It blew hard for the first full week of October but the forecast for the weekend was good; with the north westerly wind easing on Friday, very light on Saturday and Sunday and rising from the east southeast on Monday. Ideal for a last trip from my drying mooring at Heybridge to Burnham. HW Friday was 1345hrs and I carried my gear on board over the mud and prepared to leave as she floated. A very high tide was forecast and it arrived early, enabling me to leave under plain sail at 1145hrs with a westerly wind force four, to pass north of Osea Island, dodging the strong tide in the narrows on the south side
The noon shipping forecast gave Thames NW 5/6 while BBC Essex, forty minutes later, gave NW 4/5. By HW, I was off Bradwell power station as the ebb set in and the little green cutter began to race along past the low coastal marshes. In fact the lighters sunk off Sales Point to protect the seawall were still submerged as I passed them (protruding poles with port hand topmarks show where they are) and eased southeast and then south down the lonely coast of the Dengie Hundred where even the farms cower a mile inland. The normal route is a mile or more offshore but with Shoal Waters` shallow draft and the high tide, I was able to keep a few hundred yards off the coast in smooth water and dodge much of the ebb. The only navigation marks, apart from Bishops Cedd’s little Saxon church and a beacon on the off lying Buxey Sands, are four wrecks left on the flats from its` days as a bombing range during the war. The northern pair were in line by 1350hrs and the southern two at 1420hrs. As the water fell, I started to use my six foot sounding cane like a walking stick as buoys in the outer Crouch came into view far away to the southeast. By 1500hrs it was shallowing fast and I anchored twenty minutes later in ten feet just outside Shore Ends when I met the very strong tide pouring out of the River Crouch. There was nothing to be done but eat and sleep until the flood at 1930hrs, apart from moving out into deeper water to avoid drying as the tide fell and the ebb eased.
At 1900 hrs I could wait no longer and began to beat into the river as darkness closed in and the buoys began to wink their comforting guiding message. The wind had now fallen to westerly force two. It was just 2045hs as I anchored in the Roach and the clouds rolled away to reveal a full moon in a clear sky..
It was perfectly calm under a clear sky when I looked out at 0500hrs on Saturday. BBC Essex forecast a fine day with light winds from the NW veering NE and then SE. I left at 0815hrs to beat up through a lonely Burnham as the day warmed up to become a real scorcher, a bonus so late in the year. By Fambridge at 1140hrs the wind was dying with occasional lively gusts so I moved into the delightful Stow Maries Creek to anchor above the marina and listen to the trains rattling along behind the seawall and admire the autumn colours on the hills beyond as the blue water flooded the sun baked saltings and a flock of plovers danced back and forth.
A few minutes steady northwesterly encouraged me to get underway an hour before high water, but it died away and left me in the main river just maintaining way over the last of the tide as I stripped off my overalls and sweater and rolled up my sleeves again. Then the tide just had to turn in my favour but the wind died for over an hour. Spiders webs in the rigging foretold, correctly, that it would come in from the east to give me a beat back down the river, reaching busy Burnham at 1700hrs as the local boats streamed home, unfortunately including large motor craft and endless fishing boats who have never heard of speed limits. By the Roach entrance at 1730hrs the wind was dying again and I couldn’t sail in over the strong ebb so I anchored on the eastern side for a quiet night as the roar of the last engine died away, leaving the silent river just to me and the birds.
It was still dead calm as the 0045hrs forecast on Sunday morning gave Thames - NE –E 3 – 5/6 but a light breeze came in soon after and I sensed that I should get round into the River Blackwater as soon as possible. I left at 0220hrs, half an hour before high water, under a crystal clear sky and a brilliant moon with Orion already high in the east and Sirius just above the horizon. The wind was E by S force two which enabled me to point the Crouch with just one tack before bidding farewell to the Crouch Red Can Buoy for another year at 0320hrs. Once I turned north and eased the sheets, it was a fast reach up the Ray Sand Channel as the wind rose steadily. Off the flats and into the outer Blackwater, I met the ebb, and it was a slow run into the shelter of Bradwell Creek for breakfast. By now the wind was rising and clearly meant business. After a last look at West Mersea in a rising swell, I raced up river to anchor in the shelter of Stansgate Abbey at 1015hrs to wait for my mooring to cover. With the wind now screaming overhead, I settled to a steady trip home under staysail, noting in passing that the causeway to Osea island was already covered which means that my mooring would be just afloat when I reached it. With my seventy six year old knees seeming not to respond the way they used too, I have a choice in onshore winds of scraping onto the mooring as it covers, with the mud to catch me if I miss, OR waiting until nearer high water when there would be plenty of room to try again if I missed it first time. I settled for the former and had a long afternoon nap until I could walk ashore, well content with my last trip of the season.