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.