Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Health N Safety

I have some very interesting pictures I wanted to put up but I couldn't resist just a little rambling spun-yarn.
It seems that even along the quiet backwaters of the Blackwater, in time forgotten creeks, where seawalls are seldom trodden but by the true ditch-crawlers and marshmen, deep admirers of this wild place, a place lost in time but held as sacred. Ghastly iron works are appearing overnight as if by some kind of crop circle like sorcery.

I first noticed the new additional furnishing to the creek last year, over on the east seawall. I remember a few of us spoke about it in bewilderment at the time but it appears they are being placed at every outfall/sluice along the river and in some instances on both sides of the seawall. I cant fathom why but it seems that an operative will now be able to traverse the wall without the indignity of a crease in the ironed pant-line.

All joking aside I can only view this as Health 'N' Safety gone bonkers. Trying to convince otherwise - maybe they are a good landing point; a modern day dock for the workaday leisure cruiser who likes to load hay and the like. And as we have a rich history of smuggling inside the river maybe they have been put there to aid the modern day smuggler, no longer content to roll up the odd barrel of rum but who now wants quick exit for boat loads of people to scramble up even? And as for that staple kit of the creek-crawler, a pair of sea-boots, the unthinkable..., now no longer needed? Now this is getting serious...

At the end of the day we shall get on with our boating, continue to cruise the creeks sample the delights of the ditches and ignore as much as possible the glaring statues of modern bureaucracy, but you cant help but wonder apathetically are these structures really necessary in such a fragile, naturally beautiful environment?

Be warned these monstrous structures are appearing overnight in all areas of the Blackwater and quite possibly in a creek near you soon. This most recent has been placed roughly 10 yards from a slipway which is to the right in this image and roughly 15 yards from a seawall stairway which is to the left in this image

This little area is so special not only to me but to many others who know of it. Surely there must be another more needing cause to spend all the hard gathered tax payers cash on. I cant help a little sarcasm as I have been hopping down this little wall for years but now an operative will need to undo the chain and pass through the posts holding tightly to one side. But what if the operative slips and hurts themselves on the hard metal, metal which now has to be maintained and is now open to vandalism...

Friday, 2 December 2011

A Sailing Season In Shoal Waters

I wrote this article for the Tollesbury S C's Windward newsletter; November edition, but I know some of you will be interested to read it.

Well, the sailing season has come to an end again, all too soon for most of us I’m sure. For me, 2011 began with the purchase of what is for the cruising sailor perhaps one of the East Coast’s most iconic little sailing vessels, the 16’6” wooden gaff cutter Shoal Waters. Taking on any boat has its responsibilities but a wooden boat does have to be tended to that bit more, especially the older they become.
Shoal Waters was home built by the venerable Charles Stock in 1963 after purchasing the ready formed Fairey Falcon hull which were made of hot-moulded agba veneers.
Charles went on to sail her for 47 glorious years covering over 75000 nautical miles, all without the use of an engine or modern gadgets such as depth sounders or GPS systems, before his retirement from sailing in 2010 due to progressive ill health.
The previous season I had explored every creek in the Blackwater with my 16 foot pocket cruiser, also gaff cutter rig, Huffler (now gone to a new owner). This culminated in the publishing of my book which describes my type of creek sailing, called ‘Ready About on the River Blackwater’ back in July.
During the very first cruise I took in Shoal Waters, it had dawned on me the sheer magnitude of Charles’ achievement in covering all those cruising miles in such a tiny little boat without the auxiliary back up and the other modern gadgets that many of us have come to rely on.
After a season sailing her, I can confidently say that each time I got down to my mooring in the creek, to go cruising, she had not been away somehow magically sailing more sea miles but was sat still, awaiting her skippers next command, for although a boat may be capable of covering a fair coastal passage it is only the enthusiasm and energy of the adventurous skipper that makes it happen. Exactly what Charles did during all the memorable years he had with her.
Since her launch through the’ Hatches’ at Goldhanger Creek I have cruised to most of the creeks inside the river, my current favorite being Mell Creek, right up beside the old dock. Like many of my other haunts, I never see another boat in here. As well as the farm on the picturesque hill beside the creek where pretty white cows moo contentedly, and the wildness of the nearby wick marshes from where I have seen an owl fly over the creek in broad daylight, Mell Creek is especially handy for a trot up to the village to gather fresh supplies of bread and milk at Fred's Stores in Mell Road.
When the weather has allowed I have made passages out of the river and over the mudflats to squeeze through the Rays’n and visit the rivers Crouch and Roach where a myriad of moody, evocative creeks and desolate islands lay waiting to be explored.
The River Colne also has some interesting creeks that I have visited three or four times this year and one of the highlights for me has to be reaching the top of Fingringhoe Creek, under sail in little more water than a heavy due. This pretty little waterway is better known as the Roman River and is set in a delightful valley. The sight of the former tidal mill as you round the last tight bend is reward indeed for one’s efforts. I have also ventured up to the Walton backwaters, where I spent a wonderful couple of nights, out of 33 nights spent on-board this season, beside a group of seals. Other enjoyable trips were visiting old navigation markers such as the Buxey Beacon or the Wallet Spitway.
On the 15th of October, the day after a mini cruise inside the Blackwater that can only be described as a creek sailor’s dream. I took her back through the Hatches for her layup which will no doubt be a winter of much TLC.
We are truly fortunate that the Blackwater estuary has so many creeks, waterways, inlets, beaches, islands and historic maritime villages which make it an ideal base for the cruising sailor. I hope you have all had an enjoyable season at Tollesbury Sailing Club. You certainly have your fair share of magical creeks close by.
All in all I could not have asked for a better first season with my new boat Shoal Waters. I have got to know her subtle little ways and already she feels like a part of me that I could not do without.
Let’s hope for some good sailing in 2012.
Tony Smith,
Creeksailor, gaff cutter Shoal Waters

Friday, 14 October 2011


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

Monday, 26 September 2011

Colne Barge Match

A few images from the River Colne barge match.

Other than this picture of Decima sporting the Tiptree logo on her tops'l, which I think is brilliant to see today. The theme of these images was to include a piece of the barge from where they are taken.
It is similar to the Through The Porthole images in that I am framing the subject. This is something I like to play with when taking pictures as in many instances I feel the viewer has a better perspective.

For the weaker willed sailors among us the romance of sail can sometimes be cruely shattered. To have to wake at 04.00 am to do a spot of winching,(raising the anchor)which lasts for about ten minutes and is best described as a full blown cardio and muscle endurance blast, is not everyones cup of tea, but it gives a good insight to the working life of the crew who would have lived aboard these old barges in the heyday of working sail.

Decima's tops'l fills as her mainsail slowly unbrails.

Marjorie and the cute little farm barge Cygnet. Note the tiller steering on Cygnet

Observed through this giant fairlead the luffing begins on a beautiful morning

Smacks were first to take off, the gun cracking half an hour before the barge start

Friday, 16 September 2011

Sea Country

For boaters with a hunger for the picturesque scenery that makes up a large part of our sea country, a few images to ease us into the autuminal loom. Can it get any better than this? I wonder. Not going to mention any names but some of you may recognise these creeks. For countryside lovers, bridle-path walkers and sea ramblers alike, an amble along a waterway such as these is all that is needed to send you rushing home completely rejuvinated, to tackle that mountain of ironing or that stack of paperwork at the office.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Although I like to admire these old girls from a distance when cruising the tidal rivers and creeks, I also like to get involved at a hands on level with there general upkeep.
The Phoenician has had much work done on her over the last six months while sat along the quayside. This has included replacing certain areas of her deck, as well as a new topmast.
Jobs like these are best done by professional shipwrights, but most of the work involved in keeping the old girls afloat does not need that level of skill.
One of her last jobs before this passed weekend's shakedown sail was to replace the hatch covers. Although the hatches have Houdini windows fitted, they are all individually removable to allow access to the hold, just as would have been the case when she would have been a working barge.

Here insulation board is fitted before boards are laid over. This is then followed by the fitting of a soft underlay before the new waterproof cover, which was supplied by North Sea Sails can be fitted.
Finally the Houdini windows are fitted with mastic used to create the rubber seals.

The weekend 'shakedown' began with the 'crew' assembling on Friday evening, before a little midnight motoring from Maldon's Fullbridge Quay down to Osea and 'The Bay', to drop anchor and sleep. This was an interesting start as half of the buoys on the way down are not lit.
I had been allocated the aft quarter cupboard berth which had laying headroom. The polished hardwood doors are vented by ornate fretwork allowing one to breathe. The other plus of this berth is that the joint of the 12 inch by 2 inch thick planking to the barges framed transom can be used as a raised pillow area. It has to be said, a lovely couple of nights were had here.
A cooked breakfast the following morning was followed by a glorious sail down the Blackwater, and out of the river and into the Colne.
We found a spot to lay anchor just above Brightlingsea Creek. Once the barge had settled and began swinging pendulant to anchor, two crew abandoned ship via the barge boat in search of the bright lights of London.
A peaceful night was had anchored opposite Batemans Tower. Sat on deck after dark the mast tops of a dozen or so yachts could be made out. They were lit candle-like, and lined Pyefleet Creek. Being the beginning of Mersea Regatta week, a few fireworks went up over the island. Leaving the River Colne the following morning around low water, the barge was motored back to the Blackwater, passing the Bench Head buoy.

By the time we had reached Bradwell a classic F4 wind over tide was blowing. In my little ship this livens things up considerably, but is hardly noticeable on the barge.
I was given the helm and took her from Bradwell to Heybridge Creek. This was no mere doddle as fleets of dinghies buzzed across the bow like gnats coming out of nowhere while passing Stone. All good fun which was repeated at Hillypool Point as BSC racing dinghies criss-crossed the narrow channel as simultaneously  a fleet of Squibs, and three or four cruising yachts, along with 84 foot of ourselves converged on the little red port hand buoy. After motoring the barge down from Maldon in the dark this was comparatively easy, at least I could now see who I would be flattening!

It will not take long to wear the new hatch cover in?

Unmistakable, Osea Island while heading into the Narrows in a F4 headwind

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The River Pant

By Tony Smith
 Historically the tidal Blackwater was once known as The Pant and even today some people around the Blackwater still call it The Pont or The Pant. It may be of surprise to some that inland the fresh water river is still called The Pant.
While researching for the Creeksailor book I took a ride out in search of this small tributary. Clad in walking boots I rambled my way to the very source of the Blackwater, roughly 30 miles deep inland.
When I realised I had found the beginning of the Pant I had mixed feelings, almost an anti climax even, I wasnt sure what I was expecting to find but there I stood 400 feet above sea level surrounded by farm fields and brackish shrub. I had ended up in a small field just outside the Essex market town of Saffron Walden, standing over one of the main sources of the River Blackwater, the River Pant, and at the exact spot where the river begins its journey.
My observations as a creeksailor say that at this point, this small river could be likened to a grass covered rill cutting through the mud, a very unexciting one at that. But, when you actually think about this little trickle of fresh water-way winding its way slowly seaward alongside bridleways flanked with mature trees such as the mighty oak, flowing under small brick built victorian arches that span quiet tracks that are the haunt of the yeoman; passing great country halls and peacefull hamlets, building in size and glory the further east the river flows, the excitement begins to build inside.

Here are a series of pictures of The Pant culminating at the mighty arm of the sea-The River Blackwater.

Not your everyday farmers hedgerow. The Pant begins here.

Another view of the very beginning of The Pant

Slowly beginning to grow. 2 inches deep? Could possibly get the punt in here

Just navigable in a dinghy perhaps

Bridge over the River Pant. The colourful daffodills are a clue to what time of year.

Still deep in the Essex countryside and more bridges

A typical field bounding The Pant near Wimbesh

Another delightful little bridge. The Pant noticably getting larger now.

The Pant passes through the small village of Radwinter. The excitement builds in more ways than one, I actually ended up in the Pant here. While changing my camera's SD card it fell into the River.

The Pant eventually enters the Blackwater and chelmer Navigation making its way to Heybridge. Before the canal was dug out It would have entered through Heybridge Creek which is now dammed.

The fresh waters of the Pant eventually pass through Heybridge lock gates to become open sea water. Incidently this image also shows how close you need to keep to the withies when comming into or leaving the lock

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Creeksailor Book

Ready About On The River Blackwater

Exploring the creeks, ditches and shoals in a small boat

YOU can almost smell the salt-impregnated marshes and feel the oozing, gurgling, cloying mud when you read this affectionate little book.

Here is a rarity among sailing tomes, a pocket-size book written exclusively for the pocket cruiser sailor. Tony Smith does not pretend to teach you how to cross the Channel or navigate a sleek modern 40-footer in blue water.

Like his great mentor, Charles Stock, whose iconic pea-green gaff-cutter Shoal Waters he know owns, Tony has sailed, pushed, shoved, poled and rowed up every inch of every creek of the River Blackwater.

Some of his haunts are connected by what could be described more accurately as a ditch, a few so remote that intrepid shoal-draft adventurer Stock himself has never navigated them.

One thing remains crystal clear amid these murky, muddy waters. It is that carpenter Smith, himself a skilled craftsman, retains a respect for those old traditional skills . . . a yearning for past ideals . . . and an unashamed love of the Blackwater.

Note: Both editions sold out.
32110 words
124 photographs; 101 colour 23 mono, plus 1 colour illustrated map:
18 chapters
148 pages
Size A5 paper back
Published by Smaller Boat Publications
Colour editionISBN 978-0-9569030-0-6
Mono edition ISBN 978-0-9569630-2-4

 Read tales of small-boat adventure, in and around an incredible 62 named creeks that can be found and navigated in the River Blackwater. This is the River Blackwater book everyone should own a copy of, a must have for all mariners and outdoor explorers heading to this fantastic cruising area.
Foreword written by Charles Stock.

UK price: Mono edition £10.00
                  Postage UK £2.95

Please Note UK buyers do not need a PayPal account and can use the set fee PayPal button below.

Please Note Overseas buyers will need to have a Paypal account. It is then a simple matter of sending the correct postage with the book cost to smallerboat at hotmail dot co dot uk address.

RE: NZ £8.00 AUS £8.00 USA £8.00 EU £6.00

Other overseas buyers please email for correct postage. If not sure email first.

What readers have said:

A thoroughly enjoyable little book by a man whose obvious love of the "Path Less Travelled" shines through on every page. A must have addition for anyone who yearns for the smell of the mud, the sound of the birds and the solitude that still exists under the big sky country of the Blackwater Estuary. by P Mullings

Dear Tony

I wanted to let you know how much I've enjoyed your beautiful book.

My son and daughter-in-law ordered a copy for me, very soon after it became available, having noted my enthusiastic comments about your Creeksailer blog some while ago.

What a good idea they had!

Your book is a sheer delight. It encapsulates much of what I enjoy about sailing, and I appreciated it even more having very recently started to sail a Lune Whammel. A result of downsizing from larger boats that I seemed to sail less and less. Skylark is a refreshingly simple craft - shallow long keel, gaff sloop rig, and a pram-hood tent to give you a two-berth canvas cabin. Basic, but it does the job very sweetly.

We live on the south coast, and usually sail in Chichester Harbour, but visit Mersea Island from time to time - my father had a boat there for some 25 years or so, and I have many fond memories of sailing on and around the Blackwater.

Not sure I'll manage it within what's left of this season, but your book has certainly inspired me to tow Skylark up to the Blackwater area for a week or two in the not too distant future.

Thanks again for your delightful, evocative book, and I wish you every success with it.

And I'll keep reading your blog!

All the best

Thanks for letting me know of this link as I am truly humbled by this review of the muddy little book by Bill 'the ultimate blogger' Sergeant. Bill gets what the book is about and his term the 'crown jewels' is absolutely spot on. You can read what Bill thought about Ready About on the River Blackwater here Bills Log

The little muddy book has had no marketing as such other than what you see on this site, and yet it has reached discerning readers who occupy the far corners of the globe.
Thank you to everyone one who has purchased a copy. I can only apologise to who ever has the task in your respective households to the washing of muddy clothing and wellies from here on in.

The best place to buy your copy and help support the muddy cause is right here on this site.
Buying a copy here means I can deal with you direct, even signing copies with my mud print if you insist, as some have.
I have tried to keep the cost of the book as low as possible in the hope that more will come to know about the beautiful creeks as possible and Creek Sailing in general.

I have received many emails from readers who have enjoyed the book along with comments from the really afflicted that they cant put it down. With their permission I have been able to place one or two of them here.

The book illustrates my type of creek sailing and ditch crawling giving the reader a true glimpse into the magic of minimalist small-boat cruising. With a small illustrated map included you are able to see where 62 named creeks can be found along with other interesting features. As well as traditional sailmaking and traditional boatbuilding the book contains a chapter on the duck punt, the Mersea punt in particular, and has generated a bit of interest in the boat which is great news as they are fantastic little boats.

Review by Mike Lewis, editor of Blackwater Sailing Barge Match Association newsletter
The Pennant.

A delightful little book written by a true enthusiast for the exploration of the saltings, ditches and gutways of the Blackwater.
Tony Smith has investigated every tiny corner of the river in his 16ft gaff rigged boat "Huffler"and has an infectious sense of enjoyment in the mysterious beauty of the estuary in its many moods which constantly change with the tide and weather.
His enquiring mind has delved into the history of the river - red hills and ancient fish traps and much more.
He is a skilled carpenter with a proper appreciation of traditional skills with a chapter on the construction of "Marsh Duck" his 16ft gun punt and other chapters on traditional sail making and boatbuilding.
The book is lavishly illustrated with excellent photos of the most remote corners of the river and is well worth the £11.99 purchase price.

Hi Tony, 
I recently bought your book, and after reading it through cover to cover twice, 
couldn't wait to get started on the Blackwater, to see if I too could experience that which you so eloquently evoke.
 I built a Morbic 12 (designed by Francois Vivier) last year for my kids and I to learn to sail in, 
and we got it wet for the first time off the Pembrokeshire coast last summer. 
Following that we were getting a bit bored lake sailing near my home.
After devouring your wonderful book I quickly made a boom tent and spent an idyllic monday/Tuesday a couple of weeks ago, 
I brought my friend along, and we beached in Mell Creek. Beautiful sunset. Fresh samphire with our pasta. 
Woken by the boat floating at 4.30am I looked out the stern and a large bass jumped past my anchor line...
Sunrise quite literally breathtaking. 
After returning to Bradwell to drive F to Southminster for train back to London, 
I returned to the boat and spent rest of morning sailing alone in a state of utter bliss...
Giggling and saying aloud more than once  " it - just - doesn't - get - any - better - than - THIS "
Thank you so much for your wonderful book.
Yours gratefully

21/08/12  Maldon Tourist Information Centre, in Wenlock Way, just off the high street, have been selling copies since Christmas.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

East Coast Old Gaffers

As Shoal Waters began to float, I let go her mooring lines and began a gentle sail down river over the incoming tide. Beside Gore Saltings I found the wind was not blowing enough to push the old girl through, so I had no choice but to fire up the Iron Tops'l.

It was Friday the 1st of July and the East Coast Old Gaffers weekend meet had already started with a voluntary passage race to the Nass Beacon. This was to be followed by an early lunch at the old oyster Packing Shed, in Thornfleet Creek.
As I entered Thornfleet, many sails were raised and boats were already leaving for Brightlingsea, where the weekend gathering was based.
I was just able to motor sail over the spring ebb, up the creek, to land right beside the Shed where I stepped ashore to say hello to the remaining Gaffers.

I was soon off again, drifting down the creek in searing heat and still with hardly any wind.
Although I had decided to spend the coming three days and two nights in the company of fellow Gaffers, I had already thought about potential opportunities of reaching the head of one or two solitary creeks that can be found near to the Colne Yacht Club base.

Shoal Waters had been at the first 13 years Old Gaffers events, winning her race on the second year so it was a joy for me to be able to bring her along once again. Although she would not be racing it is a good chance to celebrate the glory of gaff rig, and just wallow among acres of traditional canvas.

Heading out towards the River Colne I found myself in company with a few other boats on course for the Cocum Hills beacon. With the pace this slow it is helped some by being able to admire a pretty yacht or a classic smack drifting/sailing nearby.

When East Mersea Church came into view on the high ground, I cut across the Cocum Hills heading straight for Brightlingsea Creek. There is a small creek along this stretch of the Mersea shore called Fen Creek. The creek is one of those remote, high tide creeks, that if coming to visit it from far up either the Colne, or Blackwater rivers you will probably have to go against the ebb to get back home.

It was not long before I was in the Colne and sailing up Brightlingsea Creek. On reaching the pontoons I dropped all sail as a water taxi came to greet me. I said I was with the Old Gaffers, upon which he kindly pointed where to raft and helped me get across the rapidly flooding creek.

Stepping from my own boat onto a pontoon is something that I have not done for years, so it felt strange not having to reach for the wellies. As did paying a water taxi to take me over to the Yacht Club. Immediately I felt a yearning for the more familiar muddy marsh-lined bank to scramble up. After a fish and chip supper washed down with a few beers in the club house all was well though, and I retreated to the boat (via water taxi). The immediate neighbours were very nice people who had came from Bradwell marina, and we chatted until way after dark.

The following morning I made way down the creek, passing Bateman's Tower where the guns fired off the start of the race. There was hardly any wind but those carrying tops'ls seemed to glide magically to the front, and beyond of the fleet. After a slow start the sea breeze kicked in for the sail back to the Blackwater to round The Nass and back again.

Returning to the Colne, boats began mooring along the pontoons again but the wind was now just perfect for a spot of creek-crawling. I would not be 'pontooning' it tonight, no, enough of civilities, pomp and pageantry. With this wind I was able to sail along the eastern stretch of Brightlingsea Creek past the moored boats and took off, up St Osyth Creek.
Something that constantly amazes while cruising the East Coast is the ability to move in a very short time, from a very busy stretch of waterway, to an almost millstream waterway without a soul in sight.

While crawling along St Osyth Creek it can be hard to think that there is life at the top of this little winding waterway. The creek has many turns, where Shoal Waters became stuck once or twice, which is all part of the fun of Creeksailing.

I was able to reach the Mill Dam at the very top of the creek. The last bend before the handful of finger mud moorings has a small, low lying port marker staked into the bank, this is hardly noticeable but which you have to keep very close to indeed. This was pointed out to me by a mooring holder shouting and waving frantically to warn me I was crossing a 'fools only' shallow area. He could not have noticed the sounding cane waving wildly beside me, signalling I was in 18 inches of brine.
A special treat for me was to see Edme sitting beside the Mill Dam. This was the icing on the cake, there were other craft dotted about but her sitting there allows you to glimpse at another time, she made the whole scene.

Water does not stay long at the top of the creek, but I had decided to creep back down, through its playfully sticky bends. To think barges still come up and down this tiny creek! I passed Pin Cushion Island and back into Brightlingsea Creek. Being such a beautiful evening I sailed inland, along into Flag Creek. As well as avoiding mud shoals, motor skis play along here, but Shoal Waters was again in familiar grounds, and keeping to the withie markers was able reach the derelict Wellwick Wharf, which once handled sand and gravel.

I was tempted to dry here for the night but stayed floating and made way back to Brightlingsea Creek and the pontoon pageantry opposite the yacht club. With many boats packed alongside I sailed into the shallow water of the hard to drop anchor. Drying here will allow me to use my own taxi dinghy in the form of size eleven waders.

I was soon in the smack dock sipping fine cider and ale among fellow Gaffers again. This was folowed by an evening in the clubhouse bar.

Fully topped up with refreshments I was able to use my 'taxi waders' again to climb aboard for a sound night.

The early morning tide took me out along the coast to Clacton pier, stopping on the way at the two Martello towers that can be seen along Jaywick. The Jaywick Martello Tower is over 200 years old and is one of 103 towers, built to repel invading Napolean armies.
This tower has been restored with a glass observatory on its top, for the view across the wallet alone it is worth visiting. Another interesting note is that the 750,000 thousand bricks used to construct the tower were delivered by coastal sailing barges.

Sailing along Brightlingsea Creek

Nearing the head of St Osyth Creek

Flag Creek at Wellwick Wharf

Gliding through the fleet with full Tops'l

The Glory of gaff rig sailing, heading towards the Colne

A slow start

A horse comes to see what all the fuss is about at Mersea Stone

1st Small-Boat Sailor's Rally

The season it seems is moving along all to quickly. With the Small-Boat Sailor's event last month taking the full force of the dreaded number six and above weather forecast. All was not lost though, as three small boats were able to attend, rafting at the very top of the creek in unbelievable flat calm. The sun shone as the obligatory steak and kidney puddings were being cooked in kettles, as sheer throth raised havoc on the main river, a mere few hundred yards away.
Thanks for turning out chaps Im sure you will agree that in light of the dreaded forecast a pleasant day was had.
Thank you to all who sent emails in support for this meet but were unable to attend due to the weather. There will be more oportunities to meet up later so keep an eye here for further dates.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Ditch-Crawling In Shoal Waters

DITCH-CRAWLING in Shoal Waters to some of my favorite haunts has been very enjoyable indeed. She is already feeling like a home from home. Especially having the 12 inch draft like Huffler, which means she can get in all the ditches and tiny creeks as I could in Huffler.
Like Huffler I have probably sailed her for 70% of the time in less than three feet of water, which is classic Creeksailor territory. Every Friday night has been spent on board as well as other midweek jaunts, not yawnfuly clocking miles but rather spending 'quality time on board,' either floating or sitting in the mud of one of the beautiful creeks. I suppose we are fortunate in that when it is blowing force five or six there is always some cruising grounds to potter in, where conditions are more civilised. This photograph shows an area of ditches which has small flocks of terns dive bombing for fish. And they are not shy, even resting on the bowsprit between dives.
To find out where this wonderful little creek is you will have to purchase a copy of the Creeksailor book, which will be out and for sale in two weeks time.

With the pocket book 'Creeksailor Ready About on The River Blackwater' now at the printers I am already gathering new material for the next title and Like Ready About On the River Blackwater it will be packed with useful information and many photographs that illustrate my type of creek-sailing/ditch-crawling.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

2012 Small-Boat Sailors rendezvous.

First rendezvous this year will be held on Saturday 26th of May 2012.
Goldhanger Creek. HW 16:33. All weather permitting of course.
If this date is blown out for any reason the next opportunity will be Saturday 9th of June.

Just a little info for those that do not already know of the Small Boat Sailors group. We are group of small boat enthusiasts formed at a gathering with Charles Stock on his mooring at Ballast Hole, Heybridge 2010 on his retirement from sailing.
Our aim is to celebrate
small boat cruising for the sheer fun of it by rendezvousing in the memory and ethos of Charles. No restrictions on class of boat, but all attendees are asked to bring the obligatory steak and kidney puddings to be cooked the AC Stock method, in the kettle. and as we are a group of friends, by hanging wellies from sterns and attending you do so at your own risk. If your boat can take the ground this may be of benefit as we anchor in very shallow water and may also beach.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Collins Creek Targets

THE Targets just north-west of Collins Creek, are two contorted, twisted and torn steel wrecks that give another glimpse of days gone by. The wrecks were used in WW2 as target practice. It must have been a quiet time on the river, shipping-wise, while these were being shot at? Many working craft, inside the river at the time, would still be under power of sail only. The Targets, marked by two black and red isolated danger buoys, are placed north and south of the hazard, and for most of the time the are covered. To keep well clear of the buoys makes a lot of sense...
I use the north of the two buoys to navigate, when creeping up Thirslet Creek. At low water springs, the wrecks are an interesting feature. These images were taken about an hour after low water, when there was enough salt to let me get in real close. Although; I avoided throwing the hook over the side, as you never know, it could just land on something!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Ray Sand Swatchway

Exploring The Ray Sand Channel By Tony Smith

  Between the rivers Crouch and Blackwater a small swatchway known as the Ray Sand Channel can be found.  For mariners perhaps the main feature of the channel is that it enables a shorter passage when passing between the rivers Crouch and Blackwater. To use the swatchway today one must work the tide to his advantage as the southern end of the channel dries at low water. The natural movement of sand over a period of 100 years or so has gradually filled in what was once a twelve feet deep channel at low water.
The swatchway is encompassed by vast plains of drying sand banks; Buxey Sands lies to the east, Foulness Sands to the south and Ray Sand to the west. Along with Foulness and Maplin Sands further south of the Crouch the area makes up some of the most naturally wild and remote cruising areas in Essex. Heading south into the Raysn at 10.30 hrs. Low water at Southend 11.08. With the channel at this state of tide the sounding cane was most suitable.
At low tide the sands and mudflats are uncovered and spread far out from the deserted wilderness that makes up the shoreline. At this time rippling patterns in the mud can be seen. The patterns are repeated again and again as they disappear into the horizon until lapped by the breaking waves of the sea, an incredible two miles away. To the observing eye these naturally formed shapes resemble a work created by the artists pallet knife and are often wondered at.
At first glance when heading south, towards the channel from the Blackwater, it appears that navigation marks are few. However, using traditional navigation methods the cruising skipper will soon find that as Mersea Island slowly disappears in the mists of his ships wake the Buxey Beacon on the horizon to the south-east of the channel becomes clearly visible.
The Buxey Beacon is soon found to the southeast.
To find the yellow Ray Sand buoy that marks the channels southern most point will take a more patient skipper though as not until you are fully bounded by shoal water, being funneled towards the deep waters of the Whitaker Channel and the outer Crouch will the elusive Ray Sand buoy be located.
Other useful bearings can be found nearby to landward as The Dengie and St Peters Flats are home to four iron shipwrecks that were placed here during the war to enable firing practice by pilots from the nearby Bradwell Bay airfield. A small railway was used to get out on the mudflats to service these targets. The former targets are sited in pairs, and marked with unlit east and west cardinal spars.
The outer most of the two southern wrecks that can be found. Being around low water neaps the wreck is just partly covered. Although I ventured within fifty feet or so it really is not recommended.
Along with the targets another useful feature is the wavebreak that has been placed at the shoreline in the form of steel barge lighters about midway down this stretch of coast to help protect the eroding marshland.
The very nature of the underlying seabed diminishing rapidly the further south you go is in itself an experience not to be missed, but add to this the landward side of the channel offers the small boat adventurer opportunities to discover isolated cockleshell beaches backed by saltmarsh. This saltmarsh abuts a seawall that like the majority in Essex were built around the 17th to 19th century so as the enclosed land could be used for agriculture or building purposes. The seawall stretches 10 miles from the mouth of the River Blackwater to the entrance of the River Crouch.
12.20hrs. Wavebreak 300 deg, Buxey Beacon 90 deg, three feet water, wind SE F3. The lighters forming a wave break can be found roughly five miles south of Sales Point. With most of the passage south being in three feet of water and against a south east wind a repeated tack out to find another foot or so was the order of the day.

Some time later. Even though I had located the elusive Ray Sand buoy which was within half a mile away, Shoal Waters could go no further. With nowhere else to go to find a few more inches I hove to a waited for the incoming tide. The trusty sounding cane has become a third arm. I often loose these over the side when things get too hectic which is heartbreaking when the little piece of stick has served you so well. For this reason I have resorted to buying them in bundles and marking them up in bulk to carry spares down below.

The tide line south of the wavebreak has a number of small creeks indent the marsh. These outfalls reach inland to the seawall where thousands of acres of level farmland spreads west under big open skies towards the nearest villages of Southminster, Tillingham, and Bradwell On Sea, a good four or five miles away.
The unspoilt nature of the area makes up a nutrient rich environment where migrating wildfowl and wading birds find food and shelter. For the creek sailor this is perhaps a number one ingredient for a prime cruising ground. With creek names such as Hoo Outfall, Grange Outfall, Bridgewick and Glebe Outfall, Sandbeach Outfall and Marsh House Outfall the possibility's for adventure are many.

Approaching The elusive Ray Sand buoy. This leg of the passage is the shallowest of all with no deep water escape route. Crossing the sands towards the buoy I was able to find a little more water just north of the buoy. NOTE: Since writing this article, two red and white safe water buoys have been placed in the channel in a north south direction.
Note 2017: Since the new red and white safe water buoys were put in place I had (and still do) called them North RW and South RW. However, the powers that be have named them Ray North and Ray Middle, and since the beginning of 2016 are calling the Ray Middle the Ron Pipe... I guess what I know as the Ray Buoy (yellow) is now the Ray South...
The Ron Pipe was a buoy named after a Burnham gentleman marking the Buxey/Swallowtail that was removed when new buoyage was placed in the Crouch a few years ago for the Crossrail Project.
Of course, none of this name business really matters until there is a mishap, perhaps, and someone needs to call for help and give a position. As far a navigation goes it's in each and every skipper's own interest, whether they have their own names or not, to know the correct names/numbers in general use. And the more sea marks we have at our disposal the safer we can make our passage. Good sailing.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

St Lawrence Bay

Facing NW, the river viewed from the high ground overlooking St Lawrence Bay. The rich green fields and bold blue sky take the eye away from the playground of water the through the centre. Click on the image to enlarge. Yacht moorings can be seen at Stone and appearing mudflats can just be made out to the right as can the Thirslet .

Sunday, 27 March 2011

SB Ardwina

The Thames sailing barge Ardwina visiting Fullbridge Quay recently. She later went into a dry dock here which is a huge iron lighter type hull. The hull is filled with water which enables a boat to float in. Before filling with the rising tide waters wooden Blocks are set out and lashed to the bottom to avoid them floating away. After the tide has retreated the water inside the hull is released which leaves the barge sitting nicely on the blocks enabling a thorough survey or any necessary work to be carried out at leisure.

The Ardwina was built at Ipswich in 1909 and can generally be seen at her mooring in St Kathrine's dock on the River Thames, London. Lady Jean can just be made out behind her.

Fullbridge Quay, Maldon. The river here is actually the River Chelmer.

Ardwina looks in good shape.

Ardwina again looking in fine form. Locals may notice the former naval ship Defender in the background who can usually be seen at her mooring just above Heybridge Basin.