Friday, 14 October 2011

Longshoring


THE ALARM
went off at 04.00 hrs - Bleep Bleep Bleep, up I jumped hitting my head on the coach roof. Shaken to life I peeped out the companion way into darkness and thick fog. I was hoping to get out of the river today, taking Shoal Waters for a little coastal cruising, but there would be no chance in this weather, this was down right miserable and would be lunacy to venture out in.
Disappointed I reset the alarm to awake at 06.00hrs, on the thinking that the breaking day light would help matters. This was a bit of a gamble, leaving it very tight as the boat touches bottom again at around two and a half hours after HW. I had got to the boat at 15 minutes before midnight in preparation for high tide at 03.25hrs as when heading down river or out of the river it is always good to try and get in front by leaving as early as possible. The forecast was for the hottest October day in years but with the preceding days easterly winds, the sudden arrival of thick mists would not be any help to the eager small-boat sailor, even worse there was no wind at all this morning. Determined to get some cruising in I climbed through the hatch and released the mooring lines from the Sampson post, instead of our usual gentle drift away we were stuck fast, hurriedly I donned the sea-waders and flew over the side with literally minutes to go before being left dry again. I heaved and pushed Shoal Waters by her bowsprit, she scraped through the mud until floating freely again. I hopped aboard and put the kettle on in celebration we were under way, gently and silently we drifted slowly through the darkness.

I soon began frantically searching through the wet foggy mist but could not make out the outer boat moored in the creek mouth, for in an instant I had lost all bearing of my position and in which way the boat was pointing or heading. The week before the first flock of wintering brent geese had landed noisily in the creek but only oyster catcher and terns could be heard nearby. The Seagull auxiliary now hangs in reserve from the transom, but I use it sparingly, much prefer the physical struggle propelling the boat under oar. I wiped the mist off the compass and paddled until we were heading south by east, making way through thick fog and darkness. At 06.30hrs, the dark shape of a boat came into view signalling a position further east than I had thought. Being springs there was a good knot of tide that could be made use of. I made a quick mental calculation of boat speed under 'tide and oar' and decided that we would be somewhere near Lower Collins Creek at low water - around 09.30hrs.

The sound of the odd motor car could now be heard in the distance which meant we were nearing the south shore, birds became louder-this does worry me at times, just like when night sailing as you know you must be very close to a shoreline or the saltings. I was startled by a boat coming from Maldon way, which was somewhere in the abyss over my starboard side, blasting his fog horn for what seemed ages before its sound slowly faded away into the east. Still nothing could be seen and Shoal Waters drifted over the crafts wake. Flotsam in the form of weed and straw, had accumulated on mass in a dark line that disappeared under the fog which clung to the seas softly rippled surface. A dark shadow caught my eye on the port side, it hung over the water in a patch of clearer mist. I paddled towards it, guessing I was somewhere off of a line of moorings and out of the main channel. A tractor could be heard trailing up and down a shingle beach which I thought may be launching boats at The Stone. I had been drifting for over two hours now and still visibility was down to a few feet all around the boat.

Drifting through morning fog

The white light of the morning sun could be stared at with the naked eye and the earlier shadow to my port side had developed into a visible shoal, an enormous one. I made a beeline for it and stopped the boat in two feet of gin clear water. I donned the sea-boots and hopped over into the freshness of the calm sea. I comforted myself in the thinking that there is no safer place to be in a fog than physically sitting on a shoal, and hopefully larger craft which may have chart plotters and the like just may know where they are and will be keeping a wide birth.


I layed out a fathom of chain and set the anchor before I took to walking around the boat giving her a good look over, all was in order so I pulled her a few feet nearer until she touched bottom, then I tried to careen her but she was not having any of this nonsense while being so laden. On looking up the mist had cleared enough to see the moorings over at The Stone, and as if by magic everything around suddenly became visible. A haze still hung in the air but the sun shone brighter and the blue sky appearing seemed to lift my spirit.

Shoal Waters was surrounded by her namesake, shingle shoals spread out for miles. In the distance two fishermen shuffled along a shoal sifting for oysters. I took a compass bearing which indicated I was in Lower Collins Creek. What a wonderful place, even more so in this eerie mist I thought. I walked along the edge of the creek pulling Shoal Waters along in tow by her painter.
In a way this was not practicing good seamanship, but I was having fun and well aware of the consequences if I were to lose the painter and she would drift away; or one may trip and fall even? The following flood tide will undoubtedly drown a duffer.

There is something special about walking along a shoreline with your boat in tow. My type of creeksailing involves a lot Longshoring, not in its stevedore context but in that of the ditch and creek-crawler, marshman or coast rambler who spends much of his time alongshore working his habits and hobbies of the sail in wild places.

I had located the the fish trap that can be seen here with relative ease due to there being a very low water spring tide. Silently I stood and observed the posts. Kneeling down I felt a line of soft wooden stakes that lay flat beneath a foot of clear water. These were thinner timbers of three feet in length, below their spiked tops they were interwoven with even thinner lengths of wood approximately an inch in diameter and would have possibly been the wooden netting. This was attached to the thicker short stumps. Careful not to disturb anything I held the stakes and was connected to another time. It is highly likely this piece of wood has not been touched by mans hand since it was first worked and carved by Saxon man over a thousand years ago. This trap dates to 5th or 6th century, and would have been Saxon style fishing on an industrial scale. This would also have gone some way in helping fuel the gathering of sea salt, for use as a preservative, from nearby salt pans that would have been in use around that time.


Ancient timbers lay undisturbed on the seabed



I moved along the creek marvelling at this wonder of mans making, wading through varying depths as I followed its contour until back near the main channel of river again. The sun gleamed off the clear, still water as it slowly made its return on the morning flood. I continued to walk along the straight line which reached west for what seemed like miles in the sea-boats I was wearing, but was perhaps just under a mile in actual length. Areas of shingle have banked up over many centuries, covering areas of the trap but its length is amazingly preserved and a visible treat for potential explorers.

Longshoring, walking the length of the Collins Creek Saxon fish trap with Shoal Waters in tow. The trap extends in a straight line as far as the eye can see in this image

The flood tide was now moving noticeably at a couple of knots but still I waded along with boat in tow, the tide forming eddys as it raced inwards between the slowly disappearing shoals.
I was now in danger of losing Shoal Waters and becoming a duffer, so I set Cold Nose the hook and hopped aboard for a refreshing cuppa.
Noting the time I then took a reading from the sounding cane which read 2 feet six inches.
15 minutes later three feet five inches, within an hour we were floating in eight feet of water-incredible tides.

A nice breeze was up after lunch which meant I could sail off to longshore another area and a little beach combing of the tide-lines.
I searched for concrete boulders that I had discovered on previous visits, I knew they would be here laying somewhere along the shore. I have often passed these and thought how dangerous they are, or would be to landing craft. These could well be WWI or earlier footings for posts that would have been part of a pontoon or gantry. I gripped them to gain a sense of their volume and was able to move one slightly which revealed an old enamel teapot. What a find. The pot was concreted into the boulder so it must have been discarded at the time for whatever reason by the men who would have been building this structure. Anyone for tea? The enamel teapot was found set in the concrete boulder that it is pictured sitting on