I’ve wanted to sail on Blakeney’s iconic sailing barge – Juno, for many years and last week it finally happened.
The builder, owner & skipper Charlie Ward emailed me to say he was heading off for a trip offshore and would I like to join him to document the voyage. Luckily we were blessed with a beautiful morning as we arrived alongside Juno in Charlie’s tender. The mooring was released and we motor-sailed out of Blakeney harbour to the sound of terns screeching and small waves lapping at the bow. Rounding the point we saw a handful of grey seals hauled out on the sand, basking in the sun, navigated the buoys through the safe channel, and were out into the open water where preparations to hoist Juno’s five sails began.
With sails up the motor was shut off and we could enjoy the peace that sailors so love. With an easterly breeze we couldn’t easily take the planned route to Cromer pier first so we headed North to the Sheringham shoal windfarm. Gannets slunk by and terns wheeled overhead, guillemots bobbing on the water curiously observed us as we quietly passed by, this was paradise!
While the sun was still out I decided it was time to put the drone up for some aerial video & photos. Flying a drone from a moving boat is a challenge I’ve experienced a few times before but none have come as close as this to losing the drone! With a bolted-on drone handle of my own design I held the drone aloft, started the motors & took off. As predicted it was instantly a close call as the boat was moving at a good speed and I had to quickly manoeuvre the drone away from Juno. After getting the drone safely away I started shooting the video and photos, after 10-15 minutes, happy that I had shot from all angles needed, I brought the drone back to recover.
This is always very tricky on a moving boat as the drone will hover using a fix on multiple GPS satellites but the boat was still moving (and not only forwards but also pitching, rocking & rolling with the sea). I had to recruit Leanne to try to catch the unwilling drone (for the first time ever!) out of the air as I tried to bring it closer in to the boat, sails & lines presenting multiple hazards. Luckily Leanne made a bold grab for the drone handle as soon as it finally got close enough and held on tight while I shut off the screaming engines. It was a close call!
I couldn’t resist climbing the mast via the Jacob’s Ladder for some shots (and a bit of fun). With harness fitted and Charlie showing me how to use the clipping-in system I began the ascent. It was definitely more challenging than I had first thought with the ladder wobbling increasingly as I got higher up. I don’t have a problem with heights but I have to say that my legs did feel a little wobbly this time and I did my best not to think about how hard I would hit the deck if I fell off (although the harness should have stopped that happening!)
The view from the top was worth the climb and certainly seemed much higher up than when stood on deck looking up. I reached the top, swung the camera round on it’s strap and discovered that it wouldn’t switch on. Nightmare! After fiddling for a bit it seemed the battery I had just replaced wasn’t working so descended again to try & figure out the problem. Both feet back on deck again the camera suddenly started working so up I went for a second time, this time successful with the shots and footage I wanted.
As the massive wind turbines appeared out of the haze and were soon looming we were all transfixed. I’ve often stood & gazed at the wind turbines offshore from my home town of Sheringham but to be virtually underneath them was amazing. Charlie told us that the pods on the top of every turbine have two beds & food/water supplies for 7 days in case the engineers that work on them should get stranded there if the weather unexpectedly closed in. What a week that would be, stuck in the top of a turbine 12 miles out to sea in a raging gale!
The interior of Juno is stunningly finished with a number of berths, galley, two heads and a dining area. She has a stunning control centre where all of the various technologies and navigation equipment can be monitored. Despite only being finished in the year 2000, Juno is a very classic looking yacht, a half-size replica of a dutch sailing barge. Many people (myself included) are surprised to see just how well she has been fitted out with the many technological advances which wouldn’t have even been dreamt of in the days when barges like this were first used as working cargo transporters.
As the day went on the sky started to darken and before long a squall came through, the sea whipped up and a rain shower battered the portholes while myself & Leanne took shelter with the cameras below deck.
In total we were out for 10 hours and covered 35 miles, visiting both the Sheringham Shoal and Race Bank windfarms, dipping into International Waters for a part of the voyage.
It was a fantastic, unforgettable day out on the water, huge thanks go to Charlie Ward for taking us, also thanks go to the excellent crew – Toby & Tom and my able assistant Leanne – drone-catcher extraordinaire!
Below is a short film I made of the trip, some of this footage will be used in a longer film in which I aim to capture more sailing action on Juno and show how she is returned to her winter mooring on Blakeney Quay, all finished off with a voice over by Charlie himself.
Sit back & enjoy a relaxing 5 minute voyage on Juno from your own house, no seasickness pills required!