Charles Stock & Shoal Waters

September Cruise 2003

The five day forecast was good but you could have fooled me in the small hours of the twelfth as the little gaff cutter Shoal Waters made her way down the River Blackwater in a light northerly air and steady rain. My aim was to visit Walton Backwaters with Rochford in reserve as the one head of navigation in the area I had not visited this year. As the rain eased, the wind rose, and by the time I reached Clacton Pier at 0600hrs the prospect of a dead beat round the Naze over the first of the flood began to pall so I turned south for the River Crouch. Conditions in the Ray were horrendous and I pulled down a reef with some difficulty but the wind began to ease once I got into the river, the sun came out (for six days) and life seemed good. Few members go right up the River Roach but Pagalsham is one of the least changed parts of the Essex coast and always worth a visit. Motor coasters have only recently ceased taking corn to Stanbridge Mill at the head of navigation. A small club, mostly motorboats, has been formed there and they have built their own marina with pontoons complete with water and power across and ingenious floating, opening gate.

After a nap and a sail up to the old tide pool, I beat down the river into an easterly breeze for another nap above Pagalsham. The forecast was for fog next morning so in the dying evening airs, I moved below the moorings to anchor near the barge Pudge and watch the sun set over the little hamlet.

Fog it was next morning and I got away at 0500hrs to drift down to the Crouch by low water for I aimed to take the flood up to Bridgemarsh Island. The lightest of airs came in from the east as I burst out of the fog in Quay Reach to see the mast and sprit of the barge moving slowly though the fog behind me. In fact I had left too soon and decided to take the rest of the strong ebb down the Crouch, reaching the Ray Yellow Buoy at 0900hrs. It is always worth a chance to see these places at low water. I anchored for an hour in warm sunshine and contemplated my choice for the day; to sail over the flood and cross Foulness sand to Havengore, take advantage of the growing southerly wind to get back to the Blackwater or take the flood up the Crouch and round flooded Bridgemarsh Island at high water. I settled for the latter, the only peaceful place on the busy River Crouch on a Saturday afternoon. After another nap behind the flooded island I set off with the ebb and found a lively easterly in the main river which kicked up a fair old lop over the spring ebb as I beat down to the shelter of the River Roach for the night. A fine sunset.

A glorious moonlight night was follow by a fine sunrise. A light breeze was blowing from the southeast when I left at 0330hrs and sailed up the coast close inshore over the shallows to anchor two hours later off the sixteen lighters beached on the mud like stranded whales. They are there to protect the seawall where the saltings have been eroded. I have watched them since they were put there some twenty years ago. The original bright idea to top them off with shingle in which little terns could nest, failed when the first winter storms hit them. They have worked well in that mud has built up behind and is already greening over but the lighters themselves are taking a battering. I spent a pleasant morning out there on the sands alone except for one bait digger visitor. Just before noon I walked out towards the returning tide and escorted it back to the boat. A useful breeze had grown up and when she floated at noon, I set off over the tide towards Harwich. Progress was good at first but slowed almost to zero as I met the full flood tide off the North West Knoll. It was slow progress to the North Eagle but suddenly the shoreline to the north, standing out clearly in the brilliant sunshine, began to fly past when the tide turned. A fleet of larger yachts appeared from the River Colne bound north. I was tempted to cut close round the Naze but thought better of it because there was as strangely large swell running by now so I sounded over the Pye Sand level with Crabb Knoll to moor in Hamford Water just above Kirby Creek ready to watch a fine sunset.

A fine dawn on Monday caused a mist to rise over the water for half an hour or so and I glided up to Walton Stone where I beached for a walkabout on the golden sands just before low water. Then it was shopping at the Walton and Frinton Y.C. before crossing the Wade to visit Beaumont Quay and then picking up one of the moorings off Skippers Island for a late afternoon nap. Just before dusk I moved down past the Bustway to get some better slides of a glorious sunset before anchoring for the night.

On Tuesday in another glorious dawn I moved slowly down to beach off Dunmore creek and walked to watch that tortured mass of sand and mud in their latest contortions. Many charts still show a creek running in through the saltings towards Great Oakley but in fact the north east gales have long ago closed it off at the shoreline and the tide ebbs and floods in and out of the main Great Oakley Creek further south. When the flood tops the shingle banks it must do so like a waterfall for a great hole has been dug in the mud on the shore side and a pool exists large enough to float several yachts at all states of the tide. This Pewit Island was still farmed when Frank Cowper wrote his sailing tours in 1893 and he mentions a red brick farmhouse. Today Father Neptune has taken it all over as a nature reserve with a wonderful selection of plants and wild life in the widely varying habitat. When the tide returned I sailed up Hamford Water to the Bustway for an afternoon nap and later returned with the ebb to beach near the lighters ready to leave via the gut soon after high water next day for which the forecast was again southeast. This sunset was the best of the lot.

It was calm at 0430hrs as I drifted with the first of the ebb round Walton Stone in thick fog, keeping the dim shadow of the shore just in view and sounding regularly with my cane. Off the Anglia buoy at 0600hrs, I met the ebb sweeping northeast along the coast and anchored for breakfast and to watch another fine sunrise. By 0830hrs the foul tide seemed to have eased and I got under way to beat slowly into a rising breeze from the southeast, reaching the Walton Pier by low water. Clacton Pier was abeam at noon and the rest was all plain sailing, crossing the Colne Bar at 1345 hrs to anchor off the long shingle bank for a nap. In fact there was more swell than I liked and I moved into the Pyfleet for the night.

As I anticipated Thursday was a very different day and I had a traditional beat up the Blackwater to reach my mooring by mid afternoon well pleased with my 150 miles cruise.