To Woodbridge and Orford - 29 July to 5 August 2000
1988, 1989, 1999 - all vintage years for HSC summer cruises. Was it too much to hope for yet more sunny weather, calm seas and convivial crew for 2000? Surely our luck could not hold for four summers in succession? Well, actually it did, this year our fleet sailed from Paglesham to Butley river calling at Woodbridge on the way north and at Harwich, Levington and East Mersea on the way home. We had very little rain, no serious mishaps and we got back on schedule as planned. A day by day log follows:
Saturday: We gathered at Paglesham during the day then we drove to Wallasea Island to camp at Riverside Leisure Park ready for an early start on the Sunday. This does seem to be a good way to start the cruise giving everyone time to finish last minute jobs at home and it makes sure that weather permitting we can make an early start on the first sailing day. The alternative of sailing on Saturday would at best allow a first camp at East Mersea but we would probably arrive late and tired so Sunday would be a late start and overall nothing would be gained. New member Len was joining us for the first time and did get a little impatient on the Saturday, wondering why we were lunching in the Plough and Sail rather than going sailing. At one point he was so keen to get afloat that he went out for a row round the moorings in our tender, the 'Wo Boat'.
By mid afternoon all the crew were at Paglesham including Steve, an HSC member who sails his 19' yacht 'Stortebecker' from Paglesham but who has not had the chance to join in with recent HSC cruising activities. We invited Steve to join this trip but he said he needed to do some work on his boat and that he would head for Walton then perhaps meet up with us later in the week. That just left Frank who planed to join us by public transport sometime midweek.
Our Saturday evening meal in the Anchor at Canewdon was the first time we talked about a 'destination', that is a place to sail towards if not actually to. With sunshine and light westerly winds forecast it was not difficult to agree on Walton on the Naze for our first day's 'destination', although in the event we went even further.
Sunday: Soon after 6-00am we had the camping stoves alight for a first cup of tea and I think that Len was now realising that we did mean business after all. Luggage was bundled aboard the dinghies as quickly as possible but it does all take a little time and I think we left Paglesham at about 9-00am, with a light following breeze just carrying us against the flood. The sun appeared and the wind strengthened throughout the day but never exceeded F3. The fleet kept together, not sailing in close formation but always being within a few hundred yards of each other. We made good progress with a following tide all the way up the Wallet and about 4-00pm we rendezvoused off Walton.
Picture taken on the sail north along the Essex coast - Len and Mark T sailing Meander
Someone shouted a suggestion that we carry on North to the Deben, this was immediately agreed and so we held our course rather than turning inshore to Walton. We crossed the Harwich shipping channel close by Stone Banks buoy which is well out to sea and sailed into the Deben arriving at Felixstowe Ferry about 18-00pm. (Felixstowe Ferry is the collection of huts and pub at the entrance to the Deben, it is not really at Felixstowe).
Just landed on the beach at Felixstow Ferry, after a long sail
At this point we felt that we deserved a meal so headed for the pub rather than struggling on against the last of the ebb which was still rushing out of the Deben. Back from the pub the tide had turned and we sailed quickly up river to 'the rocks', a stretch of firm foreshore adjacent to a low cliff about three miles upriver. By the time we landed it was almost dark and high time to find somewhere to sleep but notices on the shore prohibited camping. Either they were not there last time we called or we had forgotten about them. Len was all for going to bed in the bottom of a Wayfarer with a sail for a tent but Josephine was keen that everyone had a comfortable sleep and persuaded us to look further along the shoreline where we did find a small space for the Wayfarer crews to pitch the shore tents, on my boat we used the boat tent as usual.
Monday: No need to get up early today, we made such good progress yesterday that even if we go no further it will be a good cruise from the point of view of distance covered. Aboard the grey boat we had a leisurely breakfast then a swim, me swimming as fast as I could to barely stay in one place against the flood. Then we all sailed up to Woodbridge and landed in the little shingly inlet which is a public landing at high tide.
Woodbridge - the Shire Hall
Woodbridge - the waterfront
Our boats at Woodbridge
Woodbridge has so many eating places one could get confused, we picked about the nearest which was a coffee shop in converted warehouses by the quayside. The next stop was the chandler's shop where we purchased new burgee halyards but we never did get time to fit them. Then most of us took a quick walk round the Woodbridge town centre while Mark went to check that the boats stayed afloat. Despite departing with the ebb well established we chose to take a quick look at the last mile or two of the river above Woodbridge. There is a narrow tree lined river bend just above the town, here the tide runs fast and the wind always seems to be a head wind whichever way you are going. Beyond this point the channel winds past some old houseboats and remains of disused commercial quaysides then narrows towards a small road bridge which is the head of navigation. We got within sight of this bridge before turning to tack down river on the ebb. We all missed some of the bends in the channel and Len and Richard tacked too close to the shore getting Meander stuck against an old mooring chain which took them a while to get free of while the other two boats circled around. Beyond Woodbridge the wind strengthened and we had a fast beat back to the same campsite area that we had used the previous night. That evening we walked along the sea wall path to visit the Ramsholt Arms and dined in the front lounge with a view out accross the river.
Tuesday: Aboard my boat we woke at an angle of heel. Although I thought I had taken extra care to find a level patch to dry out on we ended up tilted over against a rock, no doubt the reason this foreshore is called 'The Rocks'. The hull escaped damage and once the boat was floating we went swimming again while the other crews packed up their shore tents. This week happened to be the Deben regatta week and this morning there was a dinghy race from Woodbridge to Felixstowe ferry. As we set off we found ourselves among the front runners of a large racing fleet and I have to admit that we were overtaken by a large part of this fleet which did include a number of Wayfarers. Mark Smith said that at one point he was about to move out of the way of a racing Wayfarer coming up astern only to be told 'don't worry, you just carry on and I'll sail through your lee' - a bit of a put down but they did have unladen boats with pristine sails. Since the fleet mostly beat us to Felixstowe ferry we found that together with landborne holiday makers they had filled the Ferry Cafe and the pub to bursting point so we waited a bit before lunching. There was no hurry anyway since we now proposed to sail out to sea and on to the Ore and there seemed no point arriving at the entrance to the Ore before the next flood which would not be until evening. After the racing sailors departed we ordered 'ferry breakfasts' from the Ferry Cafe then leaving the Deben we took a short cut by turning sharp left through one of the gaps in the shingle spit which extends from the entrance. We made good progress close in along the shingle coast line, ticking off the four martello towers between Woodbridge and Shingle Street. We were much too early arriving at the entrance to the Ore in that the tide was still strongly ebbing. We crawled into the river with a following wind and keeping feet, or even inches, from the bank but still hardly moving against the ferocious current. Indeed we were sailing so close to the steep shingle bank that our stern waves sucked little landslides of shingle into the water.
On our boat we had a reef in and with our gunter rig we needed to lower sail to shake it out. I realised that as soon as we lowered the sail the tide would wash us back out to sea in a moment so we anchored for a few minutes, the anchor dragging a bit on the shingle and the boat gybing and rolling until we could get the sails sorted out. Meanwhile the other boats gained a lead, Len doing particularly well inching along the West bank. We were reluctant to cross over knowing that the tide would sweep us backwards in midstream. Near the mouth of the Butley river the stream slackened at last and with dying wind we carried on up to the old barge quay about a mile up on the southern side. On the top of this square brick quay there is a small roofless brick building and a level patch of grass suitable for camping. We clambered up the iron ladder onto the quay then hauled luggage up on ropes.
Unloading at Butley Quay
This is a pleasant spot but it is a long way to any pub so now it was time to break into our stock of mainly tinned food for a traditional group stew.
Wednesday: An early check on our boats moored by the quay revealed a fish lying dead in the bottom of one of the Wayfarers. How did it get there? If it jumped from the water it seemed a big jump for a small fish but we had not noticed anyone go by who might have chucked it in, whatever there motives might have been. Anyway, Len pronounced the fish fresh and suitable to supplement our diet and indeed we could have done with a few more of them. Incidentally we did quite well for free gifts on this cruise, apart from a fish we picked up a good fender somewhere off Clacton and found a working torch lying in a field, compensation for a small fraction of the sundry items which have the sea has claimed from the HSC over the years.
Butley ferry hard
Today we had good excuses not to do much sailing. Firstly it was rather windy. Secondly it was mid week and we felt a day ashore would make a welcome change. But this was also the day we had agreed to pick up Frank whom we had contacted by mobile phone and arranged to meet at Orford Quay. Orford was the other side of the river so we had to go afloat but we kept our sailing to a minimum, just a short run up river under jibs only to anchor off the Butley ferry hard on the north bank. Here we met the Butley ferry man, Brian Rogers, who told us how the ferry, which is only accessible by footpath, had been revived by a small group of voluntiers. (as at June 2013 it is still available on summer weekends, google will find it). Brian Rogers was most impressed by the HSC saying that most boat owners on the Alde never go to sea because they are so frightened by the dangers of the bar at Shingle Street. Probably an exaggeration and with no passengers in the offing he may have been glad to find someone to tell scare stories.
On the way from Butley Hard to Orford
Leaving the talkative ferryman we walked a few miles through the country footpaths to Orford. Mark went to meet Frank at the Quay, as arranged, the rest of us visited the Castle then we all gathered for a pub lunch. We agreed over lunch that we were unlikely to find a better campsite than that we had last night and that since there was no pub for an evening meal we should make a barbecue using the disposable barbecue we had brought with us. So after lunch Mark volunteered to hurry back to check the boats were not grounding whilst the rest went shopping for sausages and other barbecue material to supplement the one small fish we had 'caught' that morning.
Thursday: The wind had continued to blow quite hard overnight and although improvement was forecast we were not sure whether to go to sea or up river, perhaps to Aldeburgh. We set off down the Butley river and Ore then stopped on the shingle bank about half a mile from the bar for a will we won't we discussion. Time was running out since the ebb was nearly spent so Mark suggested we agree to give it a try. There was a slightly rolley bit just over the bar but it was not too bad and soon we were close reaching south along the coast. We discussed whether to go into Harwich or Walton and chose Harwich, I think because we knew that the Sufolk Yacht Harbour up the Orwell offers both showers and a space for dinghy cruisers to camp. As we entered Harwich harbour Mark had the novel idea to go ashore at Harwich town, I don't think we have landed there before. The beach off the north side of the town was slightly a lee shore and the Wayfarers were pulled half out of the water. My boat is much too heavy for pulling up beaches so I anchored it just off the beach with a long line to a second anchor on shore. Then we all went to look round the town which once had a busy commercial quay with an impressive customs house but is now a relative backwater compared with the commercial shipping activities across the harbour on the Felixstowe side. We did see that new pontoons had been installed this year at Ha’penny Quay for use of visiting yachtsmen and had we known that we would have used them for our dinghies. A rain shower arrived, the only rain this holiday, so we went in a fish and chip cafe to keep dry then we went to the quay by the customs house and looked around a little exhibition about the Mayflower and the pilgrim fathers. The captain of the Mayflower, Christopher Jones, lived in Harwich and his house still stands in the town. The Mayflower actually sailed from Harwich, stopping at Southampton to pick up her passengers and to join a second vessel, the Speedwell. The Speedwell was found to be leaking so both stopped at Plymouth from where the Mayflower sailed alone on September 6th 1620. She landed near Cape Cod on November 9th 1620.
Returning to the beach I was glad that I had anchored my boat since the tide had refloated the Wayfarers which were now bumping slightly on the shore. Merganser got away all right but Meander seemed to be having some difficulty tacking clear of the beach. It became apparent that their centreboard had jammed up with the small stones on the beach so we turned back to go and help. We careened the boat in the shallows and tried to lever the board down but it was well jammed and as the wind was now a light headwind the boat had to be rowed up to Suffolk Yacht Harbour. As we came up to the marina we were pleased to see that we on a converging course with Steve who was single handed aboard Stortebecker and had come up from Walton where he had completed the jobs he needed to do on his boat. Steve's yacht, an Evolution 19 design, was at that time engineless so Steve agreed to join us for the night in the marina if we could help him get in. Accordingly Josephine went aboard Stortebecker to help with paddles and I rowed my boat with a towline to Stortebecker. Once booked into the marina we set to freeing the centre board of Meander. The usual tricks of pouring water down the slot, waggling the board and hauling on the board with the boom and kicking strap used as a lever all failed this time, clearly the board was very badly jammed. Steve carries a pretty good collection of spare chandlery on his little yacht and with several people hauling on two tackles we moved the board a few inches one way then the other. Then we started thumping it with the end of an oar as well as using the tackles and it moved a bit further but the oar was in danger of splitting. At this point Steve produced two lengths of 2"x2" about 6 foot long and bolted together. This was meant to be a boom crutch but it also made a good battering ram. With Mark co-ordinating our efforts the centre board came free at last, just a few small sharp stones had embedded themselves partly in the wooden board and partly in the sides of the case. The case of Meander has been repaired at some time and it probably does not help that extra fibre glass along the bottom inside corners tends to jam stones which might otherwise fall out. The lesson is surely not to leave Wayfarers or other dinghies bumping on a beach. They must either be hauled completely clear of the water, which may not be practical if they are laden with camping gear, or anchored clear of the beach with a line to pull them into the shore to get aboard.
Bailing the boat because there is no centre board bolt in place
Hitting it with an oar
Once the centreboard was sorted out it was time to make camp on the little patch of grass which Suffolk Yacht Harbour helpfully provides for this purpose then to repair to the converted lightship which is the club house and restaurant for the marina.
Friday: Definitely time now to head for home. All four boats ghosted out of Harwich harbour and turned South. Steve left harbour under genoa only, thinking that since his yacht has a good turn of speed he would soon catch up. However he had underestimated the light weather speed of a Wayfarer vs. a keelboat and we soon lost sight of him amongst various other sails on the horizon. We had a slow but sunny sail past Walton, Frinton and Clacton. As we passed the nature reserve near Jaywick we noticed that although most of the beach was marked with no landing signs there was one short stretch where landing was permitted. We stopped here for a break and to wait for Steve then carried on to East Mersea Stone for the night. It was getting late by then so we cooked another meal of 'group stew' (An HSC tradition consisting mainly of all available tined meat and veg mixed together in one big pot, perhaps not a tradition to be overly proud of).
Saturday: Steve left this morning for the Blackwater where he had arranged to take family sailing. The three dinghies just needed to complete the last leg back to Paglesham. With a very light wind leaving East Mersea and the Coln all three boats were rowed at times. On the last two cruises in succession some of us have had trouble finding the way through the Raysand channel so we were being extra careful this time, although with a rising tide there was less of a potential problem. As we turned into the Crouch the wind picked up and we seemed to be having a bit of a race for the finish. Len and Frank in Meander tacked past the other two boats, then the grey boat overtook Merganser and started to gain a bit on Meander but never caught her before we were all back to unload at Paglesham.
Picture of Wayfarer Meander tied up to the staging at Paglesham, author's boat beyond
After tidying up the boats a couple of us had a final quick swim in the Roach then on the drive home we gathered for an evening meal in a restaurant in Rochford.