rallies and regattas, trip logs

Cape Cutter Rally 2019 – day 3

We awoke to bright sun and a fresh westerly breeze. Our objective today was Heybridge Lock, almost at the head of the Blackwater, just downstream from Maldon. We would not be able to get in there before 7.30pm on the afternoon tide, but to get there, we needed to leave Tollesbury on the morning high tide.

We bid goodbye to Meisje, who were returning to Bradwell Marina and haul out, for their return to Yorkshire.

We decided to run on the ebb to Brightlingsea, to have some lunch and in my case to collect more crew. It was a lovely three-sail reach over the shallow water off West Mersea, and we were soon all rafted on the pontoon at Brightlingsea. I met Niki and Alice here, and after they had loaded their gear, we went ashore for lunch.

The forecast was for rain to pass through in the morning and for the wind to swing round to the East. Other than a brief shower, the former merely threatened, whilst the latter fortunately did take place.

We set off from Brightlingsea at 3pm, with the wind and tide behind us, but we could see rain all around and it was not long before the visibility shrank to a few hundred yards, the wind dropped and for about half an hour the rain hammered down. We ran on engine to keep the boat moving (we had a restaurant booking to keep!), but left the sails up.

The rain soon passed and the skies cleared, leaving us to sail up the river in golden late afternoon sun and we wound our way upstream. I’ll draw a veil over the couple of brief groundings as the channel narrowed and the depth fell but we all arrived safely at the moorings outside Heybridge Lock.

This is an impressive structure connecting the Chelmer and Blackwater canal to the tidal waters. It’s operated by Grant, the (very friendly) British Waterways lock keeper and accessible only an hour either side of HW. In our case even less, as we were on neap tides.

The lock easily fitted all six boats and we were soon raised a few feet up to the basin and moored in a line (like ducklings, Grant described it), with one other visitor and a mixture of local yachts and canal craft.

The tide was later than forecast and it was 8pm before we tied up and we rapidly repaired to the Jolly Sailor, who had fortunately kept their kitchens open to accommodate us.

rallies and regattas, trip logs

Cape Cutter Rally 2019 – day 2

Our objective today was to cross from the river Crouch to the Blackwater. There are only seven miles of coast between them, but they are separated by sand banks extending far from the river mouth. Most boats must make a fifteen mile loop out to sea for this journey, but shallow draught craft, like the Cape Cutter, can avoid this by crossing a deeper area of the sand bank called the Ray Sand (Rays’n) channel.

We were reassured that the local advice matched our passage plan and so we set off at 6am, an hour before high water at Burnham. The westerly gave us a quiet run out of the estuary, the wind gradually freshening as we passed out of the river.

The local instructions had been to sail past the Ray Sand buoy before turning north. Sure enough, after about a third of a mile, we could see the middle buoy and turned cross the banks.

The run became a much faster reach and we made good time across the sand. The depth fell and fell, the lowest reading on my sounder was 0.1m (beneath the keel). I was ready to lift the plate, but that wasn’t necessary.

We had agreed to stay close together, and the fleet made a fine sight, strung out line astern across the sea.

We had to maintain a good two miles offshore to keep enough depth, across the Dengie Flat and a large sand spit called St Peter’s Flat (maybe it’s called that because the sea is so shallow so far offshore that one might seem to walk in water!), the latter of which prevents turning into the Blackwater straight away.

Finally we turned into our third Essex river and our reach became a beat. At this point, the fleet divided into two groups – those who chose to tack across the whole river and those, including me, who made short tacks in the shallower water near the shore. Although the former strategy maintains boat speed, I prefer the latter as not only does it avoid the foul tide, but there’s more to see on the shore.

Once the tide had turned, I made one tack across the whole width of the river and the return leg brought me to the mouth of the creek to reach our target, Tollesbury marina. It was only a couple of hours after low water, so there was very little water in the channel. With wind on the nose, we dropped sails and crept up the channel under motor. After winding up the creek, we eventually reached the waiting area and picked up buoys. We had several hours to pass before there would be enough water to enter the marina, which proved to be a restful wait.

Tollesbury has over 100 boats in mud berths, but the marina has a cill. As soon as there was enough water, we passed in over the cill and were guided to our berths by Finn, the very helpful harbour master.

Tollesbury has narrow pontoons, quite low on the water, undulating between mostly smaller boats. This and the rather unique surroundings, gives the marina a most charming character.

The day was rounded off with a meal at the marina bistro, which boasts a good fish menu. It did not disappoint!

rallies and regattas, trip logs

Cape Cutter Rally 2019 – Day 1

The first day was intended as a shake down cruise to Burnham-on-Crouch. It’s only about 5nm down river, so most of us elected to sail on and into the river Crouch.

We followed the ebb down wind from Fambridge, winding through the river bends easily. The surroundings morphed gradually from green farmland to marshy coastland.

Unfortunately we lost Halcyon on the mud. Aurora and Meisje tried in vain to pull her off, but Halcyon had an enforced picnic until the tide returned.

Burnham is a small town, but important in this area and popular with tourists. Houseboats line the bank upstream of the town and some very attractive buildings overlook the river in the centre. We passed the distinctive Royal Corinthian Yacht club building and sailed on through the multitude of moorings.

At this point, the river widens out and about a mile further downstream, the estuary is joined in confluence by the river Crouch. We turned here and beat up our second river. It was a spirited sail, with many racks between the shores, to eventually reach a lovely anchorage at Potton Creek.

This narrow waterway eventually leads, via the Havengore Bridge onto the Thames, but that’s a voyage for another occasion. This is a wonderful area for wildlife, with lagoons for seabirds created by making openings in the sea wall at intervals. We saw seals basking in the mud banks and enjoyed the peace and the bird calls whilst at anchor just inside the creek.

We did not pause too long, as the flood was building, so we sailed back downwind to the Crouch. The wind meanwhile had built up somewhat, so it took us a while to beat back to Burnham.

Burnham Marina was busy with Bank Holiday goings on, but we had berths together and were soon tied up. Tystie had engine trouble but sailed effortlessly to her berth, ghosting in on her yankee. It seems traditional for someone in our group to suffer outboard woes during the rally; last year it was me, this year Tystie. Amazingly, Matthew in Tystie had a spare carburettor to offer, but this turned out not to be the issue. Nevertheless, Alistair managed to coax Tystie’s ailing outboard back into life.

The day was rounded off with a tremendous meal at the Oyster Smack in town.

rallies and regattas, trip logs

Cape Cutter Rally 2019 – Arrival

The Cape Cutter rally this year is titled “Four Essex rivers”, and our target is to sail on Crouch, Roach, Blackwater and Colne.

I arrived with a freshly polished Aurora on Thursday afternoon at Fambridge Yacht Haven and rigged her for launch the following day. When the tide arrived, the tractor put her on the water and I was able to take the last of the flood up the Crouch. I was aiming for Battlesbridge at the head, but the neap tide and wind on the nose conspired against me. Still a lovely sail in the sun through the countryside.

By the time I got back, Bob and Loretta had arrived with Irene and she was quickly ready for the water, but had to wait for the next day for splashdown.

On Friday morning, Bob and I had a lovely run downwind and down tide to Burnham-on-Crouch, arriving at the marina on low tide, to pick up Nick Scroggs, owner of Cape Cutter Marine. I had offered Nick a sail and he had wanted to meet the owners as they arrived for the rally.

We took the afternoon flood and beat back up river. There were fierce gusts coming over the banks of the river, forcing helm to pay close attention.

Saturday was the arrival day for the rest of the fleet, travelling by road from locations as diverse as Cumbria, Cheshire, Devon, Dorset, and North Yorkshire.

During the morning, Nick kindly helped me to fit a spray hood to Aurora. I’m hoping this will provide shelter from the elements when on the mooring and going upwind.

As each boat arrived, it was quickly rigged and and then tractored into the water by the friendly and efficient staff of the Yacht Haven.

During the afternoon, it was a great pleasure to meet Kevin and Rachel Pugh again, who came to watch the goings on. Kevin, who I had met on a previous rally is building a Cape Cutter of his own from the plans. He is making excellent progress with the boat and Rachel had never sailed in a Cape Cutter. I took the out on the river and Kevin tacked us upstream in the sun through Brandy Hole and Hullbridge.

We had a total of seven boats by the evening, six launched at Fambridge and Meisje sailing round, having launched at Bradwell.

The day was completed with a welcome meal at the club house restaurant in the Yacht Haven, where previous acquaintances were renewed and new ones made.

trip logs

The season closes

It is always with mixed feelings that I pack Aurora up for the winter. It marks the end of the boating year, but I am also glad our little boat is sheltered from the sea and the weather.

This year was a near perfect haul out. I arrived at the mooring to find that the shackle on backup chain had worked loose, so it was none too soon to attend to that. I had Alice to help me and the boat was soon on the slipway. It was a warm sunny day, which made the necessary hull cleaning less unpleasant.

The only mistake I made was to put off de-rigging Aurora to Sunday morning, because heavy rain rolled in during the early hours and, despite an extended breakfast hoping the rain would ease, I was forced to work in the downpour. At least the boat was thoroughly rinsed of salt.


Southampton Boat Show 2018

It was my pleasure to help Nick and Suzy Scroggs on their Cape Cutter Marine stand at the Southampton Boat Show this weekend. As usual, the Cape Cutter 19 attracted a great deal of interest. A big boat show like Southampton provides an ideal opportunity to look at several similar boats in quick succession; lots of people I spoke to could see “the CC19 advantage” over its competitors. I really enjoyed meeting potential new owners and promote the Class Association.

rallies and regattas, trip logs

OGA55 rally part 3

Race day! It was with much excitement that we released from the raft and made our way out through Cowes. Since we were third out, we left early and picked up a mooring outside the breakwater to observe the fun.

It was quite a sight to see the fleet massing- 68 boats started. Alice helmed our start and then Niki took over. We were against wind and tide both and kept to the shallow water on the mainland side, but still could not got past Lepe at the mouth of the Beaulieu River.

After about 3 hours of beating, we reluctantly retired and were back in Cowes in 20 minutes!!

Alice had time to join the dinghy race and then, after a rapid wash and brush up it was off to Cowes for a very enjoyable evening at the celebratory dinner, where the race was replayed over and again between skippers and boat stories shared.