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