07/2/17

Ditch-crawler takes a New Zealander to see a lost love called Veronica…

Long ago a chap from New Zealand contacted with words of support and admiration for my writing – something I always find difficult to handle! During the intervening years this fine fellow has fed me with snippets of information and sometimes whole ‘e’ books found on the web.

Some years ago I took the chap sailing while he was in England visiting family, who, strangely, resided just a few roads away from my own home in Hadleigh, Essex. On being told about a return visit of some duration, I booked my friend aboard Whimbrel for a sail of more than a gander on the tide.

My friend: made in England and now domiciled in New Zealand…

Last week he made it aboard … our plans were for a tour of the Medway, perhaps dropping into the Swale before hi-tailing it up the coast to Bradwell via Pyefleet and West Mersea. All was achieved.

What might you ask was the chap’s ‘lost love’. No, not his dear wife left home alone back down under. No this was something he fell in love with as a boy. It, or we should say, she, was probably the greatest of the Thames barge fleet: the Veronica. She with her Everard sisters, the Sara and Dreadnought used to chase and harry the Sirdar, then operated by London & Rochester – the Medway based barge owners.

My friend’s lost love, the Veronica in full flow… (Original owned by K. Patten) 

Well, I heard on the wires that my friend had held a long desire to reacquaint himself with his lost love. I promised to oblige.

After a night in Queenborough, we left at the bottom of the tide and made our way to Stangate and sailed as far as we could into Funton Creek, finally grounding a little out f sight of the barge’s resting place amongst a cluster of various types. As the tide rose, we set off in the dinghy, poking and punting over the mud flats…

‘Look…’ he said, ‘she’s over there…’

A look of wonder crept across my friend’s face as he spied what looked like a barge in the distance, buried in a mire of other craft. I grinned!

Creeping closer the beam turned a little sour as he saw what I knew was there to see: a pile of rotting timbers with a passing resemblance to a graceful sailing machine.

‘My goodness…’ 

A disbelieving ‘My goodness…’ or something similar emanated from my friend’s vocal chords in a strangled and cracked cry. Closing, my friend reached out and with an oh so gentle caress he took a hold of her. Alas, a little of her degraded and unloved timber came away in his hand. He tried to push it back into place, as I thought I saw a tear well… Wow, a man after my own heart!

With a gentle caress…

We began to row away, not wanting to start the noisy outboard and disturb the sad serenity of this sorrowful graveyard.

A view of the Veronica’s port side, her stem still standing proud…

Before pulling the cord which would break the magic of the place, I said, ‘Would you like to see the Sirdar?’ She sat in view along the Funton shore beneath the mound of Raspberry Hill.

‘No,’ he said, ‘Let’s leave her in peace…’

Yes, I felt too that we should leave this lady to the quiet contemplation of all her wonderful deeds, honouring our own memories of her peak years, which we too would carry to our graves.

Leaving, I doubted if I would be likely to return again: the Veronica’s deterioration has been rather rapid over the last few years and soon there will be little to see…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

06/16/17

Ditch-crawler wanders a lost creek

Last weekend we sailed away from our home waters and made for Queenborough – it was my birthday weekend. I fancied a pie at the Old House at Home. Which we did, after sampling the brews at a new little mico-pub on the lane leading to the creek harbour.

Huge numbers of Dutch yachts were seen too. These have been arriving since the Bank Holiday weekend when Queenborough was full of them. They’ve been over for celebrations of the 350th anniversary of the Dutch raid on the Medway (Battle of Chatham to the Dutch). Essentially, since then we have been friends!

A fine old ‘Dutchman’ came in…

On the Sunday we sailed for Conyer, deciding to go up the creek that afternoon: it was due to windy from the west and the South Deep isn’t the best anchorage in those conditions. We went to Conyer especially to visit The Ship for nosh on the 12th! It was good.

As a birthday treat we went for a hike inland along the high ground bordering the old creek running inland to Tonge, a sleepy village seemingly miles from the sea – yet, one day it could come flooding back.

‘Come on…’ she called, ‘I’m waiting!’ My good Mate dwarfed by high hedges protecting fruit trees.

The western arm of Conyer Creek wanders inland from its sluice initially in a winding fashion. Then it straightens and wends its way to Tonge. We walked the wall to Blacketts by a farm track that also form part of the National Cycle Network – route 1. Leaving that we wandered dreamily down lanes with extremely high leafy hedges. The air was thick with scents. Behind many hedges were rows of modern fruit trees (bushes?) set to wires.

Tonge Court

Across the low ground we were skirting, for this road was once above the saltings fringes, was a Tudor timber framed house set above the low ground on a walled and buttressed mound. The lane leading to it was clearly marked ‘No Access’! Shame. The bed of the old creek can be seen in the foreground.

Passing Tonge village church we came upon the old mill. A newer steam mill building with its chimney has survived too, converted, it seemed into flats.

The Tonge mills.

The mill pools have been retained and trickle away, down hill, into the old creek bed.

Tonge ‘creek’ running away towards Conyer’s creek.

Passing under the London rail line we walked eastwards to the old tramway path back to Conyer from Barrow Green. It was an interesting potter inland, looking at what was once tidal, but now sweet Kent countryside… Some years ago we’d walked the eastern side of this area looking for an old wharf now set at the edge of a field between Teynham and Deerton Street, where, many moons ago a creek ran in.

It is interesting to note that, in effect, Conyer Creek is a man manufactured entity when ‘he’ tidied the land, drained it and walled it…

All through this period I was also ‘working’ for my publisher sent me a birthday present – the pdf (galley) copy of Rochester to Richmond to review and edit – final chance … it was nice of them. I’d been given three days

Galley copy and manuscript laid out on laptop screen…

Leaving Queenborough we had a night in Stangate before heading home, sailing through a myriad of Dutchmen who’d arrived overnight!

Boats arriving in the early hours … around 0500.

I’d like to think that others amongst the cruising fraternity take the time to look and wander. It brings you closer to the places visited…

 

 

 

05/18/17

Ditch-crawler spies some new mooring buoy developments…

How many times have you leant awkwardly over the bow of your craft to reach down to a mooring buoy with a boat hook to catch an eye? More often than not the ‘eye’ is a shackle which is resting on its side. The bow is moving up and down to wash and wind waves. Just as you think you’ve got it the boat falls back as the helm reduces power or doesn’t, or can’t see the brute!

On Whimbrel we have honed this manoeuvre to near perfection, mostly … for there have been moments. As often as not I bring the bow onto the buoy so that it is a little forward of the shrouds, this means I can often run the mooring line whilst my good wife holds onto the hook line.

In the 2016/17 RNSA Journal, I spotted something that is set to revolutionise mooring grabbing. A new type of mooring has been developed and is being trialled down in Portsmouth Harbour. From the upper face of a standard cylindrical mooring buoy is a rigid post with an upturned truncated cone top-piece from which the line hangs.

New type of mooring buoy with pillar… (Picture courtesy of RNSA 2016-17 Journal.)

The buoy is known as a Mara Buoy manufactured by Mara Engineering for the Sea. Go to www.maraefs.com and is available through an agent in Aberdeen… The manufacturer is in the USA.

The bse unit looks to be softer than those we all normally experience. With a clinker planked vessel the hard buoys do a lot of damage. Whilst looking this buoy up I came across a company which stated, ‘…a buoy doesn’t need to be hard…’ Yes, well!

Wonder when mooring managers will spot this unit and say to themselves, ‘time for a change…’

Hey Ho!

04/22/17

Ditch-crawler hobnobbed with Tall Ships on the Thames…

It all seemed a very long time ago when I said to my wife and shipmate, that I would like to make a go of a passage up the London River to view the tall ships which were due to congregate for a parade start to their seasonal voyaging. This year the series runs in a circuitous route round the Atlantic culminating in a grand parade of sail in Montreal in celebration of the 150th anniversary Canadian Confederation. The start was at Greenwich: Lt. General Wolfe lived here before sailing away to his death on the Plains of Abraham above the seaway…

As our departure approached we were enjoying a wonderful settled April, after a brilliant March  (when I’d managed to get nearly all my varnishing done…), and it remained settled other than a blip due mid Easter week. We planned to be within the Limehouse bosom by then for it was decided to get away earlier.

Christobel taking it easy, off watch…

We enjoyed a sparkling sail to Gravesend after getting away from our Island YC mooring about two hours before high water, arriving nearly an hour after with a sluicing ebb endeavoring to bury the sailing club moorings. Dropping sail we safely moored under power… A club member had offered use of his mooring. A convivial supper was enjoyed!

Sunrise off Gravesend…

As soon as the tide neared its turn, we were off the next morning. The breeze had more west than north, even though the latter was forecasted. Traffic was light, but a ship movement was expected from the lock at Tilbury and a ‘big’ ship was on the move from the river berth beyond.

The engine was needed to clear the Tilbury landing stage and passenger terminal: we lost wind! But, a little later, crossing the channel on a tack the jib halyard decided it wasn’t going to play anymore as it dropped nonchalantly onto the deck! The head cringle seizing had failed. In a jiffy I had the sail on deck where it more or less put itself … and bent on the cruising chute halyard … service resumed and the Mate shut down the engine again, which I’d called for, Tilbury Lock loomed!

In the channel ahead a large ship had suffered engine failure (been there when at sea…) and was by then being shepherded by two tugs. We went past well to the ‘south’ on the ‘wrong’ side. The sailing settled into long and short tacks before being able to sweep round Broadness. The tack took us to just below the QE2 Bridge. The rdio had been spluttering about a couple of tall ships and the first was sighted way astern over Stone Ness. Long Reach was a perfect zig-zag tack and half way up, we were passed by the Hendrica Bartelds, a Dutch triple masted schooner.

The Hendrica Bartelds…

Progress was excellent and a noon (ish) arrival at Greenwich YC looked good. It wasn’t until near Gallions Point that the next ship appeared. This was the Christian Radich, a proper fully rigged ship built as a training vessel by Norway in 1937. She made a fabulous sight on the tideway.

With the Christian Radich off Woolwich…

It wasn’t long before we called the barrier, went though and moored to the GYC trot buoys. I’ve often tried to contact the powers to be here, but have never received a response. Pitching up seems to be the order of the day. No one bothered us!

During the afternoon we ‘enjoyed’ the numerous wash waves from the fast ferries and the sight of various ships coming up on the flood.

The Vera Cruz, a 1400’s caravel under the Portuguese flag.

The waterfront along this reach Bugsbys, had undergone, and continues to, huge changes from when I was last here in August 2016. Flats have blotted out a pleasing view of the Dome and across the river along the Silver Town shore building is furious.

The next day we slipped and set sail, managing to reach the entrance to Limehouse under wind power alone. An ‘exciting’ event took place a as we berthed: the Mate decided to try and walk on water. The experiment failed – divine intervention was having a day off… Two women, a group of children and two men witnessed it. The women wanted to know if she needed a hot drink … pointing out that my immediate intention was to get her out, they watched! Help, not a B- chance! I have to say I didn’t shout for it…

The inflated life jacket after its ‘testing’ by the mate … after a shower she was none the worse…

Whilst in London we’d a series of planned events. The British Museum, a local walk, A visit to Greenwich, attend the Passion Play in Trafalgar Square and family evening meets … a cousin and a handful of nephews and nieces with our ‘boy’…

 

Cousin Roger and wife Judy aboard Whimbrel before dining at The Grapes…

The visit to Greenwich included a visit to the Queen’s House a place visited long ago, but not since a revamping. We found that it lacked a little something. the pictures are fine, but various rooms could have been fitted out as they were when in use. the building has had  varied life from palace to school. Interestingly we were able to visit the crypt beneath St Alfege’s, Greenwich, and view the Wolfe family vault.

A period wood turner at work making thole pins.

Greenwich water front on the Saturday…

A Thames dock scene from around 100 years ago…

Finally, leaving day arrived, but not before we’d attended St Anne’s, Limehouse, for an Easter service. We locked out around 1500 and made sail, reaching over the still flooding tide for we wanted to make Erith by around 1900.

Approaching Deptford Creek ships underway were spied. It was here that the main sheet spun one of my sailing seats into the river … I last saw it disappearing under a ferry’s … I’m now in the process of making a new one!

A busier waterway was enjoyed…

One little ship, the Jante, rounded our stern and crept along beside us for a little while before pulling away. Cameras clicked and we were saluted!

Goose winging into Greenwich Reach…

British ships were conspicuous by their absence – The Earl of Pembroke gladdened the heart…

We soon sailed clear of the melee of vessels coming up from Woolwich where the majority of ships had been berthed during their stay. The flotilla was beginning to form up as we rounded Blackwall Point, chased by several other motoring yachts – one of which, a big one, came round our stern and then across the bow. I muttered as the mate huffed and puffed. Prat!

Approaching the barrier we saw the first of the ships and one after another they passed us by on our sail to Erith. It was a grand sail and the good mate did more than her share as I got a bolognese sauce underway below … it sat seeping as we swept down the reaches as wind and tide lifted us close to 7 knots at times!

The Hydrogen dropped her passengers at Woolwich and ‘joined’ the fleet sailing with the Blue Clipper…

Along the route hundreds of people were watching. Massed, of course in central areas, but scattered groups were seen, including around the lighthouse at Margaret Ness. Off Erith Pier, ‘loaded’ with excited folk, a call was made for vessels to sound horns … so we tested ours to loud cheering…

Ah yes, I did enjoy a beer as the stream continued passing and later, a coffee, well laced as several more passed in the evenings gathering gloom.

The next morning, we were up with the lark and sailed for home.

It was grand.

04/21/17

Blackwater Marina, a favoured haunt of Ditch-crawler’s…

Some weeks ago a new member of my yacht club shocked me with a report that the Blackwater Marina was being closed down. This struck me as odd: I keep my ear close to the ground and had been looking ‘them’ up fairly recently… The informant has kept his vessel on the Blackwater for a number of years and is a member of a local club, so the bells began to ring: we like to ‘pop’ in to the place during summer cruising.

The marina has a full range of craft from those being refurbished ashore, smart smacks, trad yachts and GRP types as well as a few live-aboards. It has a fantastic slipway and a drydock which accepts spritsail barges. The village has all one needs to live well afloat…

There wasn’t anything on the marina’s web site to substantiate the claim so I contacted…

The Blackwater Marina – unfortunately I took this for the ‘abandoned’ boat I’ve featured before… 

From the manager I received a humorous reply. He said:

‘I have absolutely no idea where the rumour came from … any site planning application is for the portion formally owned by Straight Edge Mfg … and has nothing to do with us. Please inform your source that it (the marina) will be operating as is with some improvements for years to come, at least until Essex sinks into the North Sea!’

So, there we have it. Thankfully…

 

 

04/4/17

Ditch-crawler ‘sniffs’ around Rye…

Last week on holiday in East Sussex I had a free few hours and had a gander around Rye Harbour sniffing along the water’s edge. The Mate was otherwise engaged, so I was alone.

The fish quays along by ‘The Salts’  in Rye Harbour were busy with boats. I watched as one boat lifted some trawling gear aboard using her own gear. This area of the waterfront has been concreted with a new sea defence along the quay edge. Even the fish buildings are relatively new and it all displays an aura of general well being.

Close by I stumbled across an old ferry cottage as I headed towards an area I spied moored craft. One of the craft I came across was an upturned skiff with a high rise to her forefoot – I wondered if she is an old ferry boat?

Is this an old ferry boat?

Along the front of a yard I entered were a number of yacht moorings with staging finger berths very mush like my own in Smallgains Creek on Canvey Island. These though came back to a grassed fringe which was at the time being lapped by a spring tide. That tide was only a few centimetres from wetting the yard itself…

My attention as always seemed to stray towards the more desperate craft as I turned a corner from the Rother along the channel that leads up to the town’s quay or strand. The moorings in this yard were of a dubious form of construction and wouldn’t have passed a fitness test at my club!

here are some of the craft seen…

This poor thing without even a name seems to be one of those projects. The general ambiance was of ‘abandonment’ sadly!

This one has had radical surgery!

My heart was gladdened when I found this sweet thing. Clearly cared for and awaiting her antifouling paint…

I next stumbled upon an old beach boat which has fished for her last catch…

Next to the beach boat was a sweet little shallow draft cutter which had received some rudimentary work some time ago, years even, but had that look of dejection…

Will she feel the sea again…

The boat had a rather natty curved front to her raised hatch works, something reminiscent of a bygone age yet in its way way ahead of its time what with the way glass fibre is moulded.

The curved front to cabin top… note laid decks too.

I removed myself from this ‘nameless’ yard and continued upstream towards the Strand. On the way I came across an ‘abandoned’ yard. Within a wide open slipway sat a poor little plywood sloop looking somewhat forlorn.

 

How many clubs would love such an amenity?

Awaiting the breakers perhaps?

I then passed a yard which had been locked up by a debt agency, however, I hopped over the chain and explored! It too had a now disused slip…

Inside were a couple of chopped fishing vessels for sale! And of interest was a Eventide which had a distinct resemblance to a boat I knew at my own club some years ago – Patience of Job she was called. I couldn’t find a visible name: he transom was ‘buried’ in stuff.

Yours if you want her!

Is this a boat once known as Patience of Job?

Further round my walk I passed by a yard which had an aura of respectability and vigour. It was clean, tidy and business-like. What a pleasure. The yard is  known as the Fox Marine, after the owner. I got chatting to two chaps who’d just finished a break. They knew what a Finesse 24 was and one commented. ‘Nice boats…’ I glowed! And they welcomed me to potter around…

The yards moorings were clearly well maintained. They use a pump to flush the berths on a rotational basis and lift the boats one a year for a pressure wash as part of the mooring fee (around £1000/year). Apparently many of the boats take part in regular racing out in the open sea down river. The yard have even opened a little club-house for owners to meet in…

Two pictures of Mr Fox’s yard in Rye – a pleasure to visit!

 

Finally I passed by some waterfront works that were in the fro of redevelopment – I suspected housing… At the edge of this area,  by the junction of the River Brede (To Winchlesea) and the River Tillingham which runs past the strand, I spotted another derelict…

Bonfire job, probably!

I then made my way back to my good wife and tea, not bad for a ‘No Boats’ holiday…

03/22/17

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…

03/5/17

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!

02/18/17

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!