'Promptly at 8.30 a.m.' That was the instruction from Shirley Carr, HPB manager at Barnham Broom, who had arranged the whole thing. So there we were: six of us who had decided that a whole day out on a sailing barge off the North Norfolk coast was an experience not to be missed.
An hour or so by mini-bus saw us safely at Morston Quay, scanning the outer harbour for our distinctive masts and rigging. Greeted by Gill, we were assured that Juno was on her mooring and our ferry would shortly be with us.
And so she was, the Skipper Charlie Ward ready to hand us on board with our personal gear and some promising looking boxes containing our lunch. Emerging from the narrow inner channel, we saw Juno for the first time: smaller perhaps than some of us expected but undeniably handsome and, as we quickly discovered, thoroughly shipshape. As Charlie explained with quiet enthusiasm, Juno was recently built in his own boatyard to his specification, combining the essential qualities of a half-size sailing barge with all the convenience of modern systems and equipment. A brief conducted tour below deck confirmed that, in all respects, she was a well-built vessel.
The weather promised well, with a good breeze, and we were soon motoring out of the sheltered harbour past the seal colony, through the narrow channel in the sandbanks and out into the more lively open water beyond.
Already stimulated by the bracing sea air, we were further refreshed by the coffee that was speedily produced by Gill from below. She, it soon became apparent, performed all the duties of the crew with an efficiency and lack of fuss that was both impressive and reassuring, coupled with a friendliness, warmth and charm that could not have been surpassed.
Charlie for his part was clearly a skipper for whom Juno was his real pride and joy. As we continued to motor into the wind to save time (rather than tacking to the west), he gave us a relaxed but knowledgeable commentary on the features of the coastline as we passed. It was apparent that he really enjoyed having us as his guests, helping us to gain the greatest of pleasure from this special day. Then came the moment we had all been anticipating. Without fuss, Charlie and Gill swiftly set about unfurling and setting the sails so that, as the boat went about, we instantly ran before the wind. It was truly exhilarating.
A privileged turn at the wheel, with sun high overhead and bracing breeze in one's face, contributed to a newly weather-beaten look by the end of the day.
But more was to come. Back through the sandbank channel - well clear of the tips of a 1930s wreck that was showing as the tide ebbed - we cruised quietly to a spot just opposite the seal colony that we had passed earlier. There, Charlie set Juno ashore on a huge sandy beach.
Now a table was set up in the cockpit. The wine - red, white and rosé - appeared magically from below. As we nibbled at nuts and quenched our thirst, we reflected on the morning's experience and anticipated the lunch to come. By now it was early afternoon, breakfast a distant memory, and we were truly ready to satisfy the sea-voyage-induced appetite that had miraculously developed without any effort on our part. A tasty starter passed up through the hatch. More wine. Then below decks to make substantial inroads into the delicious buffet. Even more wine. And another trip below for a choice of deserts. A little more wine? Coffee? Contentment!
As we sat we gazed at the seals and the seals gazed at us. The tide dropped further until the water amidships was below knee-depth and we were able to climb down onto the sand and stroll far away into the distance.
As we stood by the water's edge, seals on the opposite side started to waddle and plop into the channel, gliding across to form a semi-circle, closing in for a closer look, surfacing just two or three yards away; a quick scrutiny then submerging as quickly as they had appeared. This really was communing with nature. The afternoon wore on, the sun shone, the wind dropped and it developed into a calm and beautiful evening - a tranquil end to a perfect day. Eventually we motored quietly to Juno's anchorage, sails long since neatly furled, then onto the ferry for the return trip up the channel to Morston Quay.
Looking back on Juno, we could all reflect on a truly magical experience and on the deceivingly effortless way in which Charlie and Gill had done everything they could to give us a day to remember; a day to cherish for years to come.
A grand day out indeed.