Har­vest Cruise

Creek sailor Tony Smith finds respite from the hus­tle and bus­tle of daily life on a 37-mile cruise from his Black­wa­ter moor­ing to Ip­swich

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents -

A tran­quil cruise along the River Or­well, from Har­wich to Ip­swich

The ear­li­est wheat har­vest in liv­ing mem­ory was un­der way as I climbed aboard my minia­ture gaff cut­ter Shoal Wa­ters to go cruis­ing. I’d brought my an­nual Har­vest cruise for­ward by two weeks to co­in­cide and as we set full sail and cruised the north shore mar­gins over the in­com­ing tide, light airs from the north-west blew gen­tly in 30°C tem­per­a­ture and the dis­tant rum­ble of farm ma­chin­ery at work on golden fields fol­lowed our slow course down the Black­wa­ter. My aim was to reach the Suf­folk county town and the in­ter­na­tional Port of Ip­swich at the top of the River Or­well, 37 miles from my moor­ing.

For those who think we shoal draught yachts have it easy be­ing able to creep along in the shal­lows, per­haps to stay clear of an un­favourable tide, when oth­ers that have to stay in the chan­nel and the full force cur­rent have ei­ther turned back or switched to iron top­sails, the mosquitoes and midges in marsh­land bite hard, es­pe­cially at har­vest time when they are be­ing evicted en mass! And so I was re­lieved to an­chor at 2335 on the south side of the river at the drain­pipe near Wey­marks Creek and Sales Point.

Set­ting the ghoster

Mon­day I got away at 0935 with ris­ing heat and light airs. I pad­dled over to the beach to run a piece of line to the bowsprit crans iron as an out­haul so I could hoist my ghoster sail. With the fore­cast weather I needed it. It’s bright or­ange, made of light­weight ma­te­rial from a World War II para­chute and a lit­tle awk­ward to bend on as I have to stand on deck and lower the jib and use the head to at­tach it. I don’t use this sail as of­ten as our trump card, the small top­sail I carry per­ma­nently at­tached to its bam­boo yard, but it has got me home a cou­ple of times and sets and draws best when reach­ing in the shi­est of winds.

Set­ting the ghoster worked a treat and we caught up with the last of a dozen or so Old Gaffer rally boats leav­ing the Colne, head­ing up the coast. With wind strength build­ing I took the ghoster in at mid­day be­fore we reached south of the In­ner Bench Head and Colne Point buoys and held a close course in­shore to head east, across the Colne Bar in tur­bu­lent wa­ter.

The south­east sea breeze came in and for the small yacht sail­ing up or down this 14-mile stretch of ex­posed coast, known lo­cally as The Sun­shine Coast, par­tic­u­larly in an on­shore wind, there is nowhere to run for cover if things start to kick up. But there once was and two hours later I was at the Radar Mast at Hol­land-on-Sea – al­most mid­way along the coast and the site of a for­mer Gun­fleet Es­tu­ary.

Like much of marsh­land Es­sex, sea­walls

were built in the 17th cen­tury to re­claim land for farm­ing and have been built across its mouth, the only tell-tale be­ing the sluice out­fall for the Hol­land River. Nev­er­the­less 16th Cen­tury maps show it as an im­por­tant land­ing place for small trad­ing boats.

I passed in­side Stone Banks and into Har­wich Har­bour. At 1615 the South Shelf buoy fell away to star­board head­ing north, with half a dozen huge con­tainer ships moored at Felixs­towe Docks – an awe-in­spir­ing sight when viewed from a tiny cock­pit at sea level.

Har­wich has long been an im­por­tant sea port and a pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tion for tourists. Back in the 1800s you could take a reg­u­lar steamship from Lon­don Bridge to Har­wich pier.

The mis­lead­ing lights

On the Har­wich shore I could pick out two for­mer lead­ing lights that guided ships into Har­wich dur­ing the early 19th Cen­tury, the High and the Low light­houses. With the chan­nel con­stantly mov­ing they were later found to be use­less and be­came known as the mis­lead­ing lights un­til they were re­placed in 1863 by two lights at Dover­court about a mile south. Both build­ings are lo­cal land­marks that add to the depth of his­tory.

For sea­far­ers to­day en­try into Har­wich Har­bour is made eas­ier and is a reg­u­lar port of call of the largest con­tainer ships in the world, and in sea­son many cruis­ing yachts ar­rive here from across Europe.

If you stick to the west, ie Har­wich side of the chan­nel buoys, the in­ward bound yacht’s port side and the rec­om­mended track for small boats, there should be no prob­lems with ship­ping.

With a quar­ter­ing wind I guided Shoal Wa­ters through the deep har­bour wa­ter and the mouth of the River Stour into the shal­lows of Shot­ley Flats, north­west of Shot­ley Spit, and be­gan work­ing my 8ft Or­well wand – a length of gar­den bean stick marked up es­pe­cially for tak­ing sound­ings in these Suf­folk wa­ters. I gybed to cross the fair­way at Babergh and over to Fag­bury buoy and a cut in the seawall at Trim­ley Marshes bring­ing No1 Or­well buoy nicely abeam to take a leisurely quar­ter along the eastern shore of this king of the Suf­folk rivers, the Or­well.

Tran­quil idyll

For me the Or­well has a charm of its own. As you leave open wa­ter and to­day’s busy world be­hind at the docks you can truly re­lax to a pace of ru­ral Suf­folk where trees come down to the sea. I’m in­clined to be­lieve many yacht­ing folk think the same as the Or­well has more than its fair share of mari­nas and, com­bined with boat­yards and sail­ing clubs, there are lit­er­ally thou­sands of small craft berthed in the river.

Thank­fully they don’t all come out to play to­gether and as I passed Suf­folk Yacht Har­bour with its maze of masts I could see a favourite an­chor­age, Lev­ing­ton Creek, was com­pletely clear of boats.

I furled the head­sails as they were

un­nec­es­sary with a full main­sail driv­ing ef­fort­lessly our wan­der­ing pace and stayed with the east shore – though, to be fair, on a ris­ing tide an equally plea­sur­able ex­pe­ri­ence can be had dead cen­tre of the chan­nel. But given the choice and enough wa­ter I’ll take ei­ther shore, keep­ing to the shal­lows as I cruise up­stream.

I chose the east shore which takes the yacht fur­ther away from the chan­nel to­ward Broke Hall and Nac­ton shore where the river here­abouts is at its widest, a mile wide at high tide, with less than a third in the chan­nel. It leads to de­serted bluff beaches adorned by the rus­tic splin­ter of drift­wood, much of it un­der canopy of lush green leaves where the chirp and song of land birds mix with the cackle and phe­weep of sea waders.

I con­tin­ued up­stream, sound­ing as we sailed. Every few mo­ments a slight per­sua­sive touch on the tiller with a gen­tle pull on her main­sheet steered her into inches more wa­ter and freed her keel.

Sud­denly we’d ar­rived at an old thatched cot­tage at Nac­ton Quay, a pretty, pic­ture post­card kind of place, be­fore slip­ping south across Pot­ter’s Reach to Pin Mill on the west shore with its charm of char­ac­ter­ful boats that line the sweep into the crook of this el­bow of river where a Thames barge of­ten sits moored on the hard. Arthur Ran­some used Pin Mill for the set­ting of his novel We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea and the Pin Mill water­side re­mains largely un­changed to­day. Ab­sorb­ing the set­ting I sailed around many beau­ti­ful craft teth­ered to moor­ings when a thought came to me: no hu­man in­hab­its the East Coast rivers, only empty yachts that are the week­end re­sort for the owner.

I weaved through yachts with dog houses, dou­ble en­ders, a Thames baw­ley and by Pin Mill Sail­ing Club which con­trols an area of marsh and mud moor­ings for small boats, as does Stoke Sail­ing Club a short dis­tance up­stream.

Smug­gling tales

Just by Royal Har­wich Yacht Club and the open wa­ter Woolver­stone Ma­rina is the Cat House which, along with Clamp House on the shore down from Pin Mill, were in­volved in smug­gling. The story goes a cat was placed in the win­dow of Cat House when the Ex­cise men were not around, giv­ing the sig­nal all was clear to bring up the booty.

I paused for the night in a sweep­ing bay and agree­able an­chor­age of ac­com­mo­dat­ing mud at the foot of a Suf­folk cu­rios­ity, Fre­ston Tower. This six-story red brick folly stands on a hill with sheep bleat­ing be­low in park grounds. It’s thought to have been built in the 16th Cen­tury and one fa­ble has it each floor was ded­i­cated to the study of a dif­fer­ent sub­ject for six days of the week. I guess they went sail­ing on the sev­enth.

An­other plus was the mar­vel­lous view of the gi­ant Or­well Bridge up ahead. I set up the sun canopy and set­tled down for a re­laxed evening read­ing and study­ing the lo­cal wildlife through the binoc­u­lars un­til the sun fell mag­i­cally be­hind the bridge.

With HW Ip­swich at 1030 I woke to the sound of bleat­ing sheep at 0630 the next morn­ing and was treated to a spec­ta­cle of a huge ship thread­ing its way up­stream. The main deep-wa­ter fair­way is rather straight to­day but it hasn’t al­ways been so and old maps show how me­an­der­ing and awk­ward it was for ships to get up to Ip­swich. A vast amount of dredg­ing has been done since the 1800s to make the port more ac­ces­si­ble.

Os­trich Creek

I heaved up an­chor through a school­ing of jel­ly­fish drift­ing up with the tide at 0930 and set off in a light south wind. By 0950 Shoal Wa­ters was dwarfed by the Or­well Bridge and the grind of mo­tor traf­fic over­head. The huge cen­tre span of the bridge is lit­er­ally the front door­way to the im­por­tant com­mer­cial Port of Ip­swich and im­me­di­ately through it the river scene changes with ships lin­ing the wharfs to the east. But still the river clings to its ru­ral charm lower down with a short row of swing­ing yacht moor­ings up to Os­trich Creek on the west bank, the shared

‘The Or­well has a charm of its own – you can truly re­lax to a pace of ru­ral Suf­folk’

en­trance to Foxes Ma­rina and Or­well Yacht Club. I sailed over to this oddly named creek (thought to come from a lo­cal landowner Sir Ed­ward Coke whose coat of arms had the os­trich bird on; oth­ers have thought it a cor­rup­tion of Oys­ter Reach) where minia­ture port and star­board buoys cheer­ily mark the gut.

I car­ried on our slow cruise, mov­ing close to the ships. One was un­load­ing piles of freshly treated tim­ber pan­els and its resinous smell wafted over the dock in the light breeze, fol­low­ing us to a lock gate and the en­trance to the wet dock at 1025. The river car­ries on along the New Cut for just un­der a mile to Stoke Bridge where it be­comes the River Gip­ping and, given more time and an­other wind di­rec­tion, I may have sailed up it

Many craft visit and stay in the wet dock, which was opened in 1842 and with its lock en­ables craft to stay afloat at any time of tide. I was sail­ing back and forth in the port when the barge Thal­lata ap­peared through the lock, on way down­stream. We both gilled about mark­ing time while a ship made a 180° turn and set sail out of port.

With the ebb be­gin­ning to set in I be­gan the jour­ney back down the Or­well be­hind her, and by the af­ter­noon had to an­chor be­low Colton Creek in 6ft of smooth wa­ter in a Force 5 in the lee of Col­limer Point to tie in two reefs. I had lunch and set off at 1500 with the in­ten­tion of get­ting out of the river and hope­fully round to the Back­wa­ters.

At 1700 I was once more south of Shot­ley Spit and felt the wind be­gin drop­ping off a lit­tle and Shoal Wa­ters doesn’t sail well at all in light breezes with two reefs in her main­sail.

The mid­dle of Har­wich Har­bour isn’t the ideal place to hove to but some­how I kept steer­age­way and shook out both reefs to tackle Har­wich Break­wa­ter, our Neme­sis try­ing to leave the har­bour.

My per­sis­tence paid off as it oc­ca­sion­ally does. I have a sail­ing say­ing ‘it’s al­ways worth a try’ and it was, we rounded it at 1830 barely mak­ing two knots over ground. I passed the old light­houses at Dover­court 10 min­utes later and trimmed the two head­sails to work in uni­son for a close fetch down into the Back­wa­ters and a mag­i­cal night be­side Horsey Is­land in Ham­ford Wa­ter.

Work­ing the tide

I be­gan the pas­sage back down the Wal­let at 0600, leav­ing Ham­ford Wa­ter with a light north-west breeze driv­ing us north-east over the flood and with a cheeky short cut over Pye Sands to drop past Naze Ledge and join the full force of tide mov­ing down the coast.

I hoisted the ghoster and as the sum­mer wind blew it drove us whole length of the Wal­let, into the Black­wa­ter up to my home creek where I ran out of wa­ter at 1550. I came in on the next flood tide un­der power of the jib­sail, alone un­der a bright moon flick­er­ing on warm wa­ter, past a lone withie that leans wearily and with a rum­ble of com­bine har­vesters still at work in the nearby corn­fields.

Ghoster sail picks up the light­est of breezes

Shoal Wa­ters has no en­gine – Tony Smith sails her us­ing wind and tide alone

Or­well Bridge is the gate­way to Ip­swich

LEFT Pass­ing Wolver­stone Ma­rina BE­LOW Moored off Fre­ston Tower

RIGHT Head­ing for home: sail­ing down The Wal­let

A mag­i­cal night in Ham­ford Wa­ter

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