Thursday 16th June – Colne to Tollesbury

 

An 8am high tide at the sill to Tollesbury Marina means an early start, having told the Harbourmaster at Brightlingsea that we wouldn’t be leaving early and that we’ll pay in the morning. Ha! We relent of course and phone to pay later.

Such is our confidence now that we cut across the Mersea Flats from Inner Bench with a breeze pushing us along at a little over 4kt. We are almost up to Woodrolfe Creek before we lose the last of the genoa and hold Heydays back a little as we try not to hassle an old boy sculling his dinghy across the river.  With the old salt house in the background and ignoring the moored plastic boats this could almost be between the wars…

Wednesday 15th June – Walton to Brightlingsea

 

The theme of blowing with the wind stays with us and we long tack up the Wallet with the Gunfleet Sand wind farm our constant companion. Heydays is beautifully balanced with a roll in the genoa and a single reef in the main. She holds steady on the wind with not even a light hand on the wheel, responding to the gusts and changes in direction with calm and assuredness.

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Perhaps we are finally getting the measure of our boat and this coast. Off Frinton we are reminded of the days of Radio Caroline and listening to Johnny Walker under the bedclothes. In fact the MV Ross Revenge is moored in the Blackwater with talk about her being opened as a museum to the old pirates. Close inshore by Clacton pier, a final tack and then time to bear away down the Colne, skirting the bar with feet to spare under the keels and another Essex river ticked off on our I Spy book of rivers. Brightlingsea is altogether different from further up the coast although it is not helped (grumpy old git alert…) by the monstrosity of a gated community of town houses with berths jarring very uncomfortably with the traditional old buildings in the rest of the town.  In Bristol or Southampton these would be great places, but here…?

We moor our piece of 1980’s plastic on the ‘Heritage’ pontoon next to a row of traditional smacks. These are a bit like thatched cottages; great to look at but a nightmare to own.  Cooking seafood linguine was more of a challenge than it should have been although this may have been due to time spent ashore in the Yachtsman’s Arms.

Tuesday 14th  June – Ipswich to Walton

 

Locking out of wet dock this morning means waiting for the swing bridge. The commuters were probably ecstatic to wave us through as we were the only boat going through.

The docks this morning are much busier with aggregate being shipped and loaded in considerable quantities, but it does little to dispel the slightly nagging feeling that Ipswich seems to be struggling to find its place in the 21 century economy.

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A stop at Fox’s boatyard was a really bad move for the credit card and we walk out with assorted waterproofs, boots and handy plastic bits without which the boat will simply stop…or something like that. With no particular place to go or schedule to keep, we decide to go where the wind allows and find ourselves back in the Walton Backwaters and feeling our way up the river towards Walton itself and the really pretty Twizzle Creek and Titchmarsh Marina.

A 35 minute walk into Walton after dinner on board (Caldeira again), leaves us feeling sad at a once pretty seaside town clearly down on its luck and literally at the end of the line. There are probably some good bits with welcoming pubs but we didn’t get to find them this time.

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Monday 13th June – Deben back to Ipswich

 

We actually manage to sail or motor-sail most of the way back to Ipswich and are feeling pretty smug with ourselves as no longer East Coast virgins. Waiting outside the lock and our smugness is repaid with a torrential downpour of such ferocity and rapidity that it gives no time for waterproofs and in any case, by the time they are on you are wet through to underwear anyway. The two brave men in our little company wave Chris and Yee Tak off in a taxi rather than get wet and spend a happy evening in Issacs on Albion Wharf. It was an old malt-house with parts dating back 4 centuries or more. The best part however was the discovery of the Briarbank micro-brewery next door enabling us to try a selection paddle of 6 beers and ales between us (just drowning our sorrows at the absence of our nearest and dearest of course).

Sunday 12th June – River Stour to Deben River

 

Felixstowe looms large over everything round these parts and it is a constant presence as we skirt the main channel out before scuttling across and heading NE towards the Deben. The warnings about the approach are even more dire, but we have taken the precaution of loading the most recent chartlet from the excellent eastcoastpilot.com. This uses a survey from just 3 months ago and shows the extent of the major changes to the approach channel over the winter. We trust it implicitly and our depth sounder of course. At 1.6 m and with the alarm going we consider turning back but hold our nerve on a rising tide and find the luxury of 3m just inside the mid knoll buoy. The extent of our East Coast virginity is again apparent as we are slightly unnerved by sailing close enough to the shore that we can almost shake hands with the Sunday morning strollers.

The Deben doesn’t disappoint in any way and is a magical sail up to The Maybush at Waldringfield (we have taken the time to both Google and book ahead!) where the visitor moorings even have a bright orange dinghy attached with VISITOR in large friendly letters on the side.

Sunday lunch ashore turns in to a relaxed evening on board with no politics or disputes apart from a discussion about whether ‘za’ is allowable in Scrabble (it’s not).

Saturday 11th June – Walton to Ipswich…and a bit more.

 

A seal is peering at us as we poke our heads through the hatch, but sadly doesn’t hang around long enough for us to get cameras etc. The river is glassy and we disturb the early morning peace as we putter on the first of the ebb towards the cranes of Felixstowe and the Orwell.

As East Coast virgins we do exactly as the pilot says, following the suggested track and counting buoys. We are slightly disconcerted as first the ferry bound for Hook of Holland and then a coaster bear down on us…

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…but they bear away down the channel and we are left again to gaze up at what a rough count suggests is over 3000 containers stored above decks on a ship.

Once clear of the docks however, it seems that everyone else is rather more relaxed and we get into the swing of motor-sailing along a very pretty river using buoys as a rough guide and the depth sounder carefully.

Under the vast Orwell bridge and the Ipswich docks look rather forlorn compared to the efficient modernity of Felixstowe.

We get plenty of time to consider them however as we wait to lock through into the Wet Dock. Another seal greets us to Ipswich, the grateful recipient presumably of an abundance of fish thriving on the assorted detritus from a few hundred boats…

We meet our crew (aka wives) from the train and are forced into some cocktails ‘while the rain passes’. Then it is off back down the river to find an anchorage for the night. Off the royal Harwich club we find ourselves in the middle of a flotilla of boats all flying flags and bunting in honour of the Queen’s 90th. With a republican and assorted monarchists on board we are respectful without dipping the ensign and have a pleasant half hour musing on whether the Brexiteers who are concerned about the EU’s ‘democratic deficit’ are also in favour of a hereditary head of state.

We head off west at Harwich along the Stour and are accompanied by some (presumably more fastidious) seals. The anchorage at Erwarten Ness promises a pleasant country walk to the village and a pub. Mistake number one is when we fail to top up the outboard with petrol, necessitating a reasonably strenuous paddle against a rapid ebb the instant we let go of the boat. It is also starting to drizzle.

Mistake number two becomes apparent after a wet walk, as it would seem that we should have googled the pub first. It closed around 5 years ago and is clearly a private home despite having a sign to the car park and the original pub sign outside. Still, we have plenty of beer on board. With the tide now firmly out, the clean sandy landing earlier has turned into a very muddy slide to get the tender back into the water.

The rest of the evening is spent putting the world to rights…sadly the world outside Erwarton isn’t listening.

A voyage, but not quite the grand one… Friday 10th June  – Tollesbury to Walton Backwaters

 

Heydays is still waiting for full size water tanks to be fitted so the grand circumnavigation can’t start just yet, but she is just asking to be taken out on the water and to feel a decent breeze in a full sail again. So this is our mini tour for now, of the Essex and Suffolk coast and rivers and who knows…maybe we will properly start for Scotland in Early August.

As always we are trying to fit too much in to our lives. John is up in Tollesbury on Thursday evening around 8pm and is still up when I arrive at 1am, but sadly we need to get over the marina sill around 4! A very short sleep is rudely shattered at 3-30 and we cling to the last vestiges of warmth in our duvets for just a few more minutes.

There is already some light in the sky as we slip as quietly as possible from our birth accompanied by the early waders on the marsh… and the hacking cough from our friend the builder in the boat next door. He’s known only to us as Boson’s (the dog) owner and he also needs to be up at 4.

It’s difficult to describe this trip down the creek without lapsing in to so many clichés so I’ll let the pictures do the talking. No matter how often you do this, the gradual lightening in the sky in the East and then the actual moment of sunrise over Mersea, lifts the spirits like few other moments. Both of us are wishing that our wives were here to witness the moment, but both of us also realising that they would probably still be tucked up making zzs and waiting for their first coffee of the day.

 

We motor out past the Nass leaving the Blackwater behind and head out into the Wallet Spit-way. The wind turbines on the Gunfleet sands are turning very lazily and make an interesting juxtaposition with the old Bradwell power stations now being decommissioned (over 10 years). As we start to turn North the breeze eases slightly and we turn off the “iron topsail” (as the old oyster smack skippers probably never said). Heydays is finally sailing free for the first time this summer and we sit back and bask in a weak summer sun with water chuckling past the only sound this early in the morning.

Soon Walton-on-the-Naze pier is off the beam and it is time to start to look for the very narrow and inscrutable channel into the backwaters. The pilot books are full of dire warnings about shifting sand banks with the consistency of concrete, so it is with just a little apprehension that we put the motor on once more and head for a seemingly impenetrable coastline. We have our paper chart, our pilot book, our main plotter and a tablet to guide us in – no chances will be taken this time. With a depth of 1.6m and a whole 30cm (1 foot in old money) we scrape over the bar and into the untold joy of 3m of water. The east coast really does have a completely different understanding of “deep water”.

By 10.30 we have anchored with half a dozen other boats in Hanford water – part of the Walton Backwaters and have reunited ourselves with our pillows for ‘forty winks’! We spend a happy afternoon playing with a few charts and bits of rope and wood as (some) sailors are wont to do. A take on a Portuguese Caldeirada finishes off the evening.