Saturday, 11 December 2010

Barges and Bikes

Found these sunny images of a visit to The Hythe at Maldon back in the summer.
The Barge and Bike event ads a refreshing dimension to the boaters calender.











Thursday, 2 December 2010

Creeksailor's Blackwater Beaches

Beaches within the River Blackwater by T Smith

This guide was created for and on behalf of the Small Boat Sailors Group.

  The River Blackwater in general may not be an obvious destination for a beach holiday but Mersea Island and its beaches are a favorite destination for many visitors. The country's most easterly inhabited Island, Mersea has an influx of holiday makers during the summer months. Many of these visitors enjoy family days out on the hut lined beach where there are facility's such as parking and toilets. They may also own or rent a caravan on one of the sites that front the beach. In relation to the beaches at Mersea Island I would not describe the Blackwaters other beaches as used, or as well known even. The beach at Sales Point to Bradwell for instance is one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen but one that has very few visitors. Further upriver there is a small picturesque shell beach on pewet Island which is a nature reserve, followed by the shingle beach at St Lawrence Bay which reaches along to Stansgate. Home to two sailing clubs as well as fronted by houses and bungalows, this stretch of beach doe's see some summer visitors but nothing like the numbers at Mersea.

  Further upriver, across to the northern shore Mill Beach has a small stretch of sand that is used by caravaners there. Opposite Hilly Pool Point, just in Colliers Reach, past the Sailing club towards the basin there is a very small stretch of beach at half tide. Apart from Sales Point beach and Pewet these beaches are generally easily accessed by the public.

  There are small beaches elsewhere that take a bit of walking to reach but are easily accessible by boat. With your cool box filled and a bit of imagination (and help from our weather) these stretches of sand can become your own idyllic south-seas beach for a day.

  Surrounded by sea and marsh - one of the Blackwater's picturesque little beaches.


  Other than the small beach at Mundon Stone Point which is on the rivers south shore at the entrance to Lawling creek, there seems to be a ecological phenomena as most of these evocative little beaches including the Shingle Head, Mill Point and Thirslet shell shoals mentioned in the Creeksailor book are located on the rivers northern shore line.

  From the Mersea Quarters there is the beach up the Ray at Ray Island as well as on Cob Marsh and Packing Marsh Islands which have delightful little stretches of beach. Around Pennyhole Creek to Tollesbury Creek and up river to Goldhanger there are also quite a few small beaches that can be reached. Between Shinglehead, Mell Creek and Old Mell Creek are tiny inlets of golden shingle and sand. At most of these a wilderness of saltmarsh merges with the shingle in an unspoilt example of nature and its way of intertwining land and sea. A study of this relationship reveals a constant struggle resulting in compromise and fusion of the elements. On breezy days these stretches are best visited with a northerly wind as then the waters edge becomes flat calm and gin clear, the sea gently lapping at the shore creating those perfect little idyll's.


  Just further up at Thistly Dock is a tiny shingle beach which deepens quickly. Tucked in the corner of the surrounding seawall it is an oasis along this remote stretch. Just further along, between Rolls and Decoy farms, Rolls Creek has a picture perfect beach which sits on its western shore. Other areas of fine sand can be found at the foot of the 'cant' a term used to describe the edge of salting and sea which resembles a miniature cliff. Across the creek mouth of Gore Saltings is Bulhams Beach which stretches out on a spit into the saltings. There is a small creek inside the spit called Bulham Creek which can be navigated at the very top of a spring tide, even enabling an exit into the river again near the isolated beach hut here which is private.

  The next beach along here is at the eastern entrance of Joyces Creek, a beautiful tiny beach which has summer lambs visiting on occasion. Inside Joyce's Creek is another small beach. while over on the western side of Joyce's has a large extending sand spit which is a particularly good place to land if in company as there is plenty of room with protected deeper water inside the spit.

  The next beach is at Highams beach or 'The Shoe', which is at the eastern side of Goldhanger Creek mouth. This small beach is also an old barge hard but is still used by the pleasure barges on occasion. A nice place to spend some time if a barge happens to be visiting. Entering into the upper limits of the creek a narrow beach lines the seawall here.
All along here is good for landing and swimming with just the odd rock or two.
Across the creek mouth on the western shore and along the seawall, another small beach is tucked away. This little beach gets plenty of use by locals during the summer months, although I wouldn't choose to dry out in the boat here as its quite rocky below the shingle line.

  Continuing along the seawall there is a pleasant bit of beach dotted with saltmarsh about mid way along. There are some withie poles here that indicate a former farm barge dock just after which you enter into Wilkins Creek. There is a tiny little patch of sand amongst all the mud in here which would cater for one or two, as said earlier you may need to let your imagination wonder a bit.

  The other beaches are located on the private island of Osea.
On the north-western shore there is Shipwreck Beach. The wreck sat high on the beach for some years but has been moved just recently and now covers at high water. To the east, past the mouth of Dead Mans or 'Death Creek', and Bawley Creek, is a pretty little stretch of sand which is fringed by saltmarsh and samphire.
An elm crowned bay of golden sand at Osea's East Point is the stretch of beach that most yachtsmen who come up the river will see. Not many people actually step onto this beach but it is this beach that probably creates a lasting impression on many visitors to the river.
The southern shore of Osea is also lined with a nice beach which is quite steep, and gets many visiting boats during the summer. Small-boaters able to dry out can dig in with their hooks past the pier, towards West Point, to dry out on firm sand.

  Often, while here, and in fact at many of the places mentioned, you will be treated to a display of wild sea birds nearby, gorging and squawking on sheet-silver mudflats.
   Note: If intending to land consideration must be given at all times to wildlife and private land.
The Shinglehead stretches of beach at Tollesbury Wick marshes are Wildlife Trust, who advise not to disturb nesting birds during the breeding season.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Pocket Cruising

MUD MUD and more MUD, I was told by a fellow club member that I am the only sailor he has ever met who prefers to take pictures of his boat in the mud rather than under sail... Im not going to argue with that. Having your boat moored in a creek on a drying mooring is not every ones idea of heaven as it does have its limitations.

  Only a guess but I would think at least half the boats moored on the Blackwater are half tide or less, which would mean a lot of us dry out. Spring tides in our area occur around midday and midnight, with neaps occurring in the early evening and morning.

  The incoming tide at my Goldhanger mooring gives roughly a four hour window in which to get a sail in and return to the creek, with just enough water to still float. This is fine for the day sail cruising locally as long as your anchor doesn't get stuck while in your favorite creek. Its also fine for the dinghy racer, who having upped the spinnaker will be round the course in ten minutes and back home for East Enders.

  To venture further afield takes a bit more consideration as you are now working out a minimum of three tides. Battling against wind and tide can be a disheartening experience and putting the engine on seems to miss the point of going for a sail. With these in mind I try to use the tide as much as possible, preferring to spend the night in a creek somewhere so I often favour neap tides. Neaps enables me to take the Ebb tide away from my creek in the morning giving a minimum window of eight hours sailing. After a belly full of sail the following flood tide can be used to reach the head of another creek, or to get back to the top of the river, still in daylight during the evening.

  Although favouring neaps I have had some truly memorable day sails visiting many forgotten or lesser frequented creeks.

  One could be forgiven for thinking that creek sailing in the river is an easier past time than a complicated navigational passage across an open sea.
Having done both I have found the planning and coming together of all the ingredients are the same. Arguably creek sailing could be deemed safer, but then you can drown in a couple of inches of bath water. They are both truly enjoyable and both have a set of ingredients that need to be taken into account for a successful outcome.
  Ingredients such as time, tide, wind direction and strength, sunset and sunrise, and ones ability to get away from work. Added to these a large amount of energy and enthusiasm as many of the forgotten creeks or quieter places are just that because they are to difficult for the majority to bother reaching them.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Ready About

This one of my favorite images taken this year.
Sadly, this is all that remains of the two barge docking posts that have been on this stretch of river for over a hundred years.
After such a long history, both posts vanished on separate occasions this season.
Very early in the season I noticed one of the posts had somehow been broken in half, and this ladder appeared to mark it. More recently, I found the other huge post washed up on one of the north shore beaches.



Classic Blackwater sunset at the Tide Pole



Bobby's mark, West Mersea.
Heading into Buzzun.


Rinky Dink at Heybridge



High tide markings on one of the sail loft step ladders.
I regret not visiting Tollesbury on this day as Huffler would have sailed right up the high street.


Would you really want to dry out here?

Friday, 24 September 2010

St Peter On The Wall and Gunner's Creek

  A few notes from a recent three day cruise I undertook in the foot steps of eighteenth century smugglers.
On leaving my mooring in the creek I was able to navigate Deadmans Creek in both directions before exiting the creek at the very shallow East Point. Continuing on a leisurely meander down to Bradwell Creek was had. Turning to Starboard at the Tide Pole Huffler was sailed into the creek and past the marina.
With a pint in the Green Man waiting I wiggled back through the moorings, running Huffler up onto the sloping mud bank beside the withering poles of the former barge dock.

  After dark Setting sail again for a midnight passage alone under moonlight.
My final destination was the tiny Gunner's Creek.
The creek is reached by a high tide passage out of the river mouth and a turn south, over the shallow mud flats. A remote creek but with such a special atmosphere. Also a very narrow creek and sits below the chapel of St Peter On The Wall, as well as Wild Fowler Walter Linnets former cottage.
  A fabulous night was had here. Definitely not for the faint hearted (even more so at night) as there are many obstructions beneath the shallow breaking seas at high water but well worth the effort to reach it.

The full account of this magical cruise including the moonlight passage can be read in the Creaksailor book.

Winkle picking on St Peter's mud flats the following morning.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Southend Barge Match

Ropes on Reminder. A clear deck is a clear mind.



Some images from the recent barge match.
I had been invited to take part in the match as crew aboard Phoenician. The previous evening I had been up to my knees in mud down the creek after a late sail when the phone rang giving confirming orders from her skipper to board at Southend pier end by 10.00hrs, for the race start at 11.00hrs.
After an early rise from the bunk I headed down the A130. From walking the seawall the view of the barges were a pretty sight sitting way out on the mudflats. The mile long train journey to the pier end is very enjoyable with the views bringing back memories of sailing to the Blackwater from the Medway. I had arrived safely and boarded the barge where I wasted no time in making a cuppa for a couple of the lads, but somehow before the start gun went off I had ended up aboard Reminder.. I was doing well, a visit aboard two old girls in one day... This was a great start to what turned out to be a fabulous day.
If you have not had the opportunity to be aboard one of these vessels in a force five and six with full sails, it is recommended and truly memorable.
Under her skippers command Reminders young crew worked tirelessly with the physical task of trimming sail or raising and lowering her giant lee boards.
A great days sailing on the Thames Estuary.

Reminders crew in race mode


Acres of canvas, Reminder racing at Southend


Sb Phoenician racing off Southend


The view from Reminders stern of Edme, close on our tail with the fleet following

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Guest Writer Swallow

Share your cruising experiences through my guest writers page.

 The piece below is kindly written for us by fellow Blackwater cruiser 'Swallow' (pen name)
describing Swallow’s experience one day in the mid 1990s.


Many thanks for the article Swallow. TS


  Some summers back on a high spring tide, Swallow and I took the ebb and sailed down the Blackwater past Bradwell and out to Bench Head. With no definite plan in mind we ran back with the easterly wind against the tide and anchored up in Thirstlet Creek. By this time the shell banks were well exposed and the creek was emptying fast.
I rowed the dinghy to shell spit taking my metal detector with me and was surprised to find quite a lot of Aluminum. This was all in fairly small pieces, very crumpled and badly corroded, but there seemed so much of it. It made me wonder where it could have come from!
  For those who don’t know, when the tide goes out, it leaves a large shallow lagoon within the shell banks, deep enough to float the dinghy, and a very safe bathing and paddling pool for kids. Make sure the children have water shoes as the shell bank has no respect to bare feet. Pick the right tide, the right day and you couldn’t find a better spot for a picnic, exclusively yours providing no one else has the same idea. If you do go to the shell banks be sure to take a couple of decent sized buckets with you. That is if you like seafood. One bucket for oysters, the other for mussels. A couple of delightful hours will soon pass as you browse the banks, make sure you also take the sun cream, especially for the children, I nearly fried the day I was there.
  The Blackwater water is classed as “Class 1 Water” by the Environmental Health Agency, or was when I worked for the local Oyster Company, but this can change of course, they used to take sample oysters every month from various locations within the river for testing. This means the mussels and oysters you glean can be eaten straight from the sea. All oysters sold by the local Oyster Company have to be purified for 24 hours in special facilities to comply with “European Law”. Please note, you eat at your own risk, Swallow takes no responsibility for any tummy upsets.
  After my metal detecting, no Saxon gold alas, I noticed a large black lump appear as the tide receded over towards the salting and further up the creek. Intrigued, I dumped the detector back on Swallow then rowed up the creek and over towards the mysterious object. The dinghy grounded so I left it where it was and waded bare foot through crystal clear warm water to the object. Being of a certain age, I recognized it at once as being the remnants of a WW2 V2 rocket motor. It was intact, the combustion chamber still perfectly round, terminating in the large flared outlet cone. It was heavily encrusted after all those years and well embedded in the creek bed, but you could see right through it. You could make out quite a bit of detail, pipe wrapping round part of it and various openings here and there. It is in a very delicate condition after all these years and crumbles to the touch. There were some loose bits of it lying about and I took a small piece home, but this turned to dust when it dried out in my workshop. It’s beyond salvage now sadly, as it would make a unique BBQ stand if it could have been retrieved. For anyone looking for it, it’s located on the North shore of the creek approximately opposite Stone Sailing Club to the South, it only shows at very low tides. At the time I had no camera with me, and to this day I don’t possess a GPS, but it’s over there somewhere near where I have described.
  Returning to my dinghy, I refloated it and rowed up the creek as far as I could. Further up I could see things sticking up out of the water, so waded up in their direction to investigate. The objects turned out to be the remains of an old steel Target Barge, blown to pieces either by very accurate bombing or purposely destroyed after the war. The outcome is horrific, with jagged metal distributed over a large area, the main piece being the stern post which is about five feet high. Having sailed from Stone since 1965, I have always been aware of this hazard and avoided the area, as it can easily be seen at low water. I cannot believe it remained unmarked for so long, as the two Red Marker Bouys have only been introduced quite recently.
  As I was wading around the debris in ankle high water, the water was teeming with grey mullet. I don’t know whether they were spawning or just enjoying themselves, as some were leaping out of the water and others water skiing on their sides with tails thrashing. There were many hundreds swimming around and it was a spectacle worthy of a David Attenbourgh film. Although they were brushing against my feet, trying to catch one was impossible, they were all about eighteen inches to two feet long, extremely slippery and mega fast. As I have said I had no camera to record the incident but the memory is indelible printed in my mind.
  By the time I had finished watching the Mullet at their play, the tide had turned and my dinghy was floating up towards me. I rowed back to Swallow, changed into my trunks and enjoyed a wonderful swim in the new flood tide . Invigorated once more I sat and watched the tide come in for an hour or so before hoisting sail and beating back out of the creek and rounding that big green bouy and running back to our mooring. When I described my experience in Thirstlet, the Thirstlet Bouy was much bigger than the one there now, the new one being a mere shadow of its predecessor.


Article copyright: Swallow

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Thames Estuary Navigation Buoys

Thames Estuary - Wallet Spitway Buoy


Tollesbury Creek east cardinal buoy


Mersea Quarters Spit east cardinal buoy


Inner Bench Head buoy


Cocum Hills east cardinal spar


Colne Point Buoy


Colne Fishery buoy

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Bawley Emma

Having spoken to Emma's owner Vic he was able to give me some updated information from some further research he had done on Emma.
Emma was originally a clinker built hull, which was discovered when the carvel planking was recently removed. This pre dated Emma to 1850 as this was the time when Bawley construction changed to carvel planking.
She originally had a Maldon reg no until crossing the Thames to a new owner in Whitsable.

Bawley Emma in the smack race on the Blackwater 2010

Emma was built for cockling and shrimping and continued to work out of the Kent creeks, being purchased by another new owner in 1928 and given the Faversham reg no F22 where she continued to work for shrimps and cockles.
When Vic purchased Emma in 2008 she had been sitting in the creek for a couple of years.
After giving Emma a complete restoration during which a wet hold was found in the hull, which indicates she may have kept the catch live until getting to shore.
Vic will be leaving the nets ashore this season deciding to race her at the classic East Coast events and sail her for pleasure, so lucky for all working boat fans we will be seeing a bit more of her up and down the east coast.

Smack rigged bawley Emma sailing on the Blackwater


Working boat enthusiasts may notice Emma is smack rigged not bawley. Vic says that is because most or all the Faversham based bawleys found it easier to navigate the meandering Faversham creek with smack rig.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Dinghy Cruise to Shipwreck Beach

Dinghy Cruise to Shipwreck Beach By Tony Smith

A SOUTHERLY wind was blowing as we readied the 12 foot Cormorant dinghy for its first cruise on the river. Manoeuvring her well found bow into the wind while on her trolley made the task of lacing her tanned gaff main sail a little easier. The small boat had sat patiently for months among the many dinghy's fronting the beach, today she would come into her own. Placing the unstayed wooden mast into its through deck seat, the business of attaching the boom and high peaked gaff came next followed by roving of halyards through the deck blocks which are led aft, to the roomy cockpit.
  High water would be in half an hour which hastened the stowing of the day bags beneath the forward deck space. At the same time we rolled her gently down the short stretch of deep shingle beach that is a feature here at The Stone. She floated off her trolley into the tide rode water all set.
  I stepped aboard first followed almost immediately by her skipper, who gave a thrusting foot-off as we drifted away from the weather shore and climbed aboard.
We were heading into the main channel, through the many large yachts that lay here swinging at their moorings. I lowered the lifting rudder, an essential piece of kit for any serious dinghy cruising and took the helm to guide us through the seemingly over sized yachts. As the skipper raised the yard, racing Catamarans and jet ski bikes began criss crossing our path causing us to gybe in a flurry of activity.
  The Cormorant's single cat style rig began filling nicely, quickly gathering pace as we headed up river to more 'quieter' waters.
  Being a Sunday lunchtime the river was dotted with fleets of racing dinghy's from the surrounding clubs chasing the thrills of the cans, we had other plans as the Cormorant with its sturdy build and comfy seating arrangements would be cruising at a more sedate pace.

  With the now rising gusts from the south we took it in turns on the helm, gaining a feel for this ideal estuary ditch and creek crawler, even standing at the helm, which is nice to do every now and then when cruising in ideal conditions. Enjoying the sail we had soon neared the tranquil shores along a quiet stretch of river, and our intended destination, "Shipwreck Beach", one of my favoured hidden gems on the river to land at.

  The tiny stretch of golden sand shone brightly in contrast to the dull clouded sky. The beautiful Shipwreck Beach was directly in front of us as the skipper lowered the yard and we drifted the 20-30 feet or so towards this idyllic salty shore.
 After raising the centre plate I climbed onto the foredeck just as the boat gently came to a halt on the soft sand, stepping off into ankle deep clear blue sea. We pulled the Cormorant up the soft sandy beach to lay just below the wreck.


Like a few other secret hidden gems on the river this place is a mere trice of sea miles away from the busy hustle and bustle of the nearest towns streets, but yet a whole world away.

  After some beach combing and soaking up the tranquil setting we eased the Cormorant into the clear blue sea and climbed aboard. This was almost a repeat of the earlier launch but without commotion and gybe. We headed further up river, the wind coming over the port bow giving us plenty of opportunity to tack the Cormorant, beating across the river making an extra couple of tacks to go round the Ford Creek buoy just for the fun of it.
  Sailing past the pier remains on a close reach we took the Cormorant into the fast ebbing, rippling currants of the narrows below Stansgate Abbey where her relatively heavy lay up gave a smooth ride. We were able to sail on a comfortable reach back down river, passing the many moored boats on this stretch and back towards The Stone.
  Although only a small adventure the Cormorant had proved herself to be a good dinghy for this type of cruising. There is heightened sense of adventure one gets from cruising in simple small dinghy's and similar boats which she gives in abundance with crew or single handed.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Smacks and Bawleys

A beautiful Bawley and a unique specimin of this type of craft. And possibly Emma's first visit to the Blackwater this year. Emma has had a recent and  extensive rebuild.

F22 Emma of Faversham, built Haywards Southend 1850, LOA 25'

The Blackwater estuary is, as Harvey Benham once wrote, the Last Stronghold of Sail. If, like me, you sail a home water which has many craft like these you can not help but be inspired to preserve the timeless ways of gaff rig. The gaff sail has four sides and is a joy to work with. The spar at the top (head) of the sail sits at an angle to the mast and is called the gaff, it is normally shorter than the boom. It can be used to lower or raise large amounts of sail relatively quickly. The gaff rigged boat can also be very forgiving due to the sails tolerance in spilling wind.  Sheer beauty and elegance is that of a gaff rigged craft draped in fine canvas, coated in rich shades of ochre, aesthetically pleasing but is so functional. Craft that have fetched the tea and fed family's of Britain for nigh on a century of summers. It is a way of sailing that must be preserved as these boats are a window into a chapter of our nations maritime history. I still remember images of the tan sailed smacks and barges as a child looking out across the wallet from the beaches of Clacton, Frinton, Holland, Walton and Jaywick. The craft then would have been sailed mainly by enthusiasts as being in the late 60's and 70's the fishing in them had long since ceased. I do what I can when I can to preserve or promote the use of gaff rig as not only is the rig functional it is way of life - a "Tao of Sail". People that own and maintain these fine craft are not mere sailors they are living a lifestyle, one that is all consuming, one that has sadly all but disappeared. To be among so many craft in the same waters that they would have fished drifting nets or dredging over the bulwark for oysters gives you a real feeling for what it was like back in the heyday of East Coast working sail.

East Coast fishing smacks racing on the River Blackwater 2010


The letters preceding the number on the side of a fishing smack show the home port to which it is registered. Some of the East Coast letters areas follows;
MN- Maldon
CK- Colchester
LO- London
HH- Harwich
LT- Lowestoft
F - Faversham

CK 213 Boadicia built 1808 Williamson Maldon LOA 30'


CK328 Sunbeam, built Howard of Maldon in 1881, LOA 50'


LO 502 Mary Amelia, a cockler, shrimpers and cocklers generically get called bawley but a more precise term is bawley type, built Haywards Southend 1914,LOA 34'
Even though in colour these two images are timeless classics.



CK46 Skylark built in 1877, Howards Maldon LOA 35'



More detailed information regarding East Coast smacks and bawleys can be found here by clicking on this link Smackdock

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Blackwater Barge And Smack Match 2010

Down to the creek on Friday evening in readiness for the following mornings high tide and the start of the barge match at Osea Island. After preparing Huffler a very nice evening sail was had along the Osea shores, followed by a night in the mud even managing to keep hold of my new mud boots this time. It was a nice sight to see a couple of barges creeping down to Osea from Maldon during late evening to anchor near the start line in readiness for the match the following morning which added to the anticipation felt for the Saturday. The morning brought mirror-like calm conditions with warm sunshine but the forecast was for f3-4 winds from the east later. The turn out was good, such a wonderful sight to see so many barges and smacks together with all sails luffing and filling to the light morning airs.
  Barges racing were SB Victor, Reminder, Repertor, Decima, Phoenician, Edme.
Barges also in attendance were SB Cabby, Hydrogen, Kitty, Nellie.

  It wasn't long before I had left my mooring and while sailing over to Osea heard the start gun cracking off. The huge topsails were visible through the trees on Osea as I made way towards the Marconi buoy trying to get a good view of the start. Huffler had all sails set and was in her element now, huffling amongst the big hulks of the East Coast.

 I had planned to meet two fellow Blackwater pocket gaffers on the water later. We had planned to anchor and raft at Sales Point beach for some lunch while watching the ongoing match.
These images were  taken while out on the river in Huffler sailing down with the fleet in company with a Cornish Shrimper and a Winkle brig.

SB Victor, first off the block and eventual class winner.



SB Repertor Staysail class with SB Edme Bowsprit class beyond.






Thursday, 3 June 2010

SB Dinah

SB Dinah, River Alde

SB Blackthorn

SB Blackthorn at Snape on the River Alde.

SB Cygnet

SB Cygnet on her mooring at Snape on The River Alde today.