My bet­ter in­stincts did a bunk, se­duced by a lie-in

Yachting Monthly - - COLUMN - DICK DURHAM

Ihad all the ex­cuses I needed to re­turn to the warmth of my bunk and not get un­der way. The wind was still fresh from the south-west when it should have veered to the west-north-west and eased. It was still dark and my rudi­men­tary nav­i­ga­tion lights had yet to be sorted. And my VHF wasn’t work­ing: com­mu­ni­ca­tion would be nec­es­sary if we de­cided to take the short cut via the mil­i­tary lift­ing bridge at Haven­gore. I told my crew to re­sume his snor­ing. We weren’t leav­ing at 0500 af­ter all.

Back in my bag I shud­dered bliss­fully, shrug­ging off the cold of the cock­pit and curl­ing into my own warmth. But I knew I would pay. Two hours later the world was a much more wel­com­ing place: the sun shone brightly the wind had veered west and had eased, but the flood was now run­ning strongly against us. It had been this flood we needed to ride. And had we left Burn­ham-on-crouch when we should have done, tak­ing the last two hours of ebb down the river, we would have dou­bled the Whi­taker Spit and would by now, in­deed, be rid­ing it up Swin to the Thames Es­tu­ary.

‘We’ll have break­fast un­der­way,’ I stated nobly, as though some­how this would make up for lost time.

Un­der full sail and against the shal­lows of the north bank we pushed rea­son­ably well over the tide, in the shadow of the sea wall.

By the time we were out be­yond Shore Ends we only had three-and-a-half hours of flood left to run, but at least this meant we could take a short­cut and scour­ing the chart I no­ticed a low way over the sands used as a fir­ing ground on week­days. No guns – from the MOD range at Shoe­bury­ness – were trained on this great shoal at the week­end, though, so we steered 150° from the Sunken Buxey No 1 buoy straight across the top of the Foul­ness Sand.

I watched the shal­low wa­ter start to rip­ple up. Just as Archimedes had dis­cov­ered while tak­ing a morn­ing bath, Betty II’S hull, four feet from the bot­tom, was dis­plac­ing what sound­ings were avail­able.

Fin­gers crossed, and in si­lence, we con­tin­ued to the high­est ridge, and then started talk­ing again once I could make out the greener wa­ter of the West Swin. We were over.

‘We’ve got an hour back,’ I said. ‘We should go like a rocket now, with wind and tide.’

And in­deed, the wind had gone north of west, giv­ing us a quar­ter­ing breeze as we ticked off the nav­i­ga­tion buoys of the Swin chan­nel.

‘If we can make the Black­tail Spit be­fore the tide’s shot, we can at least creep along the edge of the Maplin Sands the way the wind is.’ Sure enough we did have the Black­tail abeam as the flood died but, alas, the wind backed, too. It was now due west, a dead-noser. With the whole of the Thames Es­tu­ary open to us, I tried first of all tack­ing to­wards the Kent shore, kid­ding my­self we were get­ting a lift here and there, and then, hav­ing been forced to ad­mit we were just fall­ing away east­ward on the ebb, back to­wards the Es­sex shore. In nei­ther di­rec­tion was there any­thing like a ‘mak­ing tack’. Just the flap­ping leech of the head­sails an­nounc­ing that in seek­ing a bet­ter an­gle I was sim­ply luff­ing and slow­ing the boat down.

Af­ter half ebb the tide be­gan to ease and we crawled slowly into the es­tu­ary. Too late to get back on my berth, I at least hoped to make it into the shal­low Hadleigh Ray where I could an­chor her un­til the night tide. I pushed on into ever shal­lower wa­ter un­til she ran aground.

Turn­ing on the en­gine, putting her full in re­verse and with both of us hang­ing the rig­ging, we got off. In do­ing so we jammed the cen­tre-plate case with mud and shin­gle, only reme­died with a lift-out three days later.

Those two ex­tra hours of kip were a pricey in­dul­gence.

Fin­gers crossed, and in si­lence, we con­tin­ued

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