I was originally just going to call this post ‘contrasts’ and theme it on the differences between this part of the west country and the wooded rivers to the west such as the Helford, Fal and Fowey rivers.. The Exe though is one of those places that was high on my list to visit during the WABI”’ voyage even though i have heard that it can be a difficult river : it certainly was during our visit. It is very different to anywhere that we have sailed so far this year, in fact i think its more like a combination of Norfolk and Essex but on a west facing coast.
There is a huge contrast between this estuary and anything to the west . The west country rivers from the Helford right through to the Dart and Salcombe are steep sided, wooded and quite narrow rivers. The Exe in contrast feels like somewhere else entirely with its shallow sandy bar, its low lying land and wide but very tidal river estuary. On the day the entrance was a bit difficult and parts of the bar were breaking as charted and the tide was low enough that the outer sands were dry. Even before that we’d had a fairly tough day beating up to the entrance in a rising breeze and awkward short chop that had me working hard to keep the Liberty both on its feet and powered up enough to cope with the short sea. One of the Libertys weak points i would still say is its ability to get upwind in a chop and breeze : on the flip side we had already seen-off this big ketch downwind the day before in ideal downwind conditions for our boat.
I estimate that just before we got to the bar it was blowing a gusty six with a short chop to go with that . Looking up and out it was all big cloud heads and changing light minute by minute as you can see from the photographs. My charts are definitely out of date for this river (good lesson) as my waypoint which should have been an east cardinal was nowhere to be seen and boats were clearly entering/leaving around a mile or so to our North.* Eventually i motored up using the mizzen just to keep us on the wind and when we did find the channel buoys we just slipped over the bar with hardly inches under the board. We did follow a larger multihull in and had another one behind us plus what i eventually worked out was a couple of lifting keel yachts. Both multihulls anchored for a while just outside the channel as even after theoretical low water there was still at least 2kn outward flow in the channel.
When the outward flow stopped and we were able to motor up the channel and get inside the river the weather and light just went from one extreme to another : one moment a blue green sea but with heavy grey clouds….the next moment double rainbows and sharp showers.
We found one of the marked visitor moorings just inside the first real bend inside the river just to the east of the warren, once the flood kicked in it seemed to get up to about 3kn almost instantly and stayed that way until nearly high water. We stayed there overnight but made a very early start upriver the next morning on the late flood so as to get up to Topsham by high water and before the forecasted F7 got going from the north-west. Its an interesting ride up the river with plenty of moored boats to look at, its not a big-boat place either. Upstream is Starcross with its own sailing club, Lympstone and the CTC and the entrance to the short Exeter canal at turf lock.
After Starcross the channel such as it is gets very thin and very narrow and stays that way right up to Topsham although there is a deeper pool just off the sailing club . Most of the moorings are very shallow and most of the boats dry out on soft mud. We went alongside the town quay for a while but i would have needed a fender board and much longer springs so instead we spent the first night on one of Topsham SC’s moorings. We had a morning asking around and trying to find either a mooring for the autumn or a mud berth : the mud berth works out as the better option. The river seems to have a similar problem to our home river in that lots of debris comes down the river during heavy rain and storms : both the sailing club and the boatyard have picnic tables that have floated down from Exeter.
*The channel has changed radically since my older charts were drawn compared to the 2015 chart which i bought this week.