10/13/17

Ditch-crawler’s book event aboard the Edith May for Rochester to Richmond…

News!

Book event aboard the Edith May in Lower Halstow Dock, Lower Halstow, Kent.

Event is on Saturday 11th November, 1030 to 1600. Parking available.

The dock is off Lapwing Drive just after triangle or past pub.

Tea/coffee and cake, and also soup and crusty bread will be available.

If anyone is definitely coming along and would like to reserve a copy of book, this would help me with number to order.

Hope to see lots of you…

09/28/17

Ditch-crawling by land…

Well before the ‘sailing season’ my good Mate, Christobel, saw a piece tin the Times about an upcoming exhibition about Nelson at the Castle Museum in Norwich. ‘Let’s go…’ I immediately chirped, adding, ‘…we can stay overnight.’ So we did.

Earlier this week we set off up the A12 and took the long route to Norwich passing through all the coastal port villages on the way, stopping short of Hunstanton  before dropping down into Norwich via Nelson’s father’s church at Burnham Thorpe…

Blakeney was our first stop. Beautiful, but we got fleeced for a short period of parking…

Walking along the John Wallace causeway at Blakney…

A Norfolk Mussel Boat

Chatting to the owner of a little motorised launch with a tasty fore and aft shape I learnt that she was a copy of a local Mussel Boat. There were several others on moorings, but rigged for sailing. The owner was also a skiff rower and had done the ‘Round Canvey Island’ jaunt during August. He complimented the Island YC in particular for its welcome and care…

Sailing version of ‘new’ boat.

Then we stopped by at Wells-Next-The-Sea (or Far-From-The-Sea) after passing through Stiffkey where a boat rehabilitation trust is based. It is interesting to see how far the tide has receded at Stiffkey – its very name indicating a corruption of a maritime past. The tide though is gradually coming back in…

Wells is a true tourist rip off place, especially with regards to parking – we beat a retreat fairly quickly

In Wells, I spotted a boat that looked like the original of the little mussel boats seen a little earlier at Blakeney. Moored on the same pontoon were two old RNLI Lifeboats which have been restored. A board tacked to the side of a Fishermen’s shed gave some details…

The Lucy Lavers and the Ernest Tom Neathercoat.

The board!

Driving onwards the next little port was Burnham Ovary Staithe. We had been to this little port before on another, but longer, jaunt into Norfolk.

A sweet little varnished clinker ketch…

I love it for its still in use half-tide quay or Hythe. The creek is quiet and essentially a potterer’s paradise. At the top of the staithe is an old barge’s crab winch once used to winch boats up the shore – it had the look of a lost use and would surely one day end as scrap!

Loved this!

But my good Mate was waiting…

Our next stop was Brancaster Staithe. Here we both enjoyed some local crab sitting on a wall overlooking the little fishing dock. The dock has a flushing pool, but the outer edge has not been maintained and was clearly crumbling under the ‘weight’ of tidal forces.

Brancaster Staithe with Christobel waiting patiently…

After wandering off, I found a delightful yet workmanlike little skiff. She was clearly in a sort of abandoned state, but intact.

The little boat which clearly had a mast with a lug sail, perhaps…

I was looking her over and in the act of looking closely at her construction – flat planked bottom with clinker sides – when a sharp voice called out, ‘What do you think you’re doing … what do you want.’

I was a little taken aback by the bark, from a stern looking lady. ‘Just looking,’ I said nonchalantly.

‘You’re not taking anything are you?’ she barked.

‘Why would I’, I asked, smiling, for it was clear I’d come across the angry local… I was right. I was then laid into about trippers, thieves and vagabonds from afar.

I said it was a shame the boat has been abandoned with a clear lack of attention over a long period. As the lady began to lecture me about ‘mantenance’ I stopped her in her tracks and said, as a wooden boat owner, I didn’t need a lecture, and, that I was in fact someone brought upon the water who had a deep love for the coast etc…

Two other views…

It transpired, after the lady had piped down, that the little thing is a Mussel Boat. She said the boats were grounded on the banks as the tide receded and loaded to return as the tide came back in. I told her about the way cockles used to be loaded in the same way in the Thames Estuary, but she wasn’t interested…

Before we parted I asked the lady if she’d heard of the new BBC2 maritime programme coming soon – she hadn’t. She shook her head…

I said, ‘Watch it for you’ll see me in it…’ My subtext being: perhaps you’ll understand!

I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone quite so rude on a waterfront. However, we both had had a lovely day and we chuckled over my lady as we swept inland…

09/25/17

Ditch-crawler’s flirtation with television … BBC2 Britain Afloat

Some while ago I did some filming with the BBC for a programme to be titled, a Floating History of Britain. This has materialised upon completion and immanent screening into ‘Britain Afloat’.

The programme brief was to describe the history in brief of various vessels and look at the way they had survived with new purposes after working lives had finished. Essentially, all have now become ‘play things’ but in respect to the spritsail barge, it became something more for many decades – floating/sailing homes too.

It was the floating home aspect the BBC were interested in when talking to me for the filming, plus a simplified history.

Mary Ann Ochota and me aboard Ardwina.

I was asked about many aspects of my childhood afloat with my siblings, what we got up to and what we had to do. There were ‘history’ questions and finally what the area meant to me which led me onto waterfront change – the theme in Rochester to Richmond: A Thames Estuary Sailor’s View. The book link is: http://fonthillmedia.com/9781781556207

Eventually during the early afternoon the Ardwina departed with the TV crew aboard for Greenwich where a charter party was to embark – I was then involved in what seemed a frenetic number of takes about the river…

Talking specifically about the childhood ‘we’ (my siblings and I) had aboard the May Flower over the course of three decades.

Ardwina on the Thames bound for Greenwich.

The programme begins on Saturday 30th September 2017. BBC2 2000 – 2030. There are some regional differences. See these links:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/corporate2/mediacentre/proginfo/2017/40/britain-afloat

http://www.yachtingmonthly.com/news/alert-boats-box-63046

Enjoy!

09/17/17

Dick Durham’s Wendy May comes up for sale in Ditch-crawler’s patch…

Dick Durham who is a member of the prestigious Island Yacht Club based on the eastern end of Canvey Island tells me that he is buying a boat for ‘ditch-crawling’ – she’s a vessel built in 1921 at Leigh-on-Sea. This means his beloved Wendy May has to go.

Wendy May showing her flowing lines after a coat of paint in the spring of 2017…

The boat is a ‘punt’ type and has been carefully maintained over the years.

She is from a Maurice Griffiths design and I feel she is very similar to MG’s Seaway design which were built from 25′ up to 30′ – described in ’60 Years a Yacht designer’

She is rigged as a gaff cutter with a retractable bow sprit.

Length between perpendiculars is 25’6″.

Length including bowsprit set is 32′.

Length WL is 23′.

Beam is 8’6″.

Draught is 4’3″.

She is planked in pitch pine on oak frames – copper fastened.

Wendy May was built by Williams & Parkinson at Deganwy, N. Wales in 1936.

What a handsome transom she has…

Wendy May is now available to interested people at £13, 500.00 and I’m told Dick is open to offers.

The boat is on a mud mooring at the Island YC and can be viewed by appointment with Dick.

Wendy May is a boat best suited to sailing grounds where depth is less of a problem than the Thames Estuary – although Dick’s not known to take the ground absentmindedly!

Dick can be contacted on dick.durham@btinternet.com

Tel: 01702 713613.

Go on, you know you’ll love her…

09/10/17

Ditch-crawler and Mate support the Queenborough Classic Festival…

We had this in the diary before we’d even left the festival last year, and it will again be entered, hovering over a weekend in September 2018.

The weather for Friday looked a little ‘iffy’ with rain showers expected (we got some!), but not too windy – but with sunshine forecasted for Thursday, I sped across the Thames on a beam reach all the way into the West Swale, making it from mooring to mooring in two hours  I was going to go into Stangate, but had a free berth…

Christobel, the Mate, was busy with a couple of pre-arranged appointments so came over on Friday by car bring books, table and herself… Only the Cambria was ‘in’ other than Whimbrel. The harbour Office were taking a run of absences as the afternoon progressed – disappointing!

Friday dawned dry, but showers were expected. My Mate arrived while I was up at the Queen Phillipa enjoying a coffee and pressed the managers assistant to open a decent coffee shop down near the harbour…

The Leigh Bawley Doris arriving…

The steam tug Barking arriving with a blast from her whistle.

With fresh stores, I was able to dish up a tasty chicken tikka marsala for our supper before repairing ashore by the liberty boat for a jar at the local micro pub and yacht club (They’re mad in there!) but an old friend reserved himself a copy of Rochester to Richmond… Thanks Big Al!

Saturday dawned bright. Immediately after munching a bacon roll I was away in the dinghy for a spin round the harbour while Christobel cleared away.

Whimbrel and Cambria in the morning glare…

For once I was organised and flew a banner…

A Maurice Griffiths design with gaff rig.

What a splendid sight.

Because the boats that were supposed to be on the pontoon hadn’t come, I was given a berth alongside Doris, berthing later in the day. By early afternoon the footfall really got heavy and people began to purchase books too. Christobel had to hightail it back aboard Whimbrel for a steady stream of people wanted to have a look and get ‘the tour’…!

People streaming aboard Whimbrel.

Cambria’s transom from my stall… The barge proved to be quite a ‘pull’.

A tap on the shoulder while I was talking to a book fan brought me into conversation with a reporter from the Sheerness Guardian. He’d been asked to find me and take a picture of a happy customer with the new book. Grand!

It was so pleasing to meet so many people that have so enjoyed my writing. Humbling in fact. After a recent ‘berating’ from a single person, I have felt extremely fragile and have currently dismissed thoughts of further writings. One chap said, ‘…from my first reading Salt, Marsh & Mud, I felt I’ve know you both and feel I’m sailing along aboard Whimbrel…’ and another lady said how much she’s enjoying all the books… I must admit a little tear developed when I told the Mate. Ah!

With Denis and his sister Terry aboard Doris…

Sunday dawned and it was time to high-tail it back across the Thames: wind was expected. And now moored awaiting tide, it has arrived.

I waved the Mate goodbye…

Mate Christobel’s customary two armed wave…

Approaching Queenborough Spit I spotted a boat which had tacked soon after rounding and apparently west bound – strange I thought. As I passed the spit buoy the boat came round again. A lone chap called out, ‘Hi Nick…’ then, ‘how old are you?’ (!) I answered and a conversation ensued. It turned out the man is Peter Parsons (known as The Vicar! from his days working on the rebuild of the Mirosa). He met me when I was eleven at Twinney Dock on a visit to the May Flower. A blast from the past. He then went on to say that he’d been looking out for me: he wanted to pass his thanks for all the books he’s enjoyed – now this has happened around ten times this summer. Very touching and as per I’ve said before and I humbly thanked him.

As we parted Peter called out, ‘hope to meet for some tea soon … I’m at the Medway Yacht Club…’

I snapped Peter’s boat, Grey Lad, as we went away in opposite directions. Sadly, he’d said, his Mate no longer sails … she’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease… His wife had been his sailing partner in the manner of my Christobel…

Thank you Peter, should you read this.

It was a great sail across with an hours ebb on way to Grain Flats and dead water most f way across channel…

Shooting past the Mid Nore Swatch…

 

6.7 knots heading into the Ray Channel…

And, the seals were basking on the sands to watch me past…

A Great Weekend. Thank you Queenborough Harbour Trust. And, you are always so helpful…

08/18/17

Ditch-crawler meets some old ‘friends’ along his way, Cachalot among them…

One of the joys of cruising the east coast is the way one often meets with old friends. These may be people or craft in my mind. Here though I shall specifically refer to various craft met before.

One of the places I really enjoy is Woodbridge. Not for the town alone: along the shore of the upper river sit old friends. Some will be on the move at some stage soon for in one case Cachalot, a cutter built in a wood yard outside Folkestone, Kent, during the Boer War is nearing a decade long rebuild. I first met this vessel some four or five years ago and wrote a little about her.

 

Cachalot … shortly after being launched at Woodbridge.

Her old name board in a pile for disposal…

Cachalot is broad in the beam displaying very much an air of work rather than pleasure for the period when built…

Whilst in Woodbridge, I rounded up a fellow Finesse owner (of Faith) to assist in moving Cachalot’s mast into a covered area. We were rewarded with a lovely fresh coffee and choc biscuits! The owners are hoping to have her rigged out before the end of the year – she can be seen at the Tide Mill Marina.

Up on the same piece of hard standing I came across another boat which has lain abandoned for around a decade… She is unlikely to go anywhere now. She’s a ply version of a well known west country inspired gaffer.

She doesn’t look too bad from this angle, but look closely…

Within her cockpit are several saplings growing quite happily, feeding on rain water and ‘nutrients’ from rotting wood!

A little further upriver from the marina my good Mate and I went to look at a Finesse 24 we knew has been sitting out of the water for a number of years. She looked sad, but some marks indicated something was possibly happening – paint had been scraped away to expose planking… I went in search of the yard manager who I’ve chatted to on various occasions.

 

Mackerel Sky…

The boat, Mackerel Sky has been recently purchased by a new owner who has instructed the yard to provide a schedule of work that requires to be done. Good news indeed. This boat was for many years moored close to home, at the Benfleet YC before going up to Norfolk…

After a little while we pitched up in the Walton backwaters. On a visit to Titchmarsh marina to clear three loads of laundry from our ‘bilges’ and, being weather bound too, I wandered across the marina’s yard to look for Halda, a Finesse 24 dating to around 1972. She was a ‘gaffer’ and has lain abandoned for around fifteen years, mouldering and rotting. There are many useful parts still fixed in place.

Two views of Halda…

The boat’s name came from a corruption of the names of the original owners.

Talking to the yard office, I discovered that this is likely to be my last acquaintance: she is imminently due to be cut up and burnt. Christobel, Whimbrel’s good Mate, asked to have a look. I watched, surreptitiously, as she stroked the boat and mouthed some unheard words.

Goodbye old girl, ‘fond’ memories…

 

08/7/17

Ditch-crawler asks if etiquette has died at sea…

In the past couple of weeks we have been subjected to a few cases of poor etiquette, so it has occurred to me that perhaps this is an area of sea going lore that is on the wain, or sadly, has died.

Currently we are sailing on the River Deben. We had sailed up to the road bridge by Wilford Quay and pottered back to clear Woodbridge under mainsail and a little engine … clearing the town we were soon sailing properly, munching on cheese sandwiches. The Deben was looking glorious with a good sprinkling of craft proceeding up and down.

On the way up to Wilford Bridge…

After passing through Stoners Cut and heading down into the Rocks with wind on starboard I was forced to let fly jib sheet to luff up round a channel buoy as a twin masted yacht sailed on, regardless, on port tack with bags of space to his starboard (he was cutting buoy…). He waved apparently as he passed. I scowled. My Mate said, ‘You weren’t happy about that…’ An understatement!

I could have tacked earlier, but why should one have to guess a persons stupidity…

Sailing through Stoner’s Cut…

Anyway, the sail down to Felixstowe Ferry was without further incident…

The next gripe happened at Brightlingsea.

We’d berthed earlier and were having a pre-dinner glass when a commotion outside caught my attention. A motor cruiser was coming in down-wind with a young lass on the down-ward sloping deck trying to get ashore, opposite and astern of Whimbrel.

It all went wrong and the ‘river’ went ‘full’ ahead to try and turn. It was all far too late. His bow struck the pontoon and his stern wacked our stern mounted ladder, bounced and came down on the edge of the aft plank lands…

Ladder is now slightly off-set. The damage to transom, a dented plank end and cracked paint line has been repaired. Dent will always now be there.

I had to instruct the crew as to how to get themselves out of the mess whilst fending there craft from Whimbrel. He went to operate his engine. I stopped him: his out-drive was under our bilge…

They sorted themselves out. We waited for a visit. We waited a little longer. Eventually around 30 minutes after they had got safely moored we went round for a chat … to cut a long story short, I left the owner under no illusions as to what he should have done (in the nicest possible way) – pop round to other boat and apologise and ask if all is well.

He said, ‘I was going to come round…’ Yes, well, I don’t think so…

The last, which has hurt a little, was spotted on the noticeboard of the Colne Yacht Club. An advert with a picture of Whimbrel was advertising ‘her’ for sale. The picture wasn’t credited, but it at least said ‘like’ in a description of a vessel for sale.

I phoned the chap up and invited him to come along to the Finesse Rally evening at the CYC the coming Saturday – he said he would.

When we met he did apologise for using the picture … what he didn’t tell me was that the advert is posted at other yacht clubs, or, to me what s more unsavory, is on the web based Apolloduck sales site… The picture is in colour and clearly Whimbrel. There is nothing to say that the pictured boat is not the vessel for sale.

See: https://www.apolloduck.com/boat.phtml?id=529810

Never mind copyright rules … I’m close to being incensed.

07/24/17

Ditch-crawler takes delight in Bridgemarsh Marina…

‘Let’s go to Bridgemarsh,’ I said to my Mate when planning our last few days on the Crouch and Roach. Bridgemarsh marina (boatyard) sits up the named creek inside Bridgemarsh Island which was flooded many years ago. It was once farmed and also had a brickworks. The old hard still runs across. The island is owned by The Bridgemarsh Island Trust and is a ‘no go’ area…

Some of the remnants on Bridgemarsh Island – close to the old crossing.

We were in Yokesfleet Creek where seals abound, and oh what wonder the little pups are! So, leaving under our jib the next morning, we had a wonderful sail out into the Crouch and up past the fleshpots of Burnham. Approaching Bridgemarsh Creek the jib was dropped and we puttered in under the diesel and rounded up to a vacant berth.

Whimbrel comfortably berthed…

Later we found that there is actually a designated visitors mooring at the top end of the first outer pontoon, however, the yard were content with our chosen slot – the cost for a 24-footer a mere £7.50…

Looking up the ‘middle ground’ between outer and inner pontoons at lower end of complex.

There is a clean and serviceable toilet and shower block over the seawall near the office and upon a converted lighter is a marina bar where fine local ales can be enjoyed, plus food is available. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly – no sharp suits in this place! The owner has his own boat at the yard – a giant of a ship moored next to the old hard running across to Bridgemarsh Island.

Owner’s boat, the club-ship and yard area.

We went for a potter up the access lane and found it to be lined with fruit trees – ‘wild’ plums we thought after tasting them. The fruits were the size of large cherries, however, the taste was of plum. A lady we spoke to, a tattooist, said there’d been recent speculation as to the fruit’s identity  … Christobel would have picked a basinful if jam making was easy on our Whimbrel … the lady said she was planning to make some with a granddaughter.

Delicious fruits for the taking … there were some golden yellow too.

My Mate returned to the boat whilst I wandered. The yard held a mix of sailors and motor craft, but what took my attention were a few oldsters chocked up and clearly in use as ‘weekend retreats’. It ran with the easy-going feel of the place and friendliness we met at every turn.

This old girl has the look of a ‘Rositer’ I felt…

I stood wondering what ship this had come off, how long ago it was and what joy she had once given a ‘youngster’ with his or her first little ship – a rison – from a bygone age.

Then I came across this relic. A WW2 landing craft capable of carrying a jeep and a bagful of troops – what of her history?

There were two other craft of interest too. An old ‘Dutchman’ built of wood and a Seaking, once owned by the yard manager (John). It later transpired, when paying our dues, John once owned Pippit, a Finesse 24, some years ago. ‘Had her for around three years,’ he said, ‘…a lovely boat…’ We know Pippit and her crew…

The ‘Dutchman’ and the Seaking.

Departing the next morning under jib, bound for Burnham ready for a jump to the Blackwater, I ‘caught’ the entrance beacon and the line of three buoys under the starboard bow…

The creek’s markers…

We both thoroughly enjoyed our short stay and would go back again. John and the ‘crew’ were extremely helpful, friendly and the ethos ran through the place, even to the bar where we were welcomed. And, local Crouch Ales sat in barrels on a shelf. Lovely…

 

07/16/17

Ditch-crawler mused over wood in Wivenhoe recently…

My dear wife and Whmbrel’s Mate had given up her place to allow my sister and two friends to sail aboard the good ship and one of the places we wandered into was Wivenhoe, a place I’d not been to for some while, favouring Rowhedge!

We’d spent the night in a quiet little spot beneath the woods beneath Marriages and pottered up as soon as sufficient water allowed. A boat was leaving so we slid alongside in its wake. I took the crew on a wander through the waterside town, where stores were procured, before finding ourselves upon the waterfront. From the water this village is pretty, but ashore it has secrets galore.

The Nottage Maritime Institute was open and we were allowed to wander around the downstairs workshop. Above some filming was taking place  something to do with fabrics, so we conversed in hushed voices…

The Nottage Institute’s headquarters in its prominent position on the quay facing the water.

The Nottage Institute has been operating for a jolly long time and was set up to further the education of maritime people. A job it continues to fulfill in many ways, including running boat building courses. A boat building course runs on Saturdays and it can take students around four years to complete.

In the workshop were a plethora of dinghies in various stages of completion.

Ah yes, wood, glorious wood…

I chatted to the chap who let us in, Barry Crickmore, who talked me through the dinghies in the various stages of build. ‘Some,’ he said, ‘were a little over built…’ having scantlings and such large enough for a Finesse 24, I thought. But, oh such beautiful craftsmanship.

I loved this one…

Leaving, we all had a coffee, except my pal, Steve: he said it was lunch time, so enjoyed a beer!

Around the waterfront are a selection of craft in various states of preservation. A number of vessels are clearly loved and regularly used, but others are sadly neglected. Some are in such a state as to wonder how much longer it is before the mud around them swallows their creaking hulls.

There is a smack with a broken or cut off mast which I’ve seen year by year sailing by. Around are dinghies, little launches and yachts. Three of which I felt saddened by…

Here, grey wood beneath peeling paint and a cockpit showing signs of weather damage due to ill fitting cover…

This little ship, once sweet and graceful, looked as if the tide was creeping in and out … I looked and walked on.

This yacht, similar in hull shape to the above but larger, showed signs of some activity: rusted tools lay around the cockpit… My friend muttered something in Welsh, being a son of that land, and although not translating, I understood his feelings!

As I walked through a lane bedecked with floral displays in a host of summer colours, I mused upon the new and old, wondering perhaps if one or two of those Nottage students would be inclined to use learnt skills to save an ‘old gal’ for beneath the grime and peeling paint a pretty little thing is crying out for a new dress…