Sunday, 19 February 2017

Gun Punt

Writings and images from an outing on the Dengie coast in 2012 with a good sailing friend, Mike Newport.

The River Blackwater is full of marshy places where you can get real close to nature, and where a punt comes into its own.
With their small cruisers tucked up on trailers, two Blackwater small boat sailors take to extreme 'rill' crawling in gun punt Marsh Duck.
Photos: Mono images add a certain vintage flavour to punting.

Practicing waterman skills in the punt.
  Photos are from a marvelous day's punting, topped by a sighting of a hen harrier, literally 20 feet away. The owl-like bird took to flight as we edged along Gunners Creek - a glorious sight. Many other ducks were resident in large flocks not seen in these numbers for some time. All were observed from the punt.

The punt is two inches under 16 feet long which makes the tiny ditches great fun poling through the tighter extremes of a bend.
We eventually reached the foot of Linnets little cottage garden.
The photos are quite historic in themselves being likely the first time in many decades a punt has been photographed on these marshes.
Negotiating tiny rills in Gunners Creek, Essex.
My punt in the pictures is named Marsh Duck and she is pretty typical in appearance of many Blackwater punts that were built at waterside locations such as Maldon, Heybridge, Tollesbury and Mersea, being an open punt.

Punts are also inherently part of the lore of our coast and as I couldn't harm animals or wildlife, use her only for shooting photographs and ditch crawling but they would have been used back in another world, now long gone, when the weekly food shop would have had to be pulled in off the marshes.
Some punters or 'sea-gunners' preferred decking with coamings, which gives them a little more protection from shipping water.

However, if you know what to look for punts can still be found... They peep pointed ends from behind wooden sheds. They lay in saltings waiting for a tide, or covered by tarps on edge against walls. Their painted battleship greys give clues to a common trait - stealthiness.

A few of them crowd front gardens or lay abandoned-like in corners of compounds lashed to trollies until the alarm call of high water sees them off down the lanes to the hards of Blackwater creeks where spritsails are often set for small-boat cruising adventure.

Other East Coast rivers produced punts and, to compare, another friend has a fully decked, almost kayak-like punt 22 feet in length which is absolutely huge in comparison to Marsh Duck, that was built in the fifties by a well known punt builder on the River Stour.

Punts were also used prolifically on the Norfolk Broads where today they appear perhaps a slightly lower profile and fuller beam and to be sailed as well as any dinghy.

South of the Thames I would have thought Kent had its punters too, being as there is an abundance of saltmarsh around, but to date I have not read anything about gun punting in the county or of a particular punt. Although it may be because I have not looked for any either...
On the saltings: As part of our homage to Walter Linnet it was only right that we produced a Creeksailor 2012 take on the classic 1939 Douglas Went photograph.
As an appendix, and to encourage further anyone to get out there and enjoy our green and pleasant land, I would add the marshes are a beautiful place to spend some time in solitude, clear the mind and cleanse the spirit, or simply wonder at the complex formation of miniature waterways - home of our varied coastal wildlife. And one doesn't need any form of boat to get there as they are easily accessible on foot.

Good rambling, punting or sailing, Tony



Note. Images 2 and 4 appear in my book, Winkler's Tales - Duck Punt Sail & Oar Exploring On Inland & Coastal Waters.