Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Transit Creek - A Mud Bolt-Hole

If you sail on an estuary where half the water disappears at half-tide all is not lost as for the small boat with shallow draft there is still plenty of opportunity for adventure.
Transit Creek - A Mud Bolt-Hole   by Tony Smith    
Of all the tranquil and quiet creeks, out of the hundreds to choose from in Sea-Country (the Thames Estuary), with all their various attractions, there is one creek that comes close to being the ultimate bolt-hole for that ‘away from the maddening crowd’ moment and it happens to be right on my own doorstep, inside that most Viking of briny waters, the River Blackwater, and goes by the name Transit Creek. This small, half-to-low-tide waterway can be found south-eastward of Thirslet Spit and takes its name from two metal transit markers sited at its mouth that strike a line across the river and mark a local fishing boundary.  This mud-stream also happens to be sited just a few miles downriver of my own home creek, Goldhanger, and could well have been carved out by the metal swords of those Viking raiders who it is thought first came to our shores at Lindisfarne in the 8th century to pillage and plunder, and by the 9th century had made their way south, to East Anglia, before collecting the first ever payment of Danegeld in England after the Battle of Maldon in 991, and in the bargain pledged the River Blackwater with island names Osea and Northey. Both of these islands in the Blackwater are peaceful sanctuaries today offering opportunities for relaxed small-boat cruising among the sparkling waters that surround them at high-tide, but their names are clues of a more turbulent past.
Mud- Sailing
The time was three hours after high water and the sun shone brightly over the great levels that uncover in St Lawrence Bay - home to hundreds of screeching gulls, and which had become a waste where the sun’s heat rises to burn at its fiercest in the entire river. Cracks appear in the mud within hours and heat radiates from what, by then, has become vast brown mud-ovens. Of all the creeks I like to frequent Transit Creek is certainly the muddiest, the most trench-like, and void of anything human. Only dunlin, shank and similar waders land here as the tide ebbs to feed on crustations, and is when the sea-bed comes alive with the harmonies of salt water gurgling and dribbling from holes; surface bubbles bursting, all fluxed together in an orchestral mix of bird-cackle, salt, mud, wind and tide.
Shoal Waters rattled and shook whilst anchored in the main river, at the mouth of the creek, as a turbulent tide ran its course past us flowing forcefully from the mudflats and gut-ways that were uncovering beside us to the south. The 20 foot of chain and her 17lb fisherman anchor were buried beneath the soft mud that lay at the bottom of the five feet of water we floated in. As I climbed forward to haul up the anchor an easterly wind whipped its way through the rigging, and short chop slapped at the boat. As soon as the anchor was set free she stirred.
  I had boded the time well for the right moment to make our move into the muddy pasture, and as I rolled out both the jib and staysail she began to glide toward the flickering, silver mud. We slipped into the creek and were soon passing between the glistening banks on either side with ease. As we crept further inward I noticed the heads of every seabird within half a mile had turned toward us, their eyes pierced us with their startled but guarded gaze. Agitated oyster catchers hopped around in circles, and began crying out loud ‘kuweeet’ ‘kuweeet’, while others took off screaming.
How I enjoyed coming into this small creek. It was so near to home and yet being so wild had the ability to take you far away… It is a mini adventure, too, as you never know how far you will make it in before coming trapped by its ooze. I sailed as far as was possible, rounding west, before a slight turn east had us in irons and Shoal Waters stopped dead. Her heavy ballast and cabin full of cruising gear, combined with the headwind, made her stone-like. Slowly she crabbed sideways before settling on to the lee bank. I furled the headsails and worked the muddy quarters with the quant pole for the next half an hour of close-quarter attrition to gain further ground.
The creek then rounded south again and I could roll out the staysail for a few moments of ‘lift’ and she clawed her way over more easier ground. The depth had by now vanished to a mere 18 inches which negated using any centreplate to get a bite in order that we could sail in a mostly forward direction. To add to our challenge the creek had narrowed from 50 feet to around 10 feet wide and the wind carried on pounding away at us from the east, until we were overwhelmed by it and bullied against the slippery ooze of the lee bank again.
Hidden, in the depths of a peaceful, muddy world
A further wrestle with the long quant pole ensued. The 1.5 inch diameter pole flexed like a longbow and sprung us forward with every downward thrust I made. It’s time like these when one is thankful for undertaking a thorough repair job on it after it snapped in two while being used for poling out our ghoster come cruising chute the year before at an Old Gaffers do. That is two major repairs the trusty pole has undergone in its lifetime and the epoxy and glass tape binding were holding up well again just when I needed them to.
It was 2hrs before high-water and Shoal Waters had cemented herself between the close banks where we succumbed to the defences of one of deepest burrows of carved mud the River Blackwater holds.
Largely, there is nothing of the shoreline visible while buried below the cover of mud and your boat is unreachable, and invisible, to other vessels on the main river, other than the sight of her mast poking above the mudflats. Interestingly, all that can be seen from the depths of this creek is the top half of a row of popular trees, on rising land to the south-west. Through a hazy heat they resemble an imaginary army of shields held upright in defence of an impending Viking raid. For the next few hours, until it’s time to make our withdrawal, the pressures of everyday life fall away to a trickle with the flowing tide and what is left, for me, is imaginary Vikings, cloying mud, blue skies and birdsong.

Enjoy your creek-sailing, Tony

By purchasing any of my three books you are assured plenty of shoal-draft adventure but to read more of the dozens of named creeks I have explored inside the River Blackwater purchase a copy of the new mono edition of my book 'Ready About on The River Blackwater' - Exploring The Creeks And Ditches in a Small Boat. Here's the link Purchase Ready About On The River Blackwater