To Maldon this time!
Weather forecast for Thursday 31st August 1995 was for strong North East 4-5. I had a couple of days free and set off from Paglesham on a falling tide in Swanti, my Gaff Cutter. The wind was obviously unaware of the forecast and it was blowing steadily from south. As I sailed through the moorings I called out to Dick Sandwell who was just boarding Stormfageln. Dick was of a like mind and was also making a break for a couple of days. “ Where are you going?” he hailed. “Going to try and make the Blackwater if the wind holds”, I replied. Dick indicated that he would follow me.
The wind continued to blow a force 3 from the south as we made steady progress down the Roach and Crouch. No tacking needed today! As we passed Shore Ends, George Ventris sailed past in Sea Horse, returning from his holiday further up the coast. “Nice sail you have got there”., said George. (George has loaned me his old Gaff Sail from Myrine). We exchanged photo calls and continued our passages. By the time I reached the Ray Sand Channel, Dick had caught me and by now the wind was dropping as we both ghosted up the channel towards Brightlingsea..
It was one of those afternoons when the sea became still and our reflections were a mirror of tranquillity as we tried to make the best of the dying wind. We decided to try and make Mersea , and with the help of the ‘Iron Topsail’, picked up a mooring close to the Languard buoy in West Mersea. This being my first visit Mersey, I was keen to go ashore. The main channel dries to a narrow gut-way at low tide and there is scarcely room to sail past in a dinghy. Boats are moored so close that you wonder why they never touch.. or do they? I was arriving at dead low water and the dinghy outboard touched bottom on approaching the jetty. Something I will watch out for in future. I also noticed that many moorings have large concrete blocks as anchors. These could be seen to the north of the slip-way in the bottom of the gut-way, again something to be aware of.
On my return to Swanti, Dick invited me over for dinner, and not being in the habit of refusing a good nosh, rowed off to Stormfageln with the last of a bottle of whisky for ‘afters’. Dick is a splendid cook, and after finishing dinner and the bottle, I returned for a quiet night on the mooring. I was planning to try and sail to Maldon. With a 4:50am tide, that would give me a chance to look around Mersey in the morning and then take the early flood to Maldon.
The morning was wet and miserable. I took the Dinghy to the long floating causeway at the foot of the boatyard. Note that there is also a boatman who will pick you up should you ever arrive with no other way of getting ashore. I wanted to look in the shed at the top of the slip-way because I was told that my first boat ‘Mary of Chester’ was under re-fit there. By the time I tied up at the hammerhead, the rain was pouring down and I dashed to the small café for some breakfast. After a while the rain stopped and I went to see Mary. Certainly she was there, with transom removed as the current owner was planning build a counter stern (something she had managed to do without in all her 105 years!).
After the next shower, I collected some provisions from the small shop and return to Swanti. While the rain started to beat yet again on the cabin roof, I started to read ‘Magic of the Swatchways’ for what must be the tenth time. (I must remember to get some more books on board). One of the first stories in the book is an account of leaving Maldon early one summer morning, listening to the birds over Northsea island as the ebb took him downstream on one of his adventures. “I wonder if it is like that today….”.
And so, as the young flood started and the wind now blowing steadily from the North East as predicted, I sailed off at a great pace towards Osea Island. The wind remained over the starboard quarter allowing me a good 5 knots. The dinghy was standing on end some of the time and by two o’clock I had managed to pick up a buoy at Heybridge. My plan was to approach Maldon one hour before high water and to try and make the Hythe. I still had a couple of hours to kill so decided to go ashore to sample the ale in Heybridge Basin. It was good. need I say more! I had never navigated to Maldon and so felt it sensible to restrain myself to the one pint. I guessed a clear head was sensible.
It was now 3:30pm with high tide at 5:00pm. I could wait no longer and so set off to try and make Maldon. This last half mile I decided to make under power. I had once made the journey in a sailing barge and could only remember that the channel meanders somewhat. Still if a barge can make it… Although the channel does wind, I remained in at least two fathoms as I followed closely the well marked channel. With no problems at all I approached the Hythe.
There is a splendid new floating Pontoon on the Hythe next to the Queens Arms, and a harbour master who could not be more helpful. There is plenty of space for crafts up to 35’ next to the pontoon, with space for larger craft next to the Quay. Any craft with a moderate draft should be fine next to this quay as a fin will simply sink into the soft mud and, if secure, will remain upright as the water dries completely. The Barges tie up further south on the Hythe. There is also a splendid new shower and toilet block on the Hythe. The Harbour Master will let you have a key for a small deposit. The charge for laying at the Quay was £5 per night, which is excellent value, it costs as much in the car park for a day! The harbour Master waived the deposit as I was planning to leave at 5:00 in the morning. It is just a short stagger from the boat to the Queens Arms and, after a good meal and too much to drink, I climbed into my bunk on Swanti to be ready for my early start.
I needed no alarm in the morning as another boat tied alongside also planned to take the same tide, (just as well!). I missed breakfast, hoisted sail and slipped my mooring in darkness. The wind was blowing a steady force 1-2 from the North, directly astern as I set the sail at the top of the tide and slipped slowly past the barges for my return journey. The barge Wivenhoe was also coming to life. Slowly her large diesel pushed her into the channel and she followed me into the dark. I kept to the shallows to Starboard as Wivenhoe slowly punched ahead, drifting slowly with her green starboard light reflecting in the black water. Thus I had a guide for the rest of the narrow channel until, after turning to port and passing Heybridge, I lost sight of her round Nothsea Island.
It’s true, all you can hear are the birds over Northsea Island! The morning horizon was now tinged with red and gold as I picked out the bleak towers of Bradwell silhouetted on the horizon. The light airs and slow ebb took me past the moorings about 20 feet from the boats all facing the other direction off to my port. The echo sounder was showing a good 10 feet when all of a sudden the alarm sounded and silently I stopped, water now ebbing around my stern. Looking over the side I could see that I was being held amidst what appeared to be a large clump of weed.
Imagine the thoughts that went through my mind.. Aground at Heybridge! I can just see the next RSA Newsletter where I had to own up to the fact that I sat out a tide opposite the pub in the Basin. What shame!!
Panic stations had me dashing to start the engine and putting it into reverse try and pull away from the weed. I could not move backwards. Oh well, let’s go for it! Pushing it into forward gear and opening the throttle. Slowly I inched forwards and within minutes was free. Whether it was a shoal or some other underwater obstruction, it had collected a mass of weed that extended to the surface of the water. Since then I learnt that it is the best water very close to the moored yachts. I will know better next time!
By now the wind was freshening from the North and moving East again. I was able to make excellent progress until I let go the anchor off Osea for breakfast. Further upstream the crew of Wivenhoe had the same idea. To me, bacon and eggs taste great after sailing for a couple of hours. As they sizzled in the pan, I took a look around my temporary mooring. Another Dauntless was moored off to my starboard close to the island. With dinghy astern and al hatches closed, it was clear that the occupant had better things to do this time in the morning. After a hearty breakfast and a few more chapters of Maurice Griffiths, I weighed anchor, waving to my fellow Dauntless, on a heading for the mooring I had taken on my first night in West Mersey.
My plan was to wait for the flood and take the last 3-4 hours down the Ray Sand channel and back home. On reaching Mersey. I started the engine as I needed to navigate due north into the wind and the tide was still ebbing. The engine started, but when put into gear, would hardly push me through the water…what is happening? Closer examination by peering over the transom answered this question. I had a large clump of the Heybridge vegetation wrapped completely around the propeller. Was I glad I had the dinghy. I hove too and furled the sails. The anchor was away in about two fathoms of water and I climbed into the dinghy with kitchen knife in hand. This made short work of the weed which bound like a cloth around the propeller. I weighed anchor again and slowly punched wind and tide onto the first mooring in Mersey. Saved again!
Too early for lunch I set down to read a couple more chapters. The radio forecast winds 5 to 6 from the NE. A great wind to get home. That and the tide with me should mean that I will be back in Paglesham in no time. And so, after lunch with a reef in the main, I set off East against the early flood to the Bench Head and then South through the channel. I reflected that during this passage from my start in Paglesham I had barely a single tack! However, after passing the Branklet, the wind slowly dropped. Shaking out the last reef in the main gave me enough drive to reach the mooring and pick up my buoy.
A wonderful sail, a great experience and my thanks M. Griffiths for the inspiration!