01/15/18

Ditch-crawler’s first sail in 2018…

Ah yes, it’s been a lousy start to the year around the Thames estuary. We’ve enjoyed bucketful’s of wind and Whimbrel has sat in lonely ‘silence’ awaiting her day. Last year we were out on day one!

Last year (2017) had been one of the best sailing year’s we can remember. The boat was in use on 115 days, not a record by far, but she covered 1070 nautical miles, which is thought to be the most the old girl’s done in a year.

Any way, the Mate and I spent Saturday morning ‘slaving’ with our club’s work party, during which I watched a sluggish tide come and go. It was only a 5m and there wasn’t a lot of wind … but we gained a few ‘brownie’ points.

Sunday dawned grey, but dry with a gentle breeze. On the way to the creek, looking eastwards, the dawn sun was just creeping under the layer of low cloud.

Walking to the boat, Kent was bathed in a golden glow…

Kent glowed ‘gold’…

Reaching Whimbrel, covers were soon stripped off. The genoa bag was heaved through the fore hatch by Christobel before she got our bacon under the grill. It wasn’t long before both bacon and boat were readied.

Boat and breakfast ready…

The tide seemed to take an age to rise. During neaps there is an advantage: the tide takes equally as long to ebb. In the event we had three hours out sailing by the time we returned.

Eventually, with an audible sigh from the centre plate case, Whimbrel rose and was afloat in its gloopy mud hole. A burst astern and she glided into the run of the tide. Whilst the Mate helmed I soon had the mainsail set and we motor-sailed out of the creek. Passing a motor boat, an ex Northern Lights tender, we were hailed and saluted by the boats kindly owner.

I noticed something unusual. It was unusually quiet around the saltings and tide edges. Brent were conspicuous by their absence and the normal cries that generally emanated from the purslane and cord grass were missing. Perhaps it was too early!

Headsail set, Christobel comes aft…

Clearing the inner creek the Mate set the genoa and I began to tack lazily eastwards, drinking the last of my coffee.

After a little while, astern of us, another boat was seen to motor out. She set a head sail and motor-sailed close by – for a short natter – before stowing sail and motoring away to the east towards Southend Pier. Beyond the pier, the sky was perceptibly lightening up.

Tacking eastwards…

Out on the Thames highway there was a steady stream of shipping heading inbound and outbound. There were two motor boats about and a lone paddle boarder, other than those we were essentially alone.

A happy skipper…

Closing the shore east of Chalkwell Station the whines and yaps of dogs could be heard: they have the run of the beaches during the seasons either side of summer… There were an unusual number of people treading the familiar ‘cinder’ path along the front between Leigh and Chalkwell (It isn’t made of cinders any more but the name has stuck…).

Awaking from a reverie, we turned westwards to ‘salute’ the ‘Essex’ and ‘Leigh’ clubs. All appeared quiet…

Christobel having a trick at the helm, calling, ‘don’t take my picture…’.

On the way back out towards the Ray Channel, the thin cloud was finally pieced by the sun. It streaked across the water and its warmth was immediately apparent. The Mate had got chilled … silly girl! Earlier, whilst running a bit of film I’d caught her humming and singing quietly whilst jigging about. ‘It was because I was cold,’ she said, grimacing a little.

The sun pierced the cloud…

The sky all of a sudden became blue above and the line crept rapidly westwards so that we were sailing towards a blued sky. The mate opened her arms and soaked the sunshine … more in hope than the warmth it had, yet it could be felt. I must admit, even I had begun to feel the chilliness…

Astern a blue sky opened up and enveloped us…

The tide was on the ebb and had been for a little while. It was time to organise fenders and stow the mainsail. This activity enlivened my slightly numbed toes. With the sun, the breeze seemed to ebb too, and we crept slowly into the creek.

Astern, all was blue and the sun lit the tan genoa…

Approaching Smallgains Creek’s entrance I spotted a fellow boat owner standing in the well of his ‘fishing sloop’ taking pictures. he saluted us. We returned in a ‘silly’ manner, feeling exceedingly happy. Along the saltings edges there were a few Brent about, but the saltings themselves had a quietness that was strange.

Whimbrel creeping into Smallgains… Picture: Simon Lawrence.

The Mate had gone forward in readiness to drop the genoa. I called, softly, ‘Leave it … we’ll sail in…’ I did start the engine, just in case!

Gliding across tide we slid gently alongside our mooring finger and came to as stop. Grand.

Bagging and covering sails I wondered quietly whether or not there weren’t a just a few other local sailors who’d wished they’d grabbed the opportunity too.

We were glad of it…

01/3/18

Ditch-crawler has to fall back on a memory…

The New Year is already passing by, but unlike last January when there were more quiet days, we’ve enjoyed a ‘bit of a blow’ across the country. Very heavy further north, but into the 60 mph zone along the Thames. To say the least, any thoughts of a sail on any tide this last week has been out of the question.

Looking back to January 2nd 2017 I find there are some lovely pictures of a quiet sail. It was late afternoon and the sun was setting as I cleared away and made for home…

Here are two from that sail:

Coming back down Hadleigh Ray with marshes along the island’s northern shore to starboard…

A tranquil sunset a year ago…

The weather will return to some normality, surely, but until then memories must suffice!

Happy New Year to all.

12/22/17

Ditch-crawler, Mate Christobel & Whimbrel wishes all readers a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year…

Season’s greetings to all…

A friend up the road in Daws Heath sent me a young fir tree to haul aloft. Chap, John, used to grow trees but has long since ceased, but his land is ‘loaded’ with various trees and saplings. He likes the idea of a tree going afloat.

Whimbrel taken by a fellow Finesse 24 owner, Rob Hardy. Thanks Rob!

And, here is the young tree from the cockpit – many thanks John.

Whimbrel’s festive cheer.

Whatever your interests, may we wish you all a gloriously happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year. God Bless.

12/19/17

Ditch-crawler’s double-whammy, out on the winter water…

The autumn hasn’t been the best for getting out. When the weather has been ‘fit’ the tide has been out, but after a cold period with snow and ice on the run up to the Christmas period all has been calm…

My good Mate has been busy sitting round cosy fires and hot jugs of coffee getting round her myriad of friends for a last chat before the family festivities begin. P.S. We’re having a quiet one to ourselves, and, I hope, a bit of sailing!

Yesterday dawned bright and sunny with a little frost to remind one of the season, so after a customary ‘hike’ around our local woods – good for the soul and waist! – I high-tailed it down to the boat. The colours across the saltings were wonderful after many dull wintery days of drabness. The tide was rushing in so delay wasn’t an option. Covers were hauled off, folded and stowed. The jib (I felt best) was shoved out of the fore hatch.

It wasn’t long before I was ready. Whimbrel shivered as she rose from her muddy mould and floated clear of the putty. A burst of power and we were gliding clear, Brents barking and skittering close under the saltings.

Gliding out of Smallgains Creek…

Where to I thought, discussing the options in my mind. I’d not been up to the Benfleet Barrier for sometime, so that was the route decided upon, especially as there appeared to be a slant in the north-westerly coming off the downs. So in brilliant sunshine and an all-around blue, silvering as the sky met the distant horizons, I sat back to enjoy a leisurely sail westwards with the tide. Clearing the creek a little grebe popped up close by. They’re quick little critters and it was soon madly flapping its wings as it beat a retreat, before diving for elevenses, again…

Reaching through the moorings in Hadleigh Ray.

Far away in the distance the low sun lit up the myriad of ‘silver’ masts as if a many candled Christmas cake, blotting the dark heights many miles beyond. Around the boat the sun coloured the winter saltings grasses golden. Away, on the downs, all was dark for autumnal leaves had lost the will to hang on with frozen snow encrusting them… Walkers, cyclists and runners passed by, in both directions, upon the sea wall top. Whilst below, the whine of electric trains ran by out of sight.

The Island’s other yacht club, ‘The Benfleet’, in the distance.

I enjoyed several long fetches and needed but three tacks to reach the other yacht club’s moorings. The wind here can be ‘funny’ and a spot of deliberate tide drift helped reduce the tacks needed to work through.

I went forward to take this shot, leaving the ‘old girl’ to fend for herself…

I spied two of the Benfleet Finesse 24s. One was out of the water and the other was still afloat, but looking lonely … there are two others, the whereabouts of one, I’m lacking knowledge. It would be great to see them move… Reaching the floating pontoon belonging to the Dauntless Yard, I turned the boat, spinning as if on a sixpence, pinning the headsail back until round. All was quiet ashore – I only saw one human being moving slowly along the shore.

Leaving ‘The Benfleet’ astern…

The cold was beginning to seep a little as I sailed lazily over the still incoming flood. A mug of soup and my lunch of Ryvita crackers, cheese & tomatoes helped stem that push! It wasn’t long before I was aware of thoughts of stowing sail and preparing fenders. The mains’l was stowed and with fenders ready to push over-board, the boat stemmed the fresh ebb into Smallgains. I was going to sail in, but the low sun made for difficult visibility. Off my berth I downed the jib and started the diesel…

Into Smallgains…

I should have persisted with the jib: standing on the jetty, down the sun, was my mooring neighbour and owner of the Finesse 24, Gypsy. This kind fellow held the boat as I moored and we chatted…

It was great!

Then there was today! Last night’s forecast talked of thick freezing fog and a deep frost. Wonderful. But, my trusty xcweather indicated otherwise. There was hope.

I awoke to a sparkling day, prodded the Mate who was going to be otherwise engaged, and said, ‘I’ll be sailing later…’ As if she couldn’t work that one out!

During our morning walk we met a friend – the one who gives me chunks of Christmas tree – and he has promised a length shortly… Wonderful: I do love a traditional look to the boat.

Later, after sorting my lunch tucker, I hi-tailed to the creek. Ah, it looked glorious.

A festive goose across to the Southend shore…

It was a bit nippy even though the sun shone. The weather girl had said, ‘…and temperature, between 0 and 6 degrees…’ Well there was a covering of frost upon the foredeck as I’d prepared the boat. So, it being time for a coffee, I realised the walking flask was in my coat pocket – a little libation found its way into the mug. Mmmmm, delicious, especially with a mince pie…

In went a noggin…

Having reached across to around the Crowstone along the Westcliffe shore, I turned and began tacking towards Leigh (Bell Wharf area). The sea front was busy with dog walkers exercising their pooches where in kinder months parents similarly treat their offspring. The Essex YC was passed by and I eventually reached close by ‘The Leigh’. Here I felt it time to head back across to Canvey Point…

‘The Essex’.

The Leigh-on-Sea shore from the Leigh-on-Sea SC past the billet, cockle sheds, Beltonway Boat Club and Lower Thames Marine.

I enjoyed a flask of hot homemade soup as I jostled across the Leigh Flats toward Canvey Point. I’d left some in a pan upon the stove at home for the Mate to enjoy too … and as if to reinforce that, my phone buzzed … Christobel, arriving home from one appointment with a pal, wanted to say ‘thank you…’ How sweet!

The sun glistened water was thick with Brents along the edges of Two Tree Island. It won’t be long before they’ll have scavenged the eel grass from the flats and then they’ll crop the sprouting winter wheat tops – apparently causing no harm to the crops.

All sail set on the final approach to Smallgains … between the posts!

Reaching the point, sail was stowed, the trusty diesel started and in we went. On the approach to my mooring some Brents lifted off whilst others just watched from the security of the purslane edge. Beyond, there were whistles of some small duck which I couldn’t see. Peewits called and a lone curlew loosed off its familiar cry…

My face glowed. My heart has been gladdened and my soul enriched. Yes, it has been a fabulous couple of days.

12/15/17

Ditch-crawler is sent ‘Britain Afloat’ discs by the BBC

A little packet dropped through my letter box yesterday, during a day trip up to Greenwich to see the special exhibition about Franklin’s North-west Passage debacle 170 years ago… Anyway, it was a nice gesture of the BBC.

Good picture eh!

The Mate and I have watched the programme through again – rather good overall. I was a little ‘narked’ about one little thing – a lack of credit. I thought this was to be placed at end. Hey ho – must insist next time!

The programme can still be found on iplayer. When I next see my ‘foreign’ family and friends, Graham A & Paul M, I’ll lend or screen as desired…

I do not have any sailing exploits to report on for the weather has essentially been base. I am hopeful of a couple of tide sails this coming week – I’m beginning to twitch!

Bye for now.

11/30/17

Ditch-crawler visits the Blue Mermaid…

For some while now the May Flower’s bob stick has been hanging on an old boot lace lashed to a central heating pipe in the corner of my study (cum put-me-up), gathering dust… It occurred to me that it could have a better use.

May Flower’s bob stick, with topmast ring and acorn…

So, to release my good Mate Christobel from needless dusting (Her duty: I’ hoover’…) I dropped the Sea-change Sailing Trust a line and offered them these relics, which in all probability were the fittings on the May Flower’s  topmast when she was crossing tacks with the Blue Mermaid near the West Hook Middle (Before buoy was moved recently) on 9th July 1941. The Blue Mermaid being a steel barge set off a magnetic mine. Apparently the vessel was lifted clear of the water and when she came down, there was nothing to see… The May Flower sailed back over to the spot to find only flotsam. Her crew perished.

The upshot is that the SCST now have these bits and Jim Dines is certain that the ring and acorn will adorn the new barge’s topmast…

While delivering the item, I met the Economic Development Officer for Maldon Town Council, Heidi Turnbull, who was enjoying a talk with Richard Titchener about the trust’s work and how the new vessel would be integrated into their core work.

Outside was the barge’s bowsprit and windlass which has been retrieved from the sailing barge Ena at her last berth within the Hoo barge graveyard.

Windlass carcass being de-rusted in preparation for a fresh use…

Close by was the bowsprit heel pivot assembly…

I then went aboard the Blue Mermaid which is sitting in Heritage Marine’s floating dock where all sorts of works are ongoing.

Heidi Turnbull with Richard in the cargo hold…

Mizzen sprit and mainsail setting boom…

View looking aft – new leeboard crab winches offered into place.

Windlass bitts in place…

Main mast case ready for finishing…

It was a pleasing visit to this very worthwhile cause: when the barge is completed the charity will be able to continue working all year round, afloat…

Check out the trust at: http://www.seachangesailingtrust.org.uk

Christobel is currently knitting a further batch of wooly hats for people on trips who forget theirs!

My Mate Christobel knitting hats – anyone can help…

11/20/17

Ditch-crawler will be at The Essex Book Festival 2018…

Essex Book Festival 2018

 

Some while ago I was asked by the chair of the Essex Book Festival to participate in the 2018 programme – silly to say no!

 

Nick Ardley is honoured to be participating in the 2018 Essex Book Festival.

 

This event is probably the most prestigious of any in the eastern part of England, attracting quality, serious writers.

 

I will be talking about Rochester to Richmond: A Thames Estuary Sailor’s View, read some extracts and answer questions.

 

Venue: Canvey Island Library

 

Tuesday 20th March 2018 @ 1930

Price: currently unknown (c. £5 to £10)

Tickets: Mercury Theatre, Colchester, Tel: 01206 573948

www.mercurytheatre.co.uk

Canvey Island Library from January 4th 2018 

What the publisher said:

  • A book for lovers of sailing amongst salt, marsh and mud.
  • A passage not made within the pages of a book since the 1920s.
  • Beautifully illustrated with modern images from the water interspersed with old prints.
  • Rochester to Richmond is of love and enthusiasm for an unknown side of the River Thames.

Blurb:

People say that Nick Ardley is an eccentric, an anachronism from a simpler age, for the way he sails his clinker sloop around the Thames estuary, wending amongst the tide-riddled marshes to drop anchor where the fancy takes him. In Rochester to Richmond: A Thames Estuary Sailor’s View, Ardley has a clear plan: a reflective journey between Rochester and London, a path once of commerce, but now pleasure. Rochester was of immense importance to Britain’s past trading richness too. The belching chimneys pouring acrid fumes and cement dust have evaporated. Oil refineries have slipped away, but wharves lining the banks remain alive. As a distraction, he wanders a little above Rochester and then again, a little above the Pool of London towards Richmond. Between, he lands amongst the marsh and mud, finding graves and farmsteads enveloped in purslane and lavender. Many towns sailed past were part of this heritage, supplying building materials and food carried by the tan-sailed barge to London. Ardley dips and dabbles into these communities and explores how they have transformed.

Books will be available at the event.

https://essexbookfestival.org.uk/booking-details/

www.nickardley.com

 

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!