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Erm? They're Clive and Les aren't they?

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(the hairy one)


(the smooth one)

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Southend 23rd June

Yacht Quintet
at anchor
Leigh Middle Sands
River Thames

23rd June, 2005

<-Harwich 22nd June Limehouse 24th June->

Another light start to the day but at least we didn't have to get up in the middle of the night. This tide chasing is killing us. The later tides are becoming a bit more civilised, just 7.00am today.

We slipped our lines and motored out into another glassy sea. The noise of this engine is starting to annoy. But no sign, or sound of slipping fan belts today.

Click for a larger imageWe decided to go for the full fry up this morning: eggs, bacon, black pudding, tomato, mushrooms and wholemeal toast. It's a bit tricky juggling this lot on a two burner stove a delivering it all hot without burning any. With practice I will improve.

Breakfast helped to lift the torpor resulting from quite a lot of cider in the Hanover Arms in Harwich (at least that's what we think it was called. Recollections are rather vague.) the night before. It's a cute little pub, the main bar of which looks fundamentally unchanged since the 19th century. And the nice man who is the landlord (whose name I apologise for forgetting the moment he told it too me) was born just a year or two before me in Forest Gate Hospital where I too was born. E by 'eck, it's a small world.As the breakfast things were washed and put away, a bit of breeze came in and we hoisted full sail and headed south.

In the tradition of the east coast, of course, the wind died in the arse after an hour or so, and as we slowed to a tenth of knot, we switched on the iron headsail again and motored for a couple of hours from Walton on the Naze, out across the shallows west of Gunfleet Sands and into Middle Deep and the Swin. There were some nerves (on my part only, as I had failed to tell Clive just how close to the bottom his boat would be if we arrived too early on the rising tide) as we crossed the shallows, but we cleared ok and as we got into the deeper water the breeze came back.

So all plain sail hoisted we headed southwest at a merry pace, when the air was rent with thunderous explosions. We looked around for the splash in terror but nothing to be seen. Having changed underwear we got used to the pounding over the next few hours. Whatever it was making the noise, it was big. The army must have used a whole year's ammunition budget in one afternoon, it went on so long.

Click for a larger imageCrossing the north eastern end of Buxey Sand we spotted, and it was hard to miss, this impressive automatic weather station. Never have I seen so much duplication of equipment in one installation. Mind you I suppose it's sensible. If it breaks down, getting the maintenance team out there in the Land Rover might be a bit difficult.

As we sailed down the West Swin I had a small navigational crisis. As an old git navigator, I do like to confirm my GPS position against things I can actually see. Unfortunately the buoyage in the Swin is significantly at variance with the chart we have aboard Quintet. As an example, on my chart the SW Barrow buoy is a south cardinal. In reality it is a mile further north than my chart shows it and it is a WEST cardinal. Scary or what? On closer examination the chart revealed that is has been corrected, but only until 1994! I must check the vintage of our other charts. In Australia I have used charts with soundings made by Captain Cook and Matthew Flinders but I've not actually used the actual charts they wrote them on!

We had a ball, sailing down to the Thames. We saw a Thames Barge out to starboard, who obviously knew these sands much better than us. He seemed to steer a direct course across all these sandbanks taking the direct route and overhauled us and disappeared into the haze very quickly. But, in the late afternoon, as we approached Shoebury Ness at the western end of Maplin Sands, the tide turned against us and forward progress slowed significantly.

Click for a larger imageVisibility was pretty dreadful. Both Essex and Kent coasts were shrouded in mist. The huge, phallic chimney of the Isle of Grain poked above this layer of murk as we turned into the Thames proper and fought the foul tide, hugging the edge of the mudbanks which skirt the Essex shore.

We had decided to anchor close in and wait the change of tide later in the evening, but, as it happened, we were still making in excess of two knots under sail so we decided to keep going and dine on the move. So I bustled around in the galley and delivered another bowl of pasta with tomato and bacon sauce and freshly grated parmesan. I hope Clive appreciates the excellent cuisine with which he is presented and the immense obstacles I have to overcome to produce it in Quintet's tiny galley.

After dinner we continued to drift westwards towards Southend, apparently correctly pronounced as 'Sarfend'. But as the light started to fade we fired up the engine again and headed for our planned anchorage in Leigh Small Ships Anchorage south of Leigh Middle Sands. 'We should be snug and sipping our nightcaps within half an hour' we thought.

But no. Although the chart shows excellent holding in just two or three metres, we couldn't find a spot with less than seven. We motored in circles until Clive spotted a point at around four metres depth and we decided to go for it. But as I lowered the anchor, first getting it hooked on the bobstay, then dropping it the wrong side of the stay and having a fight to get it back to the correct side, our depth of water had transmogrified to eight metres and we had to start looking all over again.

Click for a larger imageEventually, after a couple more abortive attempts and with much misunderstanding of shouted instructions lost beneath the sound of the engine. We finally got the pick down and holding. We logged three bearings, Isle of Grain, Southend, sorry, Sarfend Pier and a block of flats with two red lights handily provided on its roof, to make it easily recognisable, so that we could watch for dragging. We hoisted the anchor ball and anchor light and finally relaxed.

We had resolved to have just one bottle of wine with dinner, just in case our anchoring turned out to be suspect and we needed to move during the night, but what the hell. We opened a second bottle and sat back to watch the sun set at the end of a very pleasant day's sailing, actually sailing.

Les Sutcliffe

<-Harwich 22nd June Limehouse 24th June->