Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Night Sailing

Summer is with us, but so to is winter - still. When's it going to end I wonder...
I have managed to sneak some sailing sessions in-between the seasons though so we are coping well.
In July's edition of Practical Boat Owner can be found a feature on a night passage I undertook last year. It dawned (yes, I know) on me that night sailing can be a difficult subject to portray photographically as it is pretty dark, which in turn can be pretty boring to look at. I'm sure you know what I mean.. However the evocative shot that accompanies the article illustrates it quite well under the circumstances. The article is called Night Time Pilotage in Essex Shoal Waters and I hope that whoever gets to read it enjoys it..

  I can't get enough night sailing in nowadays though and through it my enjoyment of sailing has increased twofold. It is another string to your bow, another avenue and an important part of the whole. How I look forward to summertime Springs and a full moon. I've had times when I have left for the boat at 2100 hrs to get away for 2230 and a coming HW at 0130 for example when I would sail through the night under moonlight. Sheer magic it is. Although last Saturday nights venture became numbingly cold even with my trusted Ron Hill tracksters, snood and full face balaclava. Good job it was dark or else I'd have been arrested by the fashion Police.
  Charles Stock always said to me that many of his trips would not have been possible without sailing at night and I completely understand what he meant. I'm referring to single-handed sailing of course. As long as you understand the dangers and your limits it is such great adventure while everyone else is sleeping. And yes, it is OK to be scared to a degree. Lets face it there is a lot that can and does go wrong in an instant while sailing, and while fear is a perfectly normal human response that begins in the mind, it can emerge in physical symptoms, and is something that keeps us safe. Once you understand what the symptoms of fear are you can harness it in a rational way and truly enjoy the moment. For those who want to delve a little deeper there is a book called Know Fear by Geoff Thompson. From memory (along time ago) it is a useful read if you want to know more about this very misunderstood facet of the human response and the way we deal with it on a personal level.
Like anything where skill is involved the only way to get good at it is to put the time in. For a Judoka that means many thousands of hours on the mats with an uki honing his grappling skills. For the creek-sailor that means many hours spent sailing in a variety of creeks with endless scenarios of weathers in narrow, shallow, deep or wide, muddy etc, etc...

 For those that don't sail at night I have uploaded a small video of a moonlight sail undertaken last Saturday. This trip was again without a GPS so it is vital that a positive identification of a mark is taken otherwise I'd be hissing in the wind.

If like me you venture up the River Thames remember to get your free copy of the Recreational Users Guide from the Port Of London Authority. The Guide is filled with useful information (as is their website) for river users. The guide is updated every year so it is worth getting the latest edition. I strongly recommend you take a copy along on your next visit http://www.pla.co.uk/

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Havengore Creek

'Havengore' is an appropriate name indeed for this creek as its indent lays among many others that finger their way through and around the marshy banks that surround this 'haven'. To account for the rest of the name we can take a look at the Old English where 'gore' means mud. Like most places I explore there is no shortage of the stuff here either. I took a walk (literally, and not recommended unless you have a pair of magical floating wellies like mine) down the gut of Havengore Creek where I risked loosing another camera, even my person, in dodging the suction of quicksand to get an up close look at the gut of the creek and how the seabed is formed here. It truly is a wonderful place where, if the mayor of London has his way, the adjacent sands will be put to the slaughter of jet engines and thousands of acres of concrete. Unless that is, we can find some rare bat species that nests in the four nearby wooden navigation spars! Or, maybe we could bottle the unique Essex brown stuff, label it 'only found in these parts' and 'natural healing' and sell it worldwide at carnivals and village fetes, and of course on Ebay. But then maybe people will flock here to lay naked all over and about the sands? Yeah, they may put a few quid in the local economy too but it just wouldn't look right would it.. Wouldn't  that be cruelty to seabirds..?

Mud aside, whether you come through here in a 80' spritsail barge or a 16' dinghy, such as my cruiser Shoal Waters, you will find an average depth around  5 or 6 feet, a little more at springs.
For visual indication there are four tall spars that can be followed in from seaward. I won't bother with any bearings as it is best to check your own charts for these, or they can be found on the appropriate sites, but the first three spars are in a straight line so can be transited and will bring you to the last one at the mouth of the creek which has numerous horizontal bars. At this point you are on the Broomway and are close enough to pick out the port and starboard withies. As you come to the first 'port withie' there is quite a large, raised shoal which will diminish your depth dramatically by a couple of feet if you drift off course so it would a good bet to keep near to these. At this same high point what water is left is running back towards the Havengore bridge.
If I am going round to the Thames I cut across to the Inner Shoebury, which can be seen from hereabouts. There are quite a few other marks and short stumps not visible near high water and there could be ordnance remains laying about at times, to which you may strike, but you would be very unlucky if this were to happen. There is without doubt a certain amount of risk in using this route therefore the skipper must make accurate tidal allowances. But if your vessel can take the ground, at most it will be an inconvenience to become grounded - more a delightful rest on the mystical sands.

Facing south-east toward the outer two spars
The inner of the three in-line spars. From here you can see the Broomway spar

Broomway spar facing south-east to the outer three spars

pronounced shoal facing Havengore Creek and the first port withie
At first port withie and able to make a fare judge of depth from this mark which was about nine foot

There is also a wreck marked by a spar topped with two black balls. This is unlit to so if running in south of the three in line spars take care. I Had a close look at this wreck and it looks to be an MFV of wooden construction and still has a china sink in-situ. If anybody knows the vessels name please let me know.
Wreck on the Maplin Sands

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Vanishing Coast

The coastline as we know it today along the lowlands of Essex is thought to have extended much further east, out to the open sea. I see evidence of this in many areas such as the fort of Othona, half of which has been lost to the sea since the Romans built it in around 1st century AD. But there are more obvious signs of this progressive "land grab" inside the dozen or so East Coast rivers, and in particular the wider shallower estuaries such as the River Stour and Blackwater where the low water line we see today was in fact at one point in time the high water mark. To say exactly how long ago would be conjecture so one can only guess but more than two thousand years ago would be likely. In more recent times we have suffered damaging floods - the tragic floods of 1953, 60 years ago, were remembered just a few months ago. Our answer to this progressive erosion of our low coasts was the building of high seawalls by the Dutch which today flank the lowlands of Essex all the way up to Suffolk where we find the trees sit high and gently come down to the sea. For most people perhaps, the seawall is a minor detail but wherever I go I am intrigued if there is an absence of a seawall and whether this is due to being on higher ground or steep, sloping ground and, in some cases, cliffs because for me the high seawall has played such a large part of my interaction with the sea. As a child for instance our caravan sat directly next to the sea, literally fifty feet away, but from the lounge we could not see it as like everyone else around we sat below sea level and were guarded over by the seawall. But jump across the Borrow Dyke, where eels wriggled and adders hissed, and scramble up the wall and the wide sea-vista hit you like a refreshingly salty slap in the face. What magic that was and how vividly I still remember that same feeling .  Even today I still get the same lift when approaching the sea. Each time my head pops up over the seawall at my sailing club, for it sits tantalisingly below it, so I get it there as well - which is great!

Therefore, although we have become accustomed to high seawalls in this corner of England they play an important role in providing respite from the serious threat of flood that is still ever present. Another signal of erosion are the many ancient Saxon fish traps that I come across that have slowly dissolved further away from the shoreline, mainly salt marsh, that once buffered the coast as a natural defense and has been completely washed away with just a few tell-tale fingers of mud pointing up for air. This brings us back to the idea of the original high water level inside rivers which would have meant they were far narrower than they are now and also gives some weight to one old legend that is: "from Mersea Island it was once possible to walk across to Sales Point, Bradwell at low tide". It also adds weight to a local ghost tale, that of a galloping horse charging across the mouth of the Blackwater, from Mersea Island, to then gallop down the Dengie coast on the seawall.
This image was taken at low water. It shows an eroded coast quite graphically and how the River Blackwater was once a lot narrower than it is today