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

Monday, 13 October 2014

Edme

 Up close and personal with Edme... Filmed from the stern of Phoenician. Enjoy

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Voices In The Sands - Part One



The wind had been kind all week during my stay in the lower Thames area. There was plenty of it, at times a little too much. On the previous day, and with double reefed main and small staysail set, I traversed the swells off Canvey Island at Scars Elbow and sailed over to Egypt Bay, in Kent, and back again as one tall ship after another came by on their way up to Greenwich in London for a Tallships Festival on this mightiest of rivers, the Thames.  A while later we became holed up in the aptly named ‘Holehaven’ Creek due to strong winds. The wind was so fierce in the mouth of the creek where I had hurriedly slung the hook over that the ol girl almost got thrown on to a mud horse behind us before I’d had time to get a bite in the goo. I daren’t leave the boat and sneak over the seawall for a jar in the Lobster Smack pub either. Later on, we bravely emerged again for a late evening sail as the winds seemed to be easing, down to Leigh On Sea, which took longer than planned…
  By the time we had reached Canvey’s eastern Point darkness had fell over us and the easterly Force 5 was again coming on to pummel poor Shoal Waters. The sea was running like a flash-flood down a mountain too and every other wave we took head-on saw the bowsprit disappear under it. The whole of her bow, up to the forward hatch was awash with green. Blown spume slapped at my face and I daren’t stay seated on the lee side as I usually do as I felt she was going to roll over. Every tack was precision-timed to pass through to the new ‘weather’ on the top of a trough as tall and as wide as a truck.  I would wipe my eyes dry if I could but my sleeves were long sodden. I felt that these conditions were the fiercest we had faced in darkness. We simply had to press on though. There was no alternative. One saving grace was I had snugged down in daylight with a double reefed main and by setting the small staysail. 

 Progress was slow but we were well beyond a halfway point. If only we could get to Canvey Point soon it would still be near high water and we could take a short cut over the shallows to the safety of Leigh Creek. However, presently, we would have to endure the pasting we were taking, or more accurately Shoal Waters was for I felt I could take and handle anything that nature threw at us. However, holding my hands up, this time I may have over shot the mark. I wouldn’t choose to leave my mooring back in the Blackwater in such conditions as wind against tide, and gusting F6. This was 'duffer' material I read about others partaking in while warmed by the heat of my open fire at home during the coldest months of a winter layup. I was so caught up playing with the half-inch steel plate and rivets, spankers and yardarms of the big ships that my guard had slipped. We were only 16 feet of timber veneer, copper nails and rope.
  I took every inshore tack almost to the seawall on Canvey in a struggle to find a smoother piece of water to take the strain off the gear. For us, circumstances were fierce to say the least and I had a job of work ahead of me to reach a safe mooring for the night. And, to add a bizarre twist to our unfolding drama, I was in earshot of people still on the beach enjoying the late summer evening. I was so close to the seawall at one point over Chapman Sands I could read graffiti on the seawall as clear as from a book - ‘Sue loves Rob’- and see that one woman was still sitting in a deck chair doing a crossword puzzle and heard her talking to hubby about what to have for tea tonight. She even said to him ’look at that nice boat with the sails’. Strangely, witnessing this domestic bliss made everything seem quite normal. If only they knew this little ship and I were sailing a course for survival! 
 On a buoy at Essex Yacht Club the following morning - Chalkwell in the distance
 Then, I was somewhat relieved. The last tack saw to it we were clear of Canvey and within reach of a yellow glow cast off of Southend’s street lamps that illuminated the coast road and near sea. We had made a big step. I could turn to port now, away from this devilish easterly, ease the sheets and reach northward, like a bloated peacock, to smoother waters. But not just yet… We were still far from being free of danger for there’s a wreck sat in the bay near to Island Yacht Club and I wasn’t going to add to it. I remembered the mistake that people make when sailing round Canvey is cutting too close in at Canvey Point to get round into Benfleet or Smallgains Creek. I wasn’t falling for it. Tonight this tiny bay was as hellish as lee shores get on the East Coast and one that was fresh in my mind as I had circumnavigated Canvey in a Drascombe gig with some of my cousins a month earlier when we took part in the annual 'whacky races' event at http://www.benfleetyachtclub.org/.  Patiently, I made two more tacks toward Southend Pier that would see us free of danger; and off we ran, in, Shoal Waters cowering and sulkish, like a reprimanded juvenile. The moorings beside Essex Yacht Club had never looked as welcoming in the dark as they did on this night. In the cause of moral decency, and after a spate of foraging in the dark, I borrowed one of three vacant buoys instead of sinking Cold Nose amongst so many moorings. Alas to say a sound sleep on soft mud was well earned.
Thank you Essex Yacht Club

 (If you fancy a giggle read Dave Selby's account of our Circumnavigate Canvey Island trip in the latest PBO magazine, or listen to his podcast Here).

Friday, 26 September 2014

It's two years this month since Charlie passed away. How incredible it is that time flies. Please join me and take a moment to reflect on his time with us. And let us be thankful for his inspiration and the adventure-packed writings that Chas has left us with by his two published books, Sailing Just for fun and In Shoal Waters, both modern classics of sailing literature. And for those that stepped forward in search of answers simply just being there for advice on any sailing related matter.

Someone once told me sailing is escapism. I was baffled by this assumption as anyone who has taken up cruising will understand and know it is all consuming- a Tao. Exploring the coast in a boat, as opposed to on foot, that has been pretty much a major part of your life is not escaping. It is spending time in a reality, a place where the waters are the same today as they were for the likes of Maurice Griffith, Francis B Cooke and Charlie Stock. This is a constant in our lives as clockwork as the incoming tide.

More than ever the coastal and offshore waters are our last frontier. Don't wait for tomorrow, or the next day to get out there and start enjoying them. Make it your reality.

This song, on the link from Youtube; Moon River sung by Andy Williams, also sadly no longer with us, was played at Charlies funeral service. I shed a tear every time I hear it but please take the time to listen to it. Absorb its words as it tells of the free spirited wonder of cruising.

Good sailing, Tony


Sunday, 21 September 2014

West Wight Potter

  One of the pleasures of cruising is not knowing what is round the next bend in a creek or river. Well, I was rewarded when I met Dave Morl, who was moored in his charming West Wight Potter 'Roamer', while sailing down the tiny Waxham New Cut on the Norfolk Broads earlier this year. I pulled over and put the kettle on for a 'brew-n-yarn' only to learn that Dave knew my boat well and had met Charlie and Shoal Waters on The Broads on a number of occasions over the years, and was now delighted to meet her new owner, yours truly, doing the same type of cruising. A while later he  gave me a guided tour of Roamer, a C-Type built on the Isle of Wight, pointing out how his boat has been tailored to his needs (in true small-boat owner tradition) by the useful modifications or adaptations he had made to her over the last 30 years or so.
  A useful tip for other would be trailer-sailors - Dave trailers roamer for long distances - 200 miles plus - to reach various cruising areas around the country and on these occasions prefers to drive through the night when the roads are clear of traffic. One way he does this for a return journey, after a cruise, is to take the boat out of the water in the afternoon, when you can de rig her and get everything ready in daylight, and then sleep on the boat until 01.00 or 02.00 in the morning or whenever it is your desired time to leave.
  Later we both went on to have a delightful evening sail in company, totally unplanned, through Meadow Dyke, until dusk and mooring at a quay heading downstream of Candle Dyke for the night. Cheers Dave, it was a delight to meet you.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Havengore Route Notes 1

I have put a few notes on a photograph that may be useful to sailors contemplating  the Havengore Route for the first time. I consider this route one of the vital inshore sea lanes for the small boat skipper. 1: It saves a journey of around 10-12 miles, if traveling to the Blackwater. 2: And more importantly, using the route is safer for the small boat who would otherwise be sailing up to 10 miles offshore to get round the sands. 3: Invariably, working the route is forever interesting - a shoal water challenge - a test in itself in ones navigation, calculations, shallow water pilotage and passage planning. (sheer luck even)..... Good sailing, Tony

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Monday, 15 September 2014

Dadson 16' Creek-Crawler For Sale






‘Dragonfly’

16ft Classic Clinker 2 berth Centreboard Cruiser

An ideal boat for adventures in shoal waters.

Built by Richard Dadson of Faversham, Kent

Varnished mahogany planks on Oak ribs
Gunter rigged with pine spars
Galvanised centreboard with control line to cockpit
Galvanised tabernacle to make lowering mast easy

Length 16’
Beam 6’
Draft 1’4’’ – 3’

Large oars and galvanised rowlocks
Reliable Mercury 3.3HP longshaft 2 stroke outboard
Trailer with suspension and vertical guides to locate hull when launching and recovering

Fitted bilge pump, generous aft locker, fenders, mooring lines, plough anchor on deck, swimming ladder, boat hook, whisker pole, galvanised deck fittings.

The boat has been at Blackwater Sailing Club since 2000. She has been kept in a mud berth over the winter so the hull is tight. A reluctant sale due to my return to University resulting in a lack of time to sail her.

Richard Dadson started boatbuilding in 1936 and continued in his spare time until 1961 when he set up his own boat shop at his lodge at the Upper Brents, Faversham. His first commission was a 15ft gunter rigged clinker sailing boat built to a design based on a Cremer Barge boat and an Essex One Design. He worked out the design with his friend and client Andrew Osborne who still owns the boat; Lady Ann, to this day. He went on to build many similar boats of which Dragonfly is one; unfortunately an exact date of her construction is not known.

Prior to 2000 Dragonfly was known as Susan May.

£2450

Please call or email Rorie for more information or photographs on 077 966 087 94 
rorieash    @   gmail.   com


Located in Maldon, Essex.



Monday, 8 September 2014

New Creeksailor Book: 'SEA-COUNTRY' Available Now

My new book, titled 'SEA-COUNTRY' - 'Exploring Thames Estuary By-ways Under Sail' has just been released and is available from the publisher's Lodestar books as from today, 08/09/14. If you have appreciated any of the writings on this site then you will love reading this book. This book is for the creek sailor, small boat enthusiast and armchair sailors alike, lovers of the coast and country, those interested to read of the wild and forgotten places along England's East Coast just waiting to be explored. It's not only packed with tales of small boat cruising adventure, undertaken in my cruiser Shoal Waters, but touches on history, traditional boats of this unique cruising area, and more. I really hope you enjoy it. Please support the muddy cause by purchasing your copy direct from the publishers. Click on the book link in the column on the right.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

GO GAFF Post Cards

Go Gaff postcard of Shoal Waters set in her home waters; England's East Coast. This one is to every reader of this site and is titled 'Stumble'.  Enjoy your sailing, Tony

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Dreamy Sail-Art


Couple of colourful and dreamy pics from today's cruise. I think these were RS's sailing downriver, off of Stone SC.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

To Wade or not to Wade




Part Of The ‘Creeksailor’s essentials toolkit’ for Thames Estuary creek-crawling are a pair of sea-boots.

Creek-sailing sea-boots come in all shapes and sizes and, on the whole, keep us dry or mud free when having to traverse a patch of mud, shingle or marsh to get to or from the boat while cruising. This is something quite different from a pair of yachting or dinghy boots that are designed to keep feet dry and at the same time give good grip while on a boat.


Cruising
My own cruising footwear has gone through an evolutionary phase through trial, error and necessity. The results may be a refreshing surprise to those who are caught up in the midst of an age of technical garb being produced for sailors who can meet the requirements on the mortgage forms to pay for it. In light of all the money we could be spending on cruising wear perhaps we should be thankful that during the warmer summer months we can get away without using any footwear at all, choosing instead to go wading through a patch of mud bare-legged, in the knowledge everything wet dries off in no time - I don’t choose to do this bare footed just in case I cut myself on a buried shell, or who knows what else, but in colder climates it’s important to try and stay dry if at all possible. Anyone who’s been drenched and away from a dry change of clothes will know how much water increases the chill factor - single-handed and alone morale could soon follow; therefore it makes sense for the cruising man or woman to operate with this in mind.


What Type of Boot
The type of boots used for general dinghy sailing, and those which I have tried in the past, have a fine plimsoll-type rubber sole and can make do. But I found these were not quite up to the job of shoal cruising where more durable footwear, one that has to withstand the suction and sink of East Coast ooze, is called for. The dinghy boots I had worn were certainly light enough and, with go fast stripes or a yellow flash, looked the part while hanging around the tender boat rack down at the yacht club, but were definitely not long enough to stay dry in. They had a worthy rubber sole, moulded with good grip, but picked up pieces of grit from every step taken on mud or a beach which then ended up being trodden all over the boat, and that is after rinsing off any mud. Not something you want to encourage on GRP or finished paintwork surfaces. 

Basic Wellies 
For creek cruising, the knee length of the boot is all important too as this is what determines the depth you can comfortably wade about in without getting a boot full of water. Technical garb, and thus unloading heavy amounts of cash, is unnecessary for the creek cruiser. For he or she, the basic rubber wellington, much loved and used by farmers throughout Britain, serve well for most situations the active small boat skipper will come across including any canal work you are likely to undertake in the boat. In use they are light enough, flexible and easy to stow away, and in my own case, the rubber soles work well on Shoal Waters teak cockpit floor-boards and her painted decks which has the ‘all important’ added sand for grip. They are cheap to buy and are universally available in green or black colours.  I’ve found it is worth spending a little more cash, still relatively cheap for a quality brand like Argyle, the cheaper brand made for farmers by the ‘Hunter’ brand of wellies, where the rubber is purer and thus suppler and lasts longer than the substitute mix used to produce inferior, harder and more plastic-type wellies that seem to be more susceptible to the combined damaging effects of sea water and UVB given off by sunlight. I’ve had a couple of pairs of these plastic-type boots that developed cracks and split during the first seasons use. For very infrequent use anything will make do, of course, and theoretically a cheap pair could last a number of years but I’ve found the knee length Argyls, also known traditionally as Bullseye Hood at £30.00-ish when last purchased, are a decent bit of kit that, subject to the heavy abuse of the marine environment i.e. salt water, mud, UV rays, scuffs, scrapes, bending, folding and other general heavy wear associated with climbing over splintered shipwrecks; have at least two or three years of life in them.



Thigh Waders
The old chestnut of the outdoor footwear, and ‘fisherman’s favourite’, is also one of mine. For the owner of a boat on a mud-mooring who uses knee-high wellies to walk out to the boat; donning a pair of these guarantee half hour extra sailing and you could still be able to walk ashore dry! Other pluses of wearing waders are there’s more scope to move around while longshoring with boat ‘in tow’ without getting a wellie-full of green. They are great for dinghy work or punting, and when in the cruiser you can dry out further from the marsh or beach and get ashore sooner if you would like to. And, tender dinghies may well become redundant when using a pair of waders. The down side of waders, I feel, is at approximately £50.00 a time for a cheaper brand they might only last a season without having to patch them up, if not stored properly, and to get the most life out of them they must be stored without creasing. I can do this at home where there is room in the garage to hang them upside down, but in a tiny boat with minimal space one has to compromise and therefore folding is unavoidable. I have a pair of thigh waders in their third year of commission that have more holes in them than a Tetley teabag. The other negative of waders is if you do take a wellie-full it will be a ‘big-un’ likely to hamper movement, and if you would have to resort to any swimming i.e. if you happen to slip over – good luck!
Thigh wading through creek gore
Chest Waders 
Now, I don’t see many boaters, and especially yachtsmen, using these to go cruising in on the East Coast. But it is, perhaps, a different story down south in places like Christchurch Harbour, where I’ve holidayed on numerous occasions. It’s a shallow estuary with a mixture of mud, sand and shingle beach areas, not unlike those we encounter in many creeks and inlets here in the Thames Estuary. The tide there has a double stand and therefore the shoal draft ribs, a popular choice of boat there, can float in a few feet for hours. During my stay I had watched these boats come and go on many occasions and noticed most of the skippers using chest waders to plough a way ashore after dropping anchor and thought that in many instances I end up in the same scenario and could see the application for East Coast creek sailing. But it took a while, years in fact, for me to act on because I thought they were too bulky and would take too much time putting on, therefore I had resisted investing in a pair. Until that is a pair of were gifted to me by my pal Brian who has been using them to launch his boat for a number of years. The reason being I help launch and recover his boat each season and no matter what footwear I donned always ended up wet up to my waist. I don’t mind this at all though as no matter how hard we may try to avoid it, getting wet now and again that is, it’s all part of boating I reasoned. But feeling sorry for me he was adamant a pair of these would look after me better next time.

I kept them in the garage, only airing them for punting expeditions during the winter season but never used them for boarding my cruiser Shoal Waters. Besides, my favored green waders were still holding up with the Sikaflex repairs and cycle inner-tube puncture patches I had made fast on the leaking splits that had emerged from folding them away. And I prefer waders as they are just as easy as knee high wellies to put on and you can fold them down to free up the knee and walk freely. For the punt cruising I was doing I found the chest waders were an ideal alternative for the job. The boots fit well and give excellent grip and the neoprene is not only waterproof but warm, soft and flexible as a piece of clothing so if you lay in the punt and any water gets in it’s not a problem. I’ve been using them for getting out to Shoal Waters more this year than last and have found they give another level of flexibility with regards to the tidal access than I had experienced with the thigh waders. They roll up to a far more compact size than perhaps you would imagine and are therefore as easy to be stored out the way as are a pair of waders or knee high wellies.  They have proved themselves in use as the wait is around 2.5 hours from high water until you can safely walk ashore but I came home one night from a cruise and the wind dropped off but I still managed to crawl over the ebb to reach my mooring buoy an hour after high water. Half hour later, and in darkness, I waded through four and half feet of water to shore, bone dry. They fold up easily and are very light and to date, late in their second seasons use, have not suffered the cracking associated with normal wellies.

There are many benefits with using a pair of chest waders and perhaps the worst possible scenario of any negatives would be to go under and ship a chest full of water...
At £40 – £70 chest waders are great for boat launching and generally any boat handling where one has to ‘step in’.

 
 chest waders in use launching the boat


Comfort
The comfort fitting of footwear is a personal matter but I prefer a size bigger. In wellies it means one boot can be left behind in a suction of mud if you are not careful when traversing the deeper goo. But this is far outweighed by the plus point; they are easy to remove when you reach the boat. I simply slide in and out of mine and leave them standing upright in their own mudprint.

To wade or not to wade? Whatever your preference may be, take extreme care when out on the water, always respect the muds and father Neptune’s tides and remember to wear a suitable buoyancy aid or life-jacket in deep water. 
Good wading, and sailing, Tony Smith