The arrival of the dog days of August, which included my seventy eighth birthday, reminded me that 2005 was slipping away and that I had not done much sailing, just Easter to the Rivers Crouch, Roach and Colne and a four day trip round Sheppey to the Medway in June. My wife, Joy, had been in very poor health but was a little better now and at was least able to drive to the shops and church. With prospects of a High giving light winds from the Northwest, I decided to make what would probably be my last voyage to the Suffolk Rivers.
Conditions were perfect on Friday the sixth of August. Shoal Waters floated on her mooring, close inshore at the Blackwater Sailing Club at Heybridge at noon, two hours before high water. As forecast, the wind was NW 3; I had already carried my gear out over the mud and my last big trip was on. As usual, I cut behind Osea Island to dodge the strong flood tide on the south side, in order to reach West Mersea by high water and get the full benefit of the ebb. It was ebbing strongly at 1505hrs at the Colne bar and I took just fifty minutes to cover the dreariest stretch of the coast to Clacton Pier. Once at Walton Pier, I came on the wind but had time in hand, reaching Walton No 2 buoy with the tide still ebbing, but now the wind was free and I settled down to brew and fry up as I made steady progress along the line of buoys to the top of Hamford Water, where I anchored for the night among a well spaced gaggle of craft as the wind died for the night.
It was still calm as I left at 0510 hrs Sunday morning but the breeze gradually grew from the NW and the forecast was for N – NW 3/4, 6 later. A perfect sunrise over a few degrees of cloud on the horizon into a clear blue sky set the stage of a perfect sail along the Suffolk coast, pristine in the early morning sunlight. I studied the buoys on the Deben bar for later in the week and met the flood off Boathouse Point where a rare old battle is going on against Father Neptune and his eroding tendencies. With the offshore wind, the Ore Bar was tame enough today, but the last of the ebb was still pouring out. The entrance has gone back at least a quarter of a mile since I first came this way in 1949 in my old halfdecker Zephyr, sleeping under a tent of barrage balloon canvas. A family of holidaymakers played on the beach outside and a number of anglers lined the shore inside. I made several visits to the entrance before getting in at 0930 as the ebb died and almost instantly became a strong flood. By noon the clouds had taken over and the wind rose steadily as the well loved features swept past, changing from bare shingle banks to a wide, tree fringed lagoon. Off Iken Church, I was too early on the tide and running out of water, so I anchored for lunch. It was blowing hard now and I reefed for the beat to Snape and its` famous maltings, busy with visitors now that it is a concert, conference and wildlife centre. The sun came out again and just before high water I set off for an easy run back to the Butley River, ignoring all the withies and winding channels this time as all the mud was now covered by several feet of water. The lower Butley River is the perfect spot to moor overnight for those planning to leave next morning.
Monday came in calm and overcast and I was able to make a leisurely start for it is only a few miles down the coast to the River Deben and I knew from yesterday that the tide would not flood much before eight. It had piped up from the north by the time I entered the Deben bar at 0820hrs and beating through the crowded moorings inside was a bit worrying. From then on it was just a steady beat to Woodbridge, being joined at Waldringfield hoards of youngsters in dinghies on route to join those at the Woodbridge S.C. for an afternoons` racing. I pressed on above the town to Wilford Bridge at 1300hrs. There is a lot going on up there including a yard dealing with very large craft and some flooded farm land, together with a few delightful large houses in a very pretty valley. After a lazy trip downsteam I moored for the night two miles from the entrance and dried on the western mud to sit and watch Ramsholt in the evening sunlight safe from the wash of water skiers.
Dawn on Tuesday was the high light of the holiday; dead calm, patchy fog with blue sky above and the first signs of dawn when I got the anchor at 0500hrs and let the boat drift while I dressed. A breeze had appeared from NW by the forecast at 0530hrs which gave NW3/4 but 5 at first. The wind had gone as I passed the Ferry at 0620hrs and I drifted into some very rough water where swift ebb from the river met the ebb running up the coast. After a few hectic minutes, it was plain sailing past a sunlit Felixtowe to Landguard point and Harwich Harbour. I decided cut in tight round the point into the harbour and prepared to dodge back if there was anything big leaving but no craft moved until I reach Shotely where I found a very large container vessel at the northern end of the docks difficult to pass over the last of the ebb because of its` extensive wind shadow. In fact the wind was very light at noon and I hung about near the big road bridge for a time until a fickly breeze carried me up to the dock gates at 1325hrs. I beached for the night below Pin Mill in traditional style and after a walk, had a meal at the Butt and Oyster.
It rained a little overnight but had cleared when I left at 0530hrs in a light breeze to make sure of getting round into the River Stour before the flood set in. The longer before low water you round Bloody Point, the closer you can cut in over the extensive mud spit. At 0730hrs I anchored for an unhurried breakfast west of the marina channel while I waited for the flood to set in. To my surprise there was not one large container vessel at Felixtowe docks, which are normally chock a block. I left at 0900hrs for a trouble free trip to Manningtree at 1215hrs. After a little shopping and chats with locals as they launched their dinghies to make the most of the limited water available, I left at1415hrs, well before high water but there was a fine breeze from the north and I wanted to get well down stream in case it veered easterly as it had done yesterday. Ideally I should have a fair wind down to Walton but it died off Wrabness as a massive storm centre moved round the sky. At 1717hrs as I reached Harwich Harbour, the heavens opened up as a massive container vessel pirouetted round in the harbour with the help of two tugs. When the rain eased, the wind went light southwest, leaving me with a long slow beat to Walton at 2045hrs where I moored for the night on soft mud towards Dunmore Creek, dead beat.
I woke at 0730hrs to find brilliant sunshine and moved over to Walton Stone to walk over the golden sands before breakfast. My routine on arrival at Walton is long established; up to the club to go shopping and to fill up the water cans; then back into the Twizzle and across the Wade to Kirby Creek, thence Hamford Water and on to Landmere. To my delight the wind had gone southeast and I was able to sail both ways along the half mile tidal canal to Beaumont Quay which is built from the stones of old London Bridge. It was just 1600hrs. An hour later I moored in a very sheltered little creek called the Bustway and after a meal, dozed for two hours before crawling into my sleeping bag.
Friday came in very hazy with wind forecast from the north. I left at 0450hrs to be able to cut close round the Stone Point instead of going right out to the end of the Pye Sand. I never saw anything of Harwich, somewhere in the gloom, but reached Walton Pier by 0633hrs. The wind had risen by this time and looking up, I noticed clouds racing overhead. Of course I was against the tide but progress over the ebb tide was good, helped by vicious gusts off Clacton Pier at 0815hrs. Fortunately it began to ease by the time I reached Colne Point and plugged across the wide open mouth of the estuary to Bradwell as the sun came out. At 1250hrs I anchored off Osea Island to wait for the tide at my drying mooring. I had been away just over six days and covered about one hundred and ninety nautical miles in just over sixty hours under way; having visited the head of navigation at each of the five Suffolk and north Essex estuaries.
How I sympathise with those sportsman who talk of giving up in their thirties or early forties. Even golfers `go off their game` but the sailor can go on well into retirement; any physical failing being more than compensated for by the accumulation of low animal cunning.