Ditch-crawler gets down to Whimbrel’s sprucing up…

Well, what a week we had here in the southern foot of Essex. Temperatures up to 18 degrees and another dry period. Having not got a lot of sailing under my belt so far this season (I was out of it for February due to illness!!) I sneaked out for a couple of hours last Monday.

Reaching back down Benfleet Creek, home-bound, last week…

Returning to my mooring, I began to get going with damaged varnish work. Various areas of beading along bottom of cabin sides and the front of the fore cabin top needed sanding back. By the time I left the boat some had had two thinned coats applied.

I recently came across a British paint manufacturer based near Maidstone. I’d gone looking for an alternative to my usual antifouling paint (Hempells) being unsatisfied with its ability to keep even a modicum of barnacles off the boat’s bottom.

Premier Marine Paints Ltd has a semi hard antifouling paint which is high in copper yet erodes. It is specifically suitable for craft that sit in mud berths. The additional hardness is said to help prevent mud impregnating the paint. It says, ‘all year protection’, rather than ‘season’… I will report when a year has passed by.

I obtained a pot of varnish too, being willing to try something different to my usual Blakes Favourite. I didn’t get on with a supposed ‘up-market’ jollop a couple of seasons ago, so am trying Premier’s Classic Yacht Varnish. I’ve applied it to my cockpit insides and was surprised at the ease of which it went on – being smooth flow and it allowed over brushing without those customary tell-tale brush marks, when checking for an odd run… I found it touch dried quite quickly too.

I’ll report, but bearing in mind I only varnish the insides of my cockpit every 4-5 years, it’ll be a long one. I’ve been using it thinned with white spirit to build coats on stripped areas, usually 3, before applying full coats.

The Mate has been programmed for a day of sanding the cabin sides ready for a full re-coat as soon as a good period arrives soon. She grimaced: she hates sanding…

During the rest of that week I watched the tide come and go as I got on with it, sighing at the missed sailing, but, as my good Mate said, ‘You have to do what you have to do…’ Yes, well. What’s needed is a maintenance free coating, but not GRP!

See Premier Marine Paints at: www.premiermarinepaints.co.uk

Incidentally, if you loved the beige deck coatings once produced by the ‘big two’ yotty firms, then Premier still do the shade … I’ve been mixing my own shade for several seasons now using humbol deep red/brown to achieve this from Blakes ‘Cream’ which seems to have a ‘green’ tinge to it!

I hope all you folks are hard at it too…


Ditch-crawler’s tip…

My tip if you are like-minded with a traditional looking craft, or even are caring for a historical maritime gem, is go to Faversham this summer for the Maritime Festival at the head of the creek.

The Faversham Festival takes place on 22nd and 23rd July but many craft arrive on the Friday tide.

The details can be found at: www.Faversham.org

Craft require to be booked in with the organisers and if visitors are allowable you need to say.

A ‘poster’ describing your craft and any specialness should be prepared and hung in the rigging where it can be seen…

It is a fun weekend with stalls, craft on the creek when tide is in and musical events at many local pubs.

I’ll be ‘up the coast’ for a Finesse Rally, but give it a whirl!


Ditch-crawler meets many birds…

One of the joys of winter sailing is the huge flocks of birds encountered. These come in many forms in my neck of the woods ranging from tiny little grebe to, unfortunately, Canada geese, but of those I saw none on a stolen sail at the end of this last week.

It was an age ago, it seems, when I popped down to the boat and ran out all the halyards and main sheet for washing. A spare old set of halyards have long been kept to do this little job … and I always feel it a pity that more sailors don’t also do the same for a halyard looks ‘tatty’ through airborne dirt long before they’re worn out. I’ve often left the ‘old’ ones in use: they’re perfectly serviceable. However…

Having completed the task – well nearly for I’ve the cruising chute still to do – I found the tide bubbling around the rudder, as if to say, come on, lets go! I’d left my good wife at home, asleep. She’d picked up a bug from me which resulted in temperature and hacking cough. I’ve been recovering from a good old dose of flu that laid me out for a week and am still not fully fit. So, I did hesitate, but only for a fractional moment!

Reaching up Hadleigh Ray, thinking of my Mate, asleep at home and a little unwell…

The wind was a pleasant south-westerly with no hardness about it. The sun shone pleasantly, but a bank of cloud loomed. Clearing the mooring the jib was run up and the boat kicked her heels and slipped nicely over the flood. It was a nice feeling as I entered clipped details in the log book – which is unusually blank for much of this current year.

Along the edges, Brents paddled here and there awaiting the tide’s turn and over the creek’s outer mud flats a couple of minuscule little grebe popped up. Before the camera could be focussed, they had slipped below in search of food again. So difficult to catch…

Clearing the creek entrance the mainsail was hoisted and Whimbrel hummed with satisfaction as a gentle thrum from her partially lowered plate bit the tide. Overhead swirls of knot, dunlin and curlews wafted about.

Bird Island, liberally coated…

The wind direction dictated my course – up towards Benfleet. Out in the open bird life is minimal, but with a wide margin of saltings along the Canvey Island shore and wide open fields below the sea wall under Hadleigh downs bird life is plentiful. Passing Bird Island its surface was ‘iced’ completely with a copious layer of waders. They took of, wheeled round and alighted once more squabbling over the receding mud.

A wader swarm…

With only a couple of tacks I fetched up towards the lower end of Benfleet Yacht Club’s moorings and spun the boat for a broad reach homewards. I was concious of a certain level of tiredness and felt it best to heed it!Without meaning to ‘harp on’ I don’t do being ill. Christobel says it must be nearly two decades since my last bout: apart from an occasional sniffle these things have passed me by. Getting old!

Walkers, joggers and cyclists flowed along the sea wall. One chap stopped and took pictures: something clearly caught his eye! The tide, on the neap side, was at such a level to only just cover some mud banks and the cord grass saltings fringe was like a flooded forest and amongst the old stems from last year I saw culews poking about. Some small duck were there too, teal possibly. I thought I spotted a pair of shell duck…

Wafts of waders…

Approaching where I usually drop sail and ready fenders wafts of waders swished across the blue sky, weaving and darting as they danced the air. It’s kind of mesmerising and although boat numbers are low currently, buoys pop up quickly and after one ran close down one side I decided to place more of my concentration into where I was going, sadly, all too soon, sails were stowed!

I was soon on my way home to make my Mate a coffee (she doesn’t like tea) and warm a scone: she needs building up…

Finding her awake, she said, ‘…glad you had a sail…’

I looked at her. But it was written all over my face!


Ditch-crawler spots news of a new Cornish fruit schooner from down West…

The little ship yard of C. Toms & Son of Polruan down on the Fowey had news of a new Cornish fruit schooner being planned on its facebook page. That’s interesting, I thought.

The vessel, a replica of the Jane Slade, is to be built from steel … I wondered if the yard had had a tentative enquiry from the people behind the proposal – the owners of the Bessie Ellen, itself a historic ship. See for information: https://bessie-ellen.com/

And here, for information held by the National Maritime Museum (Cornwall) on the Jane Slade:


Picture of the Jane Slade from Foweyharbourheritage.org

What is additionally interesting is that this popped up on the ‘Toms’ site: they’ve delivered the new spritsail barge Blue Mermaid to the Sea-change Sailing Trust this year and built a silt barge for the Broads.

The broads vessel was a steel ‘Wherry barge’ for the carriage of silt.

See: http://www.ctomsandson.co.uk/current-projects/norfolk-boards-barge/

A new build has been taking place  for the River Thames Boat Project which works with people with accessibility problems allowing them an opportunity to experience time out on the river. See: https://thamesboatproject.org/

The Thames boat is currently under construction…

See: http://www.ctomsandson.co.uk/current-projects/river-thames-boat-project/

Was it the Blue Mermaid project that kick started all of these for ‘Toms’, I wonder: previously their core work was fishing vessels (and remains so) if you peruse the firm’s web site.

I was interested in the fruit schooner because I know a little about the project to rebuild the Rhoda Mary, a fruit schooner that has rotted away to her bottom timbers on the mud flats at Hoo St Werburgh.

My father aboard the Rhoda Mary in 1951. From Ardley Family archives.

See: http://nickardley.com/the-rhoda-mary/

The plan was to lift her … but now only a part may be removed as a part of the new vessel. Both projects are planned as community projects…

The Rhoda Mary as seen at Hoo some seasons ago…

See: https://www.rhoda-mary.co.uk/

It is clear that the will to keep Britain’s marine heritage alive is still strong, thank goodness!


Ditch-crawler plans ahead for two major events this year…

Two major maritime events take place on the Thames and Medway this year. They are both in their own way of historical significance too.

The first is in April and is at Greenwich on the River Thames.

The waterside town is hosting tall ships for a maritime festival which kick-starts ‘their’ sailing season. Vessels will be congregating on the river during Easter week. Vessels will be open to the public on specified days – see programme – and there will be river tours (of course).

See: http://www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/tallships

And: http://www.pla.co.uk/Events/Tall-Ships-Regatta-2017

Best of all, the vessels can be viewed from your own craft if an effort is made to sail up river and berth in one of the marinas available. This is something Whimbrel’s crew will be doing. We’re planning to go upriver over two days, mid week, and are booked into Limehouse Marina, where the friendly staff were prompt in confirming a booking.

IMG_5258 - Copy

Whimbrel sailing down-river past the Polish ship Dar Mlodziezy in 2014.

The ships are parading late on Easter Sunday and departing around 1700 bound down river to begin their ‘race’ which culminates in an arrival in Quebec on the 18th July 2017 to honour the founding of the Canadian Confederation.

It is rather apt: above the river, on Greenwich hill sits General Woolf’s memorial statue. He defeated General de Montcalm’s army and Canada became ‘British’…

We shall probably sail down to Greenhithe and watch from a mooring as the ships pass by…

The second event takes place on the River Medway.

The Medway City plays host to a special event marking the 350th anniversary of the famous raid by the Dutch in 1667 when they carted off the Royal Navy’s flagship… We were caught, literally, with our pants down. The Great Fire of London had occurred the year before and Government coffers were pretty empty: the Medway’s forts lacked enough shot or powder…

The event takes place over a week from 8th to 17th June 2017.

See: http://www.medway.gov.uk/leisurecultureandsport/events/battleofmedway.aspx

And: http://www.visitmedway.org/battle-of-medway

The second link contains links to much information and the planned programme.

There are events at the Old Dockyard, Rochester’s Guildhall Museum and Upnor Castle and other places. There is also a river pageant planned and on the final evening a ‘river of fire’ takes place along the Medway.

2008 cruise pics 185 - Copy

Area of Old Dockyard in existence when the Dutch came. The yard ran up to the Public House below old church on hill by Medway City buildings.

Again, Whimbrel’s crew will be on the river, but where, at the moment, I do not know: attempts to pre-book a marina berth or a mooring has met with a ‘No’ and ‘utter silence’ from some addressees. Hey ho… But I must say, the Medway & Swale Boating Association (MSBA) have been most helpful – thanks Brian.

However, as the river was my home for over a third of my 62 years and a ‘constant’ sailing ground throughout, I shall not be dissuaded…




Ditch-crawler is asked to advertise the sad sale of Finesse 24 Dream of Baloo…

A Finesse colleague called and asked if I could advertise the sale of his treasured Finesse 24. It is something that will surely come to me, eventually.

The owner wrote: I am reluctantly putting Dream of Baloo up for sale and wondered if her details could be added to the For Sale list? Due to a change in circumstances I do not have the time to use her, and feel such a lovely little ship needs to be used.


Dream of Baloo…

Her basic details are:

Sloop rigged Finesse 24.

Built 1979.

Thousands spent on refurbishments between 2012-14, with full surveyors report available (2014).

Nanni 13hp twin diesel.

Centre plate with stub keels.

Spirit stove.

New VHF, compass and sounder.

Tan main and jib.

Lovely condition.

All over cover included.

Lying ashore at Wareham, Dorset.

Phone Trevor Scowen for details: 01308 423563

Here are a few more pictures of this lovely looking little ship…


The Varnished cockpit.


And below…


‘Baloo’ afloat near Wareham, Dorset.

If interested, do call Trevor and he will discuss… She’s a treat.



Ditch-crawler says farewell as 2016 falls astern and looks forward to 2017…

Farewell 2016, you have been kind to me, the Mate and Whimbrel this last year. But, I know it hasn’t been the same for all sailors: this last year we lost a good sailing friend a keen and long standing Finesse 21 owner, Terry. May Terry sail upon a sister on a sea perpetually soft, with a breeze to match and a quiet creek to enjoy. God Bless you mate.


Terry’s Penny now owned and sailed by his son & daughter…

Our year began early with a lift out to do bottom and paint topsides – and a small matter of a survey too – and we were off into the Medway over the early May Bank Holiday.

At the end of May we spent a glorious weekend down in Cornwall to witness the launching of the sailing barge Blue Mermaid built by Toms Ltd of Polruan. She’s been built as many of you are probably aware for the Sea-change Sailing Trust to allow all year round work with clients. Later, in July, we attended the vessels blessing at Maldon…


The Blue Mermaid slips into the water…

During June we joined my sister and family and friends in a group of eight aboard the Eda Frandsen for a week’s sailing around Skye, sailing 184 miles taking in some fantastic anchorages and ports. It was fabulous…


Aboard the Eda Frandsen.

The Finesse Rally began by Whimbrel’s crew some seasons ago now has gone from strength to strength and become a calendar event. This year the rally came back to Chatham with a good turn out – the weather on the Friday made it difficult for northern sailors to get down, but some came by road.

Rally organiser decided that instead of ‘holing up’ in Stangate we went up to Chatham on the Friday.


Whimbrel photographed by Shane Hoadley from his ’24’ Seaden in Long Reach on the Medway.

This last season we didn’t sail ‘up the coast’ but stayed around the Medway, Swale and Thames, up to Limehouse. That said, during the summer period we clocked up over 650 miles…


The Reminder dwarfed by a cargo ship in Gravesend Reach.

Our trip up the Thames was brilliant with stops on the way making it a a voyage of several days. The last time I did this route we had little forays into Mucking and Cliffe creeks. On the way home after a wonderfully hot spell in London we had a grand thrash down to Erith where we rested. It was planned for I’d a long term plan – a visit into Dartford and Crayford creeks. We had been by road to a wharf at the head of Crayford Creek during the spring and I’d got permission to berth … so that was that. We did!


In Crayford Creek…

Leaving the creek we made passage for The Ray, staying out on a buoy to berth the following morning. It was a splendid end to our summer cruising. But, of course, it wasn’t the end of our sailing for there were weekends on the Medway and Swale during September and October…

One of the joys was a new event organised by the Queenborough Harbour Trust – previously written about. Others were sailing with family and friends aboard. This last year my brother Graham who was over from Canada had a decent stint aboard with my friend Graham (What a pair) sailing together…


The two grinning ‘Grahams’ …

My sister and two friends, other brother Andrew and his partner came for a sail. Finally Andrew and friend Graham … it the ability to take family and friends afloat to enjoy the salt, marsh and mud that gives as much pleasure as sailing with my Mate. She, fortunately, is ‘happy’ to give up her rightful place too. Bless-.

So, to close, here is a picture that will soon be mere history … Kingsnorth Power Station has entered its sunset moment: soon it’ll be ‘dropped’ like Grain’s was this autumn…


Kingsnorth Power Station – notice the light through rhs building. It was nearly all gone!

Lastly, good sailing for 2017 to you all.




Ditch-crawler enters into the Christmas season…

It comes but once a year … Christmas. Some hate it, others love it, but it should be celebrated for all the right reasons.

For nearly 15 years one of the chaps who attends our local church has given ‘us’ the top cut from a tree felled in his ‘tree field’: he used to grow trees for sale, but has stopped, but still has the trees! This year the church’s tree came from an alternative source. Bah humbug. What was I going to do…

Ah, yes, my saviour came. The chap knocked on the door some days ago bearing a Christmas gift. He presented us with a 6′ of tree for the boat. He’s not a ‘sailor’ but has enjoyed the thought of a tree going afloat – of course I have related the tradition to him. The chap has often seen the boat sailing past or away to the east of Two Tree Island below the Hadleigh and Leigh hills. The off-cut has been fed standing in a bucket of water for a week…


Tree safely up Whimbrel’s mast…

Yesterday the opportunity came for a sail. The tree was soon hoisted into its traditional ‘ship’ position aloft.

There was a gentle breeze wafting from the outer Sea Reach zone, not enough to tack against the tide, so, against the grain, I puttered east for 20 minutes under power before shutting the wee beast down.


Whimbrel wishing all and sundry a Happy Christmas…

The wind was light and passing a race buoy used by the Essex YC the boat’s wake left barely a ripple. It was ‘misty’ with a hint of light drizzle at times and at others little patches of blue opened above. In its own way it was enchanting. The Kent hills disappeared too and passing ships became fuzzy…


‘Quiet today…’ it sighed!

On a reach in towards the Chalkwell shore a seal popped up several times to say ‘hello’. It dived a few times coming up successively closer until it became bored and continued hunting for its lunch.



Sailing along the shore I passed by a little boat often seen. But, more on this later… Approaching the Essex Yacht Club’s club ship I got a text from a friend who said, ‘We’re watching you … keep warm.’ I was toasty! However, I spotted the vessel’s red duster at half mast.


A member is remembered in time honoured tradition…

Passing the Essex YC, I dipped, as ‘they dipped to bottom in response. Calling up to one, a Mr Chapman, and asking if a member had passed onto the Elysian sea, I was told, ‘Yes … chap was a 100 and still a member…’

Bless him and let’s all hope his seas are now always blue with pleasant breezes  too…

Before long I was passing the waterfront public houses along the Leigh shore, filled with happy lunch-time revealers. Time to head away into the tranquil mistiness towards the Ray channel again, and thence homewards.


Paddle boarder…

On the way a paddle border gently drew across the bow with loads of clearance and we both waved – two nutters out on the water, surely! Then, out of the mist, two apparitions appeared, from eastwards, motoring hard with the last of the flood. ‘Blimey’ I said, ‘It’s my mate Dick … and his mooring neighbour…’ And surely it was. Dick has been ‘flitting’ about in his centrally heated cat for a week or so around the coast…


Out of the mist…

As I approached the creek again, the mainsail was stowed and I slowly made way inwards. Ducks, Brent, waders and others were nosing the saltings and hard edges which seemed to ‘float’ on the oily looking surface. I was mesmerised, for a little while: for fenders and such needed my attention (The Mate was at home enjoying a coffee and natter with a friend…), so I was alone…


The flooded saltings off my own mooring. There is a ‘something’ about the saltings when flooded to this height and the mistiness added to the picture…

Sailing into my creek I had time on my hands to look at a few of the vessels passed by. Boy, are they in a mess. I wondered what visitors must think as they also sail in. The condition of some craft up and down the coast is something club officials and mooring managers must concern themselves with from time to time.

The boats had the same look as the one passed earlier…


‘Abandoned’ off Chalkwell?

The above boat has a broken fore stay and the boom has gone ‘walk-a-bout’ and the mast is held aloft only due to a pair of forward angled stays… She is begrimed and clearly unloved.




Three ‘abandoned’ craft in Smallgains Creek…

The three craft I passed by, which ‘hit’ visitors entering my creek have sat and sat and sat. The motor boat doesn’t even have an engine any more… Decks are coated in a slime of green algae, their topsides too. I feel embarrassed by the sight, but, sadly it’s a sight so often seen…

So, with my good wishes to all as  Christmas approaches and 2016 draws to a close, my fervent wish is that these poor unloved vessels will yet again feel the caress of a swab or broom. The touch of a human hand patting them as they again give fun as a loved one frolics across the estuary’s chop…



Ditch-crawler completes final edit of next book…

I have been ‘quiet’ for a little while, and apologise to readers.

A little sailing has been enjoyed, testing Whimbrel’s new canvass, but on the whole, I’ve been wrapped up in a major task. Editing…

It has been a long ‘stressful’ job this: I’ve had to reduce wordage which has meant a ‘line by line’ edit almost. Its taken nearly four weeks!


Now, all I have to do is put it all together as a single document and send with illustrations to my publisher. Wonderful!

There then begins, after an interval, of editors corrections and minor changes, before finalisation, a pdf galley copy check, then onto publication. Joy Oh Joy….


Ditch-crawler’s Whimbrel gets new sails…

A year or so back I realised that I was wearing the boat’s sails out. She had a new set from W-Sails of Leigh-on-Sea when she was 21. That was 12-13 year ago. So, I cast about and mused on where to get these done. W-Sails was closing down and not into ‘big’ stuff. Our dinghy sails were made by Wilkinson’s of Conyer and I had been into the loft which some years ago moved to Faversham up opposite Front Brents.

So, it was arranged that we would sail up to Faversham and stay alongside the wharf there whilst the sails were measured and other checks made by the sail maker. We then spent a further few days alongside, soaking up the atmosphere of Faversham and enjoying its offerings.


Whimbel up by Wilkinson’s sail loft, Faversham in early August.

During our summer cruising the quote winged its way via the internet with a 10% autumn offer. We were in Limehouse Basin by then. After a couple of questions, the deal was done and the deposit paid – ah the wonders of internet banking!

Well time travelled on. I wasn’t expecting the sails until the New Year, but Alan, the sail maker and his machinist found ‘time on their hands’ I was told – bad sign or good sign! They were ready for collection some two weeks ago, so off we jolly went enjoying a pootle around town and along the waterfront to Iron Wharf and coffee. We enjoyed a trip to the Edith May on way back for lunch and a chat with her owners, Geoff and Jane Gransden (busy) too.


Alan showed me the sails and demonstrated the batten pocket design and fitting procedure!


They were soon aboard Whimbrel ready for changing the mainsail, but after an unusually dry autumn it had become autumnal and damp! Eventually the day came and I was able to get the mainsails changed … the day started damp and drizzly, but as the tide slipped away the sun came out, a little!


New mainsail with colour coordinated reef lines to match down hauls.

Tuesday this week just ending, I was able to beetle down to Smallgains Creek and get away. There was no ‘messing about’ setting the mainsail in the creek, not the first time. But the jib was run up and I ghosted out feeling elated!


Whimbrels’ third ever owned jib pulling her out of Smallgains Creek…

The main, when pulling, looks a treat. I’ve some fiddling about to do and await the Mate’s boarding for a run to allow this.I sailed back into the creek on a hard reach to see how the main ‘felt’ and looked hardened in tight. With the jib backing a little on occasions, the main was not flustered…


Sailing past two sisters, Calluna of Dorset and Gypsy – my mooring neighbours.

Next job, test the Genoa…