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.
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