Sunday, 25 November 2012

Thames Estuary

 Part of a sail down London River, during the Essex Loop trip. Shows an approach into Havengore Creek. Enjoy. TS

Monday, 12 November 2012

Wallasea Island

As The Wheel of capital growth turns the tide on fortunes that are made or lost, its turning also affects our landscape and how it can change for better or worse. We can’t help but notice some of these effects and at the same time seem ignorant to others. If you sail in and around the River Crouch one change that can’t go unnoticed is the Wallasea Island Wild Coast project. The project began in 2005 when a new seawall was built 300 yards or so further south before the Island’s seawalls that line the River Crouch, opposite Burnham, were breached in 2006. Breaching the seawalls in this way is not only creating the new habitat for wild birds but also a new area to explore for skippers of shoal draft boats. In addition to the new inlets created along the River Crouch side of the Island (north), there are artist plans that show the project will create up to six new creeks, using soil from London’s Crossrail project, that will exit into the River Roach (south), by the time of its predicted completion in 2019. 
  Breaching seawalls in this way has been done before in the name of Managed Realignment in other rivers in the hope that giving a little back to nature will in effect hold off the rising sea water levels for longer and at the same time create these additional areas that become new homes to wildlife. In the case of Wallasea Island, which is now managed by RSPB, the creating of these wetlands is seen as giving back to nature what was taken in the earlier development of the ports of Felixstowe and Sheerness.
   There are other examples of sudden change in our rivers and creeks; perhaps the ultimate unwanted change for the majority living within a 40 mile radius of it at the time was the building of Bradwell nuclear power station (now closed) in the Blackwater, the painted white 'modernist' building of the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club in the Crouch dropped as many jaws as it did raise a smile, as did the marina development in Brightlingsea Creek which had skippers and crews simultaneously scratching their heads in a mad search for sanity as they made way up such a beautiful creek. People have frowned on other changes such as the building of the Olympic site (a good example of city landscape view changed), the Millennium Dome, The London Eye, the Shard etc, etc. It can be a wonder that with so much change one can still find places unchanged, but still, when he sets a small sail he can be wind-blown to the forgotten corners of our coast.  Even so it’s getting harder and one must learn to yield to it for wherever we go today the landscape is continually changing, be it naturally or by man’s intervention. Intervene and we are creating our own history for future earth dwellers to wonder over, just as I wonder at structures and objects that were placed in our creeks decades or centuries ago, so although I still can’t quite come to terms with the landscape changing so rapidly, (I’m told this is a sign of getting older) or with the physical impact of landscape changes such as densely encroaching housing, wind farms obliterating the sea view. Are these unreasonable thoughts? It’s nigh on impossible today to find somewhere that has not been changed I here you say...
This panoramic image was taken just days before the new jetty on wallasea Island was officially opened

  With Crossrail's involvement in the forming of the new wetland on Wallasea it is no exaggeration to say this is the largest movement of earth for decades.  Two new tunnels being bored side by side for a distance of 21 kilometres will result in 42 kilometres of tunnelling spoil that will be transported by sea, down the Thames for a short jaunt up the coast to pick up the Crouch’s newly placed system of navigation buoys which will lead them into the River and up to the new purpose built jetty on Wallasea Island where it will be dispersed. Cranes are sited on the Jetty to undertake this enormous task. As the coastal barges dock alongside the cranes will place the soil into a huge conveyor belt system which in turn will then strategically place the soil to create the new landscape.
  For me the whole Wallasea project raises just one point. Take a moment to look around in the unique archipelago of islands and creeks that make up this very special part of the UK, as I have done in my boat and on foot, you will see they are a mud filled saltmarsh-fringed haven for seals and other important wildlife such as wild plants, the curlew, gulls, geese and ducks. Aren’t we creating something that is already there? 

Links RSPB


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Countryman

If like me you have an interest in history and all things country as well as the sea coast then this little gem is worth a look. This month is particularly special as there is a small boat cruising article about sailing on the River Stort and a look at the Suffolk coast.

Website link is here

History and mystery along the shore of shingle street
Gill Moon enjoys the solitude of the Suffolk coast
Wroth silver ceremony
David Norris visits the country’s oldest annual ceremony, held in Warwickshire
Shire pleasure in horses
Siân Ellis meets a Welsh horse-breeder who has been bitten by the shire horse bug
Sailing the River Stort
Tony Smith likes messing about in boats
What have the Romans ever done for us?
Gillian Hovell assesses the Romans’ impact on rural Britain
From Clee to eternity
Siân Ellis meets Shropshire local historian Alf Jenkins
Exploring St Catherine’s Hill
Stephen Roberts takes to the hills in Dorset
How do bats survive the winter?
David Worley is the man with the answers for all questions bat-related

Armistice time
Topical verse from Norman Viles
On the hoof in Aberdeenshire
Julian Schmechel explores the heather-clad hills
One man and his pig
Is Graham Ward telling porkies?
Making Windsor chairs
Paul Felix meets a master craftsman
Circum­nav­igat­ing Wales
Catherine Hughes meets a fundraising marvel who is a pioneer of the Wales Coast Path
The Northants nobleman who gave away the gunpowder plot
Dave Phillips profiles Francis Tresham of Lyveden estate
Full steam ahead on the farm
Rural nostalgia from Lincoln­shire with Alan Stennett

Practical Boat Owner

 Shoal Waters makes an appearance on the cover of November's Practical Boat Owner magazine. Ok, it is only a small one, well she is a small boat so it's quite sweet, but inside the magazine they have published the Essex Loop trip with a four page feature that includes some good photos. I love the little illustrated maps they have used with the placenames and my track marked on them.. Brill. If you have'nt already got your copy take a look, and I hope you enjoy it. Here's a link to the PBO website here

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The Wild Sea Coast

 Some of you may have read the Wild Sea Coast article I wrote for ECS magazine's September edition. Some of the pictures were of Hoo Creek. Join me in this video clip for a gentle sail along one of the East Coast's more remote creeks.

    I call this stretch of coastline that reaches from Shoeburyness in the south to Bradwell-Juxta-Mare in the north, The Wild Sea Coast. It is wild in many ways for it has very few people inhabit it, hardly any roads with public access that reach the seawalls, very few buildings to spoil the wide open spaces. Wild plants thrive here, rabbits, foxes and deer roam freely and adders swarm undisturbed in marsh and flat arable land that spans for miles.The shallow nature of the sea along this stretch of coast and the short window the tide allows means it can be difficult to explore in a sailing boat. However I have managed to explore every creek that pierces it in my boat Shoal Waters, and have rambled up and down its length many times on foot. Of the hundreds of creeks I have explored Hoo Creek can be categorised as very remote - a spartan beauty. Every creek has something different about it. It may be a particular bird species, a wreck, deep mud, a shingle beach, a wharf, trees, buildings, a ghost even. Whatever it is they all have one thing inherently in common which is the salty tide that flows into it twice in twenty four hours. Creeks (our inshore coastline) are also places where one can almost experience the past, while at the same time enjoying nature, by getting that feeling of actually touching history. Enjoy the film. TS

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

TRBT - Porpoise

  A pleasant surprise recently was to see this porpoise swimming past on its way down the River Blackwater, a rare sight. I was coming up river after sailing the course at the Maldon Regatta race, which began off Mersea Island. By the time I had grabbed the camera it had almost gone but you may just be able to see its fin. Its so nice to see these creatures swimming about. It must be nearly two years ago that one was found at the very top of Goldhanger Creek. The poor thing had become stranded and had given up where it lay in the mud. The local chronicle came down and took photos it was such a rare event. The seals that dwell in our rivers and creeks are mischievous looking little wonders too. How fortunate we are to have them reside here. A trip up Lawling is not quite the same without seeing them puppy dog faces atop the mud. I often see one or two on my way down river too, after the Goldhanger Spit Buoy, especially first thing in the morning. They do get up as far as Heybridge Creek as I have watched them diving about there also. Its quite possible they may even go further inland. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2012


   There must be dozens if not hundreds of different knots one could learn that would be useful in one way or another aboard a boat. For practical purposes most of them may not be needed to a leisure sailor as five or six basic knots could well cover the majority of situations on a small yacht. Knots such as the clove hitch, rolling hitch, figure of eight, round turn and a hitch or two, sheet bend, reef knot, anchor bend, tops'l bend, and possibly my most used knot the bowline. Actually that little lot amounts to ten knots, and if you add one or two variations plus one or two of what I call exotics which sometime get used such as a monkey's fist, which I find great for bowhauling as well as throwing to dogs, a couple of three strand splices, some whipping, seizing and that basically covers most of my sailing. Others needs may differ though and one may have a penchant for sheepshanks, carrick bends or turks heads even? Practising a few knots is just one way to keep seamanship skills live, and along with it a link to our seafaring ancestors, even knots that you personally perhaps would never use.  Other than the obvious boat handling under sail and navigation, we practise seamanship, perhaps subconsciously too, by the simplest of tasks such as cleating off a halyard or coiling a rope, in choosing a suitable place to drop anchor such as avoiding a lee shore either to stay afloat or dry out for the night, or raising a black ball when at anchor in daylight.

We practice seamanship in many ways.
Leather mousing a hoop to the mains'l luff
  I watched the tide retreat last Saturday and fasted from the squelching sounds and smells of mud and mire, and crept below the seawall at Goldhanger SC headquarters, for the practise seamanship initiative that was implemented by consolidating our knowledge (or lack of) of knots by holding a practise your sailing knots session. Attendees to the event were supported by flagons of tea and platefuls of sandwiches and cakes.. The lemon drizzle was particularly nice.. let me see, how did that splice go again? From our initial ropework requests we were taken through various knots, even one request for a truckers dolly knot came in. (I know, there's always one!).   The session was lead by Maldon's world famous 'Knotman' who can be found on the quay there throughout the summer months tying decorative knots of all descriptions or rigging a barge or two.

  While most yachts on moorings slowly leave the rivers and creeks for the shelter of hards and club compounds many folk will begin studying charts and reading material to decide on next years cruising plans. I will no doubt join them but my seamanship initiative will continue over the winter layup to as I have persuaded one of our old sea dogs, and we have a few real salty ones down the creek, to lead a sculling session or two, which, as well as practising the art should be good fun.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Broomway

                                                                                                                                        By T Smith
READERS MAY have read my earlier posts about the Broomway, that fabled old byway, and its surrounding areas in my articles titled 'A Closer Look at Foulness Island', 'Broomway' or 'Islands And Creeks'. I have sailed over the Broomway on many occasions in two to four feet of water and over the years have walked parts of it at low tide, never completing the full length from Wakering Stairs to Fisherman's Head. Until now that is.  Although there is nothing new about the road as it has been a means of access to Foulness Island for centuries, possibly even being used by the Romans but what I have found from my sea rambling along the fringes of the East Coast in my small boat or my walks when clad in mud or ramblers boots is this stretch of coast evokes something more than just an appreciation of the wild and open spaces - far more for when alone on these vast planes one can become engulfed in the surrounding natural beauty. Wild, open spaces like the Maplin Sands give one an awareness of our total insignificance in the wider planet, something that the cruising sailor would already have a sound grasp of, and are, with their mile after mile of baron emptiness, a truly pure place where ones thoughts can run amok. For anybody who is yet to experience one of the great attractions of going to sea alone in a small boat then a very close simili can be gleaned here on foot in this wet-sand desert,

  There are two sea-forts visible miles away to the east, in the Thames Estuary, and gunning lookout towers are clearly visible along the shore of Foulness Island, so at the same time it is places like the Maplins that can show how we, 'mankind', can so easily do harm to it.  Is it not surprising then that I should choose to walk the Broomway alone? Not a very clever thing to do perhaps as the sands are fraught with danger and lives have been lost. But then perhaps neither is sailing a small boat along here during complete darkness at night alone working along the sands into gusting force winds and an erratic sea. A calculated risk it is, no different than running for a bus on a busy road or walking the seawalls at midnight in the foggy mists where the legends of ghosts run riot. But here is where a closeness to nature and adventure can be found on our doorstep.
Walking the length of the Broomway in both directions. Various posts of differing shapes and heights are on the 'way'. A camera was taped to this post for this image to be taken. I left the piece of paper intentionally beside - how it screams to be picked up. 

The evocative magic of the Broomway
   No brooms mark the 'way' as such although it is the use of similar woods in marking the way where the name has come from. Islanders placed posts (brooms) at intervals along the sands to mark the route and travelled along it on foot or cart. Today one needs to have a good sense of positioning awareness and skills of navigation, and a sound knowledge of the tides to take on the Broomway alone from Wakering Steps to Fishermans Head and back again in one go, as there are no posts that mark the way and the sands can be treacherously dangerous. The sands can sink underfoot and fatigue can cause all kinds of problems.   Therefore timing a walking window is crucial for any attempt at traversing the Broomway. Once past the obstacle of the firing range, which may have red flags raised closing of access to the sands, one needs to allow for the outward leg and also the return leg, roughly six hours of continual walking. The tide can appear suddenly. If I can offer one word of advice it would be prepare yourself physically by doing a walk across soft terrain for five or six hours in one session, a couple of weeks prior to see how your body reacts to it, then you will have the confidence that you can cope, for, lets be realistic, there is an amount of endurance involved. The last thing you would want while out on the sands is muscle cramp, in fact any unforeseen mishap disabling you for the tide awaits no-one and your calls are highly likely to go unheard.  When your preparation is done and you take the first step at Wakering Stairs to venture into the unknown on the sands, embrace the moment for it is truly magical.

For those that asked if I will be making the walk again the answer is yes I have already, the allure of the sands is all to much to resist, and will be back over the coming months.
Walking on the hard into Fishermans Head, Foulness Island

Monday, 8 October 2012

Tall Ships

   You may have seen her around the East Coast; she was at the Thames Jubilee Pageant earlier in the year, but with her yards draped in square white canvas she now adds a swashbuckling-come-Onedin Line glamour to the River Blackwater. Its the 102 feet long brigantine Lady of Avenel, and I cant get enough of seeing her (passing wakes that is..). I contacted Jim Dines at Heritage Marine in Maldon in order to find out just how a mere pocket yachting mortal gets to have a dangle from those lofty yard arms.  Jim tells me she is available for charter for groups of up to twelve at £100 each person per day including food. I can feel those wallets smoldering at the thought but lay your ropes down easy as we can still get a day sail in if only not everyone has layed up and reached for the carpet slippers, and being as its late in the year we may be able to do a deal if I can get a few of you out there to join me? If you think this sounds like a good day out then do contact me asap as she will be in commision until November. She will be in the river until next spring, when she may be off to Scotlands west coast for the summer.  Here is the Heritage Marine website link if you would like to find out more.
The Lady of Avenel cruising past Osea. She was built in 1969 as a motor vessel and converted to sail in 1991

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Charles Stock Passes Away

It is with awful regret and sorrow that I am passing on this sad news. Charles Stock passed away peacefully in his sleep last night. He will be sorely missed by those who knew him and by the  thousands of hearts around the world he touched with his writings . Charles will never be forgotten. He has taken his place among the legends in maritime history. R.I.P.
When I have gathered my thoughts I will be able to say a little more but for now please pass on this very sad news.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Small Boat Domestics

Food glorious food!

  We cruise week in and week out, often unknowingly neglecting our health by eating convenient foods. Here I take a delve down below to see whats cooking (or not) on board my little pocket yacht Shoal Waters. 

  Eating while cruising can be a tad difficult while underway, especially on a long passage involving a considerable time heading to windward. And sailing has to be one of those activities where it is often all to easy to eat quick food that is mainly junk. Biscuits, chocolate and energy bars, and sweets for example. Thankfully, the cruising sailor is always active and therefore burns some of this calorific mass off as there is always some little task or other to do that involves climbing all over the boat, anchoring, hoisting sail, just helming even. It is an activity  that can give one that partakes in it a general account of good health and a sense of well being. Sailing is also one of those activities that unlike going for a run, or a work out at a gym, you are in general doing exercises without realising it.  This could be through the sub conscious act of controlling your stability by the bodie's use of major core muscles of the torso ie, the lower back,  abdominal and obliques, and if standing (even sitting when hiking out etc) the legs muscles are constantly at work as well. The mind is also benefiting by constantly working at our proprioception which is just as vital, if not more so, as the years pass by (vitally important then in my case).  All in all we are doing something that is good. Some of us get these benefits by just owning a boat and the placebo effect this can have.

  The latest from the food gods is that tea is supposed to have health giving anti oxidants. How lucky are us tea drinkers then? There are worst vices but you can be sure as I come off the wind the kettle goes on. Not a fixed rule as I am well known for making a brew while my little ship is riding gunnel-up (No gimble either). For the beer drinkers, alcohol is good for you! According to those same health gods two units a day can have the same health benefits as regular, moderate exercise. This can be depressing news for investors in gymnasiums but walk tall active cruiser-worker-outers as no one has ever become fitter or stronger through alcohol consumption...

  If you do not need a hot drink every half hour while under way then perhaps you will save on gas, and a little hassle having to sail the boat while leaning through the companionway in order to light the stove and fill the tea cup.

  To just add one more to the health bit, and particularly sailing health and fitness. To become healthy, government guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate activity per day, seven days a week. Fitness is a different matter as we now need to work harder for extended periods, be it cardiovascular or muscular. We need to raise the heart rate to a level that is higher than normal for an extended period of time on a regular basis. To quote the ACSM's seventh edition guidelines ie at least 20 to 60mins at 77 to 90% max heart rate, three to five times a week.  Therefore, as cruising sailors, we may become healthy or healthier than a normal sedentary individual by doing our type of sailing, but still not particularly "fit" in relation to other activities. Ok, no more of this fit nonsense I'm beginning to get a sweat on...

  What I am lethargically getting to is the minefield that is cooking afloat to fuel our bodies in order that we can go cruising for extended periods of two or three days, to a week or so, away from water taps and sinks, and flushing dunnies. As we are afloat most weeks it is easy to eat crap most weeks to. But why? I see it as a good time to try and eat conservedly, (can "steak and kidney pud" be mentioned alongside "conservedly"...) and on the whole trying to eat sensibly.

  We all have our ways of doing things and what foods we like best so I will just give a hint at some of my domestic habits while cruising. I am not saying they are healthy or the right way to do things so take from it what you will but do share yours with us if you have some good practices that you do on board your little ship.

  What I prefer to eat are simple foods that are easy to eat and cook while small boat cruising. This also relates to a dinghy even though I think the open dinghy is a world away from a small cabin boat where everything has a particular place under cover. Sure, Shoal Waters is a sixteen foot dinghy that gets just as much thrown about by waves as does any other dinghy, or boat come to think of it, but, the coachroof and deck does change her comfort level and also her sea keeping qualities.

  So, here we are going a step further than taking a pre-packed lunch on a day-sail and are placing a few items in our galley cupboards.

  Fresh vegetables, generally I find need washing which when low on water is not too good. But I try and get fresh when and where possible. The plus point with veg is it keeps for a few days or more and anything needing peeling doesn't need washing. My samphire habits are mentioned elsewhere so I will not repeat them. But there are also shellfish and even fresh fish if you can catch them. Throw away barbies were costing £1.00 just the other day in the supermarket, a bargain.  A driftwood fire is free, foil rapped those fish cook a treat.

  Need I mention the steak and kidney pudding? This is a luxury and not a food I would eat every day as it comes in a at a whopping 50 grammes of fat (and not particularly good fat either) in one sitting, ( large tin) which is the equivalent of a whole days worth. Its plus point is it is satiatingly filling, you could well make this meal last all day - sure to get you through that cruise. Snacking on fruit such as strawberries, apples and oranges levels up the healthy bit a little.  The pudding meal is also good for knocking you out after a hard days cruising when you are still a little overtired. It should read on the tin "A Sound Nights Sleep Guaranteed"

  And then there is the old chestnut of eat like a King in the morning and graze like cattle the rest of the day.  For this I find a Monte of bacon, eggs, sausage and beans plus a few slices does the job but leaves a staggering amount of washing up, and odd bodily noises throughout the rest of the day..  Simply Ready Brek works a treat though. Boil the kettle and fill a bowl with ready brek. Its says great for kids on the box so its good enough for us old'ens. Importantly, it is easy to cook and will cook itself by pouring in boiling water and stirring, before leaving to stand for five minutes. Add skimmed milk powder to up the protein content/ taste and dried fruit such raisins to taste or add even more carbs.  This is a low fat, slow releasing energy food. Also great for an evening snack or convenient meal on its own, as are most of the cereals.

Ready Brek a great start to the day, or night, or?
  like a boiled egg? To save water the ships small tea pot doubles as a single egg boiler. The boiled egg, when cooked for three minutes, four for hard boiled, results in a clean food that makes minimal mess for cleaning up after. 

Egg boiling in the tea pot
  Uncle Ben's three minute boil in the bag rice is not only low fat but saves hugely on gas.
Add a tin of sardines, some olives and hey presto you are living life on the Mediterranean diet. Enough to keep the marsh ague at bay...  Bread is delicious. It has fat in it already so there is no harm in missing out on butter if using the yolk (the fat part) of the egg.

  Thank the lord for baby wipes and kitchen towels.  The pocket yacht's washing and drying facility in a packet. Without running water and draining sink the small boat cruising sailor has to think before use when reaching for another spoon or fork. There is always over the side for washing in the salt when the tides up and a rinse in a drop of fresh clean water.
  If you cruise single-handed you will probably have one plate or bowl, one spoon and fork etc that you can use for most jobs which minimises again any after cleaning. Everything is either washed or wiped and all rubbish bagged up and taken home to dispose of properly.

The big one. The gut busting steak and kidney pudding is easy to cook in the kettle with no mess afterwards.

Friday, 24 August 2012

V Cruise

                                                             V Cruise   Part One


  While the kids are camping in tents at  V in Chelmsford….

     Literally, the boat had just got underway, her sails flapping loosely when the summer lambs bleated a scrambling retreat behind the seawall as I closed in toward them on my way down the creek, and young black headed gulls squeaked with joy over Bulham Beach, a little further downstream.   The mains’l took some wrestling with before I could shake out the two reefs that were left in from the last trip a few days previous when an F6 easterly physically threw Shoal Waters into safety, and the snuggest of little creeks, Bawley Creek where I sat it out for 12 hours of relaxed comfort in deep mud.
  Unusually, a crabber 24 with Dutch flag raised on her stern sat anchored lower down in Goldhanger Creek, just above the oyster beds. I said to the owners how good it was to see them here and carried on my way. New withies placed in the creek, on the Osea side, just this year have already established themselves by the look of tell-tale long lengths of weed that now trail behind. East Point was already appearing from the ebb tide when I just about got into the main river as the wind died.

Ski boaters enjoying the boiling hot waters of the Blackwater
  The ships thermometer read 30 degrees in the cockpit as the whole Blackwater boiled for the first time this year. Oh well, I thought, no wind but at least it was hot and I could go swimming. There was also the magic carpet of the ebb that was sucking us down river.  Fields were being harvested all about the place which made the green trees stand out over in Ferry Wood. Apparently the wood got its name from a ferry boat back in the day of visiting hoy's, colliers and brigs, that would not only take the few people that resided nearby but also take sailors across river to the bright lights of Ramsey Island, for entertainment I expect. I suppose this makes some sense as Thistly would have been a desolate rural farm port highly likely to bore any young blooded sea-faring crew member to tears having to be anchored in Thistly Creek (now known as Thirslet Creek) for many tides.

  I filled the kettle for a brew. Hot tea somehow has a cooling effect, one of those puzzles of life I guess. Already we were quite a way downriver where through the glare over the mirror topped sea I could make out the ski boats around the Stone, and an airplane’s distant sound sent me into a daze. I realised tomorrow mornings bacon rashers were sitting in the sun so I grabbed a bucket and half filled it with seawater for an ad-hoc food fridge.
 I still shake my head acknowledging in awe sometimes, at the passages Charlie managed to achieve in this small boat, week in and week out over many decades and with barely any helpful luxuries.  The only real modern luxury that I can recall is a time back in the late 90s early 2000s when a small solar panel was fitted to top up the battery power for the compass and navigation lights - most important as he did a hell of a lot of night sailing. I do recall him telling me how many of his trips just would not have been possible without him sailing at night.

  I keep the boat as Charlie had her which has helped me understand fully what he went through on a technical level and although I know a lot of cruisers say an iron tops’l as a backup is not only practising good seamanship but is generally very handy, other than a trip down the Thames earlier in the year most of my trips this season I have not needed to call on it, so much so that the engine is still ashore for this trip, so maybe I have improved as a sailor, but perhaps not. Maybe I am more tolerant to sitting around drifting hour on end in the doldrums. What is more important and extremely enjoyable I find is adapting to a slightly different mind-set that is needed if single-handed cruising for days at a time under the mercy of the winds that howl along the Thames Estuary’s remote rivers, creeks and inshore coast where tide tables, strong currents, steep sand banks and mud shoals, shipping and even the home family diary all play havoc in the watery bailer of the cruising man and woman.  I’m sure my little motor will be back onboard at some point but at the moment I’m flat-on-my-back enjoying being submitted in this way by nature and ringing home to give another excuse for an extra night out on the boat. 

Carving an everlasting memory across the estuary after six hours sailing
  A south west wind has just hit the starboard beam shaking us into life. All of a sudden we are racing along beside baked mudflats to Pewit Island, Bradwell. How things change on the landscape to as five or six enormous generating windmills have appeared on land behind Clacton. Bradwell Creek still looks as inviting as ever though, with its putty sides causing chaos to many who enter from the tide pole. The Baffle has been dismantled and we are left with a circular island which looks far more appealing than it once did. A unique opportunity for someone to buy and develop it maybe? 

  Hugging the south shore I spot a mast poking above the steep to sand beach ahead at Weymarks - generally a good anchorage in a southerly.  A nice breeze keeps us rolling along and passing the anchored yacht, a fleeting thought came, maybe we should think about doing something similar, after all as it is getting late and darkness will soon be upon us. Boldly I cruised on in perfect conditions adjusting the sails and settling the tiller toward the Gunfleet before carving an everlasting memory across the mouth of the Blackwater estuary.

  Low tide would be in half an hour’s time followed by complete darkness. I plugged in the old brass stern light and switched the navigation lights on. With the sun gone down behind us, a dark sky was now directly overhead  but our little lights twinkled and we rode the waves over the new flood tide. When I set out earlier in the day I had dreamt of reaching Walton pier before the tide turned so we could get into Harwich, but for the second time this month lack of wind would keep it a dream for another day.  Colne Point has a fantastic beach though so still full with high spirits I headed inshore, and doing 1.5 knots quicker, from the Bench Head.

  The Wallet is now lit up like Regent Street  on new Year’s night which is a gift if heading to the Spitway and down Swin, but next to useless for what I now had in mind of tucking up for the night inshore of the Colne Bar. I settled for a pleasant piece of water six feet deep just after low tide and out of the main Colne fairway. I lowered the hook and let it take a nice bite then laid out 30 meters of chain before I set the alarm for 03.15 hrs. The Davies brass anchor light was lit and hoisted. It glowed like a dream. Is there such a light that is more charming than a naked flame? I sat in the ambient light and watched the bright stars above for a while. All was good in the world as I retired into the cocoon down below.    

Oil lamps can create an evocative, ambient glow
Part Two next month

Tuesday, 31 July 2012


 Creeksailing covers the gamut of small boat cruising. Often there are white knuckle moments while heading for your chosen creek, and then there is the excitement of anticipation as the creek slowly becomes navigable by the mystery of the tides. The environment is generally remote, uncluttered and peaceful, with the soundtrack of wild nature. The immense fun that follows is then to reach the creek-head under sail or oar. The creek will try its best to trap you with its sticky mud shoals or hidden obstacles under the water surface, all the while enticing you further into its depths with glimpses from atop the marsh of vivid purple sea lavender or abandoned and forgotten ruins sucking you in "hook line and sinker" to explore every twist and turn.
  This small film was captured over three days in my miniature pea green wooden gaff cutter Shoal Waters. please forgive the wind interference in some of the sound. I promise to invest in a proper camera one day and make a real movie. Donations are welcome!

Do enjoy, TS

Sunday, 29 July 2012

OGA Swallows & Amazons 2010

Found this old post in drafts - some good memories.

The Old Gaffers Association Big event for small boats, 'Swallows and Amazons'.

It took a short drive up the A12 with the Shellback dinghy in tow in order to take part in the OGA's annual main event for small boats, "Swallows & Amazons" weekend. The main emphasis is on fun and relaxing, with one or two less than competitive races among other small gaff dinghy's.
I rarely race other than rushing down the boat after work, so being the first official race I can remember entering myself into this would have to be a 'dinghy cruise' around Horsey Island, only going as quick as the little lugsail boat would take a crew of two quite large old gaffers.
The host venue; Walton and Frinton Yacht Club who go out of there way to make this event as enjoyable as possible for all the gaffers attending.
The Walton Backwaters are simply a dinghy sailors delight, so inevitably a variety of classic dinghy's were present from one off lugsail clinkers to the ever popular Mirror dinghy.
The race (fast cruise) around Horsey on Saturday began with a registration at 09.00 hrs followed with a briefing at 10.00hrs in the club house. The launching of boats and making ones way down to the start line at the Twizzle for 11.00hrs.

The fleet head down from WFYC to the start line at the Twizzle.

The Shell in relaxed mode.
Being in relaxed mode ours was the last dinghy to be led down the slipway, in doing so getting her first taste of East Coast salt water.
Today's forecast: F 3-4 NE. At 10.45hrs and with the sky overcast we began the beat down Walton Creek, nudging the little balanced lug-sail rigged boat into every ditch and rill found on the way to the Twizzle .
The event Safety boat cruised past offering a tow to the start for the last of the fleet making way down, which being proud cruising men we suddenly became hard of hearing and refused. Even though it was past 11.00hrs we continued for a further 10 minutes along with three or four others and still we hadn't reached the Twizzle. A short while later and making very slow progress into a head wind we began wishing we had took the tow as the gun had just gone off and most of the fleet of 28 small gaff dinghy's had started sailing off around Horsey with bunting, flags, ribbons etc streaming.
There was a second tow attempt from another launch which we did try to accept but it then ran out of fuel so the yard went up and we continued on under sail again.

2nd tow offer.

I was particularly interested to see how the Shellback would perform today with a crew of two. After reaching the Twizzle the competitor in me took over -  a push on the tiller to starboard for the final tack out into the Twizzle proper and onto a broad run, down past Titchmarsh Marina on our port side and passing Horsey. The farm was now to our starboard side on the Island as we began crossing this very shallow stretch over the Wade - shallow stretches that are navigable by shoal keels at HW springs.

Under way, crossing Horsey Mere.

The wind was well up by now but we had a passage to make, no windy chop or salt spray would stop us now. The heavy ballast of two crew keeping the little shell in check before rounding into a fetch up to Honey Pots. Swimming seals were seemingly waving us through the shallow water and pointing the way past the landing stage, most of which was under water. On into Kirby Creek where we had a wet beat sponging back the salt as we charged up the creek to Hamford Water, passing two gaffers who had become overwhelmed by the conditions, so much so as to throw in the towel and take the helpful tow home from the safety boat. As we passed them the Shellback left an impressive wake in all the chop. Turning into Hamford water the single turkey-red lugsail was eased out to begin reaching along this fine stretch of historic water, favorited by icons of the East Coast such as Arthur Ransom and Maurice Griffiths. White knuckle holding a steady course while we took in the surrounding views, ahead in the distance the huge cranes of Felixtowe Docks while on our port side large yachts sat anchored, and then the East Coast Sails buoy appeared just before Island Point.
On nearing Walton Creek and the line of lighters to starboard the wave swells lifted the little Shellback as she surfed down them into the creek and onto a run. I managed to steer us out of the now ebbing deeper main channel, running us up the starboard side of Walton Creek in 18 inches of water. The dagger board was pulled up just as the long grassy saltmarsh brushed our topside. This was creek crawling in the extreme, I am sure the little shell would have planed across on top of the saltmarsh at 5knts had I lifted the rudder! But we are in a race and that would be cheating.
Crossing the entrance to the Twizzle we blazed up along the port side of Foundry Reach before rounding into Walton and Frinton Creek, passing the finish line at the WFYC club house to the sound of the horn. The old gaffers racing marshal waved at us from the window of the club, behind which the sun had began to shine. The afternoon was finished of with a barbecue washed down with some apre sail real ale.

The Shellback dinghy,11'3" wooden lapstrake with lifting dagger board and balanced lug sail, a very pretty dinghy which also rows and sculls well, designed by Joel White.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Wet Creeks

What a season it has been so far. The wettest June since the mid 1800s put paid to many a cruising sailor man/woman's plans. Since my seven day Olympic cruise in early April things have been quite hit and miss. I had begun resorting to rushing down the creek at the first sign of a clearing sky, generally at a moments notice and typically on a Sunday evening for a twilight sail after the rains had stopped. Anyhow got down to the boat Saturday night for an early tide on Sunday with good intentions of heading up the coast to explore a very special creek. Well, the picture above says it all really. Sometimes it can be difficult to leave such a beautiful creek. The image is taken from my mooring, the tide slowly ebbing from the creek but I'm  not on it...  It will return soon enough - there is no need to rush in situations like this. The new dawn over the creek was just to good to miss so the eggs and bacon went in the pan for a full English, in true minimal cruiser style.

We can only hope summer has arrived and there is always next weekend...

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Inshore Coast

  Offshore sailor, coastal sailor, sea sailor or merely sailor are all terms that describe the type of sailing a person takes part in.  Being a creek-sailor means one is rarely ever out of sight from land. It also means I am constantly studying what to me is a fascinating interaction of land and sea and how we interact with it- right at the exact point where sea water arrives on our shore.  This is part one of a series of articles where I take a snapshot look at the interestingly varied adventure playground of the creek-sailor that is our inshore coast. 

The Inshore Coast – London River by Tony Smith
  The British just love to be beside the seaside.  When the sun shines we head on mass “kitchen sink and all” for the coast, searching for fun, excitement or relaxation. We come from up the road or down the lane, from small villages or vast built up areas in some kind of hypnotic pilgrimage to nature where we can go skinny dipping in a chilly sea and bury ones toes in soft sand - or in some instances to wince after treading barefoot on a sharp shell while tip toeing to the water’s edge, maybe even to lay gazing across the glint under a horizon of big uncluttered skies that sooth the eye. However far we travel or whatever drew us, we have one common bond - we sense that special magic that is ever-present where land and sea meet.  
  The fact that we are islanders has meant our forebears have laid a rich history of sea-faring which has spread us to all corners of the globe, and to an extent defined who we are as a nation. This adventurous sea-faring spirit is evident today with British sailors continuing to push the boundaries of human achievement on oceans that are best described as the last untamed frontiers.  For me though, another frontier has re-emerged in the form of the forgotten inshore coast.  Few sailors’ adventure in this forgotten, gritty coast as there is no glory to be had from it other than the belching of ones gloriously muddy boots while scrambling ashore. An even rarer breed of adventure sailor hauls a mainsheet here, one who cruises in the excitement of plate-raisingly dangerous shallow brown waters for the simple enjoyment and inner peace that flows through veins in abundance while uncovering a buried heritage hidden by moss, seaweed, twisted timber and splatterings of rotten mud in lost, abandoned creeks, sandy inlets and forgotten coves.                                                                       
  As islanders we are also fortunate that we are never more than 70 odd miles from the breaking waves of the open sea. This can equate to a mere 90 minute drive for those residing in the greenest, deepest hinterlands, but its more likely for the majority of us that the sea coast is no more than an hour’s drive away. For some, the tidal inshore coast is even closer, though it would not be unreasonable to assume innocent oblivion to this reality while pushing a trolley around a superstore in our fast urban bliss. With an ever swelling populace of seaside towns and cities more people are closer to the sea than ever before, but also due to the sea having many probing tentacles in the form of our tidal rivers and creeks which extend the inshore coastline far inland, bringing with it the distinct smell of salt water, a rush of feeding sea birds and the delight of bobbing boats in all their complex shapes and sizes. Rivers such as The Exe, Great Ouse, Humber, Mersey, Severn, Tamar and Trent, to name a few, and that shiny topped, often fast swirling murk, The River Thames, at 215 miles long with 95 of those miles tidal water, a truly giant arm of the sea that reaches into the capital city of London where for a population of just under 8 million people North Sea salt water is literally on the other side of the embankment wall.
London wharves and sandy beaches
  Other parts of the country have great tidal rivers that reach deep inland also but there was a time when to be born in London, 40 miles from the nearest open coast, meant it would be highly likely you had one foot on the cobbles and one foot in the sea.
  The 1920s and 30s were a busy time on London’s tideway where generations of inner city families once worked the warren of East End Dickensian wharves, or were stevedores’ on docks such as King George V which saw the largest liner in her day the Queen Mary come alongside, or St Katharine, East India and West India Docks loading or unloading cargoes to pack the adjacent warehouses full to the dusty rafters with goods from every corner of the world. Typical goods handled would have been tea from China, pepper from India or rum from the Caribbean. They also crewed ships, skippered river ferries, and manned lighters and barges. Part of this heavy river work involved moving large shipments from salt water craft by “hand and crane” to the fresh water vessels (and vice versa) of the inland canal system where mirrored steel-blue waterways sliced through urban concrete into lush undulating countryside feeding the demand for supplies from the myriad of smaller inland towns and villages.  However large or small the role, they all played a vital part in what was possibly the flowering era in the history of our merchant mariners.
East London's new cable car, and former docks being redeveloped
  In its heyday, during the 50s and before aviation and modern container shipping methods later took hold, the London River was a gateway to the world.  In true character of resilience it has managed to transform its millions of tons of cargo once handled annually to millions of pounds sterling now traded electronically by the simple press of a button in sleek high rise buildings that are built on derelict quays such as Canary Wharf.  And at water level the London River has become a busy place again. Tugs tow large lighters about the river and most of the old Victorian built wharves have now been converted into quirky shops or enviably plush homes where an influx of residents live with balconied views overlooking the water and are serviced by fast Thames Clipper boats who ferry them to work in the heart of the city. Among this backdrop of industrial maritime history and modern urbanization small strips of sandy beach appear at low tide and pleasure boats maneuver up and down the river's length.    
Container ship  at Tilbury Docks
Below London, at Tilbury Dock, mammoth container ships are still carefully guided along the river by Port of London Authority pilots, and though international cargo trade on the river in central London has long since ceased, it is perhaps a given that the allure of the tide and call of the sea will always be felt by many Londoners who inhabit what was once the busiest shipping port in the whole world.