    Thank you.

  2. DAVID RYE says:

    Looking for(ward) to (2) and (3)?
    So are some up in Norfolk and Suffolk Matt.

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