Nick Ardley, Thames estuary ditch-crawler, river, creek and coastal sailor.

Nick Ardley, Thames estuary ditch-crawler, river, creek and coastal sailor.

Nick Ardley sails the Thames estuary from the Island Yacht Club on Canvey Island, Essex, where he has been based since around 1980. He enjoys his coastal hops immensely, but, it is the rivers and creeks themselves that causes a welling up of a magic within him: so much history abounds around the edges of those waters where much has disappeared. Often, the many waterside industries have left little trace, yet, although some rest in living memory they are now largely forgotten, by most. Nick picks up on some of this and other more distant snippets of historical and topographical interest, weaving them into the web of his tales of sailing the magical ditches around the estuary, with his mate at his side listening...


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Swatchway passage on the shortest night...
The forecast for a cruise up to the Orwell for a meeting of the east coast branch of the RNSA was not of the best. The weather has been somewhat indifferent since the end of March, however, undaunted, for there was a window of opportunity, I decided it was on and my crew joined as arranged.

We set off a little after two on Thursday morning, motoring into a light easterly. The battery had three hours of charging and my hours clock is a little closer to the new engine's 50 hour service! Down near the Barrow, and on cue from that forecast (believed in!) the wind went south-east, sail was set. We revelled in it ... the boat felt normal again.

It had become a little choppy by then too but once behind the shallows covering that great mass of sand separating the Swin from the deeper Thames channels the water became smooth. The boat was in her element and we saw 7.3 knots flash up... I think we were going faster at times - just my little jib and main with first reef!

Whimbrel sailing up the Wallet on a finer day ... taken from dinghy towing astern!

By the turn of the tide we were sailing through the spitway ... my crew wanted to know why I called it the Swin Spitway! I don't know the answer to that one. I got away with it by saying, "I expect northern sailors call it the Wallet Spitway..." Anyway, 'we' made a 'command decision' and we decided to continue up the Wallet... It was a grand sail too requiring the letting out of the reef in the main nd setting of the genoa - we were pushing five plus knots over the tide. Not bad for an old Finesse...

It was a good move or what: sitting on a buoy off that evocative Suffolk sailors' port, Pin Mill, with the wind howling around the anchorage and bursts of rain (well one short and heavy one anyway) lashing around, I think it was. And now, as I write, the sun has come out!

The mate was somewhat relieved we had made our decision and was impressed with the timings too ... I think she was really wishing she'd been aboard and not at work... Someone has to keep the home fires burning... (My crew had abandoned his mate as well!)

Talking of mates, my current, a pretty good one too, had asked for sugar in his tea - it was somewhere going along the edge of the Maplin sands. I wasn't aware he took sweetners! Apparently his two daughters don't allow it at home - so, as one of them is my God-daughter and in support of their rules ... I've stopped the his secret sugar kick too! It means, of course, he'll be able to enjoy a few more pints of Adnams ashore...

There is a smack/gaffers race tomorrow - Saturday - two have appeared already, but one wonders if it'll take place: gales have been forecasted... this is also the weekend of the Thames barge passage match from Gravesend to Pin Mill. they're robust craft so should pitch up in a long line over the evening of Saturday into Sunday. I'll have another budding east coaster aboard by then too ... my temporary mate's partner... She's done some dinghy sailing on the Deben and some other locations in an earlier life ... but not cruiser sailing.

My lap top ran out of power ... now corrected...

Cracking sail today, Saturday, chasing smacks ... down the Orwell and into the Stour. The harbour was somewhat choppy. Later in Shotley Marina, and yes I do go into marinas, I watched as the Edith May ran in well ahead of the Repertor and Ardwina in the Passage Match from Gravesend.

I rang the Edith May's intrepid skipper, Geoff Gransden, and congratulated the barge (and crew). They even had to do a '360' and go back round the Shotley buoy: they'd left it on the wrong side. Tut Tut!
Posted on 22 Jun 2012 by admin
From New Zealand...
Some while ago I took a friendly fan from New Zealand out for a sail on Whimbrel. The chap has done quite well while back in Blighty. Two sails on two different Finesse 24s and two sails up at Horning. The second was to take part in the 3 Rivers Race, which he thoroughly enjoyed.

The mate and I had a convivial evening talking to him, and his charming wife, last night over beer (or two) and wine and nibbles. He's chuffed with the way sailing folks have rallied to get him afloat. I know a Medway chap over at Lower Halstow, another of my readership, had wanted to treat our NZ sailor to a sail too. Alas, his time here runs short and that seemed unlikely as this goes to press. Soon the couple head off to Auckland - home for winter...

My friend sent me a batch of pictures from that famous harbour sometime ago, and as promised, with his sanction, I post a couple of classics photographed from his own cruiser ... plus an old working vessel.

Gaff cutter Thelma, a true beauty, sailing hard in Auckland Harbour.

This fine ship was hard on the heels of the Thelma in first shot - those NZ guys take sailing seriously...

This picture fascinated me: I like it because it is of an old coastal trader. She is, I understand, essentially flat bottomed to allow reaching into shallow waters. They were built with centre boards. These little ships were the coastal sisters to our own evocative spritsail barge. Notice the Polynesian influence in her design with her kicked up prow ... reminiscent of indigenous craft from the Pacific islands. Lovely!
Pictures courtesy of Paul Mullings, an 'old' Leigh-on-Sea man.
Posted on 18 Jun 2012 by admin
More Medway barge match news
After my visit to the River Medway to see the barge match I had a call from a friend (one of my overseas readers) about my recent words on the Medway barge match - I suggested a sail ... it was quickly accepted. The chap had upped sticks and moved to New Zealand some years ago... He was 'home' to see his old mum and family and to visit friends... The couple also made use of our local noise generating scheme: London(?) Southend Airport ... to visit Turkey. The chap's wife wanted to visit a place her grandfather had been sent (fighting) during WW1.

Anyway, my NZ friend hadn't been up Benfleet Creek for around 40 years he reckoned - so I obliged him in his whim: it's a nice place to sail up, whilst knowing we'd need to motor back against a fickle easterly. So, all you doubters out there - I do burn diesel! On the way up the creek we were treated to a most spectacular lightning display. One bolt went straight across the sky and another was of the thickest size I can remember seeing. Fortunately, the display stayed just that and we hardly felt a drop of rain.

My NZ reader enjoyed his trip, short as it was, of around 2 hours. The next day he'd arranged another sail ... on another Finesse 24, Windsong, a local Leigh -on - Sea boat and part owned by a life long friend. I understand the sailors had a lovely trip to Queenborough and a jar or two ashore over lunch.

Some time ago I was sent a few shots of boats out in Auckland harbour by my friend ... I'll have to dig a couple out and display them: boy the skies and seas depicted are blue!

This week, out of the blue, came a batch of pictures attached to a friendly email from a chap who saw me chasing barges two weeks ago - which led me on to do this piece. He thought Whimbrel looked sparkling ... I expect he'd seen quite a lot of her clean bottom with the stiffish breeze predominating over the days sailing. I think I saw him sailing out too, but can't be sure. His boat is a nice modern Fulmar - ironically probably nearly as old as my 'old timer'! I did see a rather nice old gaffer - a real little smack, I think, but possibly a replica.

Picture of Whimbrel and unknown smack off the Grain Fort, from Winston Waller, a fellow Medway Sailor.

A couple of other pictures I took...

I liked this one: I've titled it, Tiptree jam chases the cream... What a splendid sight the Decima looks.

The Cambria's curtsy to Medway No.10 as she rounded the shortened course for the coasting class - doesn't she look splendid!
Posted on 08 Jun 2012 by admin
Diamond Jubilee Parade of Sail on River Medway
Last Thursday evening we put the dear old girl on the hard, scrubbed one side of her bottom then tickled her up with a fresh coat of anti-fouling. Then, on Friday morning, I had to get up early and do the same to her other buttock - cor she looked good afterwards!

The mate had said to me earlier in the week, 'Why don't you go for a sail to see the barges...' Not needing a second hint, my mind was swayed!

Yesterday was the Diamond Jubilee Medway Barge Match sailed in honour of her Majesty... It was just a shame only seven (7) pitched up... But it was a glorious spectacle.

I sailed over, straight of the hard, on the Friday evening - reaching Queeborough spit in two hours - a cracking sail with a reef in the main. After a relaxing supper I retired ashore to quaff a welcome glass of ale. The Old House at Home had a musician strumming his stuff - excelent it was too, and it soon had me enjoying a further beer to relish the gentle mellows as the sun set over the Hoo villages in the distance.

Getting up early on Saturday I had my bacon on to grill (for sandwiches) as I prepared the boat for departure. Sandwiches made and a quick clear up, I cast off, under sail and made for the Medway with the intention to sail westwards until the barges were close - then chase them: undoubtably they would be going at nigh on full speed in the NE 4-5 gusting a liitle more. Port Authority only gave a maximum of 17 knots in the harbour though...

I met the barges near Oakham Ness where the EDME had already opened up a commanding lead. The rest of the story I'll leave to the pictures...

There were two tacking jousts in Saltpan Reach: the first was between the Edith May and Decima under the high clay banks and saltings of Burntwick Island. The Edith May was on course (with right of way) to deal a knock out blow to a motoring yacht clearly intent on suicide - I watched in shame as 'he' dithered, going to port/starboard/astern thrust and, finally, full ahead to get out of the way. From my position the Edith May had to pay-off to ensure clearance as she gathered way ... Decima was hot on her heels close under her port quarter - YACHTSMEN - Why do some of you get in the way of larger and mostly faster barges?! The second joust took place opposite the entrance to Stangate Creek between the Decima and Repertor under the towering bows of a modern cargo carrier. They sailed later and I'm sure, as seafarers they enjoyed the river spectacle. Both of those events, I believe, were pivotal in the order that soon resulted.

Neck and neck, the chasing pack, Repertor in foregroud, Decima and Edith May, spread across Saltpan Reach. Beautiful and evocative, a timeless sight.

The chasing pack is sorted into its order as the harbour entrance is reached. The Cambria then was still to round Sharpness.

Sailing perfection - the champange of the fleet in silhouette amongst the sea's sparkles. The EDME spreads her restricted class wings. It's not her usual manner: when racing bowsprit barges can do what they like... I heard them asking the committee boat for advice ... they learnt that restricted, means restricted: it mattered not!

The Cambria, Lady of the Lea and Phoenician, in that order were turned at No.10 Buoy to chase home the front runners on the fresh flood. I saw the mighty Phoenician round the mark - she'd been racing in the coaster class, as I scampered for home across the Thames doing a little under 6 knots - eager to see the mate. Ah!
Posted on 27 May 2012 by admin
Olympic Legacy - Southend Council destroys historic vessel...
The Olympic Legacy came to the heart of the Thames estuary recently... Southend Council have destroyed a historic vessel, it is reported, in the name of beautifying the waterfront for visitors who might wander along the sea wall to the south of Leigh rail station.

Southend's (Leigh-on-Sea) 'Olympic Legacy' ... gone: she's been chopped up!

The historic vessel was the Trojan, a spritsail barge built of steel in 1899 at Southampton by J. G. Fay for Goldsmith's the cement and general freight conglomerate of the late 1800s to mid 1900s. The vessel traded for over 60 years before passing through several owners, before, finally becoming the home of the Leigh Motor Boat Club. The club sold the barge as a restoration project. Her hull then lay in an old 'dock' bow towards the sea wall up Leigh Creek for some fifteen years or so.

It was possible to see her extricated, but possibly not: restoration costs have escalated and 'Cutty Sark' funds wouldn't have had a bean's chance of going her way ... yet in her way she was (and her sisters too) as important to British Maritime Heritage as that carbuncle, that travesty of a ship, that shameful sham, up the Thames.

The bulk, apart from three exceptions, of Britain’s coastal and continental trading survivors is supported on the whole by individuals and 'companies' - how sad. Buildings in this land are not treated this way - hence, I suppose, for the Cutty Sark's massive bail-out.

There is some good news though:

In Essex, up at Maldon, the George Smeed, dating from 1882, has her mast and sprit up and is reported to be on the verge of rigging out... Her 'refit' has lasted for nearly 30 years...

The George Smeed at Cooks Yard, Maldon.

Over in Kent, at Hoo, close to the recently resurrected Buttercock Wharf, the Niagara, built in 1898 by Forrest of Wivenhoe, was seen rigging out back in April. She has been entered for the Jubilee Medway Barge Match...

The Niagara has been under restoration since being sold out of trade in the 1970s.

The Niagara with her foresail bent on...

As one BIG council destroys one, the man in the street, slaving, with no heritage funding has preserved for us all a little more of our marine heritage.

Southend had a barging heritage, once. It purports to be a 'sea side town' its maritime past helped in its rise as an entity rather than remaining the east end of Prittlewell. Maybe, Southend could have had a real Olympic Legacy ... their very own barge ... taking local school children afloat around the Thames basin ... following the local trade routes... Wow, wouldn't that have been something to shout about.

Don't be stupid...

Posted on 23 May 2012 by admin
Hadleigh's Olympic venture draws near...
Well, I was sailing along under Hadleigh's downs recently on a gloriously sunny day. Life had that spring feeling once again after what has seemed a prolonged bout of miserable damp conditions, but boy did the ground need it round these parts: it was only towards the end that water actually started running again in long dry woodland streams (too shallow for Whimbrel!).

Along the banks of saltings fringing Canvey Island's eastern flanks there were still some Brent geese dabbling in amongst the cord grass. A huge flock of curlews flew above me, as big as I've ever seen, heading who knows where... And, hovering and diving along the shallows were the first of the returning terns - a definite whiff of summer, surely.

As I moved higher up towards the old Salvation Army jetty cuckoos could be heard settling territorial differences then, above me, a skylark bathed the creek in glorious sound...

Up on the hills the 'mountain' bike implementation team were hard at work. A large chunk of the track can be seen from the creek as it courses to and fro across a valley. Near its head the stands and media centre (I presume) are up. Fencing snakes the hills too (to keep non ticket holders out...) The weather has come right for the ant like humans seen through my bins, beavering away, finishing their work.

A closer view of the course on Hadleigh downs.

Before long the Olympics will be but a dream: it's just a flash in time, then life, if it has affected you, will return to normality...

It was a good sail, better than my last - well that itself went very nicely, but the ending was not as planned - more on that another time or in the next book(?)... I have written about it in my club's news letter though...
Posted on 22 May 2012 by admin
Ditch-crawler's bibs and bobs and the Ethel Maud
There is a new pontoon at Gravesend. A man at Gravesham Council who I have been conversing with on another matter sent me a picture ( it is credited to him: he gave no other) of the new unit. It has a height of one and half metres - which is the standard for down stream pontoons on the tidal Thames.

It seems to be eminently suitable for spritsail barges, river ferries and tripper craft like the Waverley, but may not suit all yachts: they are welcome too. Yachts will be expected to use the inside. Low freeboard vessels may not be able to berth without damage ... my contact said that this is to be 'monitored' so they are aware. I will endeavour to ascertain and report...

Water and power is available and the gate is coded - presume it is obtained by arrangement. Gravesham Coucil want Gravesend to be thought of and used as a destination rather tha a place that is passed on passage up and down the river. The town, is after all, a historical water side town dating back to early times, being mentioned in the Doomsday Book.

Cambria and Reminder on new pontoon at Gravesend. Picture: Alan Kew

Cambria is going to be a regular user plus other sailing barges. Further new moorings have been laid for visitors to use/wait for locked yacht basin.

My contact keeps a boat at Shoregate Wharf, round from one of my childhood haunts when living aboard the sailing barge May Flower. I understand the dock has recently changed hands. Access is via a channel through the saltings from Milfordhope Creek.

The sailing barge Lady of the Lea went into the dock whilst on a mission for a programme recently aired on BBC 2 about food - they went in for some fruit to take upriver to Maidstone.

In the dock is the spritsail barge Ethel Maud. She has resided in a lighter since her journey from Milton Creek some years ago. I was in Queenborough when she passed by seemingly somewhat low in the water, but that may have been because her hull was distorted.

The May Flower alongside Maldon Hythe, autumn 1964, with Ethel Maud alongside recently fitted with spars from the William Cleverley. Both of Greens barges (Millers upstream) were together again. Other barge is the Ida. Beyond are thought to be Marjorie and Edith May - outer. Photo: Mrs G D Ardley

The Ethel Maud is back in shape, re-framed (nearly) and ready for her new outer skin. Beams and deck carlins are in, so maybe, we'll see her out on the water next year... The barge was built by Howard of Maldon in 1889 and is 45 NRT. Ignoring the Lady of the Lea, she'll be one of the smallest barges sailing... That is, unless the Westmoreland (43 NRT) makes it to the menders.

Ethel Maud in her lighter during 2004. Her typical Howard transom can be clearly seen.

I last saw the barge under way in 1974 when she and another barge were in Stangate the same time as my May Flower home was there.
Posted on 09 May 2012 by admin
Colours or racing flags
My mother recently passed to me two flags once flown on the sailing barge May Flower. The first is flag 'S' and was used when racing during the 1960s.

May Flower's 1960s racing flag ... it was later to be the colours used by the Mirosa.

The second is a little taxing, mysterious even: an old ship captain has been left a little perplexed too: it is not a number of letter... My mother said she thought it came with the barge when purchased from Green Brothers in 1950 ... phew! Was it a company recognition flag? Maybe someone out there can help?

The mystery flag...
Posted on 29 Apr 2012 by admin
Ditch-crawler's Glorious Easter Days
The Easter weekend this year was largely inclement, the week after too. Shame really, especially after the wonderful weather experienced in the month - or months even - before. The week beforehand was fine ... but other issues prevented me from making use of those days.

On Good Friday: my mother who was staying with the mate and me decided she couldn't do our local churches traditional ecumenical walk, so all decided to accompany me to Maldon where I was due to interview people aboard the spritsail barge Reminder - owned by Topsail Charters - coming in with a Sea Change Trust group. The Sea Change Trust has chartered that good vessel over a several seasons now. See earlier article.

It was a fantastic day to be out on the water, that was clearly obvious not only from the morning's forecast but from the gently breeze lifting the bobs' of barges along the Hythe. After walking around and looking into a boatyard or two, buying two new small sail needles - needed aboard my Whimbrel - I eventually spied the Reminder reaching up past the Heybridge shore. I watched as she luffed up, carrying round Herring Point, and tacked. As soon as the tack was done, down came the foresail, allowing the barge to keep up to the wind. Going into the next tack, up went the foresail, backed, round the Reminder came then down foresail again ... and so it went on, tack after short tack. It was all done in a time honoured fashion. Her skipper that day was Richard Titchener, a man who will only use an engine if absolutely needed. He's often at Cambria's helm too ... and it is the way he'll operate the Sea Change Trust's barge, when she is built.

It reminded me of the way I once watched the spritsail barge EDME tack through Pin Mill's moorings to reach the hard - the wind was wrong for an inside reach down from near Clamp House, or Fox's Bottom. One of the crew went forward and pinched the sheet corner of the foresail to tighten it right in hard, allowing the skipper more drive. Then the sail was dumped as the helm luffed to clear an empty mooring ... alas it hadn't quite worked. Anchoring, lightly, she then ran a line to a 'kedge' buoy laid out on the flats to facilitate barge movements. The EDME passed close by my vessel by no more than a beam width too... But, the art of working these vessels under sail (she hasn't an engine anyway) alone is something quite awe inspiring. It is something I do too ... people are aware of my paucity of diesel use ... I do it so that I know I can do it, in varying conditions, and it is extremely satisfying. Most modern yachts are rarely seen 'working' in a similar fashion under sail... It's a sad fact, I believe!

The Reminder tacking up past the Maldon YC after rounding Herring Point, Good Friday, 2012.

Anyway, back to Maldon! The Reminder kept sailing until she was reaching along the promenade shore ... I was willing the barge to continue in, under sail... However, the sails were gathered in by the young crew. Ropes readied and fenders were hung as she came gently under power. Swinging across the tide the anchor was touched and round she came sweetly onto the quay. It was great.

I was soon aboard ... was quickly grabbed by Richard to help stow the foresail (I think he was testing me??) ... and got on with talking to the young people aboard. I was there for a magazine article - more on that when it is published. I was very impressed by their candour, honesty and obvious delight in their week away. '...we only used the engine when leaving ... and today's last bit...' one said, grinning broadly. The lad has started a sea based training ... after a troubled past.

My mother, approaching 81, was soon aboard too, assisted by two of the trainee crew. She was in her element, a young married girl back in 1951 aboard the May Flower ... dancing about the decks!

My sailing, oh yes, it was limited to just two sails. On Easter Saturday I dropped out of the creek, under sail, and decided for a soft sail under the hills. I found myself amongst a group of yachts on passage up Benfleet Creek to Canvey Island's other yacht club, the 'Benfleet', up by the barrier and bridge. It was a generous breeze, forcing but two tacks, and I passed the visitors' rearguard (having earlier kept clear of their tremulous passages from buoy to buoy) going along the Benfleet's mooring trots. The group were from Conyer Cruising club and the marina's 'retired' owner gave a cheery wave asking if I'd be over later in the year ... silly question: Conyer, the Swale and the Medway is, probably, the finest of sailing grounds...

I got another sail , while the mate had a bit of 'own time' going to see a film and then, abandoning the housework chores, nearly half way through, I scarpered to the creek for an early sail this last Monday morning, clearing the mooring around 0830. Ah it was great. I saw several grebes, avocet, waders and the numerous Brent geese still inhabiting the local marshes.

Up on the downs much activity was apparent. The stands around the start/finish of the all terrain bike event are being built. Fencing, to keep non-ticket holders out, is snaking around the slopes and much else besides seems to be happening ... wonderful ... I'll be following the Swale barge, smack and gaffers event a few miles south-east across the estuary when the ballyhoo gets underway! Glorious it will be too - round the Swale that is!
Posted on 18 Apr 2012 by admin
Stop Estuary Airport
On Friday I went over to Chatham to view an art exhibition at the invitation of Dave Wise of a local artist - mainly photography - and leader of canoe trails around the Medway and Swale. See also: which Dave has a handle on too.

The exhibition was in defence of the Grain peninsular, the Medway marshes and the lower Thames: madcap Boris, Mayor of London, does intend to cover the region in concrete, given any chance. 'Why doesn't he build it in Hyde Park?' I asked someone! It runs to the end of this week. It is at The Nucleus Gallery off Chatham High Street (No. 272 - Tel:01634 812108) almost opposite an Iceland Store, up a side turning. Parking can be found close by off the main road opposite back entrance to Iceland! Enjoy, marvel and it'll make you think...

Painting of The Boris and Lord Foster Folly, by Kevin Clarkson a 'Medway' based artist.

It must be stopped: it is in the wrong place: it should, if needed, be north of London to allow the rest of mainland UK to reach it by rail/road easily. Do we need a giant airport (I haven't flown for 12 plus years...)

Any local sailor from the lower Thames region, and upriver, would have to go a long way east to make an entry into the Medway - if you'd wanted to after an airport was built. Planes will be buzzing your mast tops, deafening you and ruining your health ... I could go on.

Go to the web site: for more information on the problems associated, not least of the mass of bird life in this area.

Local Authorities both sides of the river are against the plans ... you wouldn't know that on the Essex side: news about it has been scant indeed.
Posted on 02 Apr 2012 by admin
Cabin Lamps
Sitting round the cabin lamp was and continues to be a past time conducted by many sea salts. This tradition goes back a long way. Barges had a lovely cabin lamp held in a pear shaped brass tube frame and hung from a beam it would give sufficient light for general conveniences.

My old sailing barge home had one such lamp ... my Mother still has it, minus the outer shade glass, but I know where to find another now: I have found a place selling wicks for my own boat's cabin lamps and, more importantly, my Davey & Co dioptric lens riding light ... for which I now have a metre of spare wick, enough to see me out of my sailing life, in all probability!

All sorts of parts can be obtained from Old Flames Ltd. Web site is:
Telephone no: 01252 328844
They were very helpful indeed!

By chance I went on the Cambria web site this morning too ... Matt the news man was waxing lyrical about getting parts from ebay for the Cambria's aft cabin lamp ... I wonder how much was paid: Old flames were very well priced for glass funnels compared to the extortion offered by marine stores... Wicks are really well priced!

The glow from a traditional lamp is something special - we use ours a lot. Some will know that my mate gets a five minute ticket for after dark reading: electric light means engine use, diesel burning from running the engine and pollution!

The glow enjoyed by Arthur Ransome aboard Nancy Blacket ... taken by Keith Worsdell of the Catalyst from Lower Halstow YC - thanks Keith! Keith met the NB at Queenborough last weekend...

Anyway ... I've been at it recently titivating the good ship's varnish work - little damage from the colder season was experienced and those areas have been rubbed back and touched up with several thinned coats already, adding another on each visit. The gas locker got a repaint too... I couldn't go sailing because my mainsail is still being repaired: so that event has had some uses!

The dinghy is finished ... the boy ... the grown up son commented that she looked like a proper little 'Whimbrel' now! She awaits her return to the club's dinghy park when I manage to knobble the boy to trailer it down for me. He's the one with the tow bar...

P.S. Dinghy back down creek and 'tested' - looks good...

And mainsail fixed by W Sails of Leigh-on-Sea, bent on and given an outing... Three hour sail on a misty Friday lunch time, going along nicely in a gentle breeze always in a pocket of warm sunshine. There were a few others out too - even a little Tideway clinker dinghy. Lovely!
Posted on 22 Mar 2012 by admin
Whimbrel goes bird watching
I was out on the water recently when I saw something strange. A 'man' was walking on water - he seemed to be tracking past the marshes on the eastern end of Two Tree Island. Grabbing my binoculars I found it was indeed a man ... with what looked like a paddle in his hands. On what though? I sailed a little closer then saw that he was on a small sail board (I presumed). He had a pair of binoculars round his neck ... but not a life jacket (Madness, surely?) and seemed content with his lot. I watched until I saw him closing the land and safety.

A novel form of transport to go bird watching on...

It seemed a strange way to go bird watching. I expect he was able to get close: wildfowl tend to ignore silent boats until they perceive the object as 'threatening' in some way, lift off and settle again. Birds can do that several times, until for some reason they do what should have been the first option, lift off and settle behind ... ah well!

A few days later I sailed up towards the Island's other yacht club ... passing a mud bank on the way I spotted a mass of birds fighting for space along the edges. It is one of my greatest pleasures and that of the mate too, to witness this marvel in amongst the marshes surrounding our patch - a place full of natural richness. There were gulls and oystercatchers poking the mud; waders, probably red shank, skittering about; and avocet, sieving the surface, all moved about their business. In the water were several species of duck. A bird dropped in amongst the flock and of a sudden there was a collective fight for airspace ... they whirled round and settled again. It was a fascinating sight to watch and its a good job my little sloop can look after herself for a little while!

One settled ... the flock took off...

It was magic. My destination had been up to the 'Benfleet' to wave to the club's window ... one can't see in but the lunch time crowd can see out ... I'd been asked by a parent of a lad who has disabilities to wave: the young man enjoys seeing my sail come closer and closer until I do a pirouette off their slip and sail away. The lad enjoys the water and has trips down the creek from time to time ... it costs nothing to oblige and give something back for my enjoyment too...
Posted on 18 Mar 2012 by admin
The Sea Change Sailing Trust
I had an enterprising visit to Maldon recently to pass over a book (books) to a man who wanted a signed copy of 'May Flower' and being interested in Finesse craft had a copy of 'Jottings' too. I was there to also meet Captain Richard Titchener. We talked a little about my past, barges and big ships, and then got onto the trust of which he is Executive Officer. I offered to write about it... More on that later.

I had first come across this trust around two to three years ago. It struck a cord with me: of their intention is to build a new barge. She is to be based on the construction drawings of the last full sized spritsail barge to be built, the Blue Mermaid of 1931. The Blue Mermaid was sunk by a mine near the West Hook Middle Buoy, up the Swin, in July 1941. My old sailing childhood home, the May Flower, went back to look for survivors - sadly there were none. The new barge will be built in Essex within a budget of around £500K - a third of Cambria's rebuild costs.

The Cambria anchored off Mersea Stone, River Colne, whilst working with The Sea Change Sailing Trust, July 2011.

My thoughts ran to what the money ploughed into that white elephant up at Greenwich would do: just think, at half a million a piece we could have had a veritable fleet of useful craft with a fighting fund to take youngsters afloat - doing something positive... I find it quite sad to think about really.

The trust works with the disadvantaged within our society. It picks them up, takes them to sea, works with them, engenders self belief and empowers personal change, and then continues to mentor back in the community. Further time afloat can take place too. It is all good stuff.

It is planned for the barge to work a cargo. The ship and young people would then, together, achieve something positive, cementing the interpersonal work of the crew and mentors. Last year they used the Reminder for twenty weeks ... achieving some 680 berth days. They also had use of the Cambria for a month shortly after she was 'sent' back into service.

If you haven't looked at the trust's web site then please do ... they need your help.
Posted on 09 Mar 2012 by admin
The Essex Book Festival 2012
One of the things I have been consistently interested in for a number of years, especially after my first book was published in 2007, is the Essex Book Festival. I have taken part in events as a festival author twice and been interviewed twice too, attending the opening event for five years.

At the end of last year the festival's lead patron, Essex County Council, passed the reigns over to a new Festival Board, made up of volunteers who include Barbara Erskine, Francis Wheen, Germaine Greer and Sylvia Kent, all well respected authors. There is a director, and a sprinkling of staff - all volunteers. An associated group has been set up, and is currently chaired by Jane Lomas, called The Friends of Essex Book Festival. The group is open to all interested people - go to: for details.

As a founding friend of the Essex Book Festival as instituted in 2012, I joined a merry little throng at Chelmsford Library for drinks and nibbles - the wine looked tempting, but a drive home put me off, so it was lemonade folks... While I'm on Chelmsford Library, a number of their staff stayed behind after work to facilitate the gathering. Essex County Council has continued its support with library use and a little funding ... someone cracked a joke, Dave Monk from BBC Essex , I believe, and the ECC representative, with many titters, said the little had become even less! (it was a joke folks...) I met Darryl Webber of the Essex Chronicle too - he edits the 'Go' paper.

The inaugural gathering of the Founding Friends Essex Book Festival 2012

I had several interesting chats to several of the Friends and some were long discussions about my own books and the type of writing I get up to. It never ceases to amaze me how little many people know of the unique coast that lies so close to so many of our towns and villages, and too, of the beauties to be found above in Suffolk's estuarial waters and across the Thames in North Kent's magical marshlands: to me the Essex area is a gem buried for too long in amongst England's skirts... Hey Ho!

I had an email from a man today, a fellow Finesse owner, who was travelling up to London by train and saw a pair of tan sails moving along the water towards Benfleet ... he said, 'Was it you by any chance...' Well, who else fitted that description? The only other vessel with tan sails which comes and goes up there is a little gaffer sailed by my friend Dick Smith of the BYC - and it wasn't him!

I've often thought of those souls who have to travel to town, daily, to earn a crust, but I spent 30 years - apart from leave periods - on big ships at sea and had to grab my sailing when I could, sometimes in the off seasons too. So, do I feel remorse? Well actually, no... I continue to make the most of what God gifts us. Read back a little to that departure at around 0800 just before Christmas... I was of course sailing in amongst the gem in the midst of Castle Point, that much maligned place and the venue for the Olympic all terrain cycle event in a few months time, when the whole world will learn to appreciate its beauty too.
Posted on 29 Feb 2012 by admin
Ditch-crawlers and Creeksailors

Ready About On The Blackwater by Tony Smith, published by, Smaller Boat Publications, 2011, ISBN: 978-0-9569030-0-6

Tony Smith, the man who has recently taken over Charlie Stock's Shoalwaters, has published a booklet (2011) about the peripheral creeks, inlets and gullies around the River Blackwater. The book relates to his wanderings in his previous little cruiser, Huffler, the boat he owned when I met Tony and a few other Blackwater creeksailors on a visit to Charlie Stock on the last day of July 2010.

I found the booklet interesting for a number of reasons and it will grace Whimbrel's library, especially, because of its chartlet indicating all the places one can get into in a pocket cruiser, capable of taking the mud comfortably, or a dinghy - which is my main interest, though I do sail my Finesse 24 into some tight spots.

Ditch-crawling or creek sailing, whatever term you prefer, is the type of cruising that all should enjoy a taste of before jumping aboard a shiny new piece of whiteness straight from the stands of a boat show: it is then you truly appreciate the larger river beyond, wherever you sail.

My wife, the mate of my own cruising yarns, chuckled at seeing a picture of Church Wharf, Salcott, then grimaced as she remembered slipping and falling down beside our tender - some years ago. Oh how muddy she got. Our boy thought it a hoot and drew a picture in our log book to commemorate the inauspicious event! Memories, wonderful things and this book awoke many of my own!

It is sad, but the majority of today's sailors sail up and down rivers: there are many like the Blackwater, and actually see little of their magic. This book, and others, should be read and each reader should vow to go forth and explore, as Tony has...

Tony does though appear to give huge credit to Charlie Stock and his methods, rightly too, but Charlie's trade has been handed down by generations of sailors right back into the Corinthian age, when, for instance, there was a small boat cruising group based around the River Crouch. All rivers had these sailors, professional or otherwise. They had none of today’s technology - only, perhaps, a compass, pole and lead to help. The inimitable mid twentieth century editor of East Coast Rivers, Jack Coote, sounded his way up into creeks, during and before his editorship, recording a wealth of pilotage details ... he taught his daughters the art too. So, ’nothing new’ echoes loudly: I've done it from around 1960 after I first learnt to row.

In the book's blurb, Tony is referred to as 'Carpenter Smith': that is his trade; however, this is also rather apt because he has constructed a gun punt of the typical West Mersea type under the watchful eye and tutelage of retired Mersea shipwright, John Millgate. This, for me, was one of the booklets more interesting aspects, a highlight even.

Posted on 23 Feb 2012 by admin
Meeting - Save the brick barge Westmoreland
My spy over in Kent (My mother...) has told me that there was a big meeting aboard the Edith May - Sat 18th Feb - between interested local people and the 'committee' set up to bring the Westmoreland home. The plan is to bring her back to Lower Halstow, into the dock, for a rebuild. The barge belongs to the old brickmaking village: she is 'their' brick barge... The barge was actually built by White at Conyer, but barge building took place just to the right of the dock's entrance (going in) for a short period and a number of barges were built by Eastwood Brick Co.

A pressure group has been put in place to persuade the Parish Council to support the project. The barge would use the blocks that the Edith May sits on as well as a lighter, it is understood. It is planned to institute a training scheme for young apprentice shipwrights - this is exciting stuff.

Mirosa leading the Revival and then Westmoreland in 1954 Medway barge match ... will the Westmoreland soon joust with Mirosa again... Picture: Gwen Ardley

Kent is fast becoming the epicentre of barge repair and rebuilding, a long overdue realignment: Kent, in many respects, is the home of the spritsail barge, commonly known as the Thames barge ... from around he 1880s the greater majority were built in Kent yards, some of those old locations are now in the over expanded county of London, right up to the Greenwich peninsula. Deptford Creek was the old county boundary.

The Westmoreland has a clutch of parts that came off my old sailing home, the May Flower - which adds a bit of relish for me!

Moving onto sailing matters: I did get out for a sail a week ago last Friday - got fed up with the snow and stuff and cleared the boat's decks. Then I had a thoroughly enjoyable jaunt round the local yacht clubs in a circuit from my creek. It was cold, dry and there was plenty of sunshine. Double layer trousers and two pairs of walking socks kept me as warm as toast. There were no other mad fools out! Neap tides with times at the ends of the day prevented any more sailing for a week, but that sail was a tonic and it kept me grinning for a few days.

This last Saturday I attended a symposium at The Museum of Docklands with the general title of Thames Shipbuilding and Thames built ships. It was both thoroughly enjoyable and highly educational.

A paper by Dr Damien Goodburn about a dig taking place at Three Quays, just upstream of the Tower of London, was fascinating stuff. Weaving gently through wharf layers, a Medieval ship/boat yard has been found ... with apprentice pieces buried within the wharf's infill! Talking to Damien, I discovered that he spent some of his childhood years aboard an old sailing barge, up the Thames above Chiswick. The barge, Waveney, had lost her sails by then, finally ended up at Emsworth, Hampshire, where she was hulked. It was his barge childhood that inspired his passion for looking into old vessels...

Then along came archaeologist Gustav Milne ... with an interesting look at what a raft of community groups are doing, with some experts, looking at the shore line. I found that Gustav was part of a team that looked at the last remaining vessel hulks and remnants in Whitewall Creek, Frindsbury (Strood), Kent, before the area disappeared beneath layers of infill and concrete to create an industrial estate - thinking about what could have been has always made me mad! Wow, it could have been a natural waterside park, mud to trees, alas... I wrote about it in 'May Flower' and 'Salt Marsh & Mud'...

There then followed a series of superb lectures, including a look at the Great Eastern's builder, John Scott Russell. The last described the reasons for the removal of Thornycroft from Chiswick to Woolston, Southampton, and its social impact, or perceived impact: the relater was fed a load of bull by an old man remembering his family's past... It was good. Well done to the organisers.

Monday this week was a cracking morning. After hearing the forecast and knowing the mid range tide was due to top at around noon I made my way to the empty creek, empty of people that is, and readied the boat ... the tide was a slow one and I eventually got away some 45 minutes after a 'normal' departure. The radio had crackled with a river broadcast while waiting with the information that the tides were half a metre below...

Leaving the creek I passed a flock of Brent geese feeding amongst the cord grass stems from last year's growth. A little grebe popped up, briefly before diving back down over the shallows hunting for food. The wind was a south-south westerly, which meant a casual reach up Hadleigh Ray to 'The Benfleet' was possible ... it gave time to appreciate this gem of a place. Sailing in that direction; the area's hillside forest of housing that stretches from Leigh, eastward into the distance, is out of sight; Hadleigh's splendid downs rising high above the creek are virtually free of manmade structures, although the land is clearly shaped by man's hands.

Reaching the old Salvation Army wharf and lifting my gaze towards the Olympic bike riding course, I grinned at the thought that a 'pass' will be deemed a requirement to navigate this creek during the two days of eventing ... I laughed: the tides are 6 and 6s over that weekend and it'll be a sea of mud! Me and the Mate, well, we're planning to be far away ... the Swale Barge Match takes place that weekend, so I expect we'll be in the area with visits to Whitstable, Faversham and Conyer in mind.

Benfleet YC from the water... Seen early January.

I reached up towards the creek's barrier where I turned for home, stemming the flood tide admirably with the wind on an aft quarter ... I had a spanking run for home. Off my creek I stowed the mainsail with a view to sailing in, but alas the wind had more west and was unhelpful ... so the 'new' engine was fired up, briefly. It was a grand day to be afloat, indeed.
Posted on 20 Feb 2012 by admin
Ditch-crawler waiting for the tide...
Ah yes, I had a wonderful, stolen sail last Saturday just a few hours before the heavens dumped around 200mm of snow on the estuary. After visiting the creek to do some stuff with the usual crowd at my club and finding they were knocking off I beat a retreat: the pond was deep in snow still. I checked the boat out of course and took a picture ... didn't try getting aboard.

Deep and even...

By the end of the week, a week mainly trapped in doors ... apart from my activities with Essex Adult College, I thought I'd check the boat, again. I was well wrapped up. Before I knew what I was doing I'd started to clear the decks and cabin top of snow. The sun came out too and before long with a steaming mug of hot chocolate in my mitts I watched as the wetness on the decks evaporated.

Out came the jib sail bag, mains'l cover off and we were ready...

Waiting for the tide...

Suffice to say I had 2 1/2 hours of pure enjoyment, sailing back into the creek and onto my mooring. Poor little engine had only a momentary bit of action earlier to clear the berth - with sails slating: wind was directly ahead of me...

While I was out a couple of Easy(?) Jets came trundling over the top of Canvey Island spewing noise and pollution. Practice flights, ready for the big day when they're going to be in and out all day. Goodness me, my thoughts ran to Mad Boris and his grand plan for an airport even closer to the creek across the Thames on the Isle of Grain. What madnes... Eh?

My personal thoughts on this matter: If Boris wants another London Airport - why doesn't he bulldoze a chunk of London and build it there? Quite simple really ... and they wouldn't have so far to travel!!! Oh yes, it must be fifteen years since I last left terra firma (or the water of course), so I'm not a regular user...

In fact, it makes my blood boil when people say, 'Cor what a great idea ... think of the jobs ...' No, the jobs would go to people coming into the area ... on the whole. What about the birds ... is Boris and his ‘merry men' going to communicate with them and say, ' you can't come to the Thames estuary any more ... but we'll build you another home ... where ... ah yes, well, we did think of it ... but you'll find somewhere to go ... won't your my dear feathered friends...'

Like heck they will ... News flash, imagine it (sadly) 'Jumbo Downed by Brents...'

Ah yes, the advent of digital TV has saved my blood pressure hugely: I no longer shout at the TV when the local news comes on. Local, did I hear you say, well LONDON, and I don't live in London, have no affinity to London, yet I've watched, steamed at, shouted at London news for many years, well, actually I used to switch off ... now I'm switched on - to BBC East - and found that that place people love to patronise as an offshoot of the east end and white stiletto’s has a different and far more interesting reality (well, we who live here knew that...). The programme actually has items that are covered by Look East reporters. And to them I say thank you! Well I know you've been doing it for years, but now those in the south of the eastern region can appreciate it too... Can't be bothered with the 'other channel': it doesn't cover the southern area for the weather... I was thinking of writing to them ... can't be bothered at the moment...

Ah well, I did have a wonderful sail ... time for thoughts to float around the mind. ‘Cor it was great.’

I received through the post recently from Tony Smith a copy of his book, Ready About on the Blackwater, describing the creeks and guts that can be sailed into on the river. Once read, I have promised a review...
Posted on 10 Feb 2012 by admin
Ditch-crawler's dinghy needs a make over...
My dear little tender, Twitch, incidentally named by my dear mate many moons ago while it was being constructed by Alan Staley at his Faversham Creek boat yard early in 1994, has had to make the journey by trailer to my land residence ... she needs a makeover.

A little attention to the gel coat on the outside is needed after 18 years of use. Concrete hards and hard pieces of angle iron on mooring fingers have left their marks and in places the outer coating has been cracked, splintered and gouged even. The original cream finish has faded immensely too. She looks tired...

'Slap a bit of filler around and buff it down and coat with 2-pot...' someone has said to me. I think she'll get a little more attention than that: she certainly deserves it.

I've got as far as stripping out all the paraphernalia that she is usually encumbered with. Mast and spars have been slung from the workshop roof. The work shop is a garage in name but it's locked away beyond a narrow way ... even narrower since we've had a good set of steps to our doors constructed. One of those Swatch machines would fit... The place hasn't any heating ... so that has to be my first job - buy a heater and get some warmth to work in... The garden thermometer is reading around zero and a biting north-easterly has penetrated from the estuary too. Work has stalled.

Down at the yard today I had commiserated with a fellow member who has been having a few wee problems removing a keel bolt from his Finesse 24. He is fitting a new engine, well a recon 2GM actually, in place of an old 1GM. With the engine out the opportunity to do the two bolts sitting beneath was undertaken. I did mine some 7 or 8 years ago. One came out alright ... the other has caused some bother... Anyway, while a group of us were thawing out with hot tea: the north easterly was blowing straight off the estuary, the subject of marinas came up. Someone was complaining bitterly at the cost of a stay booked for the coming summer was costing ... even one night was, 'dot dot dot...'

I mentioned staying a night, getting a shower, doing the laundry and a meal ashore perhaps then skedaddle ... there are moorings close by this place; anchorages too, 'why not use those and use the dinghy.'

Yeh, you've got it, stupid me, I'm one of the few in my club who takes a proper dinghy when cruising... Some haven't even got one of those squidgy things that have to be filled with air!

And to remind me of tender joys - the subject of a recent Anglia Afloat article - I found this picture lurking in my files... I was creeping into Kirton Creek towards the end of the day one evening last summer ... with a few gentle zephyrs.

Ah well, my Twitch will soon be back!
Posted on 01 Feb 2012 by admin
Ditch-crawler's sunset parade
Well, this last week an old sailor now living and based on Norfolk's fabulous broads contacted me. He had sailed with an uncle at the end of the 1940s on the River Medway, returning later in the 1950s with his own little boat. Life took him away to an inland location for too many years (he said) but at 89 he still cruises the broads...

It transpired that the chap sailed from Shoregate Dock. It's just round the sea wall at Ham Green (Upchurch) on the banks of the River Medway in Kent from where I lived on the sailing barge May Flower - our berth from 1968 to 1978 was at Callows Wharf (Ham Green). He also camped close by along Bayford Marsh adjacent to Half Acre Creek...

It’s weird, but he would have been an old hand on the river when I was a lad in the 1950s and 60s and probably saw my sailing home out on the water. As time has gone on some interesting contacts have been made - another was from a chap at a self-help club on the Firth of Forth in Fife. He too had enjoyed time on 'my' Medway!

Crumbs, I had some grand sailing last week too. As they say, it can't be all work ... 'and what do you know of that' my closest will mutter upon reading this... So, after the part time work I do (adult ed classes) finished, I shot to the boat twice, and again on Friday afternoon, and had three splendid winter wonderland sails. Cold, crisp and even... No snow though.

The last was the really stupendous one. I left as soon as the boat was afloat and in a gentle breeze crept out of the creek. The breeze puffed harder at times, so making short and long legs I made it up to the Benfleet's clubhouse where I turned for home.

On the way up the sky was a translucent to deep blue and this, as the sun dropped changed, bit by bit, until it had yellowed with a bright orange glow from the setting sun.

Rounding up to drop the mainsail

As I neared the creek, I rounded up to drop the main and put its lashings on, then, as the sun dropped to the island's ragged skyline of house roofs, I slowly made over the ebbing tide.

Sailing into the creek

It was dusk... The breeze dropped away too, but it held long enough for me to sail into my berth... Bliss!

A magic moment in amongst the moorings
Posted on 17 Jan 2012 by admin
Ditch-crawler's odds and sods
I've been perusing the new web site for the Faversham Creek Trust. It is an interesting development in that their aim is to train, utilise and release to the society in general trained and competent skilled shipwrights to continue the heritage of our coast. It is expected that many trainees would find work around the Thames estuary.

A building, the Purifier Building, built in Victorian times, has been acquired. A work force has already cleaned it out of debris. It is to be transformed into workshops and classrooms. Other activities and a coffee shop will follow.

The side of the Purifier building looking into Pent Basin from bridge over one of the creek's feeds in 2008.

The project is all part of a regeneration programme, a rescue plan, for the upper end of Faversham's creek: the creek created Faversham. The plan is to; restore the lock gates and sluice, dredge; rejuvenate the dock walls and associated areas which are incorporated in the plan. It sounds and looks exciting, and for one who has 'abused' in a literary sense the burghers of such towns, I applaud the efforts of this volunteer organisation. I shall visit in the summer.

The Pent with lock and bridge in distance photographed in 2008.

Plans are for the site to be used for traditional craft work, barges, smacks and yachts... The trust can be found at:

Some craft types that would fit the bill...

I forgot to mention, or did I? Hell, who cares: I'm correcting my possible lapse. An interesting picture site can be found at:
Gary has referenced my site as a link. He has been exceedingly good to me with the supply of several old postcard copies for book uses...

An article of mine came out in Anglia Afloat this last issue, Jan/Feb 2012. The magazine can be ordered at news agents, but is a worthwhile east coast magazine - it covers the whole of the Anglia region. A whole year is actually very cheap in comparison to other boating mags - classy too! They can be found at:

My article, about cruising with a proper dinghy, has already caused me to receive emails offering congratulating on the subject matter (and more besides). The article had picked up on some stuff I was yabbering about some months ago... It won't, however, be on the magazine's site for awhile though - others can be found!

Yesterday I took my boating pal from the island's (Canvey Island) other club out for a sail. We had a stomping tack up to that club's moorings before running out again as we enjoyed the birdlife (feathered variety) and our picnic boxes... The poor chap hadn't been afloat since a sail on Whimbrel last November - I'd have crumbled long before, in fact my mate oft tells me to go sailing as it 'clears your tetchiness' she says, charming!

The chap's boat is ashore for the winter and not due back in until late April or early May, but that regime is typical for many owners.

Leaving my little sloop after putting her to bed, temporarily, I hope, we headed home, striding with a fresh glow inside and outwardly beaming with big broad grins, two little imps!
Posted on 10 Jan 2012 by admin
Beagle thoughts
I had a cracking sail yesterday. It wasn't planned: it was supposed to have been 'breezy' but hey, reaching the boat and thinking, 'what the heck' I slipped a reef in the mainsail and away we went. On the way out a seal popped his head up for a look at me as I cleared the outer moorings. I got the distinct impression I was disturbing his feeding - a few fish got away, I'm sure!

I tacked all the way up to 'The Benfleet's' clubhouse before running back out. The wind was a wee bit shifty under the hills but I was kept warmed by the constant activity of short tacking. A couple were walking their dog and we kept pace with one another virtually the length of the wall from Two Tree Island.

There were a profusion of walkers, many with dogs; one lady had around four of them. None were beagles though. Why beagles? Well, I'd posted an email to the Beagle Trust on Friday: they're currently looking for a likely place to berth a replica vessel when it is built and are asking for comment. I suggested Chatham Docks: it would be an admirable place for the project to base itself. The east basin is undergoing a design makeover to mix waterfront properties with a working dock... Also, which to me is of importance, Darwin's famous book about evolution was written not a million miles away in the west of the county (Now, I believe, part of Greater London - shamefully).

If you haven't been to Darwin's house, and the garden that cemented his ideas, then go! A walk round the sea wall around Paglesham is of note too: here, under the saltings, the original Beagle is said to rest. Her last days were spent in Essex's River Roach as a guard ship for Revenue Officers and their families.

The trust can be found at

Anyway, I was sailing down the creek thinking of all of this as I chomped the last of my home made mince pies, luxuriating the taste of the additional brandy that had been stirred in a few weeks previous...

Clearing Two Tree Island I surged across to Leigh and ran down the shore from the cockle sheds to 'The Essex' before heading out towards the Thames proper. A dinghy was having problems staying up, but a safety boat was in attendance... On the way a squall came skittering across the water, the boat leant until her deck was awash. An eased main sorted that as I pelted out past Canvey's marsh point before turning in towards my own club, thus 'visiting' four yacht/sailing clubs on the tide - the Belton Way Boat Club too, if one wanted to be pedantic!

Thoughts of getting back onto my mooring ... tide running out ... west to northwest wind blowing me off the berth ... got to stop, grab line and...

It was an hour and a half after high water by the time I dumped the sails and pottered in slowly under power, wasting time. Shooting into my berth by then was easy: the boat just slotted into her hole and stayed put. It was a grand sail!

It was a reduced canvas grand sailing day like this...
Posted on 08 Jan 2012 by admin
Ditch-crawler gets afloat over Christmas period...
Firstly, my apologies to you all for disappearing from the ether ... my hosting failed for some unexplained reason as I was going to add some words before Christmas Day, but we're back on line!

It has been one of those indifferent periods over the festive season somewhat curtailing my planned jaunts out on the water. I did get away from the shore on several occasions though, which wasn't so bad.

I did miss one God given tide: although the forecast had been pretty horrible, with a little too much wind and showers, the day turned into one of those that would have been one to remember had I got out. It was Christmas Eve. We'd had a very late breakfast and by the time I got organised I was late for the tide... The mate and me had nice coffee out though and it's good to spend quality time with loved ones ... isn't it?

During one of my jaunts I actually left the mate tucked beneath the covers and drove to the boat at 0730 in the morning. Mad? Possibly, but it was well worth it. By the time I reached my humble clinker sloop the tide was making nicely up the rudder. The sails were readied in a well practised fashion and as the kettle whistled Whimbrel was about to pick up. The sun was lifting over the horizon beyond the island's marsh point.

A burst astern from my new diesel - it’s now done 5 hours since being fitted in October - and I was in the creeks stream... Sails were hoisted in a trice, well the mainsail: the jib was already up! The boat quickly broke the back of the incoming flood, gently at first, and then with more passion as the sails went to work. She soon steadied to a comfortable pace. A motor boat was seen coming in, slowly, 'too far over' I'd thought, and was correct because she'd gone aground on the hummock in that has built up down the centre/north of the channel.

Clearing the outer mooring run I caught my first full glimpse of the sky. It was stupendous and I thought how the mate would have loved it too. The sun had cleared the horizon and I stood for a few moments gazing in awe.

The sun rises beneath Whimbrel’s mainsail...

Where to I thought as without hesitation I'd put the helm over to trundle up to the other island yacht club by the bridge to Benfleet. It was a beat at times, well mostly actually, all the way up to the 'Benfleet's' clubhouse where I turned tail and ran back out again.

On the way up, passing the marshes of Two Tree Island and Marks Marsh, several flights of avocet had been seen as well as many marauding brent geese who had clearly been busy on the fields of the Salvation Army Farm. A few little grebes were spotted on the way back, diving over the shallows off Canvey's marsh.

It was a glorious sail. By the time most people (on holiday) would be thinking of breakfast, I was into another mince pie and coffee...

A couple of days after Boxing Day the mate came out with me for her single sail of the festive season ... it was a little grey above. A drizzle patch hit as we were thinking of dropping sail, hastening the operation. By the time we were back inside the creek the breeze had died and the sun was trying to make an appearance. On the way home it rained ... 'well timed' we had both thought!

Whimbrel's festive bonnet...
Posted on 04 Jan 2012 by admin
With the 'boy' and Santa's express...
I had gone to the creek to meet the boy, well, he's my boy, and the mate's too, but getting on in years a little now to be called the boy, but nothing changes and I expect I'm 'a boy' in my mum's eyes: I certainly am in the illustrious mate's sparklers! Anyway, the boy was meeting me to help finish some steps to a new section of jetty to which Whimbrel is moored.

The weather forecast was very good. Too good to leave the boat twitching and tugging at her mooring lines. We'd had a week of winds with white spume dancing down the Thames, so I had a further objective for the morning (The mate was having coffee with a friend in Southend ... and doing some quiet shopping...) The boy arrived as I was just finishing getting the boat ready for a sail ... before he got a word in I'd said, 'Why don't you come ... we can do the steps afterwards...'

The good lad welcomed the opportunity and shortly afterwards we were sailing out of the creek with the wind behind us. It was glorious with an exceptionally blue sky with a full winter sun reflecting around us. I thought of the camera sitting in the study at home - good place!

The boy had stolen the helm and I was not to get it back even when he'd taken a call from the captain of some container ship heading into some port ... wanting some info! 'Yes Sir...' he kept saying, all polite and businesslike... as I whispered watch the gybe ... and port a bit or whatever. Anyway, leaving the creek the boy spotted plumes of smoke issuing from a rapidly moving unseen object racing along under Hadleigh's downs. It was a steam train ... 'It's Santa's express...' the boy chuckled!

Now, at that point, I really did wish that I had that camera sitting on top of the office printer... It took me back to the early 1960s when the May Flower was sailed over from Kent and we spent a couple of weeks sitting off Leigh (Father used to travel to town by train to his office...) during the summer holidays. In those days the old London, Tilbury and Southend trains were still pulled by aging, wheezing steam engines: not the slick operating beauties seen today for today's engines are lavishly and lovingly pandered too! What a missed opportunity, a steam train whooshing along under the distant sea wall seen under Whimbrel's boom...

The Boy when a little yonger and captain of his own ship.

Reaching Leigh we cruised down abreast of the yacht club dinghy racks where many a little boat was being prepared for the water. Some were out. One was the doughty owner of Nancy Grey, the little barge yacht, which is based at Leigh-on-Sea. She lays up by the Belton Way Boat Club. The Nancy Grey's owner was sailing a charmingly sweet little dinghy which had a lightning flash shape in its sail (unknown class). There are, apparently around five of these little boats based at the Leigh-on-Sea SC now... The chap came towards us we had a natter. He'd bought the craft for two hundred and thirty pounds on a web site. It was giving him pleasure and it cost a pittance.

It reminded me of a question posed to me on BBC Suffolk last week: I was asked how much it costs to get on the water ... because the interviewer said, 'It's expensive hobby isn't it...?' I gave my views sucinctly: if a virgin boater falls into the sticky clutches of marketing men (or women) then, yes, it is likely to be jolly expensive.

I've been reading several articles in Anglia Afloat of late and the price of boats being branded as suitable for people to get started with or are suitable for young families is, quite frankly, frightening. There are a host of craft available second hand, third, fourth and more, which make eminently suitable 'first' buy boats and if the family don't like it they haven't an expensive millstone around their necks in a highly priced marina berth just sitting there as a comfortable base for the sea's tenacious barnacles and fauna...

We've all seen them, marina's that is, stuffed with craft that sit there, week after week, between lift in and lift out. There are a few around my own club like that and the boy made a comment about all the boats still in the water, yet, on such a fine day, nobody else was out!

Well, we sailed down to The Crowstone and out past the West Leigh Middle and deciding that the steps still needed to be completed on the jetty ... we ultimately headed into the creek again. We had two hours out. It was grand. The Brents were enjoying it out there too ... other visitors abounded and the knot didn't dissapoint: they swooped in tortuous twists before settling once more, however briefly. The boy was happy (he'd dipped the decks beneath a few times, texting his mum to tell her too...), I was positively beaming. He said he'd come on my planned Christmas morning sail if it was nice, Ah!
Posted on 11 Dec 2011 by admin
BBC Suffolk interview - Nick Ardley - Jottings of a Thames Estuary Ditch-crawler
Well this was another shot out of the blue: I haven't gained much in the way of credit beyond the Essex border, northwards, which is strange: a large chunk of the Suffolk coast sits in the greater Thames Estuary. I've tried to explain this to book shops in places such as Woodbridge for sometime now...

So, on Monday, I've to beetle up the A12 to that lovely town of Ipswich sitting at the top of the Orwell, or bottom of the Gipping depending on one's view point, and find my way to the studios of BBC Suffolk. I'm then to be cosetted on a comfy couch for an informal natter about books, the coast and me (I assume!) on the Lesley Dolphin afternoon show. The presenter is to be James Hazell that day: Lesley is off.

I'm told the interview runs between 3 p.m. and 3.30 p.m., so if you'd like to join me then I'd be absolutely delighted. I hope Lesley enjoys it too...

I'd better make sure I think of some nice things to say about Suffolk and not rabbit on about the Olympics coming to Constable Country, that's Essex of course, close to where the great artist painted his scene of the lower reach of the Thames looking past Hadleigh Castle... However, it's difficult not to think of many things: Suffolk's coast is a delightful place and I've only recently enjoyed, with the Mate, a break based in tranquil Orford, Oh boy, we enjoyed ourselves. It was strange visiting a place only previously entered through its salty doorstep.

We did the rounds to Walberswick, Southwold, Dunwich and Aldeburgh as well as few places inland too. While there we stopped somewhere near to Iken Cliff and went down a path for a walk along the shore. I'm planning to anchor in that spot some time in the future: it was so peaceful. The mate remarked about my tacking up towards Iken Church some years ago ... when she'd muttered, 'what's the use of engines if not used...' - Ha! (Told about in Mudlarking)

The sweet looking Blackthorn sitting amidst a serene scene beneath Iken Cliff, River Alde. Salt, marsh and mud ... fringes these tranquil and gentle hill sides round to the ancient church downstream. There the Dinah was seen tugging gently at her mooring buoy ... itching, perhaps, like I was to go down with the tide...
Posted on 30 Nov 2011 by admin
Kent Messenger visits Edith May for launch of 'The Jottings'.
This last Sunday the Kent Messenger sent a camera man to the Edith May to record the Kent launch of my latest book, The Jottings of a Thames Estuary Ditch-crawler. Nice chap too, chatty, loved the setting of the barge in the dock and he remembered me from a previous event at Baggins Books in Rochester a couple of years ago.

The sun came out after a wet blustery start to the day, but it had brightened as the tide made. It lit the setting of the barge in Lower Halstow's dock in a bright glow and its position next to the ancient village church was evocative: the sea reaches into that rural idyll ... it has that something special about it ... something few other places have...

The day went extremely well and many people flooded the saloon of the barge. Many of them stayed for refreshments or lunch in the cosy tea rooms laid out around the old hold. It all added to an ambiance, intimate and so right for the promotion of my estuary books.

We (that's the Mate and me) were treated royally by Geoff and Jane, from arrival to leaving. Coffee, hot chocolate, cakes, lunch and tea ... were dispensed with such warmth.

Before departing back to Essex I left a few signed books on the Edith May: I'm told some of those went before they closed up for the day... I'll have to get a few more copies to them, I realise!

Whilst aboard, I listened to so many people remarking about what a wonderful job has been done with the old barge. There were also exclamations of surprise about the old girl going off sailing in the summer... I grinned: that is the old girl's main role, surely!

I met the youngest daughter of the long time owners of the Sarah, a wooden Thames lighter. Their floating home was a companion vessel throughout my barging childhood (She is now hulked up Milton Creek). The lady (for that what she is now!) also lives close by and has had fairly regular contact with my mother. It was the lady's older siblings who were my particular buddies though. Strangely, three weeks ago I had contact from the daughter of one of these ... from the USA ... completely out of the blue. Wow!

Then, standing in front of me was a face, a face that recognised me and rang some bell inside my tangled memories ... there were two actually, a husband and wife who were trailing a daughter and two grandchildren... The couple were owners of the Oxygen, c1962 to mid 70s, and the first thing the chap said was, "You won't remember me ... I first saw you as a six year old with a paint brush ... on the barge in Whitewall Creek..."

As soon as the chap mentioned the Oxygen, I remembered visiting them when May Flower was anchored out off Harty during the late 1960s. It was after they'd moved to Oare. Their berth was east of the wreck of the wooden lighter, Bombay, seen on the starboard side going into Faversham Creek...

It went on like that: there was David and Dilys Renouf, of the Thames Barge organisation and more besides, who I have had contact with by email many times... There was a chap from Sheppey, David Holden, who is slowly 'recovering' from a rare leukaemia. He struck me as a special man and he's a local sailor from Queenborough who has sailed many miles offshore and round Britain. His love though clearly remains with the creeks and ditches of the Thames estuary. He told me that he is part of a group, a trust, fighting to take control of Queenborough Harbour ... more on that later.

What I was most gratified by, and humbled by too, was that a couple of visitors were looking to obtain the whole set so far... I'd run out of one book by then. Others wanted to make up there collections - I could only apologise...

My thanks go to you all ... I feel very humble indeed: I've only written about what I enjoy ... and I was thinking about all of this yesterday on a sail up Hadleigh Ray to the Benfleet YC and back home ... Brent geese lifted and dropped as I reached up past Two Tree Island under the downs ... Bliss.

Brents lifting off around me as I sailed below Hadleigh's downs with the Olympic bike course in the distance
Posted on 29 Nov 2011 by admin
Nick Ardley - Jottings of a Thames Estuary Ditch-crawler - book signing
Nick will be aboard the Edith May in Lower Halstow's dock on Sunday 27th November to talk about his books. This will be from around about opening to a little before closing time.

Copies of all titles will be available.

Older titles are £16.99 and the latest retails at £17.99. These are all excelent value with in excess of 120 illustrations in each. Cash or cheque please.

There was a superb book launch hosted by The Book Inn, Leigh-on-Sea, last night (Thursday eve). It was enjoyed by some seventy people and the proprietor was extremely pleased. There was a smattering of current and past Finesse owners all keen to get hold of Alan's (Platt) story.

I look forward to seeing many of my Kent readers on the barge where the food is good and the service comes with huge smiles ... Use it for a day to stretch the legs round to Twinney, Callows or Shoregate with a dish of Edward's bargeman's stew followed up with Jane's luscious cake afterwards.
Posted on 11 Nov 2011 by admin
The Edith May tea rooms
Well, I must say ... I had a gorgeous light lunch aboard a grand old Essex Girl based in Lower Halstow's old brick dock the other day (I was doing a shuttle run, collecting my mother for a weekend in Essex - ironically to participate in the last services in a 90 year old wooden army hut that has been in use as St Michael's church, in Daws Heath. We're getting a new Scandinavian style building soon...) I digress!

The Edith May in her winter wonderland

The grand old Essex Girl, of course, is the spritsail barge Edith May. She looked trim and proper. Masts were bare for the winter with wifts of smoke curling away from her chimney pipe ... Ah you could feel the warmth - there's lots of that: it not only comes from the fire and food, but the family themselves... Wow what a welcome you get!

The Edith May, after the removal of her sailing gear for winter overhaul sets a fresh course and sails on as a static tea room sat up on her blocks floating three or four tides each quarter. In this she proves to be something of a treat for locals, walkers and those who travel far to experience an experience of worth indeed.

Ambiance and good food dominate...

The cakes are sublime, the soups superb and the bargeman's stew is scrumptious, I'm told. The surroundings are like a floating cottage, full of maritime senuousness: the barge oozes spritsail sex appeal! The girls love her; men become childlike, pawing and patting as if meeting their first love; and kids look, agog, disbelieving of anything like this in their high tech multi-media lives.

Well, there we are: I enjoyed my lunch!
Posted on 07 Nov 2011 by admin
The Jottings of a Thames Estuary Ditch-crawler ... book launch
There is to be a book launch of my new book at The Book Inn, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on Thursday 10th November starting at 6.30pm.
Address: 49, Broadway West, SS9 2BX.
The shop is on the south side of the one way system leading to/from the Broadway. It is opposite the Library, the old red brick building, on the seaward side of the road.
Telephone Lara Wagstaff to register interest/place on 01702 716614. This helps with her planning.
Wine and nibbles are usually provided!
There is adequate parking on the roads around and is unrestricted after 6pm.
It would be great to see people during the evening.
Posted on 30 Oct 2011 by admin
The Jottings of a Thames Estuary Ditch-crawler
Well, it's being released this week, a Christmas book - thank you Campbell and Amberley Publishing.

I know some of you have been waiting for this for a little time: many keep asking, 'When's the next one ...?'

I certainly don't intend to let the series become something of a conveyor system: that wouldn't be good. One, I need a life! Two, it takes time and things need to be researched; and three, the anticipation, surely, heightens the taste buds. There are other issues too...

The book is described on my book page.

I have to say one thing, for some strange reason, the book feels like my first - if that's possible - for I have a heightened level of excitement building up. I always do, but as I say, this one feels different!

It has a slightly different structure, yet the seasons are followed as before. The main differences will be the inclusion of the history of Finesse Yachts, Alan's story, and a cruise in company with many of those that have gone before. Both are new explorations for me. There are fascinating stories about Northey Island and the sad demise of Milton Creek. There's more, much more, but that is for you to explore...


Constructive feedback would be nice too!
Posted on 23 Oct 2011 by admin
A sublime night in Stangate Creek
What a night ... the moon rose over distant Queenborough into a star studded sky. The moon was orange, the colour of the sun that had set earlier. It was subliminal.

From the marshes a light, barely moving air wafted a heady scent from the saline washed marsh plants on the saltings of Greenborough Marsh.

Around the boat twinkling lamps from many anchored yachts swung laziliy as crews moved, unseen, about their craft. Many of those lights though were of the back garden blue-white variety - not easy to see. A few were clearly paraffin, like ours, with a deep orange glow.

Our riding light twinkled.

It must be said at least two craft failed to display any light... Daft, in the extreme: four craft came into the anchorage late, well after dark. Why are people so dammed daft, eh? I'd seen one set of navigation lights come along the tide edge, circle and drop anchor while I was enjoying a laced coffee. She was nicely placed. The others had run in astern of her, in a line, and were seen in the morning, down the west side running towards the entrance to Sharfleet.

We'd had a gorgeous and tranquil sail over on Saturday afternoon fetching across the Thames and into the Medway with an easterly breeze, insufficient to create that famous lower reach lop. The breeze held until we reached Sharfleet, where it turned southerly and light. So, the new engine burst into life and we'd puttered slowly to our chosen spot.

A large yacht from New York state was anchored in the line we joined and, embarassingly, his camera was seen in action as we approached ... the next morning we enjoyed a few pleasantries as we slowly sailed past again. One of my own club were in the creek too - it's a rare sight to see two 'Island' boats in that anchorage together ... so while I was sailing in the dinghy (or trying to) I popped over for a natter - a beer ensued - before heading back to base.

Ah, but that night, it was tremendous. It wasn't that 'one in a million' we've seen from time to time, but for mid October - truly fantastic. We both felt a satisfied glow as the doors were shut and hatch slid over for the night...

Leaving quietly...

Leaving in the morning I counted around twenty-five craft spread around. Where were all the rest? Well, perhaps not all!
Posted on 17 Oct 2011 by admin
Nick's new Yanmar engine from French Marine
During the summer a previous problem reared its head again - slippage within our gearbox/clutch unit made manoeuvring difficult into marina berths and when we went up to St Katharine Dock. This was especially so for the mate ...

The problem had been looked at some years ago and after adjustments it had been 'good' for a while. We were told then that it would probably rear its head again ... it had been playing up for a period of time, but, alas, it got rapidly worse.

French Marine Motors gave a price for renewal of gear unit and when I asked for a ball park on overhaul of the 28 year old engine and descaling of seawater passages (direct cooled unit) the numbers were rapidly climbing sky-wards.

The mate thought about a new engine, I sucked in through my teeth, long and hard, but 'French' had Yanmar 2YM15s on offer. The deal was soon struck ...

So, dashing to the creek from work on a glorious day for sailing, a Tuesday, the boat was lifted out. The engine came out on Wednesday, I cleaned bilges
(only a modicum of crud: I clean regularly) and applied primer touch up as required. Painting, bilge red, the next day.

The engine bay ready to receive the new engine.

Three days after lift out the new engine arrived - that was Friday. Ably helped by the 'old' ships boy (Son), it was soon in. After a hiccup with the old holding down bolts the engine was roughly aligned. By Saturday lunch time it was all aligned and buttoned up ... leaving just the exhaust and pipe clipping ... That was Monday's project: it required complete renewal.

By Tuesday it ran...

I'd had to fit an up-sized hull fitting and 'bin' my bronze filter, replacing it with a plastic one - I'm not a lover of plastic on boats, however it does the job and looks quite snazzy with all new see though hoses, and is easy to get to where I've mounted it!

The new engine fitted.

Some little jobs were done around the hull and the old girl slid happily back into the water yesterday (Saturday). The old girl had dried a little: she was out during the late September and early October heatwave with a maximum of 29.9 deg up the road from us ... it had been dry too, although it made the job pleasant and there had been no risk of getting held up if nothing else.

Heading for the water. Club house beyond tractor unit with the Thames beyond that. Astern, unseen, is the club's slipway ... to paradise.

On Sunday's tide the mate had a run through the new engine: her mind was absent except for the starting and stopping bit ... 'It's all I need to know,' she said!

It was funny: I heard the mate having a conversation as she stepped aboard the boat ... with the boat that is. She patted her, affectionately, reassuring her, I think... Before lift out the mate had told me to tell the boat what was happening ... Hmm!

I smiled quietly - both times!
Posted on 09 Oct 2011 by admin
Nick loves proper little tenders
Tenders, how many yachts carry a decent tender these days? the answer, if you're having to think about it, is few.

I've written a little about this before and an article in a regional magazine is due to be published later in the autumn. Again this summer I watched horrified as overloaded tiny little infltables splashed by with water soaking all and sundry, stores and all. Heads would look at my boat's hind end and fingers would point to the cocky little tender floating patiently behind her, waiting for her next call. No I can't store her on deck. Most boats over or around 10m could stow something similar though.

I can hear people shouting about towing round the coast ... our forefathers did it. Offshore, well that could be different, but if I went 'forin' hopping across to mainland Europe I'd have to do it! A little bit of effort is all it takes ...

During the summer I made great pains to look more closely at what I've already observed - that paucity of proper little tenders. Now, around the Walton Backwaters and, to some extent, the Orwell, tenders of the proper sort can be seen tugging along behind the mother ship often. Elsewhere, not so.

I was in Brightlingsea, I'd just dropped my own little boat's lugsail when a super thing passed by. She was being wafted along in a light air. The chap could have been me: he had that look oft described by my mate. It was a look of supreme satisfaction and contentment. The boat is shown below ...

Then there was the afternoon when I arrived in Pyfleet ... " ... well I never," I thought as I gazed across the water at a largish modern cruising yacht, but not excessively so. She had one of those dinghies that bolt together sat on her foredeck. Those designs types were once very popular before the advent of the rubber flubbers ... It look the business too and I bet she had a little sail to compliment her pedigree.

Two part dinghy on fore deck of modern cruiser.

Later in the summer I was in Conyer. Along the pontoon sat a lovely gentleman's motor yacht. In her davits was a super little clinker dinghy, pram bow and centre plate slot, "Ooh ..." I intoned, adding, "... a man from my own heart ..." as my mate waited patiently for me.

Here she is. "Sweet, aint she!"
Posted on 23 Sep 2011 by admin
Nick Ardley's new book
Life on the water has been a little quiet this past week or so. On a fine day last week I did get away for an idylic work up towards the Benfleet YC, a run out then a reach across to Leigh, run to the Essex YC, out to the West Leigh Middle and work up to the outside pontoon of my Island club before heading home, berthing some 20 minutes before the tide left me glued to the bottom.
It hasn't been just the wind/weather, the small need (by my publisher) for me to answer questions, proof check illustrations and then finally the whole book - the new book - has kept me cocooned away. When I say cocooned, what I really mean is that I'm not near the boat!
It's strange going back over my words again ... the odd mistake rears up from time to time, though, apart from some punctuation, my editor had few queries this time round, most not needing my thoughts. I came across a lot of bits and thought: 'wow did I write that?' Hey ho!
On Sunday, with the mate, I went over to Foulness Island, hoping to get on. There was a cycle event and the radio had said, do come, the heritage centre is open ... but alas the place was only open to cyclists. Normal open day is the first Sunday of each month. But, if you land at the old barge quay on the Roach there is a public right of way to the village of Foulness. They can't stop you walking the path, I was told. They, of course, are MOD security personnel. And the one I spoke to was a very helpfull chap!
Anyway we ended up poking around the top end of Barling Creek at Little Wakering and gazing inland at the waterway's old inland course. They say Canvey Island is low, yet much of Little Wakering is a bowl waiting to be filled.
The creek was marked by a series of posts that lead up to a, I thought, a winter berth by its head, and something was very wrong. The mate had said, 'Look some of the posts have green top marks...' I looked and couldn't see any. Silly me I was looking at the wrong ones: the marks are on the wrong side of the channel! Local knowledge, I suppose!
The mate made a comment about remembering that, when we sail up ... in the full expectation of our doing so at some time or other. She still has a fresh memory of us diverting from a tack whilst sailing up the Thames and hooking into Dartford Creek. The tide run seemed to show me the way, so in I went... We turned a short time later beneath the dam, barrier, infernal thing blocking a natural waterway and reached back out. Opposite is the Mardyke ... but it comes out of the wall with a footbridge acoss the little bit that's left and Whimbrel wouldn't fit, so we'd carried on to Erith for the night...
Ah well, memories of sailing crop up all the time. Don't they just!

Sailing into Dartfod Creek - we turned on the leg up to the barrier (The mate was scowling at me by then!)
Posted on 13 Sep 2011 by admin
Nick's Medway flit
With my big brother over from Canada for our mum's 80th bash on the Edith May - wow what a grand day that was too - I had the opportunity to take him for an overnight flit to Upnor from my Canvey Island base. So he beetled over to Essex on the train ... for the sail back again! I dropped him the next day at Queenborough before 'flying' back across the Thames with a cracking quartering breeze, sailing into Smallgains Creek 2 1/4 hours after leaving Queenborough YC'c floating pontoon...

On the way up the Medway we had a soft little breeze, enough to break the back of the tide and get up to the Medway YC before dusk. Dusk, yeh, it's coming earlier and earlier at this time of the year. The subject of Hoo came up... Big brother knows all about Hoo having scuttled about the area when a but a lad.

During the summer I had my usual gander along towards the old fort, beyond the remains of the fruit schooner Rhoda Mary rotting away on the mud flats close into the beach. Then through along past Brice' and then Lapthorn's wharves through to Buttercock Wharf and the barge graveyard a little east - my brother was staggered by the numbers of old girls now resting in that little nook. It's my belief that the hulks have been arranged to act as a breakwater. In time all will rot away, but in the mean time mud will build up and marsh should take hold.

While I was in and around the boatyard at that eastern end looking at its eclectic array boats, ranging from yachts to live aboards that were once small coasters, did my annual barge survey... In amongst that lot is the Niagara, now in the water and on the way to being rigged out. I hear that she is to be hard rigged for racing ... with a bowsprit, as I hear too that the Melissa is to be rigged with during the winter. The poor old Ena looks sad and neglected. What is her future, I wonder.

The one big bro' was intersted in was the Defiance. She's been a little cut up lately...

I saw her with her new transom, which I think looked better than her previous. Her old transom and around a metre of her hull sat in the drydock bottom where it had been placed after being severed from the ship ... this was done to bring the vessel to a mm or two below 24m... and thus be classed as a yacht and not needing a 'special' skipper!

On the way down river I pointed out Otterham Creek away in the distance: he was looking towards our old home village of Upchurch, where the Westmoreland has been taken. Someone had told me (up on the barge river - Blackwater) that the old girl had been removed from her dry dock and placed in the marshes ... tosh ... what do they know ... Kent's becoming the barge rebuilding centre now...

As can be seen she's still high and dry awaiting work. The team who have 'got' her have not given up on grants or sponsorship (Where are all you brick companies ... these girls helped make your millions in the past - even Boris should be interested: these humble craft, and she's the last of a type, built most of the London Victorian and Edwardian streets...)

Suffice to say that it was an enjoyable flit and I was able to send big bro' away, back to Newfie, happy, with more Medway memories and stuff to gable about to his family.
Posted on 07 Sep 2011 by admin
All at sea ... Nick helped Timothy Spall depart ...
Towards the end, well the penultimate day in fact, of our summer cruising we fetched up in one of our favourire little watering holes ... Queenborough. We needed water! Our last top up had been 6 days earlier at St Katharine Docks.

Later, after luncheon, I rowed to the floating pontoon in the tender to fetch the first batch of water. Coming alongside, I was hailed from the open wheelhouse of a Dutch type barge by a loose shirted gentleman, his sleeves turned up in a theatrical manner, topped with a loose waistcoat. The kind hearted chap thought I'd needed help... Now I've been climbing in and out of dinghies of varying size for 55 years, but haven't quite reached the chair lift stage yet!

Failing to find the water tap ... another person ... Shane, I think, on the vessel pointed me some metres up the walkway where it had been placed after the recent breakage of the structure. On the way, my mind had worked overtime: I thought the face, of the man who'd hailed, familiar in some way ... I remained puzzled for a little longer.

I was back on the pontoon for my second fill-up before I'd twigged. The chap was the actor who'd played a cricket club captain in a TV sitcom - for me a very enjoyable programme. Well that's what I remember him from, but I understand he played a part in Harry Potter film too!

Dropping my water canisters into the dinghy the 'lady of the tap', had called out, asking if I could flick their bow line clear of a cleat... I said, passing the mooring line, 'Look me up on' She called something back ... but it was lost in the commotion of boat movements.

A man was then seen filming ... he confirmed that it was Timothy Spall's boat. I then learnt that he'd been doing a protracted round Britain trip - '...good on you...' I thought. Spall - All At Sea...

Some friends from my club were approaching on their sailing cruiser (apparently they didn't want the bother of blowing up their rubber dinghy...) as the barge departed so, as I took their lines, I warned them to keep smiling and look seamanlike: they were by then in line with Spall's barge and were clearly on camera!

Back aboard Whimbrel I watched as the Dutch barge rounded Queenborough Spit and set forth up the Medway. That was around early afternoon. Relating all I'd seen to the mate, she enlightened me about Spall's HP part ... cor, I should have known that, surely!

I was flabbergasted to hear the next day that they had been 'rescued' from Stangate Spit (or thereabouts) at around 2130 the evening before... Second time around, he made it!

A view across Burntwick Island, a little upriver from Stangate Spit. Stangate must be one of the East coast's most idylic anchoring spots. Its birdlife cannot be bettered. It has seals too... It has old barge hulks, wharves and much historical interest, besides ... safe anchorages.

All East Coaster sailors have been on the mud from time to time ... you just wait for the tide and have a cup of tea ... lots of cups ... or maybe get out the broom and surreptitiously look as if you're tickling up the boat's bottom...!

If you read this Timothy, no hard feelings mate, the Medway mud is something I've known from childhood: it's pretty harmless stuff.

Perhaps you'd like to read my Thames Estuary books...
Posted on 29 Aug 2011 by admin
Southend Barge Match 2011
Hi all, the mate wanted to invade a high street store good for knickers and such ... so a suggestion of a picnic and convivial chattererings about which was what and what was going on from her grounded skipper about barges out on the Thames convinced her ... about the picnic anyway!

SIX barges turned out ... well that was the same as could let go their moorings and make it out for the Medway in mid June... Ah, when I was a boy...

Anyway here are a series of pictures relating the events as they came to a conclusion. They were taken with my 40x Cannon camera - a stronger lens was really needed - from the beach by the hosting club's dinghy rack/slipway.

The EDME approaching the last mark for the run for home... Hhhhh ... first in class. I understand that next year the Xylonite will be refurbished, stripped out and set to challenge this east coast greyhound... The Niagara too, a bird tweeted...

The mighty Melissa bounding towards the final mark - seeming to match, almost, the fleet footed EDME ... wow what could she do with a bowsprit? First in class and well done for coming down from Pin Mill.

The Medway's lovely Edith May taking the gun off the pier - those barnacles need cleaning off Ed! Second in class.

The very correct and sweet looking Marjorie, the Medway's other lady, passing the Leigh buoy... Second in class.

The Adieu luffing for the last mark ... she'd seemed bound for Holland (or the pier) before a sudden change of course towards Leigh. It was as if they'd decided they were still in the race! She's one of my favourite looking barges... Third in class.
My mate has long got used to me oggling barges ... better than gazing wide eyed at the other females in this world...!

The Lady of the Lea sailing direct for the pier ... well done sir ... don't think she made the West Nore Sand buoy... The Alice, Henry and Whippet are more her size - pity they're not racing, in area or even sailing - as the case may be!

The Adieu taking the last gun of the day off the pier ... third in class. The rest of the fleet are in view gathered round the pier head.

Results are from observation and not the officials.
Posted on 28 Aug 2011 by admin
A barge's bob flutters aloft again - May Flower 1888 to 1989 - on the Edith May
The family took our mum out on a barge for an early 80th present. We chose Lower Halstow's beauty: Geoff and Jane Gransden's lovely Edith May. It was apt for both she and the May Flower raced alongside each other in the early 1960s. It was a grand day with it being an absolute surprise for mother, especially as all had kept from her that No.1 son was coming over from Newfoundland. For our mother that was probably the best bit ... ah!
My mate had put together a replica of May Flower's bob. It can be found in Fred Cooper's book Racing Sailorman. It was a Black 'A' on a yellow back ground with a royal blue fly with four white dots (the crew my parents bred for the barge...) It flew proudly from Edith May's sprit end and, true to the real thing, it crackled as it fluttered. I must admit ... it was a little heart wrenching seeing it up aloft again.

May Flower's bob flutters aloft again... Here we were on a run, but later it streamed out cracking to the Thames' breeze.

The mate and I had earlier puttered into the dock early on the tide to collect the May Flower's long standing mate - the tides were neaps and that morning it didn't make so we only just did it. (Mum's return was by the Gransden's barge boat...)
Mother had a slow sail out over the Cant for lunch and champagne at anchor in towards the shore before, with an enterprising breeze, she went back to Essex tramping across the Thames as Edith May got into her stride ... reenacting passages made on the May Flower many times over two and half decades from 1951.
We had a buffet lunch and everyone was very impressed with the catering led by Jane and the barge's excelent cook, Mary.
I'm home now - by the way - after a six week cruise around the East Coast's rivers, creeks and ditches...
Posted on 27 Aug 2011 by admin
Essex Learning Service staff meeting over ... now to play!
Ah the joys of part time work and be able to lead a mostly stress free life. This came to me earlier than most and it wasn't what was wanted either. However I've come to enjoy it: it opened doors and set me on my new course. That was ten years ago now... So with all thoughts (well maybe there's a modicum drifting about) of personal development and other such stuff safely tucked up - I'm free!

Many of you will probably think I live a life of riley - the family think it any way. I'm off back to the boat on Saturday with the mate, though she has to return to the grindstone ... to leave me drifting around - alone. It's un-thoughtful in the extreme: a man needs his comforts!

I am planning to leave the Deben on Monday and make my way southwards to the Walton Backwaters, a little piece of paradise, tucked into the bosom of the Tendring Peninsular. If the Anglia Afloat motor boat cruise made it away (no reason why not) I may meet up with them: ex editor Paul Thomas said,' drop in on us...' I'd explained, tongue in cheek, that I do use my engine from time to time!

Coming into the Deben a few weeks ago could have been hairy - well it was for a brief moment - because a mist came down and obliterated the inner buoy as I closed the outer ... it was a weird experience sailing along in a bubble of sunshine surrounded by fluffy cotton wool. Inside, in the river proper, the mist rolled off the land along the mud flats. Janet Harber told me later that she came in under her GPS and plotter. I don't have the latter...

In the spirit of the RYA long term policy of members taking people afloat, my regular crew for a boys outing is on the agenda the following weekend with a planned pick up at Bradwell on Thursday evening: anything is possible from there. We may go to the Crouch via the Rays'n, attack Burnham, and pop back up to Brightlingsea for the Saturday with a not too adversarial hop back to Bradwell for the chap to motor home, bristly, hoary and in need of a shower!

I first took the chap sailing many years ago now ... he took to it like a duck to water and just loves it. I think the variety of waterside taverns helped enormously though!

My sister popped a sentence into a conversation recently, 'Oh, doodah would like a sail ... my walking companion ... I told her you've two cabins ... we could share. (Sorry - the two girls that is folks!)! My mate appears to have sanctioned it... The girl's brother lives, and possibly sails too, somewhere up the Norfolk coast. Wells or Brancaster ... but not as high up as Burnham Overy. I love those places too!

Burnham Overy and its half tide quay - take a look you people of Bradwell (Especially Maldon District Council), your old barge quay could look like this too. Can't you get it fixed? Maybe the builder of the next power station could be coerced into doing it.

Taking people out on our craft should be something we should all do from time to time. It not only gives pleasure. It’s also giving something back and it may awaken the desire, in others, to learn about sailing and then go out to explore on one’s own. Done sensibly a new shipmate could be born, to take the place when others can't. It’s good to have a reliable helm, picker up of moorings and sail hauler. Basic chart work follows as does the plethora of other stuff. And when your new crew sails the boat onto a mooring buoy for the first time the elation, from both, is grand indeed!

My Bradwell chap is my second different crew (other than the boat's mate) this season so far... The mate will be with me soon after ... and she can't wait!

Oh yes, the MG is fixed - apparently an air lock/boil over - no damage, didn't overheat, holds a vacuum. I drive with trepidation, building my up my faith in her, but she's a lovely thing...
Posted on 14 Jul 2011 by admin
Nick Ardley's new book delivered to publisher...
Aha, so this is what I came home for - an appointment with my publisher down in Stroud.

What a journey ... almost as bad as an attack in the Wallet with over-falls stuffed in for extras.

I set off last Thursday to deliver my manuscript, pictures and artwork for my new book - all went swimmingly after the early ebb held me up on the outer swatch (M25). I'd checked in the back of the car (MGTF) for any signs of trouble on a convenient sand bar (Clacket Farm) and thought good thoughts about the little thing: she’d had a new head joint fitted last month.

Ha! Silly wasn't I: it wasn't long before I spotted the wavering temperature gauge. A stop showed the first signs of my problems. '...was I going to make it to Stroud?' I'd mused, my head swimming with all the hassles to come.

Finally I'd used all my water up. It was somewhere near Tetbury. Going along slowly, nursing the poor thing, I was forced off the road - literally - by a huge 4x4... 'This is worse than the Wallet on a bad day!' I thought.

I spotted a sign for an industrial unit ... 'MOTs and Servicing' it said, so nursing the poor little thing along I pitched up and dropped anchor...

'Trouble...' someone said, taking a look at the hot little thing. He quickly added, 'Boss will be back in a moment...' This was all in the local lilt.

Anyway, the proprietor must have felt sorry for me and immediately dangled a set of keys for a battered old VW Golf saying, 'Get off for your meeting ... you can sort out on your return...' I'd already called the AA and they were booked to pick the little one up...

I had the meeting with my publisher and all is safely in his care.

News on expected dates will follow as they are firmed up. It will either be immediately prior to or after Christmas.

While visiting the little baby in hospital and being close to Rochford I popped over to Sutton Wharf for a look around. First I had a gander into the Wakering YC. I had a natter with the rear commodore and saw several members slowly getting on with outfitting. The Rear Com was a pleasant and helpful chap who gave me some info on what was happening around their patch and of their attempts to keep silt at bay... They're a self-help club like my own, the Island YC.

I then ambled into the Sutton Wharf Boatyard... Here I found a site deeply at work: not playing. The boss man, director Graham Carter, was able to give me a little of his valuable time. After a short talk he invited me to book an appointment for a longer natter later in the year... I went away with a nice feeling! Graham has promised to talk about his gradfather's founding of the place.

The workman-like slip at Sutton Wharf.

Up Broomhills, a deadend creek, the yard strives to serve the fishing, boating and yachting community. It had a friendly, open feel with an expanse of grass down stream of the slip which gave a rural feel too.

Of course, with the mate, I have sailed up to that spot ... it was related in Mudlarking.
Posted on 11 Jul 2011 by admin
A mighty new Thames barge yacht is born
I was on the River Blackwater, on my up to the Orwell, and had stopped off at that lovely watering hole of Bradwell-Juxta-Mare, because my crew - a brother - hadn't been there. Well, I didn't need that excuse though...

Up on the hard standing of the boat yard was a thing of extreme interest. To me it, sorry, she, had a sublime beauty. Although looking heavily pregnant out of the water, the above waterline curves, sheer and very barge like transom gave her a purposeful and shapely look. She looked right. The owners hope and expect her to be so too.

Ali and JP's barge with no name...

At the moment she is known as 'the barge with no name' and it is going to remain a family secret until her 'christening' when rigged and ready to sail... To me that is both touching and sweet.

The barge was built inland at Worcester by Lambon Hull, the builders of the new river barge Defiance (more on her shortly). She'd arrived in Bradwell that very week on a low loader which had had an interesting passage through the wilds of the Dengie.

The barge's owners, JP and Ali Lodge, currently own the little barge yacht, Elizabeth Anne, berthed on the edge of Tollesbury saltings. The new barge is to take her place ... so Elizabeth Anne is likely to come onto the market sometime in the near future...

The Elizabeth Anne at her moorings at Tollesbury.

Talking to JP, I asked if he was going to try and enter the barge matches ... maybe he should carry a token cargo... Then maybe she'll be recognised... The little Dinah is! (As is the Whippet - by the Medway barge committee...)

JP sent me a batch of pictures taken whilst the barge was being built. The shots were taken by the firm’s partner, Ian Hillsdon. He and Steve Lambon, the other partner, have done a superb job.

The transom laid out...

The barge's hull nears completion...

I would have liked to see a little rise in her flat bottom towards the stem and less of a 'chine' at the turn into the sides at the fore end, but that area will be under water and its the top which matters most - for looks. The bottom keeps the water out to stay afloat. Her long chines will allow her to track and sail...

I can't wait to see her!

Back to the Defiance: apparently she has had a few centimetres cut out of her length to bring her below the point at which she would have needed a registered barge skipper. It’s an MCA thing too...
Posted on 05 Jul 2011 by admin
Ah, oh to be away from home ... on upper Thames estuary waters...
It was nearly two weeks ago now when I left the mate at home, slaving away, and took my kid brother (well he's 50’ish and possibly no longer a kid, but ... like me he loves a potter in the tender!) I was away initially to attend an RNSA do up on the Orwell at the Haven Ports YC and a very gracious welcome they gave us - the food was great too. Thank you! The mate came up by car for that...

The crew and me then went round to the Deben River for a leisurely creep around, poking into some of the lesser frequented places ... though as sailors' on that river will know there aren’t that many offshoots - unlike the Medway. My crew had sailed the river frequently in his Albacore dinghy - an early 1950s vintage, but had wanted to come in from the sea. Over The Bar!

Well it was easy - one of the easiest and laziest entrances I've made. We had a following wind, out-sailed a Westerly 34, and too, a looming mist that heightened the tension - briefly: the Mid Knoll buoy disappeared, momentarily as we were approaching the East Knoll...! It only goes t show that even on the smoothest of passages, and especially into the Deben, one must never dismiss the elements.

On one of the days we wandered slowly into Martlesham Creek, probably only a place that craft using it go: two men ashore and a lady on a house boat (big wooden motor cruiser) were surprised to see us ... they'd been watching our approach for quite some time, expecting us to come to grief along the torturous channel - but it was a rising tide and we touched not once... It is superbly buoyed and full marks needs to go to the yard or boat owners...

When I was alone (Oh dear...) I tacked and reached up the winding channel to Wilford Bridge - just for the pure hell of it. Actually it was a sublime sail in near perfect conditions, turning a shade before high water and it is well buoyed too. Passing the boatyard up near Melton I did receive some looks of consternation - they'll remember the boat next time!

Approaching Wilford Bridge - I'd just dumped the jib...

I went up to the bridge because my boyhood sailing home took a cargo of road stone there about 110 years ago ... the log said 140 tons!

Then the following day, with time and tide in favour I took the dinghy to the top of Kirton Creek. Had a poke around the remains of the spritsail barge Three Sisters and sailed to the top, where the man made obstruction - a dam - prevents further passage inland. Close by was a lovely stretch of shingle and sand - where land meets the sea, naturally.

Looking across the water at the Three Sisters as I left her to the company of some swans.

The mate came up for the weekend and we had a glorious evening up in Woodbridge ... then, sadly, we packed the boat up and left her at Waldringfield on a buoy belonging to the friendly yard on the old cement works quay - thanks Andrew...
Posted on 04 Jul 2011 by admin
Thames sailing barges - more on Westmoreland, May Flower & Arrow from 1961
I found this in my collection...

It is the start of the 1961 Medway barge Match. The Westmoreland seems to be leading the fleet over the line.
Barge in foreground thought to be Arrow, when owned by the 'Barge Club', and to LHS is the May Flower ... my childhood home. We were the only sailing home taking part - even then!
Westmoreland came home 1st, Arrow 3rd and May Flower somewhere near the tail...
Posted on 22 Jun 2011 by admin
Item from 13 May 2012

It's Friday and on Friday's I usually scoot round the house giving it a pre-weekend lick. I'd not attacked the normal start point as I usually did and the mate, nearing the moment she needed to toddle off to her school, had spotted this and she said, 'What you up today then...?'
'Think I'll go for an early sail and do the chores later...'
'Thought you had something planned...' she murmured wheeling her stuff towards the door...
So that is what I did. And it was one of those mornings that it would have been silly to spurn.
I left with the boat just afloat by around 5-10 minutes, cleared the mooring and hoisted the mainsail. Gybing round off the finger berths I soon had the genoa up and pulling. Boy it was gentle, I left the helm to put the kettle on and before I'd cleared the creek it had sung out and my coffee was in my hand ... with aromas drifting around the cockpit...
Clearing the outer moorings, in Smallgains Creek, I sailed by a band of brents - late leavers. Our terns had appeared nearly a month ago. Out on the river, near the West leigh Middle Buoy, was a sailing ship lying to her hook. It was an evocative sight sitting in a haze so I grabbed my camera from my 'boat bag' to catch it and a few of the brents too.

The wind was a little fickle at times, flukey too even, so I wended my way westwards: it was a gentle tide with time to take in the birdlife as I worked through the moored craft and mud banks barely covered, ditch-crawling. Many of the winter species have long gone, but along Two Tree Island the avocet were active as were the terns. I spied a couple of the dreaded Canada geese too. We don't suffer from them greatly in these parts - but for how much longer, I wonder? Oh well!
Soon after I'd made my turn for home, a little after highwater, a fresher breeze popped up and for a short while I enjoyed a stiffer sail. It was not enough to slop the coffe though...
By the time I reached my mooring the breeze had died again ... my little soupcon had filled me with all that is good with life ... ah!
Posted on 21 Jun 2011 by admin
Other things I do - but definitely not working
This is a replacement for an earlier news item.

One of the things I do, other than go sailing, is take care of the port and starboard navigation buoys that mark the way into our creek. I had renewed the chains on two of the buoys during late winter/early spring and the others were in dire need of dealing with.
Last week the tides were right to drop the new chains close to the buoys with a good period of day time to do the mud work. This was done with another keen club member using one of the club's work boats. We also dropped a new east cardinal buoy off the Island's point too to replace an older model.
Early the next day we trudged out over the mud/sand mixture and did our stuff... The surface is very hard on the whole with nothing more than an above ankle softness... There are many that would consider the stuff to be a good skin tonic!
The tides were springs and the ebb had bottomed at a level unseen for an exceedingly long time. We were able to drop down into the bed of the Ray Channel and walk round the mouth of our creek, sitting a metre or so above us ... it was uncanny ... ditch-crawling by foot! The footing was hard clay with clay rubble here and there, like pebbles and such. It was fascinating!

The creek buoys, by the way, are jointly sponsored by the Island Yacht Club and Smallgains Marina

We had a lengthy trudge across the flats, through beds of mussel and oysters, past the debris of a post WW2 ship breaking site that inhabited the point many moons ago to reach that buoy. There is a paraphernalia of debris littering the flats. A selection is as follows: rusting steel water tanks; the bottom of a landing craft and a bow door; a chunk of barge leeboard; the bottom timbers of, probably, a spritsail barge: the rise of her bottom floors is visible; and there many other things too amongst a host of bricks - from a slipway, perhaps. The buoy is laid to the east of all of this!

The cardinal buoy marks the eastern end of Canvey's Point Marshes, once an extensive swathe of grazing land... The buoy marks the quickest route to the Thames, although the Ray Sand, or Marsh End Sand as it used to be known, is almost pan handle flat with a merest of height rise to a shell bank southeast of the point. The bank can, some years, be a little higher. A good course is around 210 deg until the Thames opens westwards. However, once I'm clear of my mud berth there is nothing eastwards sticking up higher than that level - so little worries me! Not such a long time ago a swatchway ran over the flats off this point, but alas...

Ah, the things that have to be done ... and I gave up a couple of sails for this too!

See the Island YC web site for my sketch chartlet of Benfleet Creek (Hadleigh Ray) up to the Benfleet YC too. It usually comes up on a google/yahoo or other search against 'nick ardley'...
Posted on 21 Jun 2011 by admin
The Westmoreland & Faversham's future
Whilst over in Kent recently I toured the waterfronts looking for the Westmoreland, the last remaining 'brickie' in the country. I found her after driving down an old track that once served an industry before it became the local 'dump' or landfil site - it had been a big hole in the chalk. The chalk (and Medway mud...) went into thousands of tons of cememt
The Westmorland sits alongside a wharf that once served the Falcon cement works in the parish of Upchurch. I thought what a grand spot. Loads of space ashore ... it could be made into something ... something good. The wharf has open access to Otterham Creek and the deeper water of Half Acre Creek is nearby... Better water than Faversham's muddy ditch and it's going to worsen there if nothing is done...
My thoughts turned to '...perhaps this a good place for Faversham's barges to decamp to ... Faversham - well the landlord - is turfing their barges away...' Standard Quay is changing, and... '...could this little corner of Kent offer a new home...?'
It seems that Standard Quay is likely to become a 'Disney like' attraction on Mud... How soon will it be before the marsh takes a hold along the quays where once good works were done... Look upstream alongside once busy wharves... Maybe the owner wants a 'stuffed' barge to show off to the visitors...
One wonders: maybe once the real activity that MUST surround a barge, or barges, has gone the visitors will stop wandering down to the waterfront too... I'm watching with interest... Probably attract a different sort ... the type who couldn't care less about our rich maritime heritage and just want a few minutes of self gratification...

The Westmoreland in Cambria's old home. Her renewed (c20 years ago) forward hull looked to be in good condition - I'm sure Colin Frake has already decided what's what... A man said that Colin has been at work on the barge nad that his containerised workshops were on site.

I shall sail into the creek during the summer and pay the place a visit ... the creek has an interest in its own right in any case.

My memories of the Westmoreland go back to the 1962 Thames and Medway barge matches - it's about the time I really can remember. She had sails to die for, unlike May Flower's home made mainsail...

Will we see her jousting with her remaining sisters on those two rivers again...? In two years time perhaps? Wonderful!
Posted on 20 Jun 2011 by admin
The Essex Discovery Coast
On the news this morning I heard something I've often bleated and waxed lyrical about (and others too). The bigwigs who sell Essex have come up with a name for our part of the east coast sailing ground, Essex - The Discovery Coast...

Well, as you can imagine, I grinned at the mate, as she looked at me across the breakfast table, as I thought, '...its more, the mystical coast ... or, the magic coast...' Hey Ho!

Whatever is said about the coastline of Essex, its beauty can only truly be seen from the water... Us sailors know that well!

Coming into or leaving Maldon, an Essex icon on the River Blackwater, is often magical and for me ranks high.

If asked for my treasured spot, I'd have to be honest and say I'd struggle to answer the question, but the views sailing up under Hadleigh's downs, in South Essex, amongst the maze of marshes beneath in winter must be one of them though.

Having walked around Mucking and Fobbing recently and looking at dead creeks, I was interested in the BBC Springwatch programme featuring Pitsea marshes and the tip that has only five years to run. It's to be turned into a reserve - apt since it was once low grazing, marsh and salt marsh...
Posted on 14 Jun 2011 by admin
Medway Barge Match 2011
We sailed over from our moorings on Canvey Island, creeping out as soon as the flood permitted and reached directly towards the Grain Flats some miles across the estuary. It was an estuary that sparkled intermittently between clouds that threatened, but didn’t send down a deluge from the odd dark one! It was the eleventh of June and both of us were clad in oil skins: weird because of the particularly warm and dry spring...

It was an hour after high water as we crossed the flats in 3m of water. Two other boats following had gone right round the swatch buoys as if following a GPS designated course, both faster than us, but with being in the ebb's grip soon fell well behind! The wind died as soon as we got inside and we slowly clawed our way in, keeping to the shallows, until after a long period in the eastern end of Saltpan Reach ‘toing and froing’ off Cockleshell Hard we slid in towards the shore and dropped anchor. It’s a pleasant enough spot, even with the looming power station close by. It is also a good place to watch the expected fleet of barges.

Repertor appeared first and soon disappeared out past Garrison Point. She was followed, sometime later (about a reach and a half), by the Edith May, Orinoco and EDME, the latter being in the bowsprit class and the others the staysail. Edith May made a poor tack and lost ground to the Orinoco – to be fair, what wind there was, was fluky and light at that time. The audible shouts of derision and whoopee erupted from Faversham’s crowd on the Orinoco. The laugh would be whipped away later though. The Edith May is a Kent barge now and she’s got to know her river well: the crew are honed from regular chartering.

Marjorie with just a few lengths on the Adieu, leaving the inner river.

I’d wondered if that was it!

Then the Marjorie and Adieu came down flying their huge stripped jibs. The Marjorie soon dumped hers to come closer to the wind: the luff was jumping and I remember the old Veronica shaking a balloon jib to shreds on this river around ’62 or ’63! Aboard the Adieu came loud shouts (commands) from aft and two crewmen leapt into the bowsprit ratlines to be ready to haul their big sail down. The shout soon came. Then we had a jumble of barges tacking out past Garrison Point. The Repertor had gone with tide and little wind, directly!

The fleet, except for the Repertor, working out of the inner river.

No further barges appeared and we up-anchored, hoisted the genoa and sailed across the river to the West Swale to find a buoy in Queenborough. We sailed on too, as heads poked from hatches, furtively watching for the 'cock-up' and my mate grinned back at me from the fore deck as she hooked on!

Much later on in the afternoon the first barge reappeared, the EDME. She soon disappeared and was well up Saltpan before the next two, the Repertor closely followed by the Edith May. I watched as the Edith May came up to the stern of the Repertor and tacked. It was a good one: it seemed to take her along Saltpan and out of sight for positioning purposes. The Repertor held her tack before coming round. I was of the impression that the Edith May was sailing much closer to the wind and was staggered by the ground she had picked up. She was singing. Those two barges were soon joined by a jostling match between the Marjorie and the Adieu with the latter appearing to win. Sometime later the Orinco hove in sight, but she had a reach from off Sheerness straight upriver so probably cut the gap.

Edith May catching the Repertor...

My last glimpse of the fleet was of Edith May followed by Repertor and the other two, tack for tacking, as they rounded Sharp Ness. ‘Come on Edith May,’ I had shouted!

I suspect the order didn’t change ... and we settled down for a lovely afternoon with just a single short shower...

Footnote: The Edith May did indeed win her class. Great stuff Geoff, Jane and crew! There are now two survivors from the 1963 Thames and Medway matches still racing - Edith May and Marjorie.

On Sunday morning, departing at 0545, the Thames estuary was a cracking sight. It was a river of liquid gold as the sun streamed in from the east. It was one of those idyllic mornings that I would have been sorry to miss! The mate was in raptures (between yawns). The breeze had been sufficient for us to sail off the buoy and reach out past Grain Fort and keep the engine silenced. It was around half flood too. As bacon sizzled beneath the grill we worked round the shallows saving distance against the tide and soon had the Thames’ run wafting us along too. We later glided, under genoa, across the flats off Canvey’s marsh point. The cloud, promised by the weather man, was building by then and entering the creek the wind headed us, sail was done away with and the engine was run for the first time since clearing the berth on Saturday.

‘...good sail...’ the mate had murmured, beaming at me, as we left the boat.
Posted on 13 Jun 2011 by admin
A ditch-crawler's splendid bottom...
Well, here she is, our ditch-crawler has had her bottom tickled and coated! And a clear, calm, tide has blessed her too...

We missed one tide because of rain! First in these parts for nearly a month. The mate didn't miss out though: the next evening soon after leaving her school she was underneath scrubbing and scraping - she's not a bad scrubber either!

Whilst I changed the centre plate bolt, checked some rudder fastenings and inspected the bronze through hull fittings the mate smartened herself up, slipped into a skirt, and went off for fish & chips...

Within an hour, in a drying wind and late evening sunshine, we were hard at it giving one side of the boat a drop of the red stuff. I'm deemed by the mate to be the expert at cutting in the boot topping so I got to do the easy bits for that first side ... but the next side was after the morings tide and was an early start, alone, at 5 a.m. to settle the boat over, scrub, scrape and paint...

The usual band of onlookers came for a gander at a proper boat out of the water - funny how they always want to talk whilst you've a full brush and wanting to crack on ... be nice, gentle and keep going is my motto: they've never offered to give a hand!

Amazingly there were only a few barnacle pin heads - it was a surprise because of the warmth experienced this past spring. Doubt it had anything to do with the paint quality - though I do use a better brand - I'm sure there is little real 'anti fouling' in it. The mud in my creek mooring soon sticks to the old girls bottom! I do scrub off during the summer as well to keep any growth at bay and it seems to pay off.

During the second session I noticed an oystercatcher nesting in the top of one of a row of telegraph poles that fringe my club's slipway. Early in the morning it got cross ... then we ignored each other and all was well. I left the bird gazing at me as I departed the slipway in the afternoon!

I had more thoughts about dinghies too as I've pottered around the boat and am busy working up a piece of writing...

I've had several contacts about May Flower too in recent weeks, which is nice. The book is being maintained in print by the publisher for the forseeable future.
Posted on 08 Jun 2011 by admin
Things on my mind...
Anti-fouling the bottom of the boat looms: it's one of the mate's favourite activities - a definite wet 'T' shirt look is common. The mate gets right down to it, revelling in the bit under the bottom down to the boat's garboards. You see, we do it on the hard... A scrub, scrape and wipe down before the application of a coat to one side. The boat is listed over onto one of her bilge stubs. The up side is the side the centre plate nut resides. That is knocked through with a new bolt - its nut being run on when the other side is scrubbed etc after the next tide. This year it is a Sunday evening and for me - a very early start the following morning to ground the boat and lean her over on the opposite side ... scrub areas not done, prep and paint. Hull fittings and rudder fastenings, on a rotational programme, are checked too. All of these things are happily accomplished on the club’s hard...

My mind though is on higher things: the serious business of summer sailing is upon me. Not that my sailing on the tide or odd weekends during the other seasons isn’t serious - but I’m sure all get the gist! I have also been getting my little tender tarted up for the season. Her varnished gunnels and thwarts look good but her hull is a little tired and stained - she’s travelled many hundreds of miles, thousands even - there is anything between around 500 to 700 miles as an average span for just summer pottering around the estuary. It needs a rub down and coat of 2-pot ... after some attention of a little filler... The autumn will do!

One of the things I’ve been thinking of lately is the debate (is there a debate: if not there jolly well should be) about proper tenders for yachts. I have always towed a dinghy astern. My present tender is nearly twenty years old. She’s a Faversham dinghy from Alan Staley, the proprietor of a proper boat yard above the Iron Wharf, where he always has a full yard of craft receiving attention for a little job to a complete rebuild. The dinghy is made from glass fibre, has a simulated clinker hull and sets a nicely proportioned lug sail... Anyway, why don’t more cruising owners tow dinghies or carry one in a davit, on larger craft?

How many times have you seen mum, two children and dad setting off from a yacht in an anchorage, or mooring buoy, to row shore in a blow up plastic dinghy that truly belongs on a beach? How often do you see the rower working those short rapid strokes, almost as if beating batter for a yorkie pud? We've all seen a rowers efforts dissipating themselves, largely, in the flexing undulations of the rubber tubes. And whoever is up in the prow - getting exceedingly wet?

I’ve often sat watching all of that, and too, a crew member pumping away at a rubber dinghy pulled from the locker... It slowly unfolds and grows like two bananas joined at the hip. When deemed inflated, bits and bobs, like stern boards, are added for the outboard engine etc. A pair of short paddles get clipped into the 'rowlocks' then there is a splash sounding like ‘flub’ as the air filled rubber is dropped overboard...

Meanwhile, I’ve pulled my tender alongside and either headed for the pontoon with long easy strokes, as the tender tracks onwards, or mounted the rudder, slipped the plate in, hoisted sail and glided away in the lazy afternoon’s breeze...

There could be more on this in time... I know what I prefer.

And the anti fouling still looms!
Posted on 04 Jun 2011 by admin
Yantlet or bust...
A week or so ago I had a senior moment and forgot that I should have been back at work after the May bank holiday ... I work part time see ... and write ... and got carried away with time off. The mate, I hasten to add, had asked when I was due back - my Ad Education students missed me - Ah!
This week I have been working through all of the boat's sheets and halyards, washing them. Having run the pristine main, jib topping lift hoists through again (I keep an older set to do this) I kind of felt the need to test them out - as one does!
'Where shall I go?' were thoughts that tracked my mind. A thrash acoss the Thames to the Kent shore was the answer.
A group of club 'loafers' leaning on the handrails of the moorings watched as I sailed out of the creek. My mainsail had quickly followed the jib up as a remark came floating over the water, '...she's going well...' I grinned.
It was a sparkling sort of day. A strong sun was intermittently shaded by high broken cloud. The warmth, for May, was very pleasant indeed. Outside, little breaking waves from a wind over tide situation added to the fun and a sprinkling of droplets flew across the bow from time to time. Half way across and off Allhallows I decided that, as time and tide would permit, I would dive into Yantlet Creek. The wind eased along the Kent shore but the old girl forged over the stiff flood nicely.
I swept past the Yantlet beacon, hardening up, into a stiff breeze sweeping across the flats, between me and the Medway, below Allhallows hill. I had to slip a tack in to clear the shell and shingle bar that almosts blocks this creek and swept round the bank so close that I could have almost stepped ashore, in 3m of water...

A man watching from the sea wall called, '...nicely done ... are you from the Island Yacht Club?' I thanked him first and gave the affirmative for the rest! He knew the club from earlier times - buying a boat from the creek some fifteen years ago. After sailing in for a short way I turned and ran back out on a broad reach. Passing the gentleman again we exchanged a few more words as the boat forged over the strong run past the shingle bank. He laughed, in agreement and wish, with my thoughts of, ' day the channel will run through again...'

After clearing the beacon again I had a fantastic romp back across the Thames fairway, dodging ships and dredgers, berthing some 30 minutes after highwater. There were a few other sails out too, which added to the good feeling that filled my heart!
Posted on 17 May 2011 by admin
I'm up and running...
At long last after being bashed about the head by family and friends I have got a web site... Long overdue many will murmer. My lovely mate has been badgering me too!

Below is a glorious view of Hadleigh Downs and the arena upon which the 2012 Olympic all terrain cycling event is to take place - the course can be seen. Lord Coe said, '...I can't think of a more spetacular setting for any event I have ever been too ... and I've been to many in my time...' Of course, those that live, work, walk and sail in the area have always known that! Look at this on the BBC Essex web site:

I have been hard at work completing the final preparations for depositing my next book with my publisher. It is planned for a launching before Christmas ... publisher said, '...get it to us before you go off sailing...' as I'd planned to drop it to them in September ... and they know my summer movements are profoundly around the boat! My mother. a very good artist, is busy with a raft of sketches that often pick out a mere snippet from which she generates a picture...

A few weeks ago I went over to Faversham to witness the launch of the rebuilt spritsail barge Cambria - what a sight. See photo on Dick Durham's blog on Yaching Monthly web site. She'll be sailing by June, it is hoped, and has been entered for the Medway barge match on Saturday 11th of June...

While there I took a picture of the Westmoreland: a bird had told me that she was to be refloated. A lottery grant is being applied for, for her rebuild. She is the very last 'brickie' a barge built to carry something like 40,000 to 48,000 bricks. She was built up Conyer Creek in 1900 for Eastwood Ltd. The barge lifted from her slumbers and has gone into a floating dock...

I have also been busy working on various articles. One, in the May edition of Yachting Monthly, is about a ditch-crawler's day out on the Edith May - a gloriously lovely barge based at Lower Halstow's old dock off the bottom of Stangate Creek. Articles have appeared in Anglia Afloat too. The latest in the May/June edition is about abandoned craft - in the saltings or at yards and marinas. for earlier article.
Posted on 11 May 2011 by admin
I took a friend sailing a few of weeks ago and I did something not done before...
It was cold...
Both of us were togged up to keep bitter breeze at bay (In just a short time those days seem so far away ... now the weather has been so warm and amiable. Ah, but, it returned to normal for the May BH Weekend!). Approaching the shore by Chalkwell I went to lift the centre plate ... with woolen gloved hands ... hand slipped off winch handle ... with a resounding thwack I was clobbered! I was lucky to still have my right index finger attached.
The mate said (later), 'How long do you want to carry on sailing...?' That all seems a long time ago now... However, it wasn't to stop me continuing with varnish preparations and, of course, sailing...
Then I had a web site launch glitch so this didn't get out to you!
Posted on 11 May 2011 by admin
April Fools Day. Wow! What a sail...
Here we go onwards into April.
Hanging the washing out on the line at home, I had thoughts of, 'It's too windy ... trees are swaying ... blustery ... grey sky...' seemed to fit the forecast - of a little 'iffy' but, undaunted, I had a spring in my step: I was going for it. The weatherman had said, '...17 deg during the afternoon...' too. A little wind wasn't going to fool me!
I slipped a reef in the mains'l before departure and as soon as the boat lifted I was away, running out of the creek under my jib. I rounded up off Canvey Point and ran the main up. bore away on a reach westwards up Hadleigh Ray. Some gusts, when off Two Tree Island, laid the boat over and water sluiced down the side decks... Exhilarating stuff. Cobwebs were washed away! A few tacks were needed to reach the bottom end of Benfleet YC's ground. A fast run out over the still incoming flood quickly took me out into the open for a thrash out to the West Leigh Middle Buoy... At times spray, from the westerly wind induced rollers, was thrown across the decks - both me and the boat revelled in it. I sailed in close to the Island YC's dinghy pontoon outside the club where lunch time tipplers were at work, then across to Leigh ... eventually tacking back up towards my creek's entrance, stowing sails and motoring in... Glorious.
There are still flocks of knot swooping about - they'll be gone soon and brents were feeding amongst the young shoots of cord grass. I'm waiting for the sight of a tern ... that'll signal the years change.
The days are noticeably lengthening out rapidly and the sun can be a warm old thing too. My cheeks are singing: I forgot to put sun block on. At times I saw its shape ... it showed from time to time too, but spent most of its time lurking behind a thin cloud layer. Sailing across the flats from Leigh, in no more than a metre and a half to two metres, the sun sprang forth. And shortly after berthing I enjoyed my lunch in the tranquility of a dying wind and that warm sunshine... Ah yes - April!
Posted on 01 Apr 2011 by admin
Overnight to Queenborough in mid March
'Yes' my kid brother said, 'I'd like a sail ... any chance of an overnight...?' Well, I was a little taken aback and with warnings of what late winter can do we set it up - leave tickets quickly arranged...
It was indeed a wonderful period of weather we hit upon - fine and dry with temps up around 15 deg C. We hit the Medway entrance after a long reach across from the Ray Channel, a little to the east of my moorings: we'd completed an eastwards short leg first, and ran on into the West Swale ... the breeze first headed us then died entirely, just short of a mooring. Damn - the engine had to go on!
It was akin to a summer's day and a little later it allowed us to enjoy a pleasant beer in the cockpit before hightailing it ashore as the sun dipped beyond the skyline.
The Old House at Home provided a convivial welcome and after a short foray out to other beer sampling points we returned for a scrumptious supper. Of course, after returning, we partook of a little libation with the coffee and slept soundly.
Sunday was a peach. Little or no wind though. That, however didn't daunt us: we sailed off our mooring and reached, finally, the Grain Fort before power was applied from beneath our feet to ensure reaching home! By the pier off Southend a gentle breeze filled in and we sailed up to Smallgains Creek, dousing sails before continuing into the mooring...
My brother (Obviously no longer a kid ... but we all think like that in our protective ways...) thoroughly enjoyed his twenty-four hours and has booked his next berth!
The fine weather continued too ... for a whole week or more. I got off the mooring as often as other duties permitted and managed five days in seven. 'Lucky bugger Eh!'

Moments after berthing a couple of days after that weekend... Hadleigh Downs rise up in the haze beyond. Lord Coe and his merry men were on the hills the day after ... but the tide was too late for me to sail beneath their feet though ... but I did as a few stragglers walked the biking course!
Posted on 24 Mar 2011 by admin
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All illustrations and material on this web site are the property and copy right of Nick Ardley, Author.
Posted on 01 Mar 2011 by admin
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