Wednesday, 27 February 2013

What’s In A Name?

    This is a taster to my Creek Sailor cartoon serial which I hope will become a regular feature of this site.

  Small boaters and in particular creek sailing have become synonymous. Period. I can now close this blog for my job is done. But no, I’ll carry on a while longer regardless, for there is still work to be done in the name of affordable cruising for every man and lady, whether born on the Quay spewing seaweed or in a block of flats in London sucking on car fumes and police sirens.  
There maybe a recession in other fields but creek sailors are now popping out of the woodwork like gunfire sprayed all over the place. You may have noticed how articles are appearing in mags and such like by so called experts of this somewhat “noble art of the humble man”. (Might just possibly be skint though with three kids wrapped round them and can’t afford a big boat). Maybe these folk have become disillusioned by being shouted to from the seawall “you are partaking in a sport” by someone who is short of breath, while sitting minding their own business in a small boat surrounded by mud doing a bit of dunlin watching. About as sporting as a game of I Spy with my  twelve year old - but a Judoka applying a rear naked strangle on a resisting opponent during full contact combat that ends only with the opponents submission. Now that is a sport, a real noble sport and art. 

  These creek sailors are real people though that just cant help but have a little creek in them. For instance there is Mike, or rather “Creekin Flood” as I know him. Never been known to sail on an ebb. He has the words “sailing on an ebb is for fools” tattooed on his winking eyebrow…

  Of course we also have "Creek Watcher Brian", also known as "Armchair Creek" as he will freely admit to doing more faffin and fiddling with his boat while down the creek than anyone in all England ever has, but promises to go sailing one day. When people steal  ideas from this site he does come out with some wise words though such as “success has many fathers and failure is an orphan” or “many people claim a good idea and no-one says I did it wrong”.

  And there’s "Creeky Dave" who’s as nimble and agile as a flying kite surfin over salt encrusted marshland, even though he forever pleads “me back legs are gone”.

And there’s "Creek Boat Fiend" Ian who has had fifty boats for each of his fifty years afloat. He will eye your boat up as soon as your back is turned, advise you of her value and go to any length to get his offer accepted even though she is not for sale. His plus points are he goes for a sail and importantly can tell you what was for sale in the back pages of any 1960s yachting mag.

 Need I mention the name "Creeksailor", one who’s antics of roaming up impossibly shoal creeks (creek sailing), wallowing in mud baths and plucking samphire for use as toothpicks while sunbathing on offshore sandbanks have been revered by boaters in all the globes corners.. .

I’ll introduce the rest in a later edition but if you consider yourself a creek sailor then leave me your  tag. Obviously it must have the word “creek” in it.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Gravesend Bawley Marigold

   Who’s for tea was the first call made by the skipper as we passed the tip of Maldon Promenade on our way down river from Hythe Quay in a tender dinghy and pulled alongside the clinker built Gravesend bawley Marigold?  “Oh yes” was the joint reply as warps passed over her bulwark and one by one we climbed aboard. A teeth grating northerly had arrived just as we did which had us all reaching for our top layers of clothing. I had come to join Kevin Finch, owner of Marigold, and a few other lads who together we would make a motley crew of seafarers out for a brisk winter sail - Roger - the only man I know who began his life on a Thames barge as cook, became mate and then skipper on the same vessel.  Then there is Ben, usually at sea nine months of the year as part of a crew of seven sailing a square rigger, and last but not least Andy; project manager on major tall ship rebuilds and other nautical concerns. The real treat for all of us was the lady herself, Marigold. She is a wooden boat of exceptional build quality; in fact her shapely timbers and fastenings ooze with a heritage that is from Cooks yard in Maldon where she was built in 1978. The yard has a long history in building and maintaining barges and working boats and built Marigold replicating the lines of her sister ship Lilian, built in 1869, and like her is clinker built with an overall length of 30 feet, plus 14 foot of protruding bowsprit and a beam of 11 feet, her draft digs in at four feet six inches.  She has a cutter rig and like the Lilian she is engineless. In Lilian’s time there would have been a small fleet of her type of bawley based at an area called Bawley Bay which is in Gravesend Kent, on the banks of the lower reaches of the River Thames. 
Bawley Bay and Anchor Cove with the old Mission building
They were mainly shrimpers so would have been built with wet wells to keep the shrimps fresh but later adopted copper boilers in the main hold to cook the catch as soon as they were hauled up and sorted from the nets. Kevin has been a skipper and mate on Thames spritsail barges so when he became owner of her three years ago he found both sailing and handling a pleasure as in essence her bawley rig is very similar to that of the barges rig. She even has a forehorse for the staysail and her mainsail can be fully brailed. Marigold had been kept at Brightlingsea by her previous owner for many years so having her back in Maldon where she was built and where Kevin is based is a fitting home coming for such a fine ship.

Bawley Marigold - ultimate evolution of the ancient Peterboat
  The Met Office weather forecast had given the promise of a force six so one reef was put in while we waited for her to float. The time was two hours before high water and her aft section of keel was still held firm in the Maldon brown stuff, but Kevin gave the nod to the foredeck crew and immediately her three strand ropes were gripped and pulled on sending her lengthy wooden gaff and six mast hoops aloft before her main canvas was brailed and left “ready”.  Next up was the staysail. This was already hanked-on therefore just needed the head block attached by its hook and then hoisted up but ‘backed to port’. The traveller was sent out along the bowsprit and the jib halyard pulled taught and Just as they are on a barge most lines on Marigold are cleated but not hitched so they are ready to free off at a moments notice.  All was ready but a shift in wind left us in stays for a few tantalising minutes but it came back even stronger. We were now ready to get away, the nod was given and mainsail let out, the jib sheeted and all three sails filled in unison. The call was made to let go her mooring and we all looked and waited in anticipation for the moment she would shift… What happened next is a situation most East Coast mud berth holders would be familiar with when aiming to get away early - she still clung dearly to the mud!  Kevin asked everyone to move forward and then suddenly she responded and we began to shift, driving quietly forward in a glorious display of curved brown canvas that had her gunnel reaching water level until checked by her ballast bringing her on an even keel again. What followed was some thrilling winter sailing on the upper Blackwater, with plenty of time for everyone to either control the sheets or take a turn on the helm.
The bawleys boomless main is crew friendly
Plenty of three strand to play with, and the forhorse
Settling on the new tack. Note the deadeyes and handspike windlasss

  We had come along for a sail today but Kevin carries a full array of oyster dredges and trawling nets just as these vessels would have done in the golden age of 19th century working sail. Marigold will be available for charter in 2013, for a whole day or for a few hours taster on the top of the tide, to individuals or groups of up to six and is a great opportunity for anyone who has always wanted to experience the thrill of a magnificent traditional East Coast working boat, be it a pure sailing adventure or practising those age old fishing methods, he or she will not be disappointed.
  Tony Smith 

More information or enquiries about booking can be found at

Monday, 4 February 2013

Drying Out Safely In A Creek

 Deciding where to anchor in a creek can be a hazardous business but an essential skill non-the-less for this type of cruising and all part of the Creeksailing adventure.

 I am asked questions like this one by readers on a regular basis:  Quote: One thought upon which I'd welcome your advice is about drying out between tides: when anchoring in a creek how can I know whether the bottom I'm about to settle on is steep to or nicely flat?  I've seen so many creeks with quiet steep sides.  Or if there's anything nasty that might damage the boat?  

Found a flat lay - but, err...?
 There are many tricks I use when up them “owd cricks” which up until now have helped me avoid what has happened to this poor fella in the picture, so I’ll just mention a few here. 
  The most helpful and what I would recommend whenever possible is a pre-scout on foot to study the creek at low tide, take notes and photograph suitable areas to dry – or as the picture shows to avoid! If pre-scouting was not possible and you are entering a new creek, or when drying in the margins of a river, or you have forgotten your notes; while on a cruise I always sound with the cane fore and aft for levels and also sweep under the boat from both sides with the cane as the water level drops - feeling for any stumps etc. Move and position your boat accordingly. Against old farm docks and walls I find is generally flat "ish" but more of a stump hazard. Urban creeks may have shopping trolleys or metal car wheels and bicycles to dodge. It also depends when you want to get away to and whether you are in a deep creek (generally has steep sloping sides falling into a deep gut that could be around eight to ten feet wide - dry out on this angle if you want  to experience what it is like to be an astronaut leaving the planet) or a shallow creek (generally flatter, could be six feet to hundreds of feet wide, the latter with a smaller gut-way/rill or two - two or three feet in width, either in the middle or to one side or both - very comfortable night’s sleep would be possible here) easy and clean shore access if in marshes, a potential mud-bath if a low tide creek. Check the chart for drying heights above Chart Datum which will give initial indication of a deep or shallow creek, anything above three metres and it’s likely you may not be able to get in to anchor until - and will have to be away around a couple of hours either side of high water. So in fact it may be level ground further up but finding a spot in the gut further down might be best for your time schedule.
Some of us will do whatever it takes to come ashore
  When in an unfamiliar deep creek and you are not sure what is beneath you may have to adjust the anchor a few times over a three or four hour period, maintaining a floating depth, while checking fore and aft for a level spot (which may not be there) as you move away from the bank until you are perhaps 12 -15 feet below the ‘cant’ of marsh for example, and in the very gut of the creek, when a final sweeping beneath the boat with the cane for protruding objects/stumps will have you scrambling into the bunk for a well-earned lie-down. Another scenario if you are still in the same deep creek; you may be leaving at high tide so chose to dry out on a gently sloping ledge that you found beside the grass in two feet of water... Always bearing in mind the tide heights at high water recede again after 15.00 hrs.
  When Google Earth became available in 2005 we all wondered at it and yes it sure has its uses for planning at home to and you can find the gut in wider shallower creeks on the more creek crawler friendly Bing Maps which shows the low water picture though do be aware it may not show the sharp hazards that will hole the boat, or distinguish between dangerous deeper mud or firm mud that you can walk across to shore, or any existing two foot ledges for instance that would leave the boat dry at an extreme angle, hence I will always recce whenever possible.  Sometimes you get it right, others not so. Sometimes you may just have to take a gamble? The sooner you get out there doing it will all fall into place so whatever you do enjoy it.