To Walton and the Stour - 27 July to 2 August 2011


Route Map


John, Josephine and Mark S. gathered at Paglesham at 09:00 one Tuesday morning to start the HSC 2011 summer cruise. Clem was also present to help with loading the boats and to wish us bon-voyage, but our forth crew member was missing - that turned out to be due to an alarm clock malfunction. The tide waits for no-one, so that meant that Mark S. sailed the HSC Wayfarer 'Merganser' single handed all the way to Walton. We don't generally encourage single handed sailing of our Wayfarer dinghies, but the weather was settled and John and Josephine were in close attendance in their boat.

I have sailed from Paglesham to Walton quite a few times and I noticed some changes to the scenary this time round. Firstly, the bouyage system in the Crouch and Whitaker channels has all been revised with smart new bouys having been laid, secondly the 'London Array' has now sprouted a whole lot more windmills than were evident last summer. See this link for details of the new bouys and the reason they have been provided.

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Mark S. sails Merganser towards Walton pier

Since Mark S was singlehanded, we used the Navionics app on our smart phone to do some 'chartwork' on our boat and Mark trusted us enough to say that he would be happy to follow whatever course we decided. The tide state was such that we had a choice as to whether to take the Raysand channel or to go through the Swin Spitway (see map above). With Walton as our destination, there was little in it for distance over the ground but the Whitacker channel would probably give us a stronger fair tide for the early part of the passage. Against that, the Whitaker channel would take us a bit further out to sea and with a northerly wind that might mean a bit more tacking against the tide later in the passage when we would need to claw our way back inshore. We chose the Swin Spitway route, probably a slight mistake since although we did make fast progress close reaching out to the Swin Spitway we were then unable to get back inshore without putting in some tacks and we struggled against the flood tide as we tacked past Walton pier and round the Naze headland. By the time we got into Walton backwaters we all felt that it had been quite a tiring sail. After stopping briefly at Walton Stone  for a discussion, we continued up the Walton channel to Titchmarsh marina where we were glad to get a filling meal in the marina restaurant. By the time we had finished our meal, it was dark and we had nowhere to camp ashore so we dropped anchor off the saltings, just up the creek from the marina. On our boat we put up our boat tent for the night, but Merganser has no boat tent. Mark S did not fancy struggling ashore in the dark to see if there might be somewhere to camp, so he went to bed on Merganser's floorboards with only the sail for shelter. Fortunately it was a dry night, without dew, so I think he had a tolerably comfortable night, I hope so anyway.   

The next day we learnt from an early morning phone call that our fourth crew member, Mark T. had now arrived by car and was waiting to join us at the head of Kirby creek. As it happened, Kirby creek was less than a mile from where we had chosen to anchor for the night. We picked up Mark T. then spent most of the day making a pleasant and leasurely clockwise circuit of Horsey Island. We lunched tied to a buoy in the creek off Skipper's Island and when we got to Walton Stone we stopped for a couple of hours to walk around the sand dunes and I went for a swim off the sandy beach. This wonderful place is of course part of the 'Secret Water' in the famous children's book by Arthur Ransome. That evening Mark S. left by train from Walton to attend a family event, but Richard joined us by car at Titchmarsh marina. Both our dinghies shared a single yacht berth in the marina and Mark T. and Richard found permission to camp nearby.

Mark T.s car was now at Kirby, near Walton, but if our cruise went to plan we would be returning to Paglesham in a few days time. Mark T. reckoned that his car should then to be at Paglesham, waiting to take him home. Well, cars don't drive themselves, although some people are working on such ideas, so Mark T. and Richard set off to Paglesham in two cars, returning in Richard's car. That took them most of Thursday, it's further by road than by sea. Meanwhile, John and Josephine sailed up to the head of Walton Creek and spent some time in the bar of the Walton and Frinton yacht club. It seemed a friendly club and we got chatting to other sailors, both local club members and visiting yachtspeople, most of the later sailing larger boats than ours. Walking down the lane from the yacht club, it was worrying to see posters protesting against a proposed development including blocks of flats and a large supermarket at the head of Walton creek - sounds to me only too likely to mean more destruction of our precious coastal heritage.

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John rowing up to the quay at Walton and Frinton YC - all this dries out at low water

We left Titchmarsh marina on Friday morning, heading for the Stour, a lovely river that we hadnt visited for a few years - I think we have tended to get distracted by the availablity of showers and nice meals at the Suffolk Yacht Harbour which is on the alternative river connecting into Harwich harbour. With a light northerly wind, we had to tack out of the Walton backwaters against the last of the flood then we had to tack into Harwich against the early ebb. Merganser seemed to be in a particularly sluggish mood that morning. By the time we were coming up to Harwich we had lost sight of Merganser astern, so we went ashore at Halfpenny quay to wait for her to catch up. We noticed that an ex-Trinity house lightvessel is now moored near Halfpenny quay and has been opened as a museum ship. We went to have a look, the picture below was taken in the crew's quarters on board. I guess the crew on a lightvessel had plenty of time for listening to music, note the 1960's equivalent of an Ipod alongside the bunk.

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On board lightship at Harwich

When Merganser eventually sailed up to Harwich, we set sail again and followed them up the Stour. It was a warm summer evening and we went up as far as Holbrook bay then turned and came back down to Erwarton point, this being one of very few places on the Stour where one can walk ashore without getting too muddy, even at low water.   As we came ashore, we were greeted by a very friendly group of people who had landed from several yachts and who were about to start a barbeque. They offered to share their barbeque with us, including the sea bass they had caught that afternoon. However, some of our members could recall an occasion many years ago when we had enjoyed a particularly good meal in a pub not too many miles from Erwarton point, so we set off on foot to see if we could find the same pub again. We did find the pub, but unfortunately it has now closed down. Continuing further along the country lanes, we eventually found a fish and chip take away, but the fresh sea bass might have been the better choice!

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Early morning near Erwarton Point

Saturday morning dawned calm and sunney. Josephine and myself went swimming then I went ashore and took the photo above and also looked at the stumps of wood that are all that remains of what would have been a barge quay. We then sailed back down to Halfpenny quay where we tied up our boats and went ashore for lunch in the cafe by the quay. I would note that Halfpenny quay is an excellent facility provided for the use of passing yachts (and sailing dinghies). It is actually a row of massive steel pontoons, so easier for tying up than an actual quayside would be. There is a cafe close by and more shops and pubs in the small but historic town of Harwich. There is no charge for tying up for shopping or a meal ashore but I think there is a charge if you want to stay overnight.

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Our sailing dinghies alongside a small yacht at Halfpenny Quay, the old Harwich customs house behind

While we were alongside Halfpenny quay, a good sea breeze developed and we had quite a brisk sail back to Walton Stone. Mark S. had now returned from his family event and was waiting for us on the beach at the Stone. I told the others how we had enjoyed the Walton and Frinton Yacht Club, so we then all walked from Walton Stone over the high ground of the Naze headland and down into Walton town for an evening meal at that yacht club. That's an interesting walk that I have now done quite a few times. There is now a second tea shop on the Naze headland, a relatively new one having opened on the ground floor of the Naze tower itself. We stopped there for quick refreshment, had we arrived a bit earlier in the day I think we would have been allowed to go up the stairs to the top of the tower; I would like to do that some day. We did get a nice meal in the Walton and Frinton YC, after which Richard left the party to drive back to London.  The rest of us then walked back to Walton Stone in the dark and I would say that by the time we were back and had pitched our tents it was well past the time that I would have prefered to be in bed.

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Perfect conditions for dinghy cruising - Mergansr sails past Jaywick on the way to Brightlingsea

On Sunday we had a really lovely sail with a reaching wind and calm sea from Walton Stone to Brightlingsea. Conditions were so good that we could easily have carried on to Paglesham the same afternoon, but with the weather also set fair for the following day there was no need to do that. The waterfront at Brightlingsea has changed a lot in the last few years. There are now blocks of waterside flats that perhaps look a bit out of scale in this small town, they are the kind of development you tend to find in port cities where old docklands have been redeveloped. These flats certainly change the skyline of Brightlingsea as seen from the estuary, and there looks to be more of them still under construction. At least the development does include a little bit of waterside promenade giving the public limited access to the area and a view of the creek. There has also been some refurbishment of the public landing hard and pontoons.

When we visit the Coln we often spend the night at Mersea Stone, but this time we decided to stay in Brightlingsea for a change. We managed to find an officer of the Colne YC who gave us permission to park on their pontoons overnight since overnight mooring is not permitted on the public pontoons. The two Marks camped at Brightlingsea campsite which is conveniently close to the waterside.

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Our dinghies moored bows on to the excellent public landing pontoons at Brightlingsea. At least this part of the waterside remains unchanged by recent developments.
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.... and you can still see some old smacks at Brightlingsea

We left Brightlingsea about mid morning on Monday and had another very pleasant and easy sail back to Paglesham, I cant really add a lot to that. On our way home, we called on Doug R., an old member of the HSC. Doug lives in sheltered accomodation near Chelmsford and he is in his 80,s but still quite active, getting into Chelmsford on the bus to do shopping and so on. He was pleased to see us and chat about old times.