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

Monday, 13 October 2014


 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  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


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.


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

Located in Maldon, Essex.