Charles Stock & Shoal Waters

Dawn Sun Moonstruck

Don’t miss those Morning Glories!

Few of the colour slides that I show during my lectures are more warmly received than those of glorious sunsets. Sail though any anchorage as the sun goes down on a warm evening and see how many crews are sitting out in the cockpit watching the changing colours as he day dies. We all love sunsets but few seem to realise that Phoebe can be equally colourful when she appears at dawn.

Some years ago we moored near the Berney Arms windmill on the Broads and realised to our delight that we would see the sun rise over Breydon water. It was a crystal clear morning as the yellow glow hardened over the big road bridge, but soon after the glowing orb detached herself from the huddle of buildings that are Yarmouth, her warming rays lifted a golden mist several feet deep that persisted for some thirty minutes until it evaporated in the strengthening rays. I was tempted to run along the line of silent motor cruisers to wake them up and show them what they were missing but had second thoughts when I thought of newspaper headlines,-


The dawns I love most are those just after last quarter of the moon when the sun is proceeded by a silver sliver of her lunar cousin. At times the moon will be proceeded by Venus, the morning star for good measure. When the sun rises clear out of the sea it seems to stay glued to a broad base on the horizon for several minutes before finally detaching itself.

Of course many times, clouds will obscure the horizon but most days the sun will burst through by hook or crook, sometimes with dramatic effect. I recall one day off the Naze when, after a gloomy start, several shafts of brilliant red light suddenly shone down on the sea as if someone had opened a furnace door. Low cloud on the horizon will often sport a fringe of gold, which intensifies just before the sun appears.

Lastly, as a bonus for rising early, you will have a fine appetite for breakfast!


Dawn Sun MoonStruck Mud

Early this season I left the club on the midday high water and beat down the river into a light easterly wind. By sunset I was nearing Colne Point. At 1700hrs I turned back to steer into the warm ribbon of red leading to the glowing orb on the horizon. Every few minutes I looked astern. At 1717hrs the full moon climbed out of the sea astern. SNAP! A Juxta position that never ceases to delight me.

I suppose the best ever was cup final day long ago. High water was in the small hours and I left to sail out across the estuary to round the Tounge Sand gun tower off Margate, which I reached at mid afternoon by which time it was high tide again. A beautiful breeze grew out of the southwest as I steered back to Essex. As a red sun set ahead with the red flash of the mid Barrow light vessel alongside, I looked back to see the full moon rising near the white flash of the Tounge light vessel.

Candidly I am a moonlight sailing addict and try to get a night passage around each full moon. I suppose the best this year (2003) was on the Wednesday before Easter when, having spent the afternoon sheltering under Colne Point from a dying northeasterly blow, I left at midnight and beat down the Wallet in NE force two with the strong spring ebb under a crystal clear sky. The delightful steady breeze so often found at night would come as a pleasant surprise to those of you, used only to gusty ever changing afternoon blows. I can never make up my mind which I prefer, a crystal clear moon in a crystal clear sky, or a moon dodging among fluffy clouds. One of the few poems learnt in my school days that remain with me is,

When the wind is a torrent of darkness rustling through the trees,

When the moon is a golden galleon tossed upon stormy seas.

Glorious Mud. July 1985

Bait diggers leave rows of black castles across silver plains; small boys, caked to the eyes, paddle in the thick brown ooze; yachtsmen, cursing, drag grey inflatables over grey wastes. Mud, unloved and unlovely, trap for the unwary, shifting and inconstant, weaves its sinuous tentacles across harbour entrance and estuarine channel.

Mud whispers softly as it dries in the sunlight, slither through toes that wade on the waterfront, clings to anchors and oar blades and daggerboards, spreads over foredecks and settles in bilges. Mud cradles shoal draught cruisers on the half-tide moorings and claws at keels daring banks on the ebb holding them briefly for breath-holding moments.

Prudent yachtsmen learn to live with its caprice, updating charts from grimy experience, ignoring withies which mark ghost channels. They recognise the gentle nod of the prow, the imperceptible slowing as the keel explores a newly-created bank.

East Coasters are born to mud. They develop techniques for it, train their noses and navigate by it. They have an extra sense for tracing the tortuous windings of swatchway and runnel, yet the low tide criss-cross of keel tracks mock the falsely confident mutely.

Sculpted by the rolling currents, mud can be heaped into time-frozen images of storm-tossed seas or burnished smooth by a slow-drifting stream. Down the shore chiselled channels meander, often headed by half decayed landing stages recalling less silted times.

Wildlife thrives in the rich silt and oozes. The swaying reeds of the saltings hide warblers and dunlin while oystercatchers and redshanks strut and fret across the flats.

Man moves across the treacherous surface with cautious strides, aware that its deceptive uniformity hides thigh deep hollows of black sludge, or razor sharp shells to lacerate unguarded feet. But ragged prints will fill again with water and the returning tides wipes the record of his passing.