The Naiad Voyages

Mark Austen

2018.06.30 - An Unusual Trip

The weather was not good for sailing the river today, too much wind but even if it had been perfect I would not have sailed anyway since I had other plans. Those plans involved taking Naiad down to King's Lynn or more precisely, how to go about it.

Up river of the Denver Sluice is fresh water and non-tidal, down river from the sluice is salt and tidal and therein lies the problem. The tides between King's Lynn and Denver Sluice are odd in that it takes 9 hours for the ebb tide and only 3 for the flood tide and there are five bridges that I would need to negotiate.

A group of DCC members had decided to spend the weekend at King's Lynn and I asked the Chair and the Mooring Master if I could hitch a ride on their boat for a trip down river and for them to show me the route and the bridges. Accordingly I set off for Downham Market a little before 08:00 and drove to the station via Tescos for some ship supplies. I parked the car at the station and then cycled along the river bank where the footpath runs. It's only a mile this way but if I go via the roads it is just under three miles. The river bank is kept well grazed and mown, or at least the part that is owned by the farmer, the part owned by the Environment Authority is overgrown and unkempt and difficult to traverse. Fortunately I only needed to travel about 20 yards along the EA land to the pontoons below the lock at the sluice. There I met the flotilla where they were awaiting the start of the ebb tide.

We put the folding bike and stores aboard and then waited until the water started to fall and then it was off. The first bridge is just a mile away but even so, only two of the boats were low enough to be able to get under the bridge, the one upon which I was travelling was about 2" too tall. So we waited for about 10 minutes and were then able to creep under the bridge with about an inch to spare.

The ebb tide builds quite quickly even though it lasts for 9 hours and it was very quickly evident that the water level had fallen when the mud banks started appearing at the side of the river.

There was a small "book" published in 1992 with the title of "King's Lynn to Denver, a guide for river users". This was a simple sketch map of the river between Denver and King's Lynn with land marks and useful information of the river banks and, more importantly, where the shallow mudbanks lie in the river. Even though this booklet is 26 years old is is still amazingly accurate although the members of the DCC do walk the river banks at low water at the beginning of the year and make amendments to the location of the mud banks which periodically change.

Unfortunately you cannot get this booklet anymore which is a great shame. I may well ask one of the members with a copy of the booklet if they would lend it to me so that I can photocopy it for my own use. If it were still available I'd certainly buy one.

We had a very good run down to the visitor's pontoon at King's Lynn but it was quite apparent once we had all moored up that it would not be at all possible for me to sail the river in either direction. At only after three hours of ebb tide at spring tides, the current past the pontoon was much faster than I could possibly sail or paddle. That coupled with there being nowhere to safely moor for taking down and raising the mast make for a difficult journey downstream and an even more difficult one upstream with a very strong flood tide. It is normal for boats from the club to be making 10 knots through the water on the flood tide but in excess of 20 knots over the ground.

We sat and talked about it over a cup of tea and biscuits and decided that probably the best way to travel the river would be to lower the mast for the entire journey and to paddle a little where necessary to maintain steerage way and let the tide do all the work. Going upstream certainly this would work quite well. The distance to travel is just 11 nautical miles and with a flood tide reaching 10 knots at times, this would be quite a short trip. It would mean dropping the mud weight near the Sluice until the tide moderated enough to paddle over to the pontoons but that would probably not be that long. Travelling on a rising tide is fairly safe. If you run aground all you need do it to wait a while for the water to rise.

Going downstream, however, is a little more difficult. It would not be so quick but it is certain that I would still traverse the entire 11 NM is much less than 9 hours and that is the problem, how to stop at King's Lynn when the tide is still ebbing and quite fast. One suggestion was to leave some time after the ebb has started, say half tide, with the intention of arriving at the visitor's pontoon at slack water. However, this would be considerably harder to achieve due to the depth of water at half ebb tide or the lack of it.

There are some moorings buoys just under the road bridges a few hundred yards upriver from the pontoon, but trying to catch one of them whilst travelling at speed could be just a tad dangerous.

One suggestion was to buy an electric motor, something that would be the equivalent of a 2hp petrol outboard motor and use it for the ends of the trip. I'm not particularly keen on this idea, but it might be the only way to make the journey in safety. But I doubt that I'd be doing this since the cost of something suitable starts at around £1,300 and goes up!