Dependent on Wind & Tide. A Cruise in the Thames Estuary

7th June

I thank my lucky stars for my Sally!

“You have a window to go sailing until the 21st June.  Go!” she said.

“But what about …?”

“Go … I can manage”.

So here I am on board ‘Talisker 1’ typing this blog.

We are at anchor in the Colne after two lovely days sailing … all to windward!

On Thursday we left the Ore a couple of hours before HW, Orford Haven, and sailed close hauled on starboard to Bawdsey SC.  One tack had us closing Languard Pt and entering the Port of Felixstowe.  We anchored in light westerly winds just inside Orwell PHM.

6th June the River Ore to the River Orwell  

6th June on passage to The Orwell from The Ore

I don’t know why I’ve missed an Aristotle quotation but here it is.

‘Human beings come in three kinds.  The living, the dead and those who go to sea.’

I ‘think’ I get that ….

7th June The Orwell to The Colne

7th June leaving The Port of Felixstowe

Today we woke early to bright sunshine and took the flood down the Wallet to the Colne.  Three tacks had us entering the Colne where we are anchored off Mersea Stone Point just down river from ‘Pioneer’.

7th June at anchor in The Colne as RR8 sails past

I’m feeling in a Thames Estuary mood.  Perhaps a cruise to some of my favourite places.  It’s not all that warm. Nonetheless it is comfortable.

7th June Sunset ‘Pioneer’ is on her mooring in the foreground

I reached out to Ella Hibbert.  Ella is hoping to do an Arctic Circumnavigation Solo.

I wanted her to be in touch with ‘Sentijn’ who have just completed the NW Passage.  Ella and John Pennington have been in touch.  Me n Doc don’t know how she will be able to do it alone.  Us solo sailors are troubled how Ella will get enough rest.

She told me she is having another year of training.  Sailing to Russia via Norway this year as a shake down cruise will help her a lot!  Some shake down cruise!

8th June

8th June early morning

Today we sailed from the Colne to the Swale.  Again … for the most part it was to windward.  Thank goodness I have the right boat.

8th June The Colne to The Swale

We weighed anchor at 0830 and at 1500 we were anchored half a mile above Faversham.  It is a delight to see Thames Barge ‘Mirosa’ at anchor close by.  She was being towed out of Faversham as we arrived off Faversham.

Seven smacks left the Colne at the same time as ‘Talisker 1’.  It was a delight to see them racing.

8th June Smack Race leaving The Colne

8th June flying both the Orford SC Commodore’s Burgee and the Centenary Burgee

8th June approaching the Wallet Spitway SWM

It was a gloomy day overhead.  The westerly winds in the morning eventually veered north west as we closed on the north Kent coast.  It was a good sail under full main and stay sail.  After a couple of tacks in Middle Deep we were able to free off as we closed on the Swale.  No engine today.  The generator is chugging away charging the batteries after the overhead gloom.  It’s not that warm …

8th Shivering Sand

8th June the entrance to The Swale is behind the wind farm that we will leave to port

8th June anchored half a mile above Faversham

8th June it is a delight to see Thames Barge ‘Mirosa’ at anchor close by

8th June and the sun goes down

Me n Doc were talking.  It seems we are both questioning still having our boats.  I tell Doc that he is using his more than most people, even though he no longer goes very far.  He just loves being afloat and I am sure he has no regrets.  Doc did the sailing he wanted to do.  Doc deserves his time on the water.  He has definitely earnt it!

I do have regrets.  Covid put a stop to so much.  And then a Pfizer Booster made me very ill.  I have not done the cruises I wanted to do.  My Atlantic Circuit in 2018 was, I thought, a warm up … another shake down cruise.  I hope it’s not my last long solo voyage.  At the moment I still don’t feel quite well enough.

I would normally take advantage of a window like this to hop across the North Sea.  But I don’t feel up to it.  Over the next few days I will try to follow the path of the ‘Magician’, Maurice Griffiths, and visit some of the rivers and creeks of the Thames Estuary.  As my Mum once said, we are in Constable country and we are so very lucky to have these waters on our doorstep.

10th June

I’d planned to move to the Medway yesterday via Kingsferry Bridge but the lifting bridge was undergoing maintenance.  It is windy this morning as a depression passes through to the north.  I’m going to try for the Medway again today.

It is bad news to feel unfulfilled.  But this sailing business is time consuming and those who go off for very long periods have to have a selfish streak or be lucky enough to be able to take everything they love with them.

I have to content myself with reading about those who have sailed in the Pacific Ocean.

I also started very late and remain a very ordinary sailor.  I sail as much as possible safely … I’ve done enough to recognize my inadequacies and to see danger but I am running out of time.  Life is very short indeed.


It was blowing hard this morning and with the wind veering north westerly we would be anchored on a lee shore.  We had to move!  I telephoned Kingsferry Bridge to be told that the bridge was closed to leisure craft for the foreseeable future.

10th June with the wind veering north westerly we would be anchored on a lee short.  We had to move!

We weighed anchor and moved back down the Swale and anchored 0.3 NM SW of Sand End PHM.  By mid morning it was gusting 30 knots and we were safe and secure.

10th June anchored 0.3 NM SW of Sand End PHM

It’s still blowing from the NNW but not nearly so strong.  It will be much more peaceful in a couple of hours with very light north westerly winds.  The CQR, the ‘pennington’, has not let us down … YET.

12th June

We are at anchor in Dead Man’s Hole, Stangate Creek, the Medway after sailing here from the Swale yesterday.

11th June The Swale to The Medway

It was a squally day with at times, brief periods of no wind at all, when we floated, sails limp, between light variable breezes as me n the ship encouraged each other along.

Having briefly started to move backwards with the flood, as we tried to creep passed Shell Point in the fluky breeze, the first squall hit as we were leaving Columbine Spit.  ‘Talisker 1’, suddenly over pressed, under full main and stay sail, gathered up her skirts and for about ten minutes, as the rain came down, smoked out to sea … and then … virtually nothing and then … nothing at all.  The light wind shifts then took us just above Red Sand as we edged north.  We were supposed to have light northerly winds!

But I could see the wind was returning and indeed it did, suddenly strengthening and veering north.  ‘Talisker 1’ charged towards the Medway and on the approaches to Garrison Point we ‘hove to’, to allow a ship to pass inbound to the Medway before furling the stay sail and sailing up the Medway with the last of the flood and on in to Stangate Creek under main only.  By now a gentle north easterly caressed the sail.

11th June ‘Talisker 1’ charged towards the Medway

11th June we ‘hove to’, to allow a ship to pass inbound to the Medway

This is supposed to be an engineless cruise and apart from motoring yesterday to move anchorages we have managed to do this since leaving the Ore.  I am clumsily following in the wake of the ‘magician’ himself … Maurice Griffiths.  The writer who most opened my eyes to the treasures on our door step.

Such was his unique knowledge of these waters as a yachtsman and journalist it can be no surprise that as a RNR Lieutenant Commander he spent part of the war trawling for mines in the Thames Estuary.  The Royal Navy recognized his unique knowledge of these waters.  That was a small part of his war where he also served in Suez and off the Normandy coast.  Maurice was awarded the George Medal for “gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty”.  Post war he quietly returned to his post as Editor of Yachting Monthly and continued to write.  In total his books number 19.  I’ve read them all.

If anyone sailing these waters has not read ‘The Magic of the Swatchways’ … well … they can not fully appreciate what we have here in riches.

13th June

Dead Man’s Hole is wonderful.  At low water a vessel is practically surrounded by mud.  It is like being anchored in a large deep puddle.

12 June looking easterly & showing the entrance to Dead Man’s Hole

Looking in a southerly direction

Looking in a westerly direction in Dead Man’s Hole.  At low water a vessel is almost completely protected in all directions

A mystery a few years ago was when we (me n James Robinson) tried to anchor US SV ‘Endeavor’ in the ‘hole’ on a delivery trip from Tower Bridge to Orford.  We just could not get her to hold.  Strange … as one of the attractions is a deep hole in the middle.  Drop the anchor in a hole and it has to drag uphill … in all directions.  Those of us who anchor are always looking for a flat plateau or much better than that … a hole!

I’ve never dragged before or since in Dead Man’s Hole.  I’ve also anchored tucked under the north bank of Stangate Creek in very strong northerlies.  Wind rode and tucked away.  It was perfect.

On the subject of anchoring.  Doc told me that he woke up in the Roach in his youth to see the anchor embedded, high and dry, half way up the bank.  The boat was quite happy, wind rode and floating nicely.  He’d got the tides wrong!  James R then told me that he’d woken with a start to find a barbed wire fence and stinging nettles in close proximity. Hauling up the anchor it was found to be perfectly wedged in a fisherman’s plastic box!  The box could have been made for the anchor!  What are the chances of that?

We are at anchor in the River Roach in fairly strong south south westerly winds.  It’s going to blow harder from the south tonight.  We are tucked right under the bank at Horseshoe Corner which is on the southern side of the east west stretch that leads to Paglesham.  Pagelsham was a great favourite of Maurice Griffiths.  We are well protected so close in to the bank.  The river was quite choppy entering the Roach in the north south stretch from the Crouch!

Leaving the Medway the wind was forecast to build late morning.  Until then it would be light … very light from the south.

13th June The Medway to The Roach

There was only just enough wind to hoist the main sail and weigh anchor and get underway at high water to float out with the start of the ebb.

As the anchor came up there were star fish clinging to the chain.  I’m not too sure who was most startled.  Them or me.  I stopped while they collected themselves, and having decided the fresh air was not for them, released their grip, and plopped back into the depths.  Several more were on the chain, not very big and then when the anchor cleared the surface it must have been, by the size of them, the parents, Aunts and Uncles!  Large star fish all having a party on the anchor!  One medium sized star fish contrived to try to dive into the anchor locker and a certain death.  I managed to throw him, or her, back.  The large ones on the anchor were obviously intrigued and a little slower to depart, but eventually they too, released their hold and descended to the bottom.

I’ve never seen this before!  And I anchor a lot … everywhere.

We literally drifted out of the Medway with the start of the ebb, the main barely filling.  It would have been lovely had it not been for the sound of the ship’s generator.  The domestic batteries were a little low and needs must!  The ships log registered nothing whilst we made 4 knots over the ground.  Leaving the Medway the log barely started to register … 0.4, 0.5.

13th June passing Grain Tower at the entrance to The Medway

13th June the wake started to gurgle

It was not until 1040 that ‘Talisker 1’ registered a bow wave and the wake started to gurgle.  Until then the ebb had taken us north.  I wanted to arrive at 1130, low water Whitaker Beacon.  We rounded Whitiker Spit in a strengthening breeze at 1150, furled the genoa, set the stay sail, put a reef in the main and smoked into the Crouch with the start of the flood.  At 1300 we passed between Hollywell Point and Foulness Point having had to put in a couple of tacks.

13th June into the Crouch with the start of the flood

Foulness Sands were exposed and adorned with lazy Seals lying there like, my mother once described in this exact same spot, “washed up logs”.

I lost my nerve entering the Roach in the chop and started the engine.  Thirty five minutes later we were snugly at anchor.

I sent a text to Doc on my way in to the Crouch.  Just to confirm my decision as to where to anchor.  I was thinking just inside Foulness Point off Crouch Corner or the Roach towards Yokesfleet Creek.  Doc said the gunnery folk had asked him to move from Foulness Point a few years ago.  Doc said the Roach.  This is much better AND the red gunnery flags ARE flying.

13th June at anchor Horseshoe Corner River Roach … the perfect spot in a strong southerly

Today was a classic example of how a working engineless craft would have had to use the ebb or the flood.  With no wind they would anchor when a foul tide began.  I don’t pretend to have a fraction of the skills of these great sailing masters of the past.    But we travelled 38.4 Nautical Miles over the ground.  Through the water we logged 25.1 Nautical Miles.  We were taken 13.3 Nautical Miles first by the ebb up to the Whitaker Spit and then by the flood in to the Crouch.  Working the tides as I’ve always tried to do since I was first taught these things by proven experienced experts!

14th June

The southerly winds were strong overnight and when I woke the wind had veered to the south west.  It was forecast to blow hard.  The anchorage had been beautifully protected.

It would have been easy to stay and indeed I hoped to.

Sadly there is no village shop in Paglesham.  I then read several accounts suggesting crews were not welcome to land anymore at Shuttlewood’s Boatyard.  I’m sure they are wrong.  The words hostile and also that the boat yard was charging yachties for landing in their tenders was mentioned more than once.  Old Shuttlewood, so often fondly written about in Maurice Griffiths books, would turn in his grave!

It is going to blow quite hard tomorrow so we sailed to Bradwell.  A shower and a walk will be welcome.  And the ship is running short of tea.

14th June The Roach to The Blackwater

We hoisted a double reefed main, weighed anchor and shot off down the Roach and out in to the Crouch.  I wanted to arrive at the Wallet Spitway with the last of the ebb and then take the flood in to the Blackwater.

14th June leaving the Crouch lazy Seals on the Raymond lying there like, my mother once described, “washed up logs”  The sands will cover soon after …

A double reefed main was all that was needed.  We turned in to the Wallet Spitway at low water and set the stay sail and there was a brief period when the wind dropped as we sailed with the new flood in to the Blackwater, close hauled, in light south westerly winds.  They returned with a vengeance in the approaches to Bench Head with winds gusting 27 knots over the deck.

14th June there was a brief period when the wind dropped as we sailed with the new flood in to the Blackwater

14th June Bradwell approaches and strong gusts …

By the time we started the engine off Bradwell Creek the Blackwater was rough, wind over tide.  Heading into the creek I turned in to a wimp and asked Bradwell Marina if someone could take my lines.  We had been allocated a great berth, head to wind.  Will very kindly took my bow line.  It wasn’t necessary but I’m starting to get a bit jittery in my old age.

I walked to the village store in Bradwell, a charming village.  I’m restocked!  Tea bags were down to about fifty!  That is far too low.

I’m 68 today.

 16th June

Blustery, breezy and squalls … that just about sums up today.

We had two nights in Bradwell Marina and there were a couple of times yesterday that I was more than grateful, as a couple of biblical squalls came through.  Our head to wind berth was ideal.

15th June ‘Talisker 1’ centre picture head to wind in Bradwell Marina

16th June The Blackwater to The Orwell

We motored out of Bradwell Creek and set the stay sail only and switched off the engine as we passed the creek’s NC mark.  The stay sail was enough in the strong south westerlies.  Between the squalls we furled the stay sail and set the genoa and vice versa.  The Wallet was disturbed.  It is the most fascinating stretch of water and at times … can be very challenging.  As often as I’ve sailed the Wallet it has always been different.

16th June The Wallet and sailing under full genoa

16th June a squall passes through the docks.  Port of Felixstowe approaches

16th June entering The Orwell & the end of the Suffolk YH Classic Regatta.  ‘Fable’, built & sailed by Droid (we delivered an Oyster together from Ipswich to Mallorca) is just off the Container Ship’s stern.

The ebb took us all the way in to Languard and it was LW when we dropped anchor in a westerly F4 just inside Orwell PH.  The sun is shining and its quite warm … for however long that might last.

16th June some windage for the 3 Tugs as a Container Ship is helped off the dock

 18th June

Me n ‘Talisker 1’ returned to Orford in beautiful conditions yesterday.  22 tacks to leave the Orwell and the Port of Felixstowe and a beautiful sail from Languard to the Ore on a beam reach.  No engine yesterday.  Doc was on board ‘Tuesday’ when we finally picked up the mooring at 2010.

17th June The Orwell to The Ore

17th June 22 tacks to leave the Orwell and the Port of Felixstowe

This Thames Estuary cruise has lasted twelve days!  We have sailed 226 nautical miles over the ground but only 189 nautical miles through the water.  Sailing against a foul tide is to be avoided.  We have run the engine for 6.2 hours.  1.7 of those engine hours was leaving the Ore on the first day.  You have to run the engine leaving the Ore, if you want to leave the river on a rising tide.  0.6 engine hours was moving anchorages in the Swale.  And we had to get in and out of Bradwell Marina.  So a concentrated effort to use wind and tide … and I have the right boat.

We did not stay anchored inside Orwell PHM on the 16th.  When Harry Kane’s second half header crashed against the bar in England’s Euro win over Serbia we were moving up river and round the corner to anchor off Colton Creek.  It was going to be a much quieter night with the breeze backing south west overnight.

Yesterday morning we sailed back to anchor inside Orwell PH for an easier departure point for later in the day.  By the time we weighed anchor it was blowing a SE5.  We hoisted a reefed main, weighed anchor and started out beat.  By the time we rounded Languard it was a SSE4 that gradually decreased in strength into the early evening.  We intended to arrive at the river bar a couple of hours before high water.  We rounded Weir ten minutes late.

17th June passing Woodbridge Haven

17th June a Topper off North Weir Point as we enter The Ore

17th June the sail in to the river and up towards the Castle and Church never ceases to bring me such warmth and joy

The sail in to the river and up towards the Castle and Church never ceases to bring me such warmth and joy.  How lucky we are.


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