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.

Friday, 10 July 2015

No Wellies Required

Bonjour - it was great to catch up with Tom Cunliffe while crusing in Brittany recently.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Gale Force

 Boats and land simply do not mix. However, for most of us, sailing near land (or sand banks) is where we partake in our habits of travel with a nautical nature.  When you've tied up and stepped ashore from another memorable cruise, gone home to tend the plants and walk the dog, during your absence a storm may be brewing, and heading your way. It's all you can do to hope you battened the hatches properly, cross your fingers and pray your boat will ride it out unharmed.

The image shows my little Shoal dipping and tugging, pulling and pitching.The kind of dance she's engaged in is not a voluntary, merry dance rather a dance of despair. Every year I hear new stories of a number of yachts that are broke away from moorings in perilous conditions just like these and left to the mercy of nature. My finger nails are chewed to the bone having to watch her like this but fortunately we survived, this time... In the past close friends and other sailor's boats haven't. Sadly, the small yacht behind us didn't make it and ended up on the seawall damaged to an extent she was ultimately broken up and skipped. For any owner this is a horrible business to have to deal with from start to finish, and I can say this from first hand experience. I believe in fate, however, and no matter what you do to avoid the worst, the worst will happen, sometimes. In the hope we can take something positive from a negative let it prompt us to look at our own moorings. The forces of wind and tide combined during a gale is immense therefore careful selection of a strong 'belt and braces' mooring set-up is something to aim for. If you already have a set up in place then to keep it in the best possible shape follow up with regular maintenance checks for the weakest link in your mooring.  A few pointers worth looking at.
  • Check the structural diameter of rusty riser/ground/sinker chain by knocking off any corrosion with a hammer. If its way less than the size it should be think about replacing it. 
  • Check shackles are torqued tight and moused with wire. 
  • Check mooring warps are a suitable diameter and breaking-strain, and keep an eye on chafing (see-saw) wear. 
  • Check aged warps for UV damage and replace regularly. 
  • Check that your boats' mooring cleat is A: big enough, and B: has a substantial fixings, with a backing plate wide enough to spread the load. Are you able to run a secondary backup line to the mooring and /or to another anchor point on the boat?
Last and by no means least do anything else you can think of to limit the odds of a break away.
And remember, while there is a serious side to cruising - sailing is fun. Enjoy it.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

2015 Small-Boat Sailors Rally


This year, the Small Boat Sailors rally will be on Saturday 13th June. As a reminder; we meet on a friendly basis in the memory of the late Charles Stock, the intrepid adventure sailor and former owner of Shoal Waters, who inspired many to take to the water in an inexpensive boat and begin cruising under sail. We have been meeting for the last four years now so this will be our fifth. Last year we met on the Broads in Norfolk. (see pic)
All sizes and types of craft are welcome to join us. Very relaxed itinerary made up as the day passes. Check your tide tables as tides will be neaps so we may sail down to Bradwell and raft-up in the area, with the aim of heading back upriver on the evening tide. Bring your puddings - I have the kettle to cook them in if you haven't! And wellies too.

Date: Saturday 13th June
Place: Goldhanger Creek, River Blackwater, Essex

Have a small dinghy and would need to launch nearby? We may be able to accommodate you.
Inbox or email Creeksailor on the address above in the sidebar.
Note: All weather permitting. Safety is paramount and it is up to each skipper to ascertain the suitability of his or her craft and experience of in tidal waters. Anyone attending does so at their own risk.

Friday, 1 May 2015


The picturesque Suffolk waterside at Waldringfield - River Deben

Waldringfield Sailing Club's jewel of the Deben is the Dragonfly clinker dinghy. Beginning in the late 40s, 45 were built for the club over a 15 year period and there is still an active fleet sailing today. This one looks like its been home to more than one or two gulls but the views here are undeniably pretty. For us the sailing becomes even more interesting as we negotiate the numerous moored craft on our way further upstream. A closer look, just beyond the moorings, shows there's a pub, the Maybush Inn and also Waldringfield Boatyard.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Bump! 2015 Small Boat Sailors Rally

This year, the Small Boat Sailors rally will be on Saturday 13th June. As a reminder; we meet on a friendly basis in the memory of the late Charles Stock, the intrepid adventure sailor and former owner of Shoal Waters, who inspired many to take to the water in an inexpensive boat and begin cruising under sail. We have been meeting for the last four years now so this will be our fifth. Last year we met on the Broads in Norfolk. (see pic)
All sizes and types of craft are welcome to join us. Very relaxed itinerary made up as the day passes. Check your tide tables as tides will be neaps so we may sail down to Bradwell and raft-up in the area, with the aim of heading back upriver on the evening tide. Bring your puddings - I have the kettle to cook them in if you haven't! And wellies too.

Date: Saturday 13th June
Place: Goldhanger Creek, River Blackwater, Essex

Have a small dinghy and would need to launch nearby? We may be able to accommodate you.
Inbox or email Creeksailor on the address above in the sidebar.
Note: All weather permitting. Safety is paramount and it is up to each skipper to ascertain the suitability of his or her craft and experience of in tidal waters. Anyone attending does so at their own risk.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Golden Hinde II - Sir Francis Drake

Flowing from the hinterland of a green and old England until it drains into the North Sea, the River Thames is awash with history.
However, for sheer density and variety I find it's hard to beat a visit to 'the smoke'. Those who know London and the area by the river will appreciate the amount of development and how this has opened up the Thames pathways to pedestrians.

A stroll along the waterside on a Sunday morning, for a drink in the Flounders Arms, The Anchor or the Prospect of Whitby, 30 years ago for instance may well have been taken alone. Today people come out in their thousands. And you cant blame them as some of the best views of London's city-scape can be taken for free along the waters edge.

For us salty types the city can be the proverbial sweet shop and the image below shows just one little treat that can be found tucked away in St Mary Overie Dock, literally minutes away from Shakespear's Globe Theater. This is a full size ocean-going replica of Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind; Golden Hinde II. Built by J. Hinks & Son in Devon and launched in 1973, she's also sailed around the world but other than a visit to the boat show in 2003 she has been sat here since 1996. She was the dream of two Americans who wanted to celebrate the 400th year since Drake landed on the west coast of North America. Her story is a fascinating one, too long for this page but to share one small thought, to those who like to mix a little ale with their sea-salt - when Sir Francis Drake set sail on his epic round the world exploration, in 1577, he would have sailed right past the Prospect of Whitby as it was built in 1520. Tony

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Port and Starboard

Port and Starboard
The clocks have gone forward one hour so summer is definitely here. If you are preparing a boat for the coming season I wish you well with it. For those that don’t own a boat but like to get a boat fix every once in a while, there’ll be more opportunities to boat-watch as the annual stream of pleasure boats up and down our rivers and creeks begin to take to their moorings on the water over the next couple of months.
Still under wraps, our new cushion
  Some of you may have come across the chain of thought that the word ‘posh ‘originated from the nautical terms port and starboard. This was in the days when well- healed 19th century ship passengers, on their way to India, would be able to afford the better bunks on the port side for the journey out (port out) and starboard on the homeward leg (starboard home). With the other passengers on board being mere mortals and gawking; ooh, there posh, as the cash-laden bashed past toward their favored bunks with leather-cased luggage. 
  Well, there is definitely no posh aboard Shoal Waters (we can do pie-mash but not posh) – she’s firmly at the working end of the boat scale and at 76000 plus nautical miles traveled, and counting, continues to be well used and cared for.
  Why all this posh tosh you might ask? Well, we have a new bunk cushion for 2015, it’s cherry red, and I couldn’t help commenting to the maker when I collected it that it was all rather posh-looking! I didn’t quite use those exact words but that was the gist of it. And yes, it may look posh set beside the other, now seasoned looking, cushions but the creek-sailors among you will know that a session of weighing anchor will have me scrambling below inevitably covered in dark goo from the bed of a creek, which will wipe away any glint of posh to our preferred ruddy and cheerful glow, like the rest of her.  
 Good sailing, and boat watching, Tony