Sunday, 11 July 2010

Back to Burnham

A restful night and proof that a Stag is indeed a comfortable boat! We are up for a 7.30 departure out into the Orwell where we head out into a southerly, stronger than yesterday afternoon. This is not going to be so pleasant.
We motor down the Orwell. Some are steadfastly tacking there way out to sea; others like us are more lazy and have the diesel engaged. As we leave the protection of the Harwich Shelf, we feel the full force of the wind and the short, typical North Sea chop. Under power, the Stag cuts cleanly through it. Alan cooks up a fried breakfast and we then put up the sails with a single reef and beat past Walton and Frinton. We are too close to the wind, so tack in towards Walton. It's slow going, and we are one of a handful of boats on the same track.
I sit low down on both tacks and face the stern; I get queasy - surprisingly - and decide to lie down for a while. Both Alan and Ray are sceptical, suggesting that it will only get worse as the only usable berth (it has to be on the port side because we are on a long starboard tack and heeled over) is up in the forecabin and so particularly prone to the choppy sea. But I am tired and know I will feel better. Sure enough, I emerge an hour later, into the bright sunshine and the fresh breeze, feeling 1000% better.
We have, in the meantime, crossed the sands and are approaching the Crouch estuary. Fishing boats are out in the freshness, men relaxing over a small forest of rods. We skim close and raise a few frowns, then start the short tacks up the estuary. We join a procession of yachts punching the tide and tacking quickly and sharply between the high seawalls. In places, the seawall has been deliberately broached to create wetlands inland.
We cross carefully through a fleet of 707s racing into the Roach, before crusing slowly along the Burnham front to pick up the mooring.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Northeast to Levington

I couldn't pass up an opportunity to join a trip on a Stag 28 up from Burnham to Levington. I don't know the owner but have been in touch by e-mail. He needs crew; I need a boat.
We meet at the cafe behind Prior's boatyard at Burnham-on-Crouch, where I sit nursing a latte in the burning sun. They do a 'Full Monty' breakfast and I do wish I had the time for it: eggs, bacon, sausages, the works.
But we are soon striding purposefully down the pontoon moorings to where Malcolm, the ferrryman, is waiting in the launch. The three of us - Alan, Ray and I - are quickly whisked out to the boat, where we ready her for departure.

The Stag 28 is a well-known, well built boat from the 1980s. It is renowned for being sturdy and quick, but there was only a short production run. Like other consumers, sailors will buy what is cheapest and so the Peter Milne-designed and Emsworth-built vessels didn't sell well. They always get favourable reviews though.

With the tide still flooding for an hour, but with a good southerly abeam, we set off quickly down the Crouch. We are but one of a flotilla of boats heading out; the tides of the Thames estuary are dteremined and good timing is important for getting anywhere. Alan has been sailing here for 50 years and knows the ins and outs of the river, the tides and the swatchways. I, on the otherhand, need to double-check everything. These days, an iPhone subscription is pretty much all it takes to get all you need.

We zip along purposefully, aiming at the mass of wind turbines on Gunfleet Sands. There are around 40 here, but the London Array, further out, will bring 400 of the beasts into the Thames Estuary.
We are headed for the Swin Spitway where we turn through 90 degrees and head for the Wallet, the next channel in. There are several channels across the shallows, but this is the easiest.
We shortly turn again and speed along past Clacton, Frinton and Walton.

All too soon we see the cranes at Felixstowe and decide to carry on awhile. We cross the deepwater channel - not at 90 degrees as recommended, but there isn't a single commercial chip in sight - and head for the Deben Estuary. As we see the Martello Towers on the shoreline, we turn through 180 degrees and beat back to the deepwater channel. We cross it and turn in to follow the yacht track in.

Harwich and Felixstowe are both quiet but there is a nice procession of small yachts heading up the Orwell. We listen in to an emergency as a small boat, the Estelle, puts out a Mayday; they have water coming in to the boat. A golden rule of sailing is that water must remain primarily outside the boat. The Harwich lifeboat is launched, but heads inland as the Estelle is off Wrabness, up the Stour Estuary.