Boats heading for the outer harbour come in on a course which lines up with the window where I work. If it wasn’t for the intervening docks and the river the same course would bring them through the front door and up the stairs. If they’re heading for the river entrance – and most of them are – they approach from the north east instead before disappearing behind the warehouses on the opposite bank of the Yare. They average some 80m in length and for the most part with their steel hulls, high-tech navigation equipment and powerful diesel engines seem impervious to wind and weather.
Last week I looked up to see something very different making an approach – a wooden ketch, twin masted, with a lengthy bowsprit on a course for the river mouth under lashing sails. It was grey and overcast. A strong wind was whipping up the sea and sending waves crashing onto Scroby Sands. The ship was being flung about by the waves as it struggled towards the shelter of the harbour. It was a scene from the 19th century which had unaccountably surfaced in the 21st.
The Marine traffic website identified the vessel as the Bonawentura an elegant 16m ketch from Poland. And the Bonawentura was in trouble. She was getting closer to the shore, but was failing to make headway. I didn’t know it at the time but she’d suffered engine failure and was in the process of being driven onto the rocks that made up the enclosing arm of the Outer Harbour. Before I’d managed to work out just how much trouble she was in – I could see she wasn’t going to make the river on her current course – the Gorleston all-weather lifeboat Sarmarbeta arrived at high speed.
From here on it was a race against time. After some tricky manoeuvering the crew managed to get a line on board and with very little room to spare hauled the Bonawentura backwards away from the rocks. With the immediate danger over they managed to fix up a more orthodox tow and bring the vessel home. Andrew Wilson’s Marine Traffic photo catches her arrival off Gorleston.