The Sceptics Guide to Short Cuts Across the
Or, how not cross the Maplin Sands approaching Havengore Creek from the South
In the September 1995 newsletter, John detailed how he sailed Swanti from the
Thames Estuary returning to Paglesham via Havengore Creek. One thing that struck
a chord with me was his observation that, whilst the chart and pilot books warn
of numerous obstructions on the sands anywhere outside the recommended course,
he did not see any.
Over the years of sailing past the Maplin sands, both my father and I have developed a deep suspicion that the Department of` `Boats not Welcome Here' just want to keep the yachties out. The powers that be, responsible for the firing range, are happy to perpetuate the myth that the sands are strewn with poles, wreckage and unexploded shells. Undoubtedly there are a few, but none to speak of between Shoebury and Havengore, hence, in reality the risk is negligible. Whether we are considered spies and saboteurs, or floating new age travellers just waiting to set up camp, I remain unsure. But, they don't want us there and what better way than marking these waters with the modern day equivalent of "thar be monsters" that medieval sea captains would see on their ancient charts?
If you are a sceptic or an aficionado of the conspiracy theory, this is all very well, but would you risk putting it to the test? Well, not intentionally. Alternatively you might be interested in accounts of those who have.
My father in his Kingfisher 20 and myself in a similarly shoal Hunter 19 (triple keel version - 2` 4" draft) have frequently strayed (and prayed!) on the Maplin without so much as a near miss.
Not that damage was not altogether a risk, once in the late 1960's, engineless and becalmed my father was towed by an army DUKW, toward Havengore, under arrest. Now there's military logic, they did not tow him out of the range, but into it. Further surprises were in store, when the DUKW's wheels touched the sands it steadily climbed out of the water. Our soldiers basic training may not cover the finer points of yacht design, but boats haven't got wheels! Hence, when his boat began to plough the sand with her keels, following protestations from the skipper (I believe the parentage of most of the British army was called into question!), the tow was abandoned. They then drove off, leaving stern instructions to anchor and await orders. Having obediently anchored for a while, a favourable breeze set in, so dad and DUKW parted company and did not reacquaint themselves that season.
Several calm weather and tide induced excursions on to the Maplin occurred, all without incident, but then, his boat was named "Escape"
My own trip across the Maplin did not involve military intervention, as I was sailing on a Sunday, but it was classic corner cutting and certainly not best practice! It was my maiden trip (1990) in my Hunter 19, Sophie (predecessor to Lady Hamilton) sailing from Thorpe Bay to Paglesham via Havengore. With a force three from the East and two hours of spring flood remaining, Sophie was hard on the wind. From the end of the Shoebury obstruction, I was just about able to lay the Havengore entrance. But, with the tide and a fairly lumpy chop, the boat was being pushed down to leeward.
This meant that my course was well over the sand and in only about four feet of water. Indeed, I was unable to prove my vintage Seafarer echo sounder was giving a true reading until the end of my boat hook surfaced with a good coating of mud. My hitherto disbelieving sailing companions were simply amazed that we could be so far from the shore and sailing in so little water (something of an illusion, as the crews estimation of distance was distorted due to the spring tide changing their perception of the height of the featureless seawall).
My final approach to Havengore was well inside the wreck and diagonally across the Broomway, exactly one hour before high water. I cleared the entrance, picked up the can buoys marking the channel and finally saw recorded depths in double figures! Do the range markers that allegedly festoon the sand exist in reality or rather in history? Or was I just lucky? A sharp watch had failed to reveal anything breaking surface, so this account supports the sceptics view.
The greatest hazard, bearing in mind Sophie having a freeboard of 18", were the waves in shoal waters, many with breaking crests. A particularly large one, mounting the foredeck, then running over the smooth sloping cabin top, depositing half a gallon down the main hatch! Had the wind been blowing a force five, rather than force three that day, I am convinced it would have been madness to follow such an inshore course. The potential for breaking waves over such a wide expanse of shallow water being only too apparent. In the event it was salt water in the crews tea that proved to be the only `obstruction' to a thoroughly enjoyable sail.
Dennis is the co-owner of a Shipman 28, "Lady Hamilton" moored at Paglesham.
Now having to contend with a fin keel and drawing five feet his days of `shooting the gore' are over, which is perhaps just as well!