11/13/17

Ditch-crawler at Salty Dogs in Maldon…

For information I shall be at the Salty Dogs Gallery in Maldon on the evening of Thursday 30th November to message and sign copies of my latest book, Rochester to Richmond: A Thames Estuary Sailor’s View.

Salty Dogs Christmas Show (Gallery) is located at No. 11 Market Hill, Maldon, Essex. CM9 4PZ.

It would be great to see you…

11/2/17

Ditch-crawlers first 2017 autumn sail…

Yes, I know, the weather people say autumn starts on the 1st September, but I’m a die-heart and take absolutely no notice of that. The seasonal change is officially the equinox on 21 September, but we’ve been enjoying such gorgeous weather that I think autumn clearly began yesterday, 1st November! I had two nights away on the Medway last week – it was fabulous. My Mate decided not to come, but regretted her decision…

Anyway, today I had a ‘sail alone’ on a splendid morning tide…

I needed to be down the creek early so I cancelled our morning perambulations through our local woodland (exercise – but we went later) and beetled down to my creek. It was just after 2 1/2 hours before high-water, yet the boat was nearly afloat. It was early. Zipping round I soon had the girl set for the off. Sail was set off the mooring. A light W-NW was blowing, although ‘blowing’ is hardly the right word for it was a light breeze.

Goose winging out of Smallgains Creek.

Creeping past two sleeping Finesse 24s, Calluna and Gypsy…

Leaving the creek I began working in long and short tacks of a lazy nature westwards. The breeze eventually threatened to die so upon reaching the old Salvation Army wharf I turned, giving up on a ‘visit’ to the island’s other yacht club.

I spotted a grebe, but as yet I haven’t seen any autumn little grebes locally. They’ll be about surely. Coming home last Friday I saw, sailing up the Ray Channel, a single tern. The thing should have been far away by now – strange. It was a touch misty when I departed, but by this point I saw the light was accentuating the fluffy cotton tops of the sea aster seed heads in a white haze above the saltings. This was heightened by a group of little egrets stalking the marsh edge intently watching the water’s surface.

The colours changed. To the west mist clung to the downs where they’re closer to the creek. Far away to the east, it had receded too. I was sailing in bubble of blue tranquillity. Apart from a chilly feeling, I felt as if it were summer again…

Above, a swirl of waders, dunlin and or knot, swooped over the mast…

I passed a boat which for a number of years has been flying plastic bags from its rigging and lines. Last springs bags are all but completely shredded now. I just do not understand why this owner (and others) continue to carry out this practice. There has been much media attention on serious programmes such as R4 and BBC1 News about the problem of ‘sea plastic’ and where it is going: surely, in time it will end up in us as it climbs through the food chain.

It was quiet. Yet across the water I the sound of the  passing of every train permeated as they ran on the lines tucked down in the Hadleigh ‘basin’ under the downs. The sound of sirens from emergency vehicles came too mixed with the gentle ‘quark’ of Brent and the cries of a myriad of waders.

Then I saw this…

This boat’s spring hanging of plastic carrier bags and such has disintegrated and is now polluting your sea…

I believe it is time for the authorities to take action. A fine, big enough to hurt needs to be instituted, even the confiscation of the vessel. Something has to be done. It is a pity that the owner’s club hasn’t done anything about: surely (I will not name them) they must hold some of the guilt too…

Turning away in utter disgust, my heart was gladdened by the sight of a gaff sail moving swiftly away from Smallgain – it could only have been one of two boats. I used to see a ‘gaffer’ regularly, but her owner has sold the boat and now I haven’t seen her sailing since the spring, sadly. She’s remained local, of the same class as Whimbrel, but her owner isn’t interested in the class group, which I find exceedingly sad about. There are five of these craft ‘up the creek’ yet none appear to have owners with the will to use the blessed things, although one is ‘laid-up’ above the bridge and unlikely to come out… Chill, Skippy, Chill!

Anyway, the direction of the ‘sail’ was moving me which boat it was likely to be. Betty II a sweet little cutter built in Leigh in 1922. She’s now owned by Dick Durham, lately of Yachting Monthly’s News Editorial, but now retired but doing YM projects on a roving basis. Dick recently posted a film of his boat returning home to Leigh-on-Sea from the South Coast … but she hadn’t for her moorings are at the Island YC on Canvey Island. Clearly Dick was doing the deed…

I ghosted round the edge of the Two Tree Island saltings towards the Leigh-on-Sea shore. And yes, it was Betty II.

Yes, Betty II with Dick Durham and a crew aboard … calling in at The Billet…

I worked past Betty II as she manoeuvred to a mooring buoy. Dick and crew were clearly going to the pub! As I was where I was, ‘The Belton Way…’ I thought. So I luffed my way onwards in the narrow channel which had barely a metre along its edges and turned off the club’s foreshore mooring trots, spinning Whimbrel on a sixpence…

Off the Belton Way Boat Club…

It was time to head homewards: the tide had turned and I was on the Leigh shore! Passing close by Betty II I chatted to Betty II’s skipper briefly. He’s staying the night and coming ‘home’ tomorrow! Whimbrel was saluted as we sailed onwards…

A salute from Betty II … Ooooo, I felt proud!

After a series of long and short tacks I fetched up under the island’s eastern saltings where a gurgling hum of feeding Brent filled the air. With sails stowed, I puttered home after nearly 3 1/2 hours out… Wonderful!

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.