Working Lives

Taleweaver (1960-2022)

Location: Hoveton St John

Chris gained his commercial pilot’s licence when he was 20. After eight years as a flying instructor attached to the US Air Force, he worked for Air Anglia, based at Norwich Airport, and qualified as a helicopter pilot. He spent more than 20 years flying helicopters in Nigeria, mainly for the Pan African company, before returning to Norfolk. He then spent five years skippering passenger vessels on the Norfolk Broads for Broads Tours. Chris is a prolific author who is best known for his Jack Fellows stories, which are set on the Norfolk Broads.

Early days

I was born in Yorkshire in 1944. When I was four years old, my father’s job moved to Suffolk, and so I grew up and went to school in Leiston in Suffolk.

Thank you, Biggles!

Then, at the age of eight, my sister bought me my first Biggles book! Biggles in the Blue it was called and my imagination was absolutely caught by this character who went around the world with his mates on wonderful flying adventures. I knew from the age of eight that flying was what I wanted to do. And I started learning to fly the week after I left school at the age of 17.

Potato-picker turned professional pilot

I had O levels, but I hadn’t really done very well at school. I’d been a bit lazy. I didn’t actually have the qualifications to go into the military and learn to fly. But just down the road was Ipswich Airport. At that time Channel Airways operated an airline from there to the Channel Islands and throughout Europe, so every day there were scheduled services in and out.

They also farmed the land between the runways. In fact, the senior pilot at Ipswich Airport managed the farm as well. When he wasn’t flying a DC-3 he was on the tractor ploughing up the fields!

I got a job on the farm, and by picking potatoes all week they’d give me some flying instruction at the end of the week. I was living with my parents in Leiston, and I got into Ipswich on the bus or the train.

In a year and a quarter I got my private licence. I built up my hours, and got my commercial pilot’s licence, and then I started flying commercially. I think I was 20 when I got that, which is quite young.

Thoughts on training

Before that I’d been in the Air Training Corps. In fact, I’d learned to glide in the ATC when I was 16. So I first went solo in a glider when I was 16 years old, and then progressed on the powered aircraft at the airport. We trained in Auster aircraft in those days. Old army Austers, yes.

To a certain extent it was unusual to be getting flying instruction at the age of 17. Some trainees, of course, were cadets that came through the Air Training Corps on a scholarship.

But learning to fly wasn’t an expensive business. Actually, in those days, sixteen years after the war, the government still subsidised flying instruction. There was no fuel duty, for instance, on fuel that was used for flying training. So back in those days it was only £3 an hour for learning to fly.

I can remember the first time I went solo. I was 17. I went solo in 6 hours 35 minutes. It was wonderful. Wonderful.

First paid job: training others to fly

My first paid job was as a flying instructor, actually, at Biggin Hill. On open cockpit biplanes in those days as well. I did a flying instructor’s course at Cranfield, which is now the Cranfield University, I think, but it was the Institute of Technology in those days.

Training pilots who went to Vietnam

For eight years I was a flying instructor attached to the US Air Force, who were using civilians for training on light aircraft. That was at bases in this country. RAF Bentwaters, RAF Woodbridge, sometimes at Mildenhall, sometimes at Lakenheath, but mainly Bentwaters and Woodbridge. Everything we used was sent over from the States. Nothing was bought in this country, so everything was done through the air force.

I was 20, and I was instructing people older than me. A lot of them were starting from scratch. They were perhaps in ground jobs in the air force, and the air force thought it would be good for them to learn to fly. Also, pilots who were on ground tours keeping their currency going. They operated light aircraft for that training.

At that level, there wasn’t a major check before they started training, only just a talk. As it is in light aircraft, you would soon know whether they were going to hack it or not. There were some hairy moments in training. You have to let the student go as far as you dare let him go before you take over! So, yeah, that could be exciting.

The Vietnam War was on and some of them were training to go out there. A few I knew were killed, but others went on to other careers in aviation.

Crop dusting: flying under the telephone wires!

After I got my commercial licence I did a variety of jobs. I was a crop duster for a while, flying specialised single-seater aircraft. Aerial spraying isn’t allowed any more, but crops used to be sprayed by aircraft, top dressing and spraying of crops, in single-seater aircraft. Quite an exciting life. We used to actually go under the telephone wires to do it. I did that for one season.

I was also a charter pilot for a while, but I had no ambitions to fly big aircraft as such.

My licence allowed for all this. The air force put me through all my American licences, so I had British licences, then American licences, and eventually I had Dutch and Nigerian licences as well. Four different countries’ licences!

Working for Air Anglia, and becoming a helicopter pilot

After eight years training US pilots I went to work for Air Anglia at Norwich Airport. I’d been flying light aircraft for them on different contracts which they had, and then they got a helicopter. They put me through the helicopter course as well, which was wonderful, ’cos I’d always wanted to fly helicopters. So at Norwich Airport my primary job was flying the helicopter, and also as co-pilot on the larger aircraft there.

Filming from the skies

With the helicopter it was all ad hoc work. Filming, air taxi work, that sort of thing. I liked film work very much. You’ve got cameramen on board, and you sit down and pre-plan it all. I liked that aspect to it. Then there was a result at the end of it, and somewhere down the line a film emerged and you could actually go and see the results of the work you’d done.

We did have to cancel sometimes, due to weather or for other reasons you’d do the same take quite a few times.

Some of it was around here and, at other times, down in London. We also had a contract up in Southport for a while and on another I remember flying a group of executives all around the country visiting their installations. Yeah, great times.

Helicopters or airplanes?

Helicopters are far more sensitive to fly than a fixed-wing aircraft. You certainly need to develop a much lighter touch with helicopters. With a helicopter you’ve only got to think about what you want it to do and it virtually does it. A helicopter also is dynamically unstable, whereas an airplane you can take your hands and feet off and the thing flies itself. You take your hands off a helicopter and within seconds it’s out of control.

We started off with the Bell 47, which is a small, reciprocating engine helicopter. Then we went on the Bell 206, which is a jet engine helicopter. They could take four passengers. In a Bell 206, you could stay up about two and a half hours with a full tank. It’s not long. And if you had a full load of passengers, it would probably be less than that, ’cos you couldn’t take a full load of fuel with a full load of passengers. So it was small helicopters, and short trips.

Adventures abroad – ‘I’d still got this Biggles thing going round in my head!’

In 1979 Air Anglia was amalgamated with British Island Airways to form Air UK. The new airline was going to do away with things like the executive fleet, the helicopter and things like that, and be a purely airline operation.

I was given the choice of continuing as an airline pilot or taking my redundancy and leaving. I’d already worked out airline flying wasn’t my sort of flying. I’d still got this Biggles thing going round in my head! I wanted something with a bit more adventure!

So I took my redundancy, and joined a company called Schreiner, a Dutch company which operated about 80 aeroplanes and helicopters around the world, mostly in the Third World. They sent me down to Marseilles in the South of France to convert onto French helicopters.

Then I was sent out to Nigeria, to the Nigerian Air Force base at Port Harcourt, to operate in their helicopter operation there. Quite a change from Norwich Airport!

A life in Africa begins: ‘I loved it’

I loved Africa. Loved it. I’d always wanted to go to Africa, I’d always wanted that sort of adventure. And as soon as I got out there I realised I’d joined the sort of aviation version of the French Foreign Legion! We had 30 pilots at Port Harcourt, comprised of 22 different nationalities, so it was a real interesting group.

Our company was contracted to Elf, the French company, and to Agip, the Italian company. So we were working for Agip and Elf. We were mainly in support of oil operations in the Niger Delta, and that was our sole operation there.

Patrolling pipelines across Nigeria

We were moving people through the Niger Delta, which is all swamps, and also into jungle locations where they were drilling.

In my first year there I was put on patrolling the pipelines, in Nigeria, which involved flying the length and breadth of the country. It suited me just great, ’cos I was away from base. I realise obviously I got the job because I was the new boy. It was what nobody else wanted.

It involved being away from base for weeks at a time, sometimes six, seven hundred miles away from base. But that suited me just great. I liked being away from supervision, and doing my own thing. This was in Alouette III helicopters. French helicopters.

There weren’t airstrips, but we were patrolling the pipeline, and along the pipeline there were flow stations. At the flow stations they would keep drums of fuel, so if we needed to, we would land there.

I’d climb in the helicopter first thing in the morning at Warri, right down in the Niger Delta, lift up, over the swamps, over the jungle, up onto the savannah, up onto the Jos highlands, right up to Kano right on the edge of the Sahara Desert, and I’d do that all in one day, all at 60-foot low-level patrol. We’d be doing about 80 knots, 90 knots. ’Bout 100 miles an hour, yeah.

Chris and helicopter

Helicopter team

Three weeks on, four weeks off

Anyway, in the 42 by 42-mile operational area there we had over 300 platforms, rigs, ships, installations. We were moving people around all day, every day. It was a slick operation, and hard work.

But it was wonderful because we did that every day for three weeks, and then the end of three weeks we were sent on four weeks’ leave to anywhere in the world we wanted to go, so it was a great schedule. And a great life. Wonderful, and wonderful characters, too.

Natural disasters – and sabotage!

And looking for all sorts of things on the pipeline. Natural things like washouts, but also mainly checking they weren’t being sabotaged. The local villages along the pipeline would try and dig down to it and extract the oil, usually ending with the thing blowing up and wiping out the whole village.

Flying a £1m helicopter!

Then after a year I was put onto offshore operations at Warri, flying out into the Bight of Benin to offshore operations we had out there. Did that for a year.

Then after a year, I was still on the same operation, but we started re-equipping with new helicopters, the Aerospatiale Dauphin AS235. It was the state-of-the-art helicopter in those days. Big, much larger helicopter. Carried 14. Twin-engined. Two pilots, auto-pilot. Full instrumentation.

But the thing which impressed me most about is, it was the first aircraft I’d ever flown that cost more than £1,000,000. That really impressed me more than anything!

Changing companies: government permission needed

I was with Schreiner, the Dutch company, for three years. ACN it was called out there. We got the Dauphin, which was a lovely aircraft to fly, but like anything that’s complicated, the whole operation of it became complicated. Every take-off had to be calculated, and to me it started to become like the airline operation I’d wanted to get away from.

So after three years I got permission to change companies. Out in Nigeria at that time, if you were an ex-pat and wanted to change companies, you had to get the government permission to do so. I think it was to stop companies stealing each other’s personnel. I think the companies were the ones that actually inspired it.

Starting at Pan African

I got permission, and I moved over to Pan African, which was an American operation. Very different to ACN. I was back flying Bell 206 small helicopters, which is what I like, at a place called Escravos. This was an oil camp on the mouth of the Escravos River.

They had, I think it was ten helicopters, and we had 20 pilots comprised of 12 different nationalities, so it was the same multi-national thing. But it was a very different operation.

Early to bed, early to rise, day after day….

It was the most intensive helicopter operation in the whole world. We’d get up at 4.30 every morning. Quick breakfast, we had to be up on the flight line for 5.30, for briefings. First take-offs had to be at six o’clock. We flew all day ’til six o’clock in the evening, during which time we’d fly an average of 100 take-offs and landings a day.

Another danger: malaria

Our operational area was virtually all offshore, some of it in the swamp, but mainly offshore in the Bight of Benin, which was regarded as the unhealthiest place in the world! It was known as ‘White Man’s Grave’.

In fact, the British used to have a little doggerel: ‘Beware and take care in the Bight of Benin, ’cos only one come out for every 40 goes in’!! It wasn’t that bad when I was there, but we did all get malaria.

Writing as well as flying: Thank you again, Biggles!

As I said, I was inspired to become a pilot by the character of Biggles, when I read my first Biggles book at the age of eight. My imagination was also caught by the author, Captain WE Johns, who’d been a pilot in the First World War. And I already had this idea that I wanted to write as well.

And I thought, ‘Well, this is a wonderful way, have a wonderful career of flying and then write flying stories afterwards as an author.’

And so, right from the start, even when I started flying, I started writing articles for magazines, usually aviation magazines. My main ambition was always to write fiction, write a novel, but I felt, really, I hadn’t had the sort of life experience for that.

‘All I need is a piece of paper and a pencil’

But when I got out to Africa and started having adventures out there and lots to write about, I thought, ‘Right, this is it, I need to start writing fiction now. It’ll be a good hobby to have out there anyway. All I need is a piece of paper and a pencil.’

Getting in touch with Commando magazine

I remembered that, when I was an ATC cadet, we went on summer camps, and the thing we all enjoyed was reading these boys’ picture-script magazines, war stories for boys. There were about half a dozen different publishers that published four of these every month.

I remember the one which I always thought was the best, was Commando magazine, published by DC Thomson up in Dundee.

So I wrote to Commando magazine and said, ‘Do you take stories from freelancers?’

And they wrote back and said, ‘Yeah, we do, and if you’ve got a story, send us a synopsis. If we think it’s worth turning into a Commando, then we’ll commission you to do it.’

Writing fiction the Commando way

The story’s written out as a script, laid out two or three frames to a page, and the story has to be told in exactly 135 frames.

They had some very strict rules: the key character must be either British or British Commonwealth; it had to be Second World War; all the technical aspects of aircraft and weapons and everything had to be absolutely correct; and the enemy must never be shown as ill-disciplined or inefficient.

And although it had to be action, the basic story had to be a personality conflict between two men fighting on the same side.

Those were the rules they had. In a sense it was writing every story to order.

Write about what you know!

They always say you should write about what you know. I was flying helicopters out of the jungle at the time, so the story I sent them was about a midget submarine in the North Sea: totally illogical!!

But they wrote back and said, ‘Yeah, we like this story. Go ahead and write it.’

Which I did, and at the end they paid £135 for this story, which, back in those days, was good money.

So I started doing picture scripts for Commando magazine.

The move to full-length fiction

About the same time I moved to Pan African in 1983, I had a letter from the editor of DC Thomson saying, ‘We think you write very well. We think you ought to write a full-length book.’

I thought, ‘Right. This is what I’ve always wanted to do.’

I sat down and started writing my first full-length thriller. I’d be flying during the day, but when we stopped on a platform or a ship or whatever offshore I’d get my paper out and write a few notes.

We’d land at six o’clock, eat dinner at seven, and we had to be in bed at nine o’clock every night, to be up at 4.30 the next morning. But in that hour between dinner and going to bed, I’d type up the notes I’d done during the day, and over the course of a year the first story turned out.

First story based on fact….

It was called Bladestrike. It was about helicopter operations in this country and involved the IRA and terrorism. It was based on a true crime that had happened in Ireland in 1907. I always like my story to have some true aspects, to be based on an actual happening.

It was published in America. I was flying for the Americans, our taxes were all done through the Americans, so it was better that it was published out there. And they said, ‘How about another one?’

….the second based on fiction?

So I sat down to do my second story, which was based in West Africa and involved float plane flying. Our company operated float planes as well as helicopters.

The story featured African politics, lost Nazi gold. It was called Juju Reich because it was based around the West African cult of juju, black magic. This was quite a mysterious thing which I found intriguing, but I didn’t know much about it.

To do the research for the story I actually went into the jungle, spent a day or so with a witch doctor in a village to just see how this worked. It was absolutely enlightening. But some of our Nigerian pilots in particular were very worried about this. They said, ‘Don’t touch juju, it’ll bring you nothing but trouble.’

And how right they were, because two weeks after I finished the story….

A disaster foretold? Or just coincidence?

The story started with an aircraft flying down the West African coast. It disappears, and can’t be found. The reason it’s disappeared is, it’s crashed into a lagoon which is the domain of a juju goddess. She’s offended by the fact the aircraft has crashed there, and that’s why it can’t be found. Sounds a bit corny, but it worked well enough in the story.

Two weeks after I finished the story, a Boeing 727 coming down the West African coast completely disappeared. Our aircraft, including me with our helicopters, were looking for it for a week. Couldn’t be found.

In the end, they consulted the local juju priest, who said, ‘Ah, the reason it can’t be found is, it’s crashed into a lagoon which is the domain of a juju goddess. It’s offended her, and that’s why it can’t be found.’

They sent divers down to the lagoon and there was the aircraft at the bottom. It was pretty eerie.

An arresting end: and no more writing in Africa!

To make it worse, one of our Nigerian pilots had a brother who was a major in the secret police. He told his brother, with the result that I was arrested on charges of espionage and banged up in secret police headquarters, only for a night or so.

My company paid a lot of money and got me out. Then even more money to have the charges dropped. But not before I’d signed an undertaking that I would get to show the secret police anything else I wrote, ’cos they thought I might be able to predict things happening.

Anyway, my own company were less than pleased at having to fork out a lot of money to get me out of this. They said, ‘Crowther, get another hobby or get another job.’

That meant I couldn’t write another word for the rest of the time I was in Africa. I gave up writing.

Flying whatever the weather

There were some hairy flying moments for sure.

One of the traditions in Pan African was that you always took off, whatever the weather. In the rainy season, for instance, especially when it came in and went out, there were electrical storms, which could be quite something. If you were out at sea and you had to get back through that to get back to land again, it involved some pretty hairy flying.

The way we used to do it, because those helicopters were not fully instrumented, was to put the helicopter right on the deck as fast as we could and just punch through the rain. But some never came out the other side and we did lose helicopters, and people.

Reasons for leaving Africa: many things changed

I was out in Africa for 23 years total. Twenty years I was with Pan African. I became chief pilot of the operation in the end. I was married, but not out there and I commuted backwards and forwards.

In the last few years out there, things started changing somewhat. The civil war between tribes in Rwanda had already begun, and that spread to Nigeria. There was a lot of tribal unrest, and some of our installations would be overrun, ships would be hijacked.

The Nigerian army moved into the camp and so, not only were we flying our normal operations, but also military operations, doing assault missions with the army, to retake installations and retake ships and rigs that had been hijacked.

The whole thing was becoming pretty hairy. I didn’t mind that, that was all exciting. But by this time I’d been flying for 42 years, and for 40 of those years I absolutely lived and breathed flying, it was what I loved. But the last couple of years the magic started to go out of it.

From Nigeria to Norfolk

By 2000 I thought about finishing, but that same year my wife sadly died and I didn’t feel like coming home to an empty house, and so I thought, ‘I’m better out here with my friends and my other life.’

I was out there another couple of years, and then in 2002 I was getting married again, to Sue. And so, things changed, and I thought, ‘This is the time to finish.’

I was living in Hoveton. I moved to Norfolk when I went to Air Anglia in 1976. I’ve been here ever since. And when I stopped flying, I came straight to Hoveton.

I thought I might miss the life: flying, which I’d been doing for 42 years and flown 22,000 hours without killing myself, and also all that comradeship.

Actually, I found I missed none of it. It was a totally different world a million miles away. The only thing I did miss was having a job. I thought, ‘I’m too young to do nothing.’

Planning ahead for a life after flying

Along the way I’d got my boatmaster’s ticket, for years had been sailing my own boats on the Broads and a little bit offshore.

On my job in Africa I’d been landing on ships and, as well as my duties as ship’s helicopter pilot, spending time up on their bridges seeing how it was done and gaining a knowledge of ship handling.

So I got my boatmaster’s ticket as a meal ticket really, for if I ever needed it. And sure enough, it did when I got a job with Broads Tours, skippering the passenger boats on the river.

From air to water: skippering boats on the Broads: ‘a magical area’

The Broads Tours boats were big twin-screw vessels ranging in size from the biggest carrying 180 passengers to the two I was skippering carrying 120. We purposely didn’t fill them though as, if it was nice day, everybody wanted to be on the upper deck in the sunshine or, if it was raining, down in the saloon.

There was quite a mix of people, depending on the time of year and whether the schools were on break.

The first trips usually started at Easter with elderly passengers enjoying early season breaks in Great Yarmouth. And then of course when the schools broke up then it was more young people, and children.

We started at Wroxham for trips down the river to Salhouse and Horning taking an hour-and-a-half or two hours.

It was just a great time, going down the river showing people the Broads, and explaining this magical area. I always think the Broads has got a certain magic to it, so I tried to get that over.

Changes in wildlife: coots out, herons in

I’m not a great natural history person, but in order to be able to talk to the passengers about that I did gen up as much as I could on all the Broadland wildlife.

Certain things have changed. When I first started there were thousands of coots on the Broads. You hardly see a coot at all now. It was quite a thing on our trips if you could point a heron out to someone. Now, every day you see herons, so the herons have increased.

Otters have come back; we get otters in our own dock here. That’s something that wasn’t there when I first started. So, yeah, the wildlife does change, considerably.

Boating patterns have changed, too

Otherwise, some things haven’t changed at all, on the Broads, but other things have. The hire boats seem to have got bigger, although there are certainly a lot fewer of them. I remember when there were about 2,500 hire cruisers on the Broads. I think it’s probably about 800 now. It went down to 650 at one time. There’s certainly fewer hire cruisers, but just as many boats, though not used quite so often.

Back to writing

Us skippers wrote our own commentary to give on the trip. Just writing that commentary and telling my tales to the passengers as we went down the river, I felt the old urge to write coming back.

I said to Sue, ‘Do you know, I feel like trying to write a book again.’

Sue said, ‘Well, I think it’s a great idea, but don’t go writing about some place thousands of miles away which none of us have ever heard of! Why don’t you write something set right here on the Norfolk Broads, that someone having a holiday here on the Broads can read and identify with?’

I said, ‘Well, the only thing I think would work in that respect would be something like a murder mystery. I’ll give it a try.’

Murder mysteries: a family success

And so I sat down, and in three and a half months I’d written the first one. We decided we’d publish it ourselves, to make it more interesting. I’d write it, Sue would edit it. Sue’s daughter Sarah, who was good at art, said she’d do sketches to go in it, make it something more of a souvenir for people. And within a year we brought the first one out.

I thought, ‘Is anyone really gonna want to buy this?’

But the first week it was out it went into the local bestseller list and stayed there for seven months.

We were selling it through local shops. Not so much bookshops as giftshops and chandleries, and the sort of places someone having a holiday on the Broads would go and buy souvenirs.

A Broads detective with a twist

In the book I created the character of Jack Fellows, an ex-policeman, but now a navigation ranger on the Broads.

All the murder mysteries I read and see on television have some police detective inspector. I wanted something a bit different so I made my sleuth a navigation ranger.

I’ve met and talked to a lot of navigation rangers on the Broads, and got the idea of their job. A lot of them are ex-policemen, so, they all have experiences I could draw on and talk about.

The first Jack Fellows story was Waterproof, and since then there’ve been seven Jack Fellows stories.

‘Reading for children is so important’

I also wrote a children’s book called Timecruiser, which is set on the Broads. Because right from my first memories, getting my first Biggles book set my whole career. My whole life is thanks to reading exciting stories when I was a boy.

I think reading for children is so important. It gets their imagination going. Not like watching TV, they have to use their own imagination when they’re reading a book. And I thought something that children can read while they’re having a holiday on the Broads which will teach them something of the history of the Broads. So that’s what Timecruiser was.

A commercial success

My books have really sold well: 20,000 copies to date in just in local shops. When I say local shops, every year five to eight million people visit the Norfolk Broads, so you’ve got this large number of people, often a different population, coming in every week! It’s a good place to be selling books.

Stories based on experience, including the wherry Maud

One of my stories evolves around a wherry. For that I actually went and had a trip around a wherry. It was the Maud. They were very helpful. It’s Maud’s photograph on the front of the story as well.

In my stories it’s been mostly my experience of sailing the Broads myself. Sometimes a bit of aviation comes into it. There are some characters around that I’ve come across in Norfolk who I’ve used a little bit in my books.

I mean, the only real fiction in any book is the beginning that says, ‘These bear no relation to any person living or dead’! Everything is based on someone you knew, little traits, sometimes a combination of characters.

Sailing and writing: a fine life

I was a skipper for Broads Tours for five years. I was well into my writing by then, so after five years, went to just writing my stories in winter and sailing my own boat in summer.

I’ve sailed all sorts of boats. Sue and I had a sailing cruiser which we did a little bit of coasting up and down the coast on. Nowadays it’s all on the Broads, in our sailing boat, sailing dinghies, and also our motor cruiser.

First World War flying: a new direction for a story

I don’t write articles so much now. What I’m working on is a First World War flying story.

I’ve always had an interest in First World War flying. I started on open-cockpit biplanes. My father went right through the First World War and, at the age of 101, was one of its last survivors. So now I’m writing a First World War flying story. I felt like a bit of a break from Jack Fellows, so to do something completely different….

It makes you realise just how dangerous flying was back then. In the First World War, the average life of a pilot was just two weeks and Britain alone lost 12,000, half of them in training.

One final adventure: in a catamaran in the Andaman Sea!

Sue and I were having a cup of tea one day, and she said, ‘You’ve done all amazing these things, is there anything that you haven’t done, that you’d like to?’

I said, ‘Well, I always had this ambition to go and sail a traditional Polynesian catamaran out in the Pacific, or out in the Andaman Sea.’

Sue said, ‘Well, I challenge you! Why don’t you do it?’

I said, ‘OK, put the kettle on, we’ll have a second cup of tea.’

And by the time she’d made the second cup I’d got it all organised! I flew out to Thailand the following week and sailed a traditional Polynesian catamaran around the Andaman Sea.

The one I was on was a 26-foot Wharram catamaran. I took a local lad as pilot, ‘cos I knew nothing of the area at all. There was just one mast on that one. Mainsail and jib.

We sailed around for a week. We slept in the hulls. There’s ample room in each hull, he was in one hull, I was in the other. Beautiful conditions at sea, going from one island to the other out there. It was wonderful. Wonderful.

Which is better: flying, or sailing?

Flying was always my great love. I lived and breathed flying. I thought it was absolutely wonderful. But for relaxation, being on the water.

I haven’t flown since I finished with Pan African. When I left, I thought I would miss it. I thought I’d probably take a part-time flying job perhaps at Norwich Airport on helicopters there. But I found I didn’t miss it at all.

But I felt the need to do something. I’d been in transport all my life, in aviation, so going into water transport just, sort of, followed on, you know. In some ways there’s an overlap there. There are disciplines involved and complying with regulations and doing it right. So that was a good part-time job to have, as a run-down to my career.

Final thoughts

I only sail locally now. We had a motor-sailer and went up and down the coast a bit for a few years, but now we stick to the Broads. An hour’s pleasure is an hour’s pleasure, an hour’s sailing is an hour’s sailing.

Sometimes I still look at aircraft flying overhead and think, ‘Mmm, it’d be nice to have a go again.’

But really that’s another life now. Been there and done it!

Chris and his six Broads books


Chris Crowther (b. 1944) talking to WISEArchive in Hoveton on 16th March 2022

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