Highlights of the year
- Up the Severn. The Severn has a fearful reputation because
of its tides and inland boaters are advised to take a pilot. I made sure I
went at neap tides to avoid the bore and decided that with charts and a GPS
it wouldn't be so fearful. The other unusual thing is that although it's only
25 miles from Bristol to Sharpness, it normally takes two tides and therefore
two days, particularly in the winter when it's dark by 6pm. I had 3 friends
with me, Ken and Lyndy, who live on a narrow boat, Halcyon, and Graham Solari,
a sailor who lives halfway up the estuary. It was a great trip. What I remember
most was that we had to aim about 30° to the West of the magnificent cable-stayed
suspension bridge to keep on course to get through it.
- The Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. This was in its day
the largest ship canal in the world and goes straight past the Slimbridge wildlife
and duck centre. Going into Gloucester from Saul Junction, I was ice-breaking
most of the way.
- The Warwickshire Avon. Historically, this was the first
waterway to be restored to fully working condition in England, after the decline
of the first half of the 20th Century. It's slightly nerve-wracking going up
it in the winter as the level is subject to rapid changes and I was worried
about the height of some of the bridges. In the event there was only one tricky
situation, where the boat came up in a lock under a bridge placed rather badly
over the centre of the lock and it was clear the cockpit was at least 4" higher
than the sloping sides. I knew I could gain 3" by slamming the throttle forward
to get out of the lock, but I had to consider what might happen if the water
level was higher on the way back. When I realised that the water level would
be way down in that direction I decided to go for it, and we scraped our way
through. It was worth it to get to Stratford and see a first night in the
- Upper Severn. There are some lovely towns: Upton on Severn,
an unspoiled riverside market town, Worcester and Stourport-on-Severn, the
northerly limit of navigation.
- Bristol. I spent two periods there, one spent with the
boat out of the water on the slip at the Underfall Yard, mostly spent painting
the rubbing straik. On return from the Severn, I wanted to adapt the roof of
Watergeus, by hingeing it at the front so that it could be brought level, saving
only 5" but making, as it would turn out, the crucial difference on both the
Kennet and Avon and Grand Union canals. John, the blacksmith did a great job
and I enjoyed reminding myself of Bristol and visiting two Cambridge friends,
John Grimshaw and Dick Spence.
- The Caen Hill Flight on the Kennet and Avon. Last year it
took 5 hours to get down the main 16 locks of the 29 total on this magnificent
flight, despite the assistance of 8 friends and bystanders. This time it was
a doddle. With 2 crew, Donna and Pat, we raced up in 2 hours 20 minutes and
the major difference was the 5".
- The Wey. This goes down from the Thames to Guildford and
Godalming and I've often walked stretches of it. But I knew it would be too
low for Watergeus and gratefully met up with Ken to go up it in Halcyon. We
also managed to get up the Basingstoke Canal as far as Woking where I met up
with my wheelchaired friend Guy.
- The Medway. After a trip down the Thames, anchoring off
Southend to watch the annual air show, I dropped Ken in Chatham and headed
up the Medway to the first lock at Allington. Kent is home territory for me
and I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise up to Tonbridge and back.
- East Coast voyage. I was single-handed out of the Medway.
I hadn't intended it that way but Ken was defeated by rail changes and taxis
who wouldn't take dogs and I had to make the decision whilst heading down the
tidal Medway to Chatham. But it was a nice day and the forecast was fine so
I decided to continue. It's a long way round up to the entrance of the Crouch
past Foulness Island but when I got there I was immediately bowled over by
all the classic boats and marine environment of these estuaries. I had been
intending to make it round the Wash and into the fens this year, but quickly
decided that I wanted to explore these superb creeks and wasn't disappointed.
- Brandy Hole Sailing Club. I crept round the muddy creeks
into this creek and tied up at a pontoon outside a wooden club house. It was
the first of many enjoyable visits to small east coast haunts, usually involving
drying out on the mud, as at Battlesbridge at the head of the river.
- The Roach.This river mainly winds between muddy islands
but I anchored opposite a school of seals and had a perfect evening (at somewhat
of an angle as I dried out).
- Brightlingsea and the river Colne. I worked for 6 years
at the University of Essex at Wivenhoe so this was a nostalgic visit from a
different angle. Especially notable were the smacks moored at Brightlingsea
and the first of several classic sailing matches which I was able to observe
from close by.
- Mersea Island and the Blackwater. Mersea is the home of
the best British oysters and I've never seen (or eaten) any this large before.
Also met up with the Essex branch of the Cruising Association. Visits to Maldon
and Heybridge Basin and the start of the Chelmer canal.
- Harwich. Heading past Clacton and Frinton I had intended
to go into Walton Backwaters but it was low tide by the time I got there and
there was an unpleasant swell, so I decided it was more sensible to go into
Harwich. But the wind then turned northerly and I had an unpleasant night on
the halfpenny quay, mitigated by a visit to the oldest purpose-built cinema
in the country.
- Dedham. It's only possible to get as far as Mistley up the
Stour, so I had to cycle up to Constable country on another nostalgia trip.
- Pin Mill and the Orwell. This resonates from Arthur Ransome
stories and is a huge centre of barging, many of which are moored along the
shore in various states. But I was lucky to arrive just before the Thames sailing
barge match of the year and on the great day slipped off the mud to follow
them down river. But I caught a 1" mooring rope in my prop and spent most of
the day disentangling it instead. Mercifully the owner of one of the barges
I had been moored alongside came and helped and we managed to get it off without
hacking it to pieces, despite both of us very nearly losing our boots in the
mud. So I saw most of the match from the mud.
- The Deben to Woodbridge. I got to this several hours before
high tide as per instructions - the flow on the entrance is impressive - and
headed up to Prettyman's point where I followed the example of other boats
by anchoring and taking a swim, before heading up to Woodbridge. Here I had
a perfect mooring outside the Tide Mill and enjoyed several days there, including
a visit to the site of Sutton Hoo.
- The Ore and the Alde. Ray Glaister, who was the founding
webmaster of the CA, lives at Oreford with his wife Margot and I gave him a
cruise down the river from Snape to Aldeburgh. He showed his HLR abilities
were undimmed by looking after my boat and saving it from a nasty predicament.
- Lowestoft and onto the Broads. Yarmouth is now deprecated
by most guides as a way of getting to the Broads because of the tidal flow,
so one gets in through the lock from Lowestoft to Oulton Broad.
- Norwich. I went right through the town and moored up at
Anchor Quay, where my ex-sister in law Helen King lives with her husband David
Ball. I didn't know I'd get through, particularly as one bridge in the town
is quite small, so it was very satisfying to make it.
- River Chet to Loddon. This was the tiniest navigation I've
been up: a tiny winding stream made navigable in the 19th Century. I was scared
of meeting another boat on one of the tight bends and was lucky till the very
last one where I met a cruiser who was quite on the wrong side. I was glad
to be going against the tide.
- Through Great Yarmouth to the Bure. This requires good
timing: not only are the bridges far too low to be navigated at high tide,
but the flows mean one has to go round from the Waveney to the Bure at low
tide. In fact I was probably an hour too early and it was tough going up the
first part of the Bure.
- Potter Heigham and the Ant. No way I could get through the
bridge at Potter Heigham, except in my dinghy, so I did that. These were possibly
more familiar from Ransome than my early experiences on the broads on the Walrus
easter cruises, and very enjoyable.
- Harwich to Queenborough. I made the journey back from the
Broads to the Thames in bigger jumps. The most enjoyable part was with David
Teall, who joined me at Harwich for the trip back down the coast. We anchored
overnight in Stangate Creek and tried to connect to the net to solve some problems
of forums on the CA website. We just beat some gale force winds up the coast,
though the Thames was extremely choppy.
- The IWA Festival at Beale Park. This 60th anniversary meet
over the August bank holiday must have been one of the largest ever, and the
Dutch Barge Association had about 35 barges nestled up to each other in the
- The Upper Thames. After the festival I went up as far
as Oxford with Donna and spent several weeks enjoying the trip down again.
- The Grand Union. I was far from sure that I could get up
this canal from London towards Birmingham, despite the changes to the boat,
so after spending some time in London and going round the Regent's Park canal,
I tried going up the first few locks of the main line. I found I could get
through the bridge at Cowley and after doing some ballasting (which took me
down another 3") I also got under the bridge at King's Langley which is even
lower. What is suprising is the ignorance of BW staff of these basic statistics
and the unreliable information available.