Thursday, 29 August 2013

Sea Fog

  The latest bout of sea fog appeared while on a cruise had the undesired effect of putting the wind up my shorts instead of filling the sails. By the time I had got out toward the Spitway the fog had cleared and the sun shone pleasantly enough but was I the only skipper sailing down the river puffing his fog horn like the proverbial playground clown? I must have been because I never heard any reply. Very deadly that, silence in fog I mean. If you were sleeping in any of the trot moorings, well I hope I passed some trot moorings.., in fact any double glazed home on the whole Dengie or Tendering Peninsular and was woken in the early hours by awful wailing sounds - sincere apologies.. 

  I have since been thinking about radar reflectors and in particular how useful one would be to me if I were to install one on Shoal Waters mast. Where on the mast is to advance a stage for now and I'm just thrashing about the idea but the initial concept is beginning to interest me.  Down the creek Mike showed me a radar reflector he made using a plastic Coke bottle and filling it with balls of aluminium cooking foil. He then painted the lot white. The cost was nominal to say the least; a box of kitchen foil. But, the result was I thought it looked like one of those professional jobs on an offshore yacht only I wondered if it would actually reflect.  The whole concept is hopeless I guess unless the potential colliding vessel has a radar unit fitted. For small craft cruising inshore this is perhaps far too much kit to expect on board so for now that tense eye of the discerning watch and the metallic tasting fog horn will have to stay.
  Seriously though, the way I see it you only get hit by a ship once and in all probability it will feel like an uppercut from Mike Tyson with the result being a slow sink down to the sea bed. Where a reflector may just be of very practical use is passing Harwich at night or in the Thames for instance – even in the Colne to a lesser degree, and this year, the Crouch has become a great place to be to, if you like ships as I do, for it is also now a full working river with shipping in and out continually now serving up the Wallasea project. I am cruising in and around all these areas quite a lot and only yesterday came out the River Roach at dawn again under a veil of light mist, this time the three ships near to me in the Crouch were visible but half hour earlier, and throughout the night while at anchor, I could not see a thing for thick fog. And the day before when the fog horn blew and blew? I would not have been able to see the ships and they would probably not Shoal Waters. I guess the best defence is to stay put but while on a cruise that may mean staying at anchor in a place you chose in bright sunshine, which for many boats I see is nigh on bang in the fairway within striking range.

  What size, if any, would be worth putting up on a small sailing boat I do still wonder and have they been proven to work? I do have some evidence of a reflector working as a friend who had the lifeboat out to him said they found him because of his radar reflector. What size I did not ask at the time but from memory, as I had been on the boat, it looked like a standard white canister job. His mast was twice the height of mine too which perhaps may have improved the signal, who knows. It’s all food for more thought.

Friday, 23 August 2013

I Should Go Down To The Creek

I should go down to the creek

The birds sing merrily and the winds scream

 I should go down to the creek 

It can be a pasty swirl or a choppy gnarl and yet is it not where all that glitters can be seen?

I should go down to the creek

Swirling tides break into salt mist and air is of mud and sea life - pebbles roll and sea shells whisper and seaweed tangles between toes, yes, I should go down to the creek

Fish swim over crawling crabs and boats swing to and throw, currents race then trickle 
before daylight fades - and that sky!

I should go down to the creek 

Birds sing merrily and the winds scream - by far enough for me

Sunday, 18 August 2013

2013 Small Boat Sailors Rally

Calling all creek sailors - mud sliders and explorers of the gut-ways...

24/08/13 Small Boat Sailors Rally new date fixed.

Venue: Goldhanger Creek
Day:     Saturday 07th September
Time:   HW Osea 14.40  5.6M

 Bring your wellies and puddings.

Let me know if you intend coming then I can inform you if we have to cancel due to bad weather etc.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Going Gaff

It was a real treat to meet up with the Shipmate Owners Association East Coast Rally boats, five of whom came down to the River Blackwater, extending their holidays, after the River Orwell rally ended for a sail in company. We had a fab day with Mike coming along in Swallow too only for the light winds at the very start of the day, and my refusal to catch hold of Keith's tow rope which was his reply to my handshake greeting on meeting him on his shipmate Solo in Goldhanger Creek. He wanted me to get down the creek to meet the lads quicker than my dear little Shoal Waters ambling pace of just over one knot per hour in light to no wind! This meant we didn't get to raft up as planned but winds did come as they usually do and we eventually had a great sail, cruising to East Mersea where the chaps carried on up the River Colne to stay the night at Wivenhoe SC before making their way back up to Harwich. Once again it was great to sail in company with you all and I hope you enjoyed your short stay in the brown stuff at Maldon the night before.

 More on shipmates:
   I've been in correspondence with a nice chap who owns a shipmate senior trailer sailor.  To cut a long story short he has been rather taken with my creeksailing antics previously in Huffler and of course now in Shoal Waters, both gaff cutters, and had been wanting to create a boat he could do some similar cruising with.
Well, the dream is now a reality for I have seen the boat in person and my she looks a cracker and is going to make a wonderful creek sailor. Congratulations on such a fine and fettle little ship.  In all honesty I was a little envious of her professionally made spars and iron deck fittings.  Everything is just so. It is Dave Patient after all that had been commissioned to the works and they know how to make a stick or two so what else could be expected.  And now that she is rigged and in proportion she awaits a new suit of sails which are coming by way of a well known Brightlingsea sailmakers. I'm really pleased for her owner who I know will now have an ideal little gaff cutter for his wants and I'm looking forward to hearing about her sea trials and receiving a couple of pictures to ad into the shipmate bag on this site.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Short Sea

‘Ah, the sea is as smooth as velvet with just a ripple or two tapping at the freeboard’… ‘It’s kicking up a fair old chop today’.. ‘We rode the swells like a fairground ride’. Perhaps the main priority for many recreational boaters is the sea-state and what is going on immediately at eye’s view around them.
 There are salts that have gone to sea for many decades but have they in all honesty wondered what lies beneath them? He or she is well versed in making sure there is enough water under the keel but what of the seabed and how it lies?  
  If we take a look at a fisherman who trawls nets and iron dredges we see that among the oysters, cod and sea bream of his prey he has to consider the present sea-state. But he knows his limits account for him to be out in most weathers for he also has the hat-in-extended-hand just the other side of the quay. Even more vital to him is how the seabed lays and the nature of it. In this endeavor fish-finders and echo sounders are a godsend for him as a seabed that is rocky could do expensive damage to his dredge.
  For the average cruiser-sailor that stays well clear of the short seas by using charts with well defined contour depths marked and an echo sounder a reasonable picture can be painted of what is (or isn't) going on below and how this effects his safe sailing.
The concerns I have short-sea cruising in my pocket camper Shoal Waters are not unlike that of the fisherman then and quite the opposite of deep sea sailing. Common fare while making an advance up a forgotten backwater is to find one obstacle after another to negotiate. Rusting poles that protrude upwards from the seabed but still hide a few inches below the waterline. Bladder-wrack covered rocks that somehow have arrived in the middle of what is an otherwise baron plain of soft mud? And, let’s not forget the wide shelves of glue-nails, stick everything that floats, mud where a cane-sounded depth can decrease from blue ocean-like five feet to barely 15 inches of float-able paste. And, as there are in the short sea, when penetrating inland there are bits of iron, old bikes – and in the canal? Anything is possible... The lead sinker and the sounding pole are the tools to work a way through these game waters. The cane gives a satisfactory feel and an audible sound of the hard sand I find off the corner of Shoebury right up to Orford too.  If you stick very firmly to dry land, or steer clear of the short sea intentionally, and have not felt or heard this special audible whisper and would like to experience it, take a piece of bamboo and jab it in a builders bag of sharp sand and ballast. The sound is as distinct as a whistling kettle is to the tea drinker!  A decision to navigate in two feet of sea, or to ground on this stuff, could be terminal therefore, just as the deep sea cruiser reels in alarm whenever his echo sounder bleeps at his decreasing depth, this distinct sound has to become second nature to the short-sea seafarer.
Two recent episodes of the underlying seabed playing melodies on board were at the recent East Coast Race. One of the marks, no5,  was very close to the Bradwell shore and at near low water when every conceivable form of canvas-driven vessel converged upon it in a melly that could nearly be described as mud wrestling with boats - or, at the very least, shingle throwing... Most of these boats would, perhaps, otherwise never dream of venturing so close to the short sea but there they were. The other was the day after when I left Brightlingsea Creek pontoons on a very fresh and sunny  morning for Goldhanger in an F6 on the nose (I had a plane to catch) with a deeply reefed main and setting a small staysail, only to ground on hard sand lower down in the creek. Everything fell against me at once, a lee shore being one of them.. Again nearing low water. Fortunately I am very adept at this type of scenario so could pull my dear little ‘Shoal’ clear with the sheer brutality of her fisherman anchor, which I read again recently somewhere is useless for cruising particularly near mud (you know the facts: 50 years - 76000+ miles - thousands of mud and sand anchorages with nights spent at anchor all with trusty old Cold Nose the 17lb fisherman type anchor), and was no sooner rounding the Mersea Flats, flirting so dangerously with flying spume near to the wreck of Molliett, before more thrashing through more wild, eye stinging Blackwater chop to hear on 1310 weather report that the present gale is now ceased! For a sunny Sunday I may have seen two other boats sailing? One of those were lashed to a yellow buoy near Tollesbury Creek entrance. SB Pudge was out though, and we crossed wakes a couple of times heading upriver. Her skipper skillfully tacking her to and throw with short boards parting seahorse-crested waves as if she were a mere dinghy.

I was at Brightlingsea to take part in the OGA 50 years celebrations. Shoal Waters was built in 1963 and launched in time fore the first East Coast Race so it was a privilege to be able to come out of the creeks and take her 50 years on to compete again. 

East Coast Race 2013 Results  Not mentioned on this list is she came first in the Passage Race held the day before. 9hrs from Goldhanger to Brightlingsea - under sail only of course.