East Coast Sailing, long weekend, August 2020

Just three nights at sea on our beloved Ranger was all it took in these troubled times to make us feel like we had holidayed like Kings!

I often wonder what other sailing folk require from their boats in terms of holidays. Is it to enjoy many a cracking salty sail? Is it to have a laugh with a few mates onboard? Or maybe a chance to holiday as a family? Some just sit happily all day in the Marina, quaffing Chardonnay and chatting with their neighbours. A few venture out for the odd day sail, which seems to me always to be a dry old time, perhaps going out to Gunfleet Sands, or Rough tower, and then meandering slowly back to base. Lots, including us, sail to Wrabness or Stone Point for a long lunch and swim, before heading back for tea. Some of us get as far as the Deben, or the Alde, Lowestoft, Southwold or even Ramsgate, when you get to spend the night away! Sadly, only a few lucky ones have been able recently to get out very much more than this.

And going abroad to Europe or farther afield does not seem like a good idea at the moment. Unless you are called John Passmore and decide the best way to spend lockdown is to leave pronto, on your boat. Anti-clockwise round Britain and outside the Orkneys to the Azores. Solo, mind, and aged over 70 ! But then he does sail a Rival too.

We had a very clear idea of how we wanted to spend our precious break. Firstly, we had to be able to swim every day in relatively sheltered waters. Secondly, we had to anchor every night in total peace. Thirdly, we had to get some native lobsters and oysters onto the boat.

Actually sailing, rather than motoring, would just be a huge bonus. There was precious little wind anyway, until our last day.

That’s why we chose to go to Hamford Water, and Pyefleet Channel on East Mersea. In fact we returned to Hamford Water on the third night simply because it was so peaceful. Although I have never seen it so busy. Maurice Griffiths’ lovely book, “Swatchways and Little Ships “is a must if you have not read it before and plan to come to this part of the Walton Backwaters.

Hamford Water, looking East

No, we didn’t have any epic sailing, and no, we did not go farther than a few miles having given up on our initial plan ( because of Covid) to mosey on down to Gravelines with a stop in Boulogne to pick up some live lobsters and crabs from the fishmarket there. But, once again we were enchanted with our amazing East Coast, and boy, did it deliver on all fronts once more.

The Colchester Oyster Fishery did us proud. Not only did they reserve a buoy for us, but they also brought to our boat the most perfectly just-cooked native lobsters, crabs and their own oysters. It really didn’t matter that we couldn’t wander along some French seafront, pondering the delicious seafood menus pinned up outside.This was far superior to even the Michelin starred La Matelote which we rather greedily ate at a few sailing trips ago.

Freshly boiled lobsters for lunch at Pyefleet, East Mersea

Once again, the storm jib was deployed as a very effective sun- awning.

What joy to watch, gin and tonic in hand, the myriad seabirds and waders , and after having swum all afternoon, then to eat dinner on deck whilst listening to the Curlews. And finally to have a gloriously silent , starry night in which to gently drift off to sleep, safe in the knowledge that the anchor was well and truly dug into some of the most holding clay mud that you may ever encounter.

Hamford Water in the evening sunshine

Every great holiday must have at least one memorable moment with which to bore all the family at Christmas. I suppose the sudden and rather dramatic weighing of the anchor by my husband, followed by some emphatically brisk motoring towards me whilst I was chatting to some canoeists when swimming after lunch ,might count as onesuch. It was his post-prandial opinion that I was being swept away by a 2-knot incoming tide. He had heard the canoeists ask if I was allright, and assumed I must be in some difficulty. Of course I had been. I was just explaining to them how painful it is when a crab grabs on to your little toe! Briefly the lovely peace and quiet of Hamford Water was disrupted by some rather heated marital discussion, as I felt my leisurely swim had been rather interrupted, and then Ranger had to be re-anchored. I was told never to expect a rescue again!

It never ceases to amaze me how most seasoned yachtsmen are so utterly charming, whilst others can sometimes be a little more bad-tempered. When we arrived at our pre-booked buoy at Pyefleet, there was another yacht on it. This, we had been forewarned, was to be expected and we were briefed to ask them to move. On approaching the interlopers, and having quite politely explained that they were on our buoy, the female half of the pair got a little shirty and said that they had already been asked to move three times that day, and couldn’t we just go and tie up to another buoy. I tried nicely to explain that the buoys were all rated for different tonnages and drafts of visiting yachts, and that our dear old heavy Rival 38 DID actually need to be tied up to this particular one…. but the mood of the other yacht did not improve! They very slowly, and with much ill-grace moved to a much less attractive spot further up the creek. And they still got made to pay the £10 mooring fee.

Despite all the awfulness of this dreaded Covid-19 situation, and the continuing tiresome regulatory quagmire created by a Government torn between cold pragmatism and irrational overreaction brought on by the continuing hysteria on the part of the great British Press, it is still perfectly possible to keep calm and carry on! And I think there is an awful lot to commend a sailing staycation.

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