Up creek – with or without paddle.

Well hello everyone, I hope you are all well and that those of you in the northern hemisphere are out in your boats enjoying yourselves : in Blog time it’s mid July 2022, we we are back from a non sailing holiday to the sand and creeks of north Norfolk and I’m just about to launch into full time work on my own project again. My intention now is to slowly build up to full time boatbuilding work again until any one of three things happen – that I either finish main construction completely and that includes the rig and fit out, or that I run out of funds – which is likely or thirdly that I have to stop because I’m due in court in October (teaser). With my blog work I intend to reduce the boatbuilding posts even further to perhaps twice a month , to work on one post in the same line as the previous one and then write a whole new series about the experiences of sailing in the tidal rivers and creeks all around the UK.

Wells harbor and the now famous ‘headless dog’ photograph.

Creek sailing (UK) or gunkholing (USA) doesn’t seem to happen much at my end – that’s the western end, of England’s south coast ; to be honest it’s hardly a south coast thing at all where most boats are fin keeled yachts that live in expensive marina berths or tidal deep water moorings and when those boats go cruising most of them schlep along offshore from marina to marina and never or very rarely anchor out. One of the worst places to be on a busy summer weekend is the small deep water anchorage at Dandy Hole in the river Lynher when the tide turns and the badly anchored yachts start clonking into each other – last time I was up there although in the shallow water section just beyond the hole I was suddenly woken up by lots of shouting about who was dragging into who……like parking space road rage but on the water. To be honest I needn’t have been there at all in my shallow draft centerboarder but I’d slipped over the banks at low water flood and had already settled in for the night when a whole load of fin keeled yachts turned up and started competing for space.

Nowadays , if i’m in the Lynher, I just look for a spot away from other boats – there’s a hard to find deeper water gully on the way upriver – or just anchor out of the channel around the corner from Dandy hole ; once there my usual practice is to anchor over the mud and settle at low water or to rig a Bahamian moor if wind and tide is a bit playful.

At anchor Exe bar…..waiting for the ebb to finish.

I hope that most sailors will be somewhat familiar with the writing of the late Maurice Griffiths who wrote extensively about the rivers and creeks of England’s east coast – in a way that’s where English small boat yachting started off probably because of the new ‘middle class’ who for the first time had a disposable income and where there was a predictable rail service to the east coast ; one older east coast yachtsman once told me that you needed two publications to sail successfully on the Suffolk, Essex and Kent coast……those being the tide tables and the railway timetable. Most of the branch line railways were closed in the 1960’s but by then leisure sailing in small yachts was established, in fact booming, and many sailors owned cars.

There is a though that perhaps Maurice Griffiths was writing a kind of escapist literature but he clearly loved the east coast and craved the solitude of the creeks – for me an even better book is ‘Sailing Just For Fun’ written by the late Charles Stock and featuring his home made cruising boat based on a 16 foot cold molded dinghy hull. Other writers have tried to write in the same genre but in my opinion they aren’t much more than copies of copies……go back to the originals if you enjoy sailing literature.

There is another line of small craft leisure sailing that hardly any modern sailors know anything about and has mostly died out but might be making a revival – what I’m talking about here were the seagoing canoes, sailing canoes and then better known canoe Yawl’s of the Humber Estuary further north ; don’t go looking today though as there aren’t any.

One of Griffith’s favorite creeks – the Walton Backwaters.

In my case I hardly know the east coast rivers and creeks at all except for the one passage where I took an 80 year old east coast gaffer (Deben 4 tonner) down the Orwell, into the Walton Backwaters and then crossed the Thames estuary in a very long day’s sailing to Ramsgate . My background is IOR racing yachts and then maxi boats and deep ocean sailing – consequently I found that none of my previous experience was useful and not only was I incompetent with a small, long keeled gaffer -hilariously so – but I found the Thames crossing both technically difficult and disorientating.

In this series of posts I don’t so much want to talk about the boats as Iv’e done plenty of that in the past – rather I want to talk about the next thing which is creek and river skills and then the experiences of sailing and living out in the tidal estuaries, small rivers and creeks of the English coast. For a kind of baseline to this I started my own sailing life in the Menai Straits where I often ran aground because the straits are often deep but the channels narrow and where I didn’t sail in the shallow water areas of the north west – Morecambe bay, the Dee, the Lune and Wyre until much later on. By then I was an established deep water sailor and heading towards being an oceanic one – still, three times around the Horn doesn’t make for a creek sailor.

Today’s post just serves as an introduction – next time I want to introduce readers to some of my favorite creeks and rivers in the south west of England and on the western coast of Brittany.

Until then…..

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