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.