We awoke to another sunny morning at Heybridge Basin, knowing we had to leave before 9am. Three boats quickly elected to remain in the basin, have a lay day ashore and rejoin the fleet at Brightlingsea the following day.
So it was that only three boats – Aurora, Sapphire and Tystie – locked out of the basin, about an hour before high tide. This gave us another hour of flood to travel upstream to Maldon. It’s a short trip, but well worth making. Maldon sits on a low hill next to the river, with a sturdy Norman church and a number of traditional buildings, all surrounded by green fields and marshes. The waterfront has a number of traditional barges moored, adding to the historical atmosphere of the town.
We motored up, admiring this vista; Tystie and Aurora rafted onto the quay at the Hythe, for a brief walk ashore. Aurelia the tender was inflated, for Alice to recline in whilst we made our way back downstream. She has always enjoyed this, but now there is rather less space in the tender than in the past!
The upper reaches of the river are called the Chelmer and just around Heybridge Basin, it becomes the Blackwater. We ran down this widening channel, once again with both wind and tide beneath us.
We passed a couple of barges making their way upstream, and they certainly make an impressive sight under sail. These are river boats adapted for carrying heavy loads in shallow water, though these large ones are very seaworthy boats. They have distinctive lee boards instead of a keel, to help them sail upwind. Although they look very similar to gaff rigged craft, the large sails are loose footed and the peak is held aloft by a diagonal sprit rather than a gaff. These large craft, although carrying a lot of canvas, were designed to be sailed by just two crew. These HGVs of old are still often seen on the East Coast rivers.
We made excellent time and it was a lively sail out near the mouth, as we made for Brightlingsea. Gybing into the Colne, we surfed past the town, heading for the Pyefleet channel. This sheltered stretch of water lies between Mersea Island and the marshes of Fingringhoe.
The three boats drew up in the shallows, and dropped our anchors into only a couple of feet of water (and a couple more of mud!). The holding is excellent here and the anchors dug in tight.
Alice and Niki tried for a swim, but the water was too shallow and just resulted in mud nearly up to the knees!
The weather was not entirely clement, with frequent showers and a brisk wind which had swung to the south. We enjoyed a well-earned rest in the afternoon. In the evening, we entertained Paul on board Aurora with a welcome bowl of pasta and pesto with broccoli, washed down with a lovely bottle of red wine (a kind gift from Nick Scroggs, following our sail from Burnham-on-Crouch last Friday). After this we settled down, with the bird calls, wind in the rigging and water lapping on the hull to lull us to sleep.