Wednesday, 25 November 2015

16th Century Freston Tower

When in the River Orwell, this place makes for an interesting stop off. I like the sandy beach, the trees roll down to the water's edge and of course there's that magnet of intrigue, Freston Tower, sitting up on the hill. This six story red brick folly is thought to have been built in the 16th century and one legend has it each floor was dedicated to the study of a different subject for six days of the week. I guess they went sailing on the seventh...

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Audacious Audacity

Audacity 21 - Creeksailor

Call it audacious, call it curvaceous, with the Audacity 21 sailing yacht, designed by Laurent Giles in the late 1950s, there clearly was a challenge to the normal convention in building boats. By using, at the time, what was a new-fangled material of flexible plywood coupled with modern glues, the Audacity’s softened edges were intentionally accentuated and the result being a compact ‘lady of the sea’ with the type of shapely curves to go with it. When it was first built, the Audacity 21 would certainly have looked modern, futuristic, even artistic… - hmm... I think so. Viewed from certain angles she reminds me of those Zeppelin-shaped space craft from the Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon era of science fiction movies we used to watch as kids on a Saturday morning up at the Odeon cinema. (I’m not that old, honest).
After having a little delve into the second-hand yacht market I was fascinated to learn one or two Audacity 21s are still sailing and for my money they are one of the unsung and rare classics of small, wooden boat building.
The standard rig was Bermudan sloop and I can only guess they sailed well not having sailed one but, if I’m honest, since I found and photographed one at various intervals in the progressive stages of rotting away on the saltings in the back of a lonely creek in Essex a number of years ago, I’ve become more interested in who actually built these boats.
 My memory was jogged again one wintry

day after climbing onto the seawall after taking some further photos and I set about trying to find some info on the boat. I happened to find out, by accident, that it was a firm very close to home who I already knew of and I actually knew people, who were now in their 80s, that had spent the best part of their lifetime working there!
Who built it you ask, well, the Audacity was built by Walter Lawrence & Son LTD who was a long-established building firm (Est 1871) with a large joinery works on the banks of the River Stort, in Lower Sheering, Sawbridgeworth. Now, Sawbridgeworth is a small, former maltings, town in Hertfordshire that by osmosis straddles the bordering counties of Herts and Essex. To add a little location twist; Lower Sheering is in Essex and is also seen today as being in Sawbridgeworth which is in Herts…   
  The company no longer exists and their workshops have long since been demolished and a waterside housing complex, called Lawrence Moorings, put in its place.  Like many inland towns throughout England that grew out of the banks of a waterway, the River Stort, passing through Sawbridgeworth, was the lifeblood of the town and most building materials were brought up through the river and canal system by barge. Initially these barges were towed by horse until engines were fitted and finally lorries, run on quicker and more efficient new roads, took over.
The idea that such a fine yacht should be built by a company that built houses, flats and schools needn’t cause an eye to flicker as after finishing chatting with someone who worked all their life at the yard, and then reading a copy of the company centenary celebration year book, kindly loaned to me by said worker, their history is truly astounding and therefore it is no surprise at all that Lawrence began a period of building these craft. To give you a measure of the kind of gilt-edge the company had they previously built some of the most iconic buildings in central London during the pre-WW2 years, and had their joinery works in Sheering, Sawbridgeworth - the set-up in total - a precision machine in operations manufacture - supplying all the crafted, wooden interiors for their buildings. One building I’ve awed at myself, in London, the Masonic Peace Memorial building in Great Queen street, W.C.1 built in 1927-33 is just one surprise but there are dozens of others that are equally impressive IE; Royal London Mutual Insurance Society LTD, Finsbury Square, EC2 in 1930; Tilbury Power Station in 1953; Empress State Building, SW6 in 1958, Hilldrop Estate, Islington 1958, Essex County Council offices Chelmsford in 1961. The list goes on and on. And, during the war effort their joinery works were producing wooden fuselages for the De Havilland Mosquito bomber-cum multi operations aircraft which became one of the most successful aircraft of WW2, Bailey Bridge Pontoons, and in the 50s Mosquito Vampire trainer jets.
 It was after the war when the company set up a marine division which resulted in their first luxury cabin motor cruiser being launched into the River Stort in 1957. Times would later change and with it Britain’s leisure habits and therefore the company saw enough success on this side of the business to then go on to build the Laurent Giles designed Audacity in 1959.
  If you own one of these boats and you’d like to tell us how they sail, or if you worked at the yard, comment below or get in touch. 
Special thanks: All W Lawrence images curtsy R Marshal.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Wonder

The wonder is that magic places still exist just across the way. Around the corner. Beyond the seawall. Some are blind; seeing mud a spartan, sticky gloom. A hostile landscape of salt and sea, wild marsh and lonely prairie. But those that know - they return every year; to wallow in the song of ducks. To smell the sea winds on the great flats. To wade the tide-lines with shank and tread the vast sandbanks in solitude. To witness the melody of a new dawn and smile - invigorated by all that glitters - sleeping sound at the day's magical end...

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Blood Moon & Ghosts

I was yet to see one, a ghost that is, until tonight. To catch a night tide I often have to walk the seawall in complete darkness. Well, the Blood Moon may be causing all manner of strange happenings from Heybridge all the way over to Clacton. The last time I thought I had seen a ghost was at 01.00 am a couple of years back. There was no moon to blame for it and I had to use a torchlight to avoid tripping over and stumbling into the sea. Anyways, a dark silhouette and a red flash appeared at the bottom of the club slip as I approached. This could be Black Shuck I thought, the 1000 year old dog as tall as a trestle of oysters and long as a truck. Tongue swinging side to side and as red as a port lateral light. A rough old dog with hair as coarse as straw... I called out, " is anyone there" and listened for a canine response as I quickly donned my sea-boots for the wade over the mud to the boat. Maybe a lesser man would have run the other way but ghost or not I was intent on going sailing in the morning. The silhouette grew bigger as I clip clapped a way down to the foreshore in the creek and suddenly there were three red lights... I called out again "is that a member" this time a group of blokes answered in unison - 'no mate, just avin a butchers'. Now, I'm a reasonable fellow but here was a bunch of grown men, and at this point 15 to 20 feet away and still invisible, in the middle of practically nowhere, at 01.00 hrs 'avin' a butchers! Alas, I survived three cigarette smoking strangers having a butchers but to push this story on, as my bed is calling..
Something just swept past down the mud and slid away over to Fingringhoe Marshes, heading in a Tollesbury direction. It came straight off Rat Island... A friendly warning to anyone on the coast roads or in a boat: Black Shuck could be out tonight��:-h

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Worth Ditching The Engine For?

A look on the Ordnance Survey map shows us that there are, on the East Coast, a dozen or so tidal rivers that indent the coast from North Foreland in the south up to Orfordness in the north, where inside can be found hundreds of smaller creeks just waiting to be explored.

  I have slowly been making headway to all of the above mentioned places single-handed in my 16 foot cruiser Shoal Waters during the last two and a half years since I chose to cruise engineless. The associated niggles that go with running an engine such as servicing, obtaining petrol, storing the stuff on board, reliability problems: I could go on and on. They all disappeared in a flash the moment I decided to cruise engineless. This is a whole new concept for the majority of cruising sailors, who use engines as a matter of course, that is in fact an ancient one as our ancestors got around quite admirably for centuries using wind and tide alone to transport commercial cargo, and in the Thames Estuary the practice was carried on right up until 1970 by Bob Roberts, who skippered Cambria, the last sailing barge to trade commercially under sail.
  You might even find yourself scratching your head looking for engine problems because it takes a while to get used to the novelty of not having any? And, although I felt quite naked initially, I quickly adjusted to a slightly different mind-set, where instead of being one step ahead I was now thinking two or three. Charles Stock liked to use the phrase “low animal cunning” to describe what is needed to cruise successfully in an engineless yacht and I was amazed at how quickly I had adopted some of these attributes. 
  I have learnt that sailing single-handed and pure has to be one of the best feelings in the world. Just as a boxer in a ring would do as blows come his way, I bobbed and weaved as weather conditions were dealt to me. That stiff nor-easter was like an overhand right that I ducked and yielded to, and went with its flow. On one particular occasion I had done so when a break in the weather allowed the 33NM mile passage up the inshore coast to explore the forgotten wharf in Johnny All Alone Creek in the River Stour. (You can read about this passage in my book Sea-Country). And on leaving a day later I dodged ships in the river and Harwich Harbour while heading out and scraped over the Deben Bar to get up to Woodbridge. I left on the same tide and went boldly offshore to skirt the Cork Sand and then scarpered back down the coast on a glorious run passed Walton and Clacton. I was feeling on top of the world and began thinking how wide Shoal Waters wings had again spread around her cruising ground in the manner she was accustomed to. 
  However, I would also learn that, depending on what your expectations are, engineless cruising has as many down sides as up. I then crossed the Colne Bar and could just see the mouth of the Blackwater opening up ahead, when with half hour to go before high tide and suddenly mother nature swung a below the belt blow and the north-westerly was cancelled out by the sea-breeze coming from the south-east. Maybe if I hadn’t gone out to the Cork I would have been safely inside the mouth of the Blackwater by now and would have anchored by the Mersea shore as planned to await the following tide upriver?
   The next hour sat in the doldrums would feel as desperate as a set of fingernails scraping on a chalkboard. High tide came and went.  I had begun a hopeless drift further out to sea. I passed the North -West Knoll going the wrong way. I was in deep water in more ways than one. And then the flashbacks began of sweetly popping two strokes coming to the rescue – if only…   In all truth these were the exact type of situations I wanted to face alone. This was my chain of thought at the time anyhow, as perhaps only then would I emerge from the sea-forge a diversified sailor. 
   I remained calm and was about to sling the hook over when after what seemed like hours the north-westerly came back in with vengeance and all hell broke loose as sails flogged wildly until I gripped the sheets, reigning them in until taught-rigid and Shoal Waters shot off like a cruise missile. My heart raced as thrillingly I blazed over the ebb into the Blackwater in a 10NM mile trail along the slack margins, and into the shallower northern route of Thirslet Creek, in a record time of three and a half hours when I could go no further and had become stuck-fast in mud teasingly in the lower end of my home creek. Alas, I completed the trip by coming in on the evenings tide around midnight.   Not every trip ends with a white knuckle ride of course but to practice the art of sailing a small boat around the Thames Estuary under the whims of the tide and fickleness of the four winds does require certain strength of character and resolve. 
  There is an aspect of small boat cruising that is likely to appeal to every normal sailor on inland and coastal waters. From my experience, the past time presents an endless mix for exploratory cruising where a spice of uncertainty adds enormously to the pleasure, gratification and satisfaction of undertaking a passage from A to B in an engineless yacht. Good sailing, Tony Smith

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Clouds in Whitaker

Cumulus Mediocris - also known as 'cloud streets' (when arranged by the wind like this) captured while sailing down the Whitaker Channel

Cumulus Mediocris - 'cloud streets' captured while in the Whitaker Channel

Monday, 27 July 2015

Smell The Cotton - East Coaster Clothing: Traditional Fisherman Type Smocks

At the last count I had six different sailing smocks and so have pulled out two of the better conditioned for a closer look. As I look around I see every conceivable form of dress is worn on board a sailing boat today, but throughout the last 40 or so years of technological advancement in waterproof and wicking clothing, with all the big name brands that spend huge sums of money on advertising in the monthly mags, there are those sailors, boating types and people in general who withhold an affinity with nautical things of old and still favor a simple piece of cotton that is the traditional fisherman type smock.
This simple smock remains a staple garment of choice for fishermen and boating enthusiasts, artists and manual workers and evolved from fishermen around our coast hundreds of years ago who would have a heavy duty work over garment, often made using the same canvas material as the sails on his fishing smack (boat).
Both smocks appearing in this review  retail at around £25.00 and are made in England, and are, respectively, the Yarmo smock (Breton red) and The Smock Shop smock (Navy blue).
The Yarmo smock material in this review and pictures is 100% Sailcloth. Yarmo, are based in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk and sell a large selection of sailing and fishing wear as well as work-wear.
The Smock Shop smock in this review and pictures is made from 100% drill cotton. The Smock Shop in Penzance, Cornwall sells a comprehensive range of traditional and contemporary smocks.
Traditional sailing wear - smocks
The style of both smocks is V-Neck and both have a 4 inch collar which can fold down or up to suit your mood or the weather. Both of the materials are hard wearing and tough and withstand, quite remarkably, the abuse they can get in the everyday working aboard my small cruiser and yet retain enough softness so is comfortable to wear over a t shirt and against bare skin. The seam stitching is close knit and straight with both smocks having reinforced stitching on the tops of pockets.
The Yarmo smock has a 1.5” easing in the lower sides whereas the Smock Shop smock has not. In use, while beating or close hauled, the V-Neck can feel open and a little exposed without a neckerchief on and after one chilly northerly passage I fitted a teak toggle button to the Breton red Yarmo smock, while sat at anchor awaiting a tide, to give the option of closing it. I also just happen to like adapting things like this but it would be no problem to slip a scarf round for a time if you felt it is needed.  
Both garments are made of a one piece front, back and sleeve panels with collar and pockets sewn on and are, if laid flat, T shape.  What I have found with my smocks in general is the reinforced stitching is so thorough at the pocket tops that if you do get them caught in anything the tendency is a to rip a small hole in the main garment cloth as opposed pulling undone the stitching.
Breton red sailcloth Yarmo smock
Navy blue Smock Shop drill cotton smock
Both smocks have two front pockets; the Yarmo, 7” wide x 6” inch deep. Smock Shop, 7” wide x 7” deep therefore are roomy and come in very handy for small tools like pliers, a torch or a knife, food and nibbles even, while working around the boat. I find the pockets so handy in fact that it’s hard not to overfill them and end up with a swinging weight around your mid-section.  For the maintenance season, and doing any painting, smocks make a great overall and the big pockets are useful for spare brushes. For sailing I wear a round neck smock as well that traditionally has no pockets and you might find this is better for working around the boat in confined spaces and doing any type of wood- work as there is nowhere for any wood shavings to collect and nothing to get caught on any part of the boat such as a cleat or bungee hook.
Sizes: Smocks are an over garment so are meant to be roomy therefore be realistic when considering the size you choose. If you are around 6 feet tall and average build a Size Large will suffice to wear as a shirt would be worn however when the weather turns chilly and you put a woolly jumper on under it, when hoisting sail or shipping 10 fathoms of anchor chain, you could do without any restriction in shoulder and arm movements and Size Extra Large would perhaps do you a better service.
V-Neck collar detail Smock Shop
V-Neck collar detail Yarmo (custom)
Durability: Cotton is an abundant, comfortable and natural material which is why almost every other person wears a pair of jeans today, but ‘natural’ fiber may not be best suited for every type of sailing environment. If you’re ocean sailing in storms or blasting round the cans for a couple of hours and getting wet sodden, cotton quickly becomes very cold and heavy so if you intend to sail a dinghy in a Force 4 or 5 wind over tide situation, or rain, in a cotton smock this something to be aware of when choosing to buy this type of garment. But then I rather think if you were engaged in the former you wouldn’t be looking for one of these to do it in and, like me, if you do not intend on getting wet when you go sailing you will have another waterproof over layer to hand.
As far as wear goes a smock becomes similar to a favorite pair of denim jeans. They fade in colour and can last for years. If you have a few in rotation they will last indefinitely.  A smock can also become like an old friend that has seen adventure with you, the good passages and the bad, and in this respect it can become a part of you…

Custom toggle
Pocket detail
If you are unlucky to be holed through your beloved smock, being a natural material, this can easily be stitched up or, as I have done on one of my smocks, I have used one of the pockets as donor cloth to patch over a tear that happened getting off the boat one night sliding over a cleat in darkness with my heavy backpack on.
Aesthetics: Well, that’s a very personal thing to each and every one of us but, personally speaking, a smock has a timeless look about it and an old boat coupled with a skipper in an old smock will, perhaps, always have a certain old England charm that continues to appeal. If, or when you slip one overhead, and ‘smell the cotton’, take a moment’s thought before you set about the deck, for wearing your fisherman’s smock you are partaking in a sea-faring tradition that has carried on for centuries. Tony
Side relief in Yarmo smock
Pocket detail

No relief in Smock Shop smock

Monday, 13 July 2015

Voices in the Sands - Part Two

The next morning I took the last of the flood-tide into Old Leigh. The sun was beating down and the skies were blue - a belter of a day! I found a gap in-between a  fishing boat to beach Shoal Waters and watched as the cockle boats came alongside to shed the mornings catch, and helpers were going about their business loading 1- ton bags onto an articulated lorry sat on Bell Wharf.
I came ashore to refill the cans with fresh drinking water at the tap on the wharf and then met the owner of a Paglesham-built barge-yacht. We had a yarn about boats and he told me of his extensive world cruising he had undertaken in the past. I hung on to his tales as I’ve no experience of sailing around the world. My circumnavigations amount to the tiny mud-islands abound in my very own low, muddy world that is sea-country. Consequently, I was intrigued to learn how most of those who say they are ‘sailing’ around the world are in fact 'motor-sailing' around the world. This was food for thought and did smear the spume over my romantic, imaginary view of world cruising under sail. I may never think of a 'sailing' circumnavigator in the same way…
Old Leigh with cockle boats unloading
 My experience at engine-less cruising has taught me many things. The main points being one has to be truly reactionary, resourceful and have a respect for Nature. I guess in a way I’ve been fortunate in that the skills I already possessed from decades of martial training are naturally applied in everyday life, and that goes for applying them in the micro-cruising context as well. The Japanese have a term called ‘Mushin’ meaning ‘no mind’.  Historically speaking, in Budo, this means to be trained to such an extent that one can react to whatever comes at him or her without thinking. Today's Mushin is applied as much on the boardroom table as it is the Dojo.
To give an example of this we can take a look at the combat arts of Judo and Brazillian Jiu-jitsu. These are very similar wrestling styles with a little more emphasis placed on one area of hand to hand combat phases. Basic techniques in attack and defense can be learned, quite quickly for some individuals, with a compliant opponent, but to then be able to apply them on an non-compliant opponent in a smooth way takes years of randori or ‘sparring’(free practice). This practice of free sparring is where skills are learned and honed and where one can eventually arrive at this state of 'no mind'.
In a cruising context our ‘techniques’ are the basics of how we sail a boat, how we navigate, our choice of weather, sea-state, time and tides, etc. Our mind has to decide on the countless equations that go toward a scenario. Our arena is the open coast where all those techniques must be applied during our bouts of ‘sparring’ with Mother Nature. It’s fair to say that in both Judo/Jiu Jitsu, and Cruising, many just starting out apply the basics in cumbersome, even hazardous ways, and often pay the penalty by painful defeat, to those on the Judo mat, or by sailors running aground unintentionally for instance and being caught out in bad weather, etc. Mistakes are not all bad though, as that is how we learn things. The important point at the early stages of learning is where you make the mistakes - (it is pretty safe in the classroom or local creek).

In Judo it has been said that it takes 1000 hours of practice of one particular throw to have learned it. Now, there are 67 throws and hundreds of variations of these as well. Add to this the dozens of ground techniques and we can see that to truly master Judo will in fact take a life-time and more. In Cruising there must be a comparative in hours spent on the water doing what we do to be able to say we have learned it. I don't know what these figures are or if there are any as I can only gauge from my own learning which is that indeed, it takes thousands of hours spread over a number of years to truly assimilate this type of knowledge based skill-set.
Sailing courses take up 40 hours or there about, spread intensively over 5 days. Or, there are the two weekend options. Courses for Judo vary in hours of attendance but are usually just an introduction to further classes that can be taken, almost daily, and it takes a couple of years of commitment to reach a standard with a high level of knowledge and skill.  It would be foolish to think we had mastered Judo in two years though, just as it is with navigation for instance if we had just completed a day skipper course in 40 hours - especially if we are coming into cruising as complete beginners. As individuals, to absorb the foundation knowledge required may be one thing but to competently implement it in the scenarios intended could take an infinite amount of time - something that is confounded if we only pop out on the top-of-a-tide once a fortnight.

Creek-sailing is not something to be rushed. It is sea-rambling in its most pleasant form. However if we were to shoot a 'ball-park', and say that in measured time learning one creek takes three or four days of sailing up and down its length, studying it at low water as well, then there are thousands more on the Thames Estuary... How long would it take to truly learn the area? We can read all the books in the world while sat at home but the knowledge they contain will only help us if we are putting in the hours out on the water as well. Only then can we develop and get to a stage where we don’t need to look at that book, for you simply know - 'no mind'…
For cruising, and the application of our hard earned skills, there happens to be one fundamental difference though, and that is being alone and in the real world where there are no rules and no-one to watch over you. An era in judgement here can be a matter of life and death…
The snug beauty of 'sailing small' - ashore for fresh drinking water at Bell Wharf

I think I could safely say that the late CS had arrived nearer than most could ever hope to the mastery stage of traditional, single-handed, engine-less cruising in and around the Thames Estuary. This was evident in the boat and when he left me his old, out of date, chart of the Estuary, a compass, a pair of dividers and a sounding cane. ‘There you go son, you don’t need anything else’… Well, it has taken me a while, and I’m by no means anywhere near knowledgeable on the greater estuary, and at sea I use some modern gadgets at times, but even so, I can see where Chas was coming from. He, and ‘we’ meaning us – you and I, really don’t need this modern garb that we are bombarded with constantly. If you can see where you’re going you can feel it too. What a fantastic place to be in your chosen field (sea in our case)...

Planning a passage over the sands, all part of 'learning the Thames Estuary'
Anyways, shall we move on. When I left Leigh just after high-water, at 0730 hrs, I sailed out to the tall ships that had gathered throughout the night, off Southend pier, and had some fantastic sailing among them. For a while it was like the clock had been turned back and I was sailing in Victorian England. Someone was flying a camera drone off one tall ship and then, suddenly, Pelican of London appeared from the sea-mist on the eastern horizon and glided majestically by. Her course was set for London. I sailed around her, excitedly dipping in the swells of a luminescent green sea. I skirted Tenacious and the others for a few hours and then headed inshore to the sheltered waters of Thorpe Bay and dried out for the rest of the day. I walked ashore at 1300 hrs and had a lovely meal in the yacht club. When I was leaving I got a lift from the commodore round to the shops and stocked up on milk and bread.

Ultimate Sea-Rambling - Living A Dream... 
 Back on board I watched the sea crawl over the sand and felt the bubbles of the young flood rush around the hull of Shoal Waters. I had a good look over the charts and hummed and ahhed at what the tides would be doing next. I sat out the tide until it was time to move on again and then got dressed for sailing and set the mains'l.
All the passage planning I had done at Thorpe Bay was somewhere in my subconscious as I wandered out to sea during the last of the afternoon tide, reaching in a perfect, upright manner.