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Jol Byerley’s Nov 06 Letter from Antigua

En route back to Antigua from England, it’s difficult not to compare our other wanderings at this time of year to places that Judy and I will always remember. The Outlaw Trail in the Rocky Mountains, the Sea of Cortez, Tahiti and the South Pacific, the extremely primitive Indians on the borders of Venezuela and Brazil, and the deserted coast of Southern Turkey.

But it’s sometimes about being back, if only briefly, in the country where one has spent one’s formative years that really means a heck of a lot to me. The Norfolk Broads are a collection of fairly small little rivers and lakes which meander through the flat but quite lovely Norfolk and Suffolk countryside on which many people hire specially-built sailing and motor yachts for pleasant and safe little trips in charge of their own vessels.

The Broads are not, as many of our American cousins believe, a group of flighty young ladies who spend half their time dancing the Charleston on the stage of the theatres usually located on the end of the piers which can be found in most Norfolk seaside towns in England. The Broads were, of course, where I learnt to sail, progressing from 12 foot National dinghies through 14 foot Merlin Rockets, International Star Boats and a whole host of other sailing vessels in between.

The rivers on the average are only about 80 feet wide, generally between five to six feet deep, and the longest navigable one is not much more than a hundred miles in length. Unsurprisingly, I have over the years, forgotten almost all about them, for it is 45 years or so since I pretended to be Joshua Slocum, and the likes of many of his almost forgotten contemporaries, exploring the long inlets of Patagonia and setting simple cunning traps for the blood thirsty tribes who crept aboard my yacht during the long hours of darkness! No one could have had a more exciting childhood for my Mother and Father had bought a cottage on the banks of the River Thurn after the Second World War from where I would begin and end my childhood voyages of discovery.

Each little cruise was of course fueled by the wonderful stories by Arthur Ransome when probably the most exciting event was getting wedged under Potter Heigham bridge on a rising tide. Now you should realize, if you didn’t already know, that the waters of these rivers and lakes never get rough and I suppose to be honest, I should say that these fearless mariners who travel along the lengths of the Bure, the Thurn, the Ant, the Yare, and the Waveny probably spend as much time in whatever local pub comes readily to hand at the end of the day, as they do actually sailing.

Anyway, Judy and I took along a little Antiguan friend, Kerryann for the trip aboard our noble vessel—this was Jimmy Claburn’s comfortable little motor cruiser Dot Com—and took off for parts unknown. Except, that is, for countless thousands of others who were taking their annual hols on the Broads. Surprisingly, nothing seems to have changed very much, with the wonderful little country villages of Norfolk. Except that there was a lot more water in the rivers and I chickened out at trying to get under the low humpbacked bridges both at Wroxham and Potter Heigham.

As far as the Broads (or lakes) as they are called, which may have been constructed many years ago when the locals excavated thousands of tons of peat for their cooking fires, well, they seemed much smaller than I remembered them and its quite beyond me how annual regattas such as Hickling and Barton could accommodate up to 150 boats all at once, racing their hearts out.

Feeling more like Christopher Colombus than usual, we were soon back on Wroxham Broad, home of the Norfolk Broads Yacht Club and ready to start our wandering by car (have any of you heard of a Citroen Picasso?) Anyway, we made our way into Scotland and across to the Western Islands. Then between eating too much of Highland specialties (such as langoustines) it was down to see my old school in the wilds of Galloway.

Not that coming back to Antigua has ever disappointed me. But you know catching the first sight of Scotland’s craggy, mist covered mountains really does take some beating.

Jol Byerley arrived in Antigua in 1957 to captain Commander Vernon Nicholson’s  schooner MOLLIHAWK. Two years later he bought the first of his many own yachts, RON OF ARGYLL. She was followed by the 73-ft Alden  gaff schooner LORD JIM. In 2004, he was awarded a G.O.M. by the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda for long service to yachting.

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