Saturday, 4 February 2012

Barge Hulk Walk

The sailormans final berth

Hidden deep in the mire of mud and marsh sits an historic old girl. Her rotting hulk lays burst at its seems with silt oozing from her once cargo-laden hold. To get right up close, on foot, actually in the depths of the creek; to smell these wet timbers gives one an overwhelming sense of carnage that took place in seconds rather than the many decades it has taken to become, what is, in a way a scene with similarities to old WW1 images of blown out trenches. To then hear the call of the waders is haunting indeed...
Attempting sailing into this tiny little creek needs a certain level of water, even for the shoal-est of keels as in both Huffler, which I once owned, and more recently Shoal Waters. Even so, I managed to get in on both boats to take a glimpse at a former marvel of our tideways the Saltcote Belle. She was built by John Howard at Maldon to work from Saltcote Maltings and was launched in 1895 and was once described as being one of the prettiest barges Howard's built. She won many races back in the 20s and was, on occasion, chartered as a yacht for up to two weeks at a time to holidaying parties, when the hold was filled with camp beds and cooking stoves. Her skipper at the time relished this change in duties which must have been a refreshing rest-bite from the everyday toiling up to the bustling wharves of London.

Her steering gear is still in place and is one of the first things you will notice when entering this long forgotten place. The need for water to gain access means that most of her will be covered so to get these pictures one needs to dry out. Many other bits of ironwork and rigging can also be made out.

When I first made this post I had asked for information on the torpedo boat that is sitting next to Saltcote Belle; Many thanks to Colin Swindale for letting me know she was a D" type Fairmile called Catherine. Colin also tells me she came to Tollesbury to be a houseboat in the mid 1960's" before being laid to rest in the creek. He was also fortunate enough to have skippered Saltcote Belle on a few occasions when she was a yacht, and remembers her sailing gear was put into the Felix. How good is that!

What is also interesting in this picture is what to me looks very much like a flat bottomed wooden lighter. Seen top left in the image. These were used pre 1950s to store sprats and similar when unloading from a smack. They could be moved about on the hards or towed up the creeks to sit beside a farm wall - a floating cart, when the tide came up, that would sit nicely flat when it retreated.

Contact me if you would like to come along on one of our walks. They probably last a couple of hours and finish with a cuppa somewhere warm. Bring your sea boots. Some of us use cycles so bring yours if you wish.


Nicodemus said...

I used to live on Saltcote Belle. My parents Bill and Ann
Hopewell-Smith owned her 1955-1962.
Where is


Unknown said...

We have a photo of my wife's father as a baby in the arms of his dad who was the skipper of saltcote belle at the time (about 1936)

Anonymous said...

Somewhere in the Tollesbury marshes... a bit of her name was in the pub at Heybridge but has gone now..

Anonymous said...

My dad lived on the Saltcote Belle in the 1960s, I've posted some photos of it in action on the Thames Sailing Barge facebook page.