In early July I was down on Sea Bear for the annual Thames Barge match race on the Orwell. I watched from opposite the start line as the first pairs of barges started then I followed on down the river, out past Felixstowe, out to sea round the Pye end bouy then back and up the Stour before returning to Pin Mill. It was fine weather and fair winds. It was great to see so many barges out a sailing. When I see a sailingbarge it always reminds me of when, as a youngster our family holidays were taken on Canvey Island and we would see the barges sailing past. In those days the ’50’sthey were still working barges, so I must have witnessed some of their last days as coastal trading vessels.
I had a few days on the boat in June. I had planned to go down to river Colne first then perhaps further south. However the wind was from the SW and strong at first. I had a look at going out via the Wallet but it would have been no fun so instead went up the Stour, anchoring first at Copperas bay then by Stutton Ness. Here I saw a deer going for a swim in the river, quite remarkable. At the height of the tide we went up for a closer look at Mistley. It appears that the fence is still up on the quay there despite the High Court order that it be taken down.
The weather had calmed down and the tides were right so I thought it time for my first visit to the Deben. It is a bit scary first time with the waves (gentle in this case) breaking on the shingle banks and the channel passing close to the beach. But I entered under sail with a favourable wind and the tide still under me, whoseing me down the channel and I was soon proceeding calmly up the river.
I picked up a mooring by the Ramsholt Arms. Next day I went up as far as Waldringfield before turning around and heading back to Felixstowe Ferry and out over the bar.
The exit I found slightly more nerve wracking than the entrance surprisingly. I had timed it for HW slack so the exit took longer and from the red buoy by Felixstowe ferryyou cannot see the green marking the knoll spit so you just have to follow the shoreline as you do not want to stray too far towards the shingle banks. Just a few days before a yacht on exiting had done this and gone aground – a feat I did not want to repeat.
Thames sailing barge in the Wallet
Early the next day I took the tidedown the Wallet to Brightlingsea, calm condition but no wind. But of course arrived to anchor in Pyefleet creek and the wind came. The next day forecast spoke of the winds veering to the NE and strengthening to F7 so I decided to head back early rather than having to beat up the Wallet with wind over tide. In the event I had a crackingsail back with a nice F4-5 on the beam and the aft quarter.
Back on the mooring the wind departed and a peaceful eve was had before departing for home the next day.
I had several long conversations with a friend, Ian, as he was in the process of buying a boat. For some reason he was looking to me for advice but also I suspect because talking with someone else over what to do with reference to sorting out an old boat can help decide one’s own mind about a course of action. He used to own a boat but years ago. Ian is another of those climbers who have taken to sailing. It is amazing how many older or ex climbers take to sailing.
In August I went down to join Ian and Abi on their boat in Wareham as he, feeling somewhat rusty wanted me to help them on a delivery trip to take the boat to its new home in Scotland. He had been down in the boatyard there for a month, working on and sorting out many little and larger things that needed sorting on an old boat. Anyway when I got there it was obvious somethings still needed sorting but could be labelled minor tweaks or improvements and the boat was evidently seaworthy. Ian was keen to leave on the high tide the next day so be it. The boat Duloe by the way was a Nicholson 31.
We were dogged on this trip a little by the weather, lots of strong headwinds, rain but we proceeded by day hops, Wareham – Portland – Brixham – Dartmouth – Cawsand Bay – Fowey – Helford – Newlyn- Dale. I left them at Milford Haven as I had run out of time, needing to be back home for an important appointment. Anyways I reckoned that they were competent enough to complete the rest of the trip and it would boost their self confidence to do so and of course they managed just fine.
My next time on Sea Bear, the tides and winds were right for a gentle trip up to the head of the Orwell. My last trip up there was back in 2001 or 2002 in my Wanderer dinghy. Anyway sailing up was fine, slow progress but relaxing but on the return beating back down the river I discovered how sluggish the boat was and barely responding to the tiller. It became apparent that there was so much growth on the bottom and I needed a scrub.
Accordingly a day later when the tides served I went alongside the scrubbing posts at Pin Mill. I must confess it was a pretty hard task to tie on to the posts single handed and I thought I was about to make a grand cock up and embarrass myself but by dint of a bit of lassoing I was able to save the situation, phew!
Then just a question of waiting for the tide to drop and when the water was about knee deep with wet suit donned , splash about and give the hull a good scrape and scrub. Job done, another wait which I occupied by cooking dinner. It was around midnight when there was enough water to float off and motor back to the mooring but boy was it a dark night so that was no easy matter.
Towards the end of the month I was back on the boat. Relaxing in the cockpit I had a surprise call from the Guardian journalist who had interviewed me about my trip and now they wanted to send a photographer to take some pictures of me and my boat. I said I would meet them next day. Alicia duly arrived and I ferried her out to Sea Bear in the dinghy. We chatted for ages and she took her pictures, never knew that posing could be such hard work.
The Guardian photographer Alicia
The article about me appeared in the Guardian on-line in a series entitled “A New Start after 60” .
I had a couple of articles accepted and published in the yachting magazines, PBO & Yachting Monthly about my big trip & solo Pacific crossing I was quite pleased about that . If you are interested you can read them here.
For what turned out to be my last sail of the season I had thought to venture to the Deben but out past Felixstowe the winds were all wrong and then died away leaving me to wallow about in a slight swell for a while. The wind did return but too late to make the tide for the Deben entrance so a change of plan and I headed back in and up the Stour. I found quite a nice anchorage by Sutton Ness for a peaceful night and was astounded by the number of swans around.
Returning past Wrabness next day I was quite taken by the higgledy piggledy collection of bungalows and shacks. Thought it a shame that the beach here was private and landing discouraged.
Later rounding Shotley spit to get back to the Orwell near low water I was a slightly confused that Shotley horse bouy was missing, it had been there the day before. I later discovered that they had removed it as it is a seasonal mark. It was scheduled to be removed on or around the 18th but they had taken it away by the 14th.
Still I had a nice beat all the way back to the mooring.
It was not long after first light and sortly after low tide when I slipped the mooring and headed off down the river. I had arrived at the boat the previous afternoon. There was no one else about at this early hour and if I had been more virtuous I would have arisen a little earlier to make the most of the tide, but sometimes the comforts of a warm bunk and of leaving when it islight rather than in the dark are too strong. There was no wind at first but just short of the docks of Felixstowe a gentle breeze sprang up and all sails were soon hoisted. Past Harwich and I could set a course close hauled to take me down the Medusa channel with the benefit of the flood tide under me. The wind direction was not ideal as my course was taking me out towards the Gunfleet Sands. There was low cloud so the all that could be seen of the wind farm were the towers, the rotors hidden from view. When the Gunfleetold light came close it was time to tack to avoid running into the Sands. With this new course combined with the change in direction of the coast I could lay the Knoll north Cardinal . Gradually the cloud was lifting and the sun was making a sporadic appearance. We weren’t making a fast passage but it was pleasant easy sailing none-the less. Passing the Knoll a slight course alteration took me to the Eagle and thence the Colne Bar buoy and I could, with the wind astern, run into the Colne. Going into a new place always leaves one slightly apprehensive, transferring ones interpretation of the chart into what is before ones eyes is where the strain of single handing becomes most apparent. Have you got everything right? Just where are you going to round up to hand the sails, have you identified the creek entrance correctly, where is best spot to anchor? So it always somewhat with relief when you finally let go the hook, stow the sails and get the kettle on for a brew. I was anchored just inside the entrance to Pyefleet Creek and in enough water to stay afloat at low tide, though I was assured that should I touch, the mud was soft enough that I wouldn’t know the difference.
Next morning there was no wind, grey skies and with rain or drizzle from time to time so I was quite content to remain peacefully at anchor and watch the world go by and the birds feeding along the shore line. I watched a nice smack, the Maria, hoist all sails and then because of no wind get pushed by its tender. Never seen a smack pushed in this way rather than being towed. Much later they were back, pushed again so it must be their usual thing.
The next day there was some wind so I sailed around to the Blackwater and up this past the moored Radio Caroline just past Bradwell and so up to anchor in the lee of Osea Island. It being Sunday afternoon there were a number of mobos here but they all cleared off later. It is a shame about the private notices on the island, it would be nice to be able to go ashore for a walk here. The forecast was for the wind to go around to the NW and blow rather strongly so I reckoned I was in a good spot here.
Radio Caroline up the Blackwater
When the wind had moderated a day later I shifted around to the Crouch. Out by the Wallet Spitway I was headed by the wind then it fell calm so I ended up motoring through the Spitway. I hadn’t felt bold enough to take the shorter way of the Ray Sand passage so took the long way around. I took the Swallowtail channel to join the Whitaker and so to the Crouch. I had thought to anchor up the Roach but the wind was back northerly and strongly blowing 20 knots or more straight up there. Undecided whether it would be good or not to anchor there I continued on up the Crouch, after a while this didn’t seem like a good decision, the tide was running strongly against me by now, the wind continued blowing strongly and it took what seemed like ages to get past Burnham and up to anchor by Cliff Reach. Here the shelter I thought it had promised proved purely illusory. Nevertheless I was glad to get the hook down and get the tea on.
I stayed there the next couple of days when the wind continued strong and most of the next when the wind eased. One afternoon I took the tide up the river to explore the upper reaches and then back down to re-anchor at Cliff Reach. The forecast had been for strong northerly or northwesterly winds for days, not so good I thought for beating back up the Wallet but at last the wind force was dropping perhaps becoming calm although the direction remained unfavourable for heading back North. Anyway I thought better some wind even if not in a good direction than no windwhich would mean motoring which I hate.So early one morning, bucking the last of the flood I headed down the Crouch and out via the Whitaker channel. Close hauled I could almost hold the course, I just needed one tack back across when we we forced too close to the Foulness Sand. It had started out windy and choppy but gradually the wind eased and it became a pleasant sail. Past the Inner Whitaker and then short of the Whitaker cardinal I tacked towards the Swin Spitwayto cross the Spitway to enter the Wallet. Long tacks up this until short of Frinton-on-Sea where I realised I was losing the battle against the tidewith each tack away from the coast loosing me almost as much ground as I gained tacking shorewards. On with the engine then to motor sail to get past Walton and the Naze. Past here a better angle enabled me to kill the engine but the wind was now dying away so it took a long time up the Medusa. Approaching Felixstowe and suddenly without warning the wind was back 20 +knots so we started to fly but with too much sail aloft to be comfortable. I furled the yankee, would have liked to put a reef in the main but was suddenly in a lot of traffic, other yachts, ferries, fisherman and workboats so concentrated on getting though all this safely. Past the docks the wind departed almost as suddenly as it arrived so a quiet run up the river until the wind died just short of the mooring. Back on the mooring I could put the boat to bed as it were.Later in the eve as I was to turn in for an early night there was a tremendous amount of splashing. Emerging in the cockpit to find out what it was all about I discovered a seal aboard the dinghy, it seemed to be settling in for the night. It was still there early next morning andI had to shoe it away before reclaiming my dinghy and heading ashore and so to home. It had been a reasonably successful exploratory trip despite the unsettled and inclement weather.
I had made a start on the winter work schedule just about as soon as the lockdown easing at the end of April allowed me to travel down to the boat yard. I made a start and got a fair bit done but then was interrupted by a spell of cold and wet weather which put a stop to the work. It wasn’t until almost the end of May that finally we had some good weather and I was able to proceed with fitting out. Of course there is always far more to do than you first anticipate and it all takes longer than expected. There were few nonessential things I wanted to do but decided to put off.
Eventually it was all done and the Sea Bear was ready to go back in the water.
A few days after the yard told me that she was back on her mooring I went down to Pin Mill with Wendy for company. It was a lovely hot sunny day and after dinghying out to the boat we had a leisurely afternoon just settling in and relaxing.
Wendy & Sea Bear
Pin Mill Sunset
Next morning we slipped away from the mooring, there was no much wind but we did care about that, just sailed and drifted slowly down the river. It was Wendy’s first trip in the area so she was happy to have plenty of time to enjoy the sights. We decided not to go too far and once past Harwich we just headed for the Pye End buuy and hence to the channel to the Walton Backwaters. I though to anchor off Stone point, never having anchored there before but once there I wasn’t too happy with the Anchorage, it either felt too close in and too shallow for when the tide ebbed of far too close to the channel to be truly relaxing so we moved into Hamford water to anchor – much more relaxing. Not long ad after we had settled the wind increased and veered to the NE. This created quite a chop so it was a little uncomfortable for a while but it later eased.
Next morning we spotted a pair of Avocets working along the shoreline, it was the first time I had ever seen these distinctive birds.
Once the tide had risen enough we set off back out the channel and could just hold the line close hauled so had a good sail back to the mooring.
There was enough tide for us to go ashore and have a walk though Pin Mill woods.
Pin Mill views
Returning back I made a classic mistake in that I overlooked the old age dictum of time and tide wait for no man. Actually it was the lure of a pint in the Butt & Oyster, which was perhaps my downfall. Maybe after it was excusable, as I had not had a pint in a pub since before lockdown, October last year, and even so that was just once since lockdown had started way back in March the previous year.
Wendy queried whether we would have the time before the tide dropped but anyway the pint prevailed but sure enough back at the pontoon and the dinghy was high & dry. And so it was that I made my first acquaintance with Pin Mill mud – I won’t so easily make that mistake again!
No sailing over winter and it feels a long year in lockdown. I haven’t even been able to visit the boat since the end of October when she was shifted ashore for the winter, let alone do any work to prepare her for the coming season.
Meanwhile a fella has to do something, so I have written a book about some of my travels in my boat. Oh and I have published it too, available in either paperback or an e-book. It’s called “A Pensioner’s Folly” and if you wish you can buy a copy to read all about it.
I would appreciate any comments, good or bad and any feedback.