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