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.