Anyone who has seriously cruised in a small boat will know that camping is a big part of the fun.
Cruising for longer than a day-sail you will have to decide whether to make camp on shore or in the boat. Camping ashore means looking for a suitable piece of land where you are not trespassing. This problem is solved once you decide to camp aboard as now you can dry out in the mud or pull the dinghy on to the saltings, or up a beach, making camp by erecting a tent in the dinghy or with a canvas boom tent in the cockpit of the pocket cruiser.
Here are some ideas for dinghy and pocket cruisers on how to get on the water here, and places to camp.
The information given here is in good faith to aid small-boat sailors planning a visit here.
I have removed the 2009 prices so please do make your own checks as prices, times etc can change.
Probably The most simple route to get a sail in would be to turn up at, lets say, Bradwell Marina slipway pay your fee - £? inclusive of recovery and parking - launch/recover between 08.30 am and 5pm 2 hrs either side of LW. So, after launch, park up and off you go on a flood-tide all the way up to Maldon, and return on the ebb. Or, stay the night and camp on board, either pick up a vacant mooring buoy or dry out somewhere that looks muddy, returning on the following ebb.
Blackwater Marina, which is in Mayland, is 10-15minutes less drive than Bradwell and also has a slipway and some parking with fees 'each way' at £? including parking.
Tollesbury Marina has a slipway which is very reasonable at £? each way including parking up to a few days, maybe a week, depending on space. It's tidal here too and the shoal keel (12") can launch up to three hrs either side of HW. Tollesbury hard has the free public slipway which has no nearby parking due to yellow line restrictions. Next door, Tollesbury Marina has a slipway which is very good value and also caters for visiting dinghy and pocket cruisers coming in from the creek, and who are welcome to stay for a few hrs at a pontoon for free. Just ring or radio to let them point you to the best place to moor. Once in over the marina cill you will stay afloat so remember the creek dries out. For longer overnight stays fees are due.
For visitors by car the main concern is parking the car and trailer. This can be done safely at the marinas.
Another way is to get the tents up at a camp/caravan site then either use a public or marina slip.
For camping sites there is camping at Fen Farm, East Mersea, where you could base yourself and use the public slipway at West Mersea to get afloat.
On the south side of the river, Steeple caravan site has a large field for visiting tents/campers which borders the sea wall and which is good for large groups and families and ideally has its own slip into Mayland Creek entrance.
St Lawrence Bay has a caravan site and there is a slipway at the end of the main road next to the pub (not sure this is public) but could be worth inquiring further. Eastland Meadow country park in East End Rd has room for small tents but for over 50s only, a tranqill static park close to St Peter On The Wall Chapel and Bradwell Marina - it could be a good base for some.
I am based from a sailing club so after paying the usual membership fees have access to launch and recover at will, as well as camp in a tent on the club grounds. This could be the answer for a lot of visitors as when you way up the costs involved such as fuel/slipway and marina fees it could well pay you to join one of the many sailing clubs. Most of these will have their own private slip on the river which gives you unlimited access for the year even if you only want to use it for a week or two. If you would rather not become a member try contacting one of the sailing clubs and ask if they could accommodate you for a visit. You may be surprised this is not as cheeky as you may think, they all advertise that they welcome visiting yachtsmen...
Sailing club's membership terms can differ so do check. Another angle- most sailing club members are able to bring guests to use the facility's as a full member which means if you know a member you could bring your boat, launch and use the car park for free. They usually stupefy that the same person is allowed in for no more than four separate visits, so to have a friend here is another option.
For trailer-sailors visiting the river looking for places to launch I do recommend studying a local map for your preferred place to be based as for sailing you will want to take the tide either from a point downriver and up or from the top of the river down. If you find a slip at mid-point on the river such as, lets say the top of Mayland Creek, you will need to work the tide to your advantage and so you may not have a fair tide to get up to Maldon and down to Mersea, and back up again to Mayland, in a day.
Public slipways are few and are namely Tollesbury, West Mesea, Maldon. The use of these slipways are made more difficult by the nearby parking restrictions. At West Mersea the restrictions are lifted after 6pm (2010).
Even if you launch from a marina you could still have a visit to a welcoming sailing club pre-planned where you could put up a tent for the night and use the facility's.
Osea Leisure Park in Goldhanger road were offering camping facilities on the Osea Meadows during July and August 2010.
Tollesbury Saltings can accommodate visiting trailer sailors but ring Doug who is the manager to book a place he will find you a comfy spot in the mud for overnight berthing leaning on the stage pontoons dry out which is fun also has toilets and parking facility's reached by the narrow wooden walk ways (everyone should experience this) the fees are £? + vat per night including parking so launching here would be at the free public slipway. Another option is to ask Doug if you can park only as at £? is still reasonable.
Local Sailing/cruising clubs
Harlow Blackwater SC
Heybridge Basin Sailing Association
Maylandsea Bay SC
West Mersea YC
Maldon Little ship Club
Mill Beach Marine Club
Tollesbury Cruising Club
Tollesbury Mud Club
Bradwell Quay Yacht Club
The Saltings Tollesbury
I hope you find something useful here. If you have anything that would be helpful I will gladly ad it.