June – East Coast nostalgia

We are now pottering happily around the Essex and Suffolk coasts, visiting places we got to know well years ago when we kept our various boats here.

From our rented mooring at Woolverstone on the River Orwell, we went down to the River Colne, spending a night in the Pyefleet, one of the best known East Coast anchorages, just behind Mersea Island. We picked up a mooring buoy rather than having to spend half an hour getting glutinous mud off the anchor next day – worth the £10 we paid to the man from the oyster fishery, who came round on a paddleboard collecting money from yachts.

Evening on the mooring at Woolverstone, just after we arrived at the boat.

We sheltered in Brightlingsea the following night from some strong north-east winds which make quite a chop in the Pyefleet when the tide ebbs.

Brightlingsea was a “limb” – or subsidiary – of one of the famous Cinque Ports in Kent.
Old fishing smacks at Brightlingsea in various stages of restoration, from near-wreck to nearly ready

Then we went back up the Wallet, the channel on the landward side of the Gunfleet sands, to Halfpenny Pier in Harwich, through thickening fog. Visibility was down to 2 cables off Walton. The Harwich visitor pontoon, repaired after serious storm damage, has a view of the Trinity House headquarters, maintenance ships and buoy repair yard.

Freshly painted wreck buoys ready on the Trinity House Quay at Harwich

The main yard used to be on the Thames at historic Trinity Buoy Wharf, where Bow Creek (the River Lea) joins the Thames. That is now a fascinating arts centre and music venue. The former experimental lighthouse is home to the Longplayer, a thousand year electronic music composition that never repeats itself. We visited Trinity Buoy Wharf and the Longplayer recently, and it was fascinating to see the navigation authority’s modern incarnation soon after.

The next day we headed north against the flood tide to get into the Ore a safe 2 hours before high water, recommended in this tricky entrance for yachts with our draught. Don’t ever try it without downloading the up-to-date chartlet from the East Coast Pilot website. We moored in Orford, 5 miles up river, for a couple of nights.

Ideally these tide-restricted rivers should be tackled from north to south to catch the flood tide down the coast, which turns up into the estuaries. But we skipped our original target of Lowestoft because it was 40 rainy miles to windward at the time – sadly missing out on Southwold – and went south at first from the Orwell with the wind.

The downside was that to get into the Ore later in the week from the south on the fast-flowing flood tide up the river we had to go slowly against the tidal current from Harwich to Shingle Street at the mouth of the river. To make it even slower, what wind there was by then was dead ahead, so we gave in and motored.

Along the way we the saw this film set being constructed close to the Martello Tower at Bawdsey.

Film set at Bawdsey

I’m told by my sister Caroline who lives at Bawdsey that it’s a movie set for an Amazon funded feminist sci-fi thriller called The Power. Filming starts in August, with Bawdsey pretending to be North Carolina, and one of the producers is Elizabeth Murdoch. It’s meant to be a convent disguised as a marine lab.

As we arrived in Orford, the harbour master was friendly and helpful when we came alongside for water. High on the tide you can only stop briefly at the quay, which we did long enough to fill the tanks. He also offered a water taxi service, so we avoided inflating the dinghy in the rain to get ashore from the river mooring.

At Orford Quay, on the top of the tide

The weather was wet and cold for June and the winds, while not particularly strong – mostly Force 3 to 5 – stayed dead ahead, from North-East or North.

A dozen oysters and smoked cod roe from the shop on the Orford quay and a couple of Cromer crabs bought earlier from the stall on Harwich pier did however improve the mood at supper on board, not to mention the cold white wine from our fridge.

Supper on board – windy, wet and cold outside.

The next day, though again rainy and cold, was also much cheered by a splendid lunch at the Butley Orford Oyster restaurant, which has hardly changed in decades. On the way for a pre-lunch drink with a friend who lives in the village, we also had a rare sight of a nest of nearly full-grown kestrels above the church door. We walked round the pretty village and the keep of the Norman castle, the most prominent feature visible from the river.

Kestrels over the west door.
Sunset over Orford Castle keep

There’s now a set of art installations on the extraordinary Orford Ness, with its mixture of wild shingle landscape and post-apocalyptic ruins from weapons experiments, including the development of nuclear bomb detonators. The installations are organised by Artangel and booked through the National Trust, but a quick check online showed the event sold out the moment tickets became available online, which is once a week but only for the following week.

From Orford we went south with the last of the rising tide, and into the Deben for a night at Ramsholt. The entrance has shifted a lot since the last time I was there – an ECP chartlet is again invaluable – but the steep gravel banks are not quite as mobile as at the Ore, and the three channel buoys seemed accurately placed (as were the two at the Ore entrance).

At Ramsholt we had a delightful hour on the river bank with cold drinks and nibbles that Caroline and family brought over from Bawdsey, avoiding the queues to get close to the bar at the Ramsholt Arms that Covid restrictions create. And as we were winding down our week-long mini-cruise on the shore, the sun finally came out!

Bawdsey Manor at the mouth of the Deben, where radar was developed during WW2
Spring Fever moored opposite the pub at Ramsholt on the Deben

Next morning we crossed the Deben bar a little after the 6am high tide and made for Harwich Harbour, which is impressive for the sheer scale of the container ships alongside on the Felixstowe shore, making the attractive though slightly run down Harwich Old Town opposite seem like a model village.

A container ship unloading

There were three lightships moored off the town, two long retired, one from the Sunk ship gyratory system, where it was recently brought back temporarily into service as a backup. (At the Sunk, vessels circle to connect into the multiple shipping lanes that lead away from the area – a roundabout, basically). I believe there are no lightships currently in use.

Three lightships moored in Harwich Harbour. The nearest ship is Sunk Centre.

Moored at quays in Harwich are two more lightships, including the only one left that is fitted out as they were in the days before automation, when they had a crew. It is restored as a museum.

The restored lightship on the left and two Trinity House vessels at Harwich.

We have booked the Woolverstone mooring for a second month and hope that July turns out to have better weather than the last couple of weeks in June. Three more short local cruises are planned for July, before sailing back to our home base in Cowes at the end of the month.

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