To the Orwell - 17 to 24 July 1999

Report from Richard


Route map


Saturday: Seven club members gathered at the Anchor pub in Canewdon for the usual pre-cruise supper: John, Josephine, Mark, Mark, Frank, Cristina and myself.

Sunday: We camped at Wallasea and were awoken on Sunday morning rather earlier than expected as Mark Tingley had his watch on dual time, and thought 0415 was actually 0515. This probably speeded our loading of the boats, i.e. the two Wayfarers and John’s dinghy, and we were off sailing by 0920.

The theory was that we would get the last of the ebb tide down the Roach and the Crouch and hope a fair wind would take us north to the more attractive parts of Essex and Suffolk (by popular demand).

The plan worked well as a Force 2 southerly breeze helped us up the Whitaker Channel, and we were able to admire a number of seals basking on the sands nearby, some of them with pups. At the Wallet Spitway buoy, Merganser and John’s boat (you really must get a name for it John!) anchored to wait for Meander and to brew a cup of tea. Frank, Cristina and Richard, in Meander, decided to press on with the fair wind and forego the brew so we were first past Walton pier, where we were entertained by the sight of a little Noddy train with three carriages that takes trippers to the pier head.

The wind seemed stronger off the Naze and we were soon overtaken again, so we followed the others over the Pye Sand and into the channel to Walton Stone where we landed abouot 17:45.

CLICK HERE for some pictures of the beach at Walton Stone.

Being Sunday night it wasn’t too crowded, and we pitched tents in the usual area on the dunes. Later two children, who were with some people sailing an International Dragon, landed and pitched their small tent alongside ours.

Our attempt to walk into Walton town for a meal was thwarted as the beach area had been cordoned off to protect a colony of nesting little terns. After an inconclusive discussion about the duration of the nesting season, we returned to camp and concocted a fine meal from various tins, washed down with red wine and topped off by treacle tart and custard. I remember little more until I awoke in my tent in the early hours to the sound of a tremendous thunderstorm. Luckily most tents stayed dry, though Mark S. got a little wet and Cristina had a water bed effect under her ground sheet.

Monday: We swapped crews around next morning, as we did most days following. I sailed with Mark S. in Merganser, while John took Cristina, and Frank, Mark T and Jo sailed Meander. The wind was mainly light south westerly, so we had an easy sail to Harwich, past the docks of Felixstowe, and turned west into the Stour, sailing past Parkeston Quay where the large ferries dock. Merganser was able to overhaul the other two boats, even with me at the helm (Mark please note!), and manoeuvre into position for taking photographs. We were close enough for a long exchange of banter.

The Stour from here on is pleasantly wooded with gentle hills dotted with a few impressive houses. We landed a couple of times near Wrabness beach to investigate camping sites, but pressed on to the next ‘bay’ where we anchored for a cuppa and to finish our lunches. Mark T decided to land near Ragmarsh Farm and got permission from the farmer’s wife for us to camp that night.

We then sailed on to Mistley Quay, which is still a working port where several commercial craft were docked. We managed to land at the stone quay for long enough to buy some essential supplies from the Post Office store across the road. There was an enormous quantity of granite slabs piled up on the quay, which presumably had been brought from Scotland by sea, and there was a strong smell of malt in the air (we thought).

We then decided to press on the last mile or so to Manningtree, which is a small town near the head of the tidal Stour. Here we landed shortly before high water on a sandy beach near the sailing club, and Mark S treated us to an ice cream, as it was a very warm sunny afternoon. Both Mistley and Manningtree are sleepy little places that seem to be stuck in a time warp.

Back at Ragmarsh Farm we pitched tents and prepared to walk into the pub at Bradfield. As we were about to walk down the farmer’s drive he intercepted us and regaled us on the iniquities of the County Council and mapmakers who have drawn footpaths which never existed over his property. Mindful of this, on our return that evening we tried to avoid the farm by taking a clearly marked path across fields to the sea wall and back to the tents. Unfortunately the sea wall route became impenetrable, and we were obliged to walk along the inside of a wheatfield. At this moment a powerful searchlight was switched on and a beam swept across the field to pick out the leading walkers. Three of us instinctively jumped down the bank out of sight on the foreshore, Frank and Cristina went down on all fours to hide, while Mark T strode on regardless. We met up with Mark about a hundred yards further on, but there was no sign of the other two, who we imagined spending the night cowering in the corn. Fortunately, they eventually appeared and we retired to our tents without further incident.

Tuesday: The next morning the farmer appeared at about 8 o’clock and told us that our tents were in the wrong place and we should have pitched behind the barn and out of site of the farmhouse, but no mention of the previous night was made.

We decided to strike camp and load the boats as soon as possible, but as high water was not till late afternoon we walked east along the sea wall and the Essex Way to Ramsey via Wrabness village. On the way we passed through a nature reserve where we thought we saw and heard a turtledove. At Wrabness we discovered that the church had a curious arrangement for its bell, which was housed in a small separate timber structure in the churchyard. The church had provided ‘simple refreshment’ for travellers in the form of blackcurrant juice and biscuits. Being in need of more substantial fare, we walked on to the pub in Ramsey, where the landlord was very welcoming. The walk back via the beach at Wrabness was a warm one, despite a brisk wind from the west. We sailed the Wayfarers down the river under jib past Shotley point, and turned up into the Orwell, where we hoisted reefed mainsails for a short but lively sail to Suffolk Yacht Harbour at Levington.

We were berthed at the southern end of the marina, and were allowed to camp in ‘the field’, which transpired to be a small patch of grassy, rather stony ground, but conveniently close to the dinghies and the shower block, not to mention the old lightship which serves as bar, restaurant and clubhouse. Here we sought refreshment after a satisfactory but tiring day.


pub levington

Outside the Ship Inn at Levington

The morning was overcast and very windy so we planned a walk. Frank decided to depart, saying he had had three good days, and so he made his way to Ipswich station. The rest of us walked along the sea wall and into Levington where we found an attractive thatched pub called The Ship. After lunch we continued into Nacton and past the impressive gates and frontage of Orwell Park School. On the edge of the estate growing near the roadside we were surprised to discover some huge bamboo plants. We continued down a lane to the river and via low sandy cliffs back to the marina.

Thursday: The morning was quite windy again and showery, but by midday the wind eased so after a brief lunch we set off for the Walton Backwaters. This time I sailed with John, Cristina went with Mark S, and Jo with Mark T. The wind was in the north or north west, so we had a quick sail past Harwich and Dovercourt, and then into Hamford Water up to Landermere Quay. We decided to land on a shingly bank opposite the quay for no particular reason, except in the spirit of exploration. Jo stepped into the water and to our amusement was soon up to her waist, but fortunately she had her dry suit on. After brewing up the inevitable, but welcome, cup of tea, we sailed up Kirby Creek, through the Wade and into Titchmarsh Marina, where we were allowed to pitch tents discretely in a quiet corner by the basin.

It was 9pm by the time we found our way to The Harbour Lights, which is the new restaurant development at the marina. It has been remarked that accounts in Ahoy! tend to dwell on matters of the stomach, so it is a pleasure to report that the coronation chicken is well worth the detour. Everyone else had the full mixed grill, most followed with a pudding and we retired well satisfied.

Friday: A bright sunny morning greeted us, so we met on the restaurant terrace for coffee and breakfast, on the pretext of planning the day. We decided to head for the Colne if conditions were suitable, regrouping off Walton Pier. Jo sailed with John, the two Marks in Merganser, and Cristina and I sailed Maeander.

By the time we got out into Pennyhole Bay I was regretting having set the genoa, but as the others were well ahead of us I decided to try to carry it as long as possible. The wind was more westerly than I had hoped, so we were faced with a beat to Walton Pier and beyond. Off the pier, we hove to, to change down to working jib, and while doing so we were passed by a hovercraft, the first I have seen on this part of the coast. We continued close hauled with long and short tacks past Clacton Pier, where it was not possible to stop as the wind was onshore. Cristina was getting the worst of the spray as the Wallet was choppy as usual, but past Jaywick we were able to free off the sheets slightly, and our hours of labour were rewarded with a fast and satisfying sail past Colne Point and into the the River Colne. Having by this time overhauled John and Jo, who were using their small sail, we followed Merganser into Brightlingsea where we landed on the hard in the late afternoon.

We all went to the nearby fish and chip shop, where the staff toiled cheerfully in roasting conditions, as it was a very hot day ashore. After a short expedition to buy some stores, we sailed across to Mersea Stone, where we set up camp at the top of the beach. It was a lovely tranquil evening and very pleasant to sit and watch the sun going down while sipping a beer.

 hsc stone

East Mersea Stone

Saturday: The morning dawned warm and humid, and several hardy souls went for a swim. There was brief discussion about staying another night, but already the hoards of weekend sailors were starting to descend on the Stone, so we set off hoping to make the Roach by evening. Unfortunately things went a bit pear shaped, as John took an inshore route followed by Meander and we ended up running aground on the Raysands. Merganser had sailed closer to the Buxey Beacon, made a passage through the Ray channel and anchored near the Yellow Buoy. As the tide was falling we managed to meet up and sat on the grounded boats for several hours enjoying cups of tea, cans of beer, and generally having a chat. 

 hsc buxey

Dried out near the Ray channel

When the tide returned we completed our voyage, arriving at Pagelsham around 20-45. After unloading everything we were too weary to cook up a meal for ourselves, so we drove into Rochford where we had a good meal at a Tandoori restaurant, which was a pleasant way to end the cruise, despite the tropical temperature indoors.