Monday, 23 February 2015

Winkler's Tales

Available now. Click the link on the sidebar image to get your copy.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

All Quiet on the Oyster Layings

In 2014 there was a noticeable decrease in activity of local fishing vessels. The River Blackwater, usually buzzing with small oyster dredgers combing up and down the oyster beds, had an eerie lack of fishing boat movements. I launched Shoal Waters later than usual last year because we were up in Norfolk for five weeks but I noticed the silence in my local creek as soon as we were back. All was confirmed by the lack of dredgers passed when sailing downriver. After making enquiries with the Kent and Essex fisheries found the fishery had been temporarily closed from May 31st 2014 until 31st May 2015, to allow the Native Oyster stocks to replenish.   The total area under closure, north to south, is from Clacton down to Foulness Point. Let’s hope the stock has been growing and the Oystermen have been able to get by, be it in other ways or sailing further afield to work their dredge. Every now and again when cruising around the coast I’ve been lucky enough to witness a very ancient method of Sien netting. This happened again last year on a warm summer’s day while waiting the tide below Bradwell.  A chap set a shallow, but very long, net in an arc from the shoreline downriver and, in his small skiff, shot the net out into the river and then let it pay out back upriver  four or five hundred yards before working his skiff to the shore. He then stood on the sandflats for half an hour, roughly the last of the ebb-tide, before hopping back into his skiff. At once he set about retrieving the top end and began hauling. Each few pulls on the net, feeding from his outstretched right hand to the left hand, his skiff would move downriver and a large fish would appear flapping. These would be placed on the gunnel and put to sleep club fashion. He repeated this in a timely and well-practiced rhythm until all the net and at least a couple of dozen large fish was on board. This type of fishing is centuries old and is lovely to see the traditions carried on but the finale is not for the squeamish.

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Where Adventure Waits

Where Adventure Waits

Friday, 16 January 2015

CSCL Globe

I sail a 'small-un' but I'm a fan of a 'big-un' as well. Therefore, I took a trip along to Harwich to join the scores of people who turned out to see the arrival of the worlds largest cargo ship, called CSCL Globe, when it arrived on the East Coast last week. She weighs in at 187000 tons and was built in South Korea and four tugs, who themselves are as tall as a three story house, were dwarfed by her size, biffed the huge beast of the seven seas into a specially built deep water berth at Felixtowe Docks.
She's longer than The Shard in London and could lay out four full size football pitches on her deck. Crew members who would happen to be into track and field events, could keep timings pin-sharp running her overall length of 400 meters...
This occasion, along with the arrival in the Thames last year of Edith Maersk, the largest ship ever to enter the Thames, at London Gateway, and at the time herself the second largest container ship, have marked a momentus time for big ship happenings in our area. And lets not forget the ongoing Wallasea project and the Tall Ships event last year, and to be nit-picky, even on this very same day dock-lines were slipping over bollards, sitting further up the quay was a cargo ship a mere 1 meter in length shorter than CSCL Globe! However, these records are short lived as there is already a bigger ship near completion and ready to set sail on the world's oceans. I'd rather my 16 footer any-day... Good Sailing

Monday, 5 January 2015

Creeksailor FB Page up and running

FB users, remember to start the year by taking a look and following our new Creeksailor Facebook Page. To follow and not miss a thing simply click the Like button on the page which is here creeksailor/fb timeline. 1.23 billion users are engaging in communication there on a daily basis and the site is not geared for anonymous users, therefore if you are thinking of joining, and to have the best experience, open an account in your own name. The picture below was posted to our page yesterday. Here's the Creeksailor page link again creeksailor/fb timeline
A pigeon hops aboard for a breather

Monday, 29 December 2014

Huffler Inspired Gaff Cutter Conversion

This sailing rig conversion was inspired by the pocket cruising antics, undertaken and written about in 'Ready About On The River Blackwater', of my former 16' Shipmate Huffler, a standard Shipmate Senior cabin cruisier and trailer-sailor with Bermudan rig that I converted to gaff cutter. This conversion was done professionally at Dave Patients yard in Fullbridge, Maldon, I spoke about it here Going Gaff, and I had the chance to see her under way and take this picture on the River Blackwater when she joined one of our Small Boat Sailors gatherings in 2013.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Collectable Book Up For Grabs

 One very collectable hardback copy of Ready About On The River Blackwater is up for grabs. The cover boards of these two books are without dust jackets or markings and are hand finished in sea-blue cloth and were produced to mark the release of mono edition of this popular book. There are only two, which makes these hardbound copies rare as hens teeth. One will stay in my possession, the other goes to the 1st person to contact me saying they will donate £25.00 to the RNLI at West Mersea. UK only and postage is free. Here's the RNLI Donate page 
This book is now sold. #SOLD in 14 minutes #SOLD in 14 minutes #SOLD in 14 minutes

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Then & Now

THEN - A timeless boatyard scene in sea-country
NOW - Image of the past, today...

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Like Our New Creeksailor FB Page

For those readers on Facebook please visit our new Facebook page where I'll be posting pictures, links to this blog and news of our creek-sailing, rambling, boat maintenance and various salt related bits and pieces. To follow us and not miss a thing and to show us your support make sure to click the page Like button.
Here's the link to our FB page homepage Enjoy your cruising, Tony

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Tuesday, 2 December 2014


An educational read for all those who sail the east coast and think they've been everywhere - you haven't. Highly enjoyable. Don Ramsay -  Sea-Change Sailing Trust

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Transit Creek - A Mud Bolt-Hole

If you sail on an estuary where half the water disappears at half-tide all is not lost as for the small boat with shallow draft there is still plenty of opportunity for adventure.
Transit Creek - A Mud Bolt-Hole   by Tony Smith    
Of all the tranquil and quiet creeks, out of the hundreds to choose from in the Thames Estuary, with all their various attractions, there is one creek that comes close to being the ultimate bolt-hole for that ‘away from the maddening crowd’ moment and it happens to be right on my own doorstep, inside that most Viking of briny waters the River Blackwater and goes by the name Transit Creek. This small half-to-low-tide waterway can be found south-eastward of Thirslet Spit and takes its name from two metal transit markers sited at its mouth that strike a line across the river and mark a local fishing boundary.  This mud-stream also happens to be sited just a few miles downriver of my own home creek, Goldhanger, and could well have been carved out by the metal swords of those Viking raiders who it is thought first came to our shores at Lindisfarne in the 8th century to pillage and plunder, and by the 9th century had made their way south, to East Anglia, before collecting the first ever payment of Danegeld in England after the Battle of Maldon in 991, and in the bargain pledged the River Blackwater with island names Osea and Northey. Both of these islands in the Blackwater are peaceful sanctuaries today offering opportunities for relaxed, small boat cruising among the sparkiling waters that surround them at high-tide but their names are clues of a more turbulent past.
Mud- Sailing
The time was three hours after high water and the sun shone brightly over the great levels that uncover in St Lawrence Bay, home to hundreds of screeching gulls, and which had become a waste where the sun’s heat rises to burn at its fiercest in the entire river. Cracks appear in the mud within hours and heat radiates from what, by then, has become vast brown mud-ovens. Of all the creeks I like to frequent, Transit Creek is certainly the muddiest, the most trench-like and void of anything human. Only dunlin, shank and similar waders land here, as the tide ebbs to feed on crustations, when the sea-bed comes alive with the harmonies of salt water gurgling and dribbling from holes; surface bubbles bursting, all fluxed together in an orchestral mix of bird-cackle, salt, mud, wind and tide.
Shoal Waters rattled and shook whilst anchored in the main river, at the mouth of the creek, as a turbulent tide ran its course past us flowing forcefully from the mudflats and gut ways that were uncovering beside us and to the south. The 20 foot of chain and her 17lb fisherman anchor were buried beneath the soft mud that lay at the bottom of the five feet of water we floated in. As I climbed forward to haul up the anchor an easterly wind whipped its way through the rigging, and short chop slapped at the boat. As soon as the anchor was set free she stirred.
  I had bided the time well for the right moment to make our move into the muddy pasture, and as I rolled out the Jib and staysail she began to glide toward the flickering, silver mud. We slipped into the creek and were soon passing between the glistening banks on either side with ease. As we crept further inward I noticed the heads of every seabird within half a mile had turned toward us. Their eyes pierced us with their startled but guarded gaze. Oyster catchers hopped around in circles, agitated, and crying out loud ‘kuweeet’ ‘kuweeet’, while others took off screaming.
How I enjoyed coming into this small creek. It was so near to home and yet being so wild had the ability to take you far away… It is a mini adventure, too, as you never know how far you will make it in before coming trapped by its ooze. I sailed as far as was possible, rounding west, before a slight turn east had us in irons and Shoal Waters stopped dead. Her heavy ballast and cabin full of cruising gear, combined with the headwind, made her stone-like. Slowly she crabbed sideways before settling on to the lee bank. I furled the headsails and worked the muddy quarters with the quant pole for the next half an hour of close-quarter attrition to gain further ground.
The creek then rounded south again and I could roll out the staysail for a few moments of ‘lift’ and she clawed her way over more easier ground. The depth had by now vanished to a mere 18 inches which negated using any centreplate to get a bite in order that we could sail in a mostly forward direction. To add to our challenge the creek had narrowed from 50 feet to around 10 feet wide and the wind carried on pounding away at us from the east, until we were overwhelmed by it and bullied against the slippery ooze of the lee bank again.
Hidden in the depths of a peaceful, muddy world
A further wrestle with the long quant pole ensued. The 1.5 inch diameter pole flexed like a longbow and sprung us forward with every downward thrust I made. It’s time like these when one is thankful for undertaking a thorough repair job on it after It snapped in two while being used for poling out our cruising chute the year before at an Old Gaffers do. That is two major repairs the trusty pole has undergone in its lifetime and the epoxy and glass tape binding were holding up well again just when I needed them to.
It was 2hrs before high-water and Shoal Waters had cemented herself between the close banks where we succumbed to the defences of one of deepest burrows of carved mud the River Blackwater holds.
Largely, there is nothing of the shoreline visible while buried below the cover of mud and your boat is unreachable and invisible, to other vessels on the main river, other than her mast poking above the mudflats. Interestingly, all that can be seen from the depths of this creek is the top half of a row of popular trees, on rising land to the south-west. Through a hazy heat they resemble an imaginary army of shields held upright in defence of an impending Viking raid. For the next few hours, until it’s time to make our withdrawal, the pressures of everyday life fall away to a trickle with the flowing tide and what is left, for me, is imaginary Vikings, cloying mud, blue skies and birdsong.

Enjoy your creek-sailing, Tony

By purchasing any of my three books you are assured plenty of shoal-draft adventure but to read more of the dozens of named creeks I have explored inside the River Blackwater purchase a copy of the new mono edition of my book 'Ready About on The River Blackwater' - Exploring The Creeks And Ditches in a Small Boat. Here's the link Purchase Ready About On The River Blackwater

Sunday, 2 November 2014

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 put a crack in my romantic, imaginary view of world cruising under sail. I will never think of a 'sailing' circumnavigator in the same way…
Old Leigh with cockle boats unloading. We squeezed in round the bow of the dark blue boat
My experience at engineless 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. 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 at the mastery stage of 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. Someone was flying a camera drone off one tall ship and then, suddenly, Pelican of London appeared from the sea-mist on the 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...
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.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Creek Walk

Everyone who holds an interest in the coast is invited to come along to the first of my post sailing season winter walks. This walk, which will be set at a gentler pace with the emphasis on what can be seen as opposed to a  physical exercise, will have plenty of stops and begin from Fish Street, Goldhanger where we take to the seawall of the Blackwater estuary and make our way along the estuary path in a westerly direction to Wilkins Creek, before making our way back. Along the way you can expect to see, among other items of interest, a Thames sailing barge hulk, ancient ruins from the Neolithic period and a Red Hill; stunning views of marshland Essex, its coastal flora and fauna, mudflats, shingle and sand. Sea-winds and wild birds such as overwintering brent geese, which are usually in residence this time of year, will hopefully be our soundtrack. The aim is to finish with refreshments in the Chequers by lunchtime.

The seawall at Goldhanger

Time: 09.30 (start)
Day:  Saturday 1st November 2014
Place: Blackwater estuary
Meet: Bottom of Fish Street, Goldhanger, Essex.
Cost: Free

Note: Parking restrictions are lifted during the winter months which means there should be plenty of space, but if not park up by the church and walk down.. 

Disclaimer: It is understood that anyone taking part does so on a friendly basis and at their own risk as no liability is implied or will be accepted whatsoever.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Cruising Notes: Grain Tower

Cruising Notes:
If you’ve ever wondered what that stocky little stone tower is that sits out on the ooze at the mouth of the River Medway, in 2013 I took a closer look...

Grain Tower Battery - a solitary sea-building
Grain Tower, mentioned in my book Sea-Country, chapter ‘The Ton’, can be found offshore of the Hoo Peninsular, on Grain Spit, an area where the waters of the River’s Medway and Thames meet and directly opposite Garrison Point which is on the Isle of Sheppey. The tower, which has just recently came on the market and is for sale at £500.000, is privately owned and stands empty with bare window openings and doorways, almost as it was left after WW2. This is also the area earmarked for the Thames Estuary Airport ‘Boris Island’ which at a cost of up to 90billion has just recently been dropped.
Originally built to counter the threat of Napoleon in 1855 the tower was mounted with guns and used in conjunction with Sheerness batteries in Essex, just across the wide mouth of the River Thames. Since then it has been added to and re-armed for use in both World Wars to guard the Mouth of the River Medway and the Thames. For seafarers this interesting relic of 19th century Britain makes a decent object for taking bearings and there are a couple of navigation buoys very close to the tower, one of them Grain Hard, a green starboard lateral mark. In 2013 I re-commissioned the building to serve us as a very useful navigation mark while crossing the potentially hazardous shipping lanes of the estuary between Essex and Kent in Shoal Waters.

The stone causeway - still in good condition despite the wearing sea
A look back from the base of the newer addition to Grain chimney
  A peep inside reveals some very ornate stonework, bomb-proof thick, with some narrow window openings of the 19th century military era, with a more cubist, concrete 20th century addition which stands to the back of the building and is interlinked with concrete a stairway, all presently decorated in ultra-modern graffiti.
The position and height of Grain Tower means it is a fantastic vantage point and anything attempting an advance up the Thames from the open coast would have had the odds stacked against them to survive the encounter. Its position and heritage would be an obvious draw for a potential buyer today who, after spending a fair few quid or more to make it habitable, would be the owner of a unique home.
  If one comes close to the tower by boat there is about ten feet of water at its foot at high-tide but if you could be persuaded it might be best to avoid drying out near to the building as there are rocks, metal pieces and the remains of a hard perilously nearby. All is not lost for the persistent (insistent even) boater as smooth mudflats are just to the west and reach close to the concrete of the seawalls.  A stone causeway about half a mile long spans the mudflats from the seawall out to the tower and though mud is deep for the first fifty feet, and the path has perished in places, perhaps surprisingly what remains is in sound condition where one can find a sure footing. However, in light of the many obstacles surrounding the tower it is much safer to arrive on foot and use this path via the seawall. In this respect, a closer look at Grain Tower is as much a proposition to ramblers as it is boaters. This could be said of many of the places I visit in Sea-Country.
  The tower is presently overlooked by neighbouring Grain power station chimney, one of the tallest in Britain, and further up the Medway, Kingsnorth chimney, built on a former WW1 airship base. The tall chimneys of Grain and Kingsnorth have been useful landmarks in themselves but of the two Grain is a more prominent feature of the whole area, particularly if viewed from the Essex shores, and can be seen from almost everywhere around. Readers take note: Work to demolish the two smoke chimneys began in 2014 therefore when demolished the Kent skyline will be changed forever...  
A concrete stairway links 1850s old and 1940s new

Flood tide begins to cover the footing. Note the obstacles inshore of Grain Hard buoy
  A few other sites that are visible from the tower are Southend to the north and the Mulberry Harbour Phoenix Unit, a portable concrete harbour built for D-Day landings in France, which broke its back after grounding on the sands in a fierce south-westerly blow while being towed in 1944, is clear to see as well as the Red Sand Towers; these can be clearly seen to the east and are another place I have sailed around in Shoal Waters. There are the masts of WW2 ammunitions carrying Liberty ship SS Richard Montgomery to be seen (and avoided) on a clear day.
  A look toward the seaward end of the Thames can awe, inspire and fill a person with wonder. It is a fascinating part of the river, a ‘metropolis water’ busy with international shipping and awash with rewards for those willing to poke at its banks and inlets that are teeming with industry and forgotten history seen in structures like Grain Tower that can keep an enquiring type busy for decades.. Enjoy your cruising, Tony