It was windy, very windy. As I was unloading my open boat and pushing under the fence at Hoe Mill lock the telegraph pole I was standing beside shook violently, followed by a big cracking sound, and a tree, 30 feet from me fell down , blocking the whole road. Wow, so pleased I wasn’t standing beside that, or that my van wasn’t under it. 10 minutes later the rest of the Open boaters started to arrive and all parked under very old trees, and after a quick rethink, the penny dropped and then they re parked away from the trees. Happy bunnies. James and I went two up in my OB, and Barry and Kevin R, the die hards, paddled solo – oh regret on their behalf.
Lets say that the desired direction of travel and side of the river wasn’t always happening due to the very strong F6 – F8! winds. Serious boat trimming went on amongst our solo paddlers.
The intrepid duo didn’t suffer half as much. Somewhere along the way Barry got out and walked, then paddled. Kevin moored up and joined Barry, and later Barry Kevin and James all joined together and then James went solo, Kevin joined with John, Barry was on his loansome.
Hope you’re keeping up with this. Rushes Weir came into sight and after a quick play in the wier, we had a break.
It was then Sail paddles up and away we went back to Hoe Mill. James and I took off at a great pace with the wind filling the sail paddle.
Kevin had varying degrees of success, although appeared to be scooping more water than wind. Eventually Barry and Kevin rafted up and they managed to get going under sail.
Getting back to Hoe Mill didn’t take long at all. Really good fun in seriously windy conditions, this was followed by a pint in the pub afterwards. Thanks to my fellow paddlers, James, Barry and Kevin R.
Having joined Bramston Canoe Club in September last year, I
had been attending regular Monday night pool sessions, patiently waiting for my
first trip out in the wild. As it happened, this turned out to be the post AGM
sea paddle last Sunday.
I had been planning for this trip for the past few weeks,
and steadily building up paddling kit since the start of the New Year.
The weather was not ideal for my first ever paddle, let alone sea paddle, and was cloudy, windy, wet and cold. I had been watching the weather, and the wind was blowing from the W NW, force 5, gusting to force 7. I had a feeling that this was not going to be a ‘walk-in-the-park’ or indeed a ‘paddle-on-a-pond’!
So at 09:00 hours, I set off from my home in Chelmsford, to
the Marconi Sailing Club in Steeple, which was the chosen venue for my
inaugural BCC Annual General Meeting, and later on, first ever paddle. I
arrived at 09:45, on time for the start of the meeting at 10:00 hours.
The meeting was well attended, and after a productive few
hours putting the World, or rather ‘BCC Business’ to rights, the time had come
for me to finally earn my kayaking ‘dolphins’.
I returned to my car to collect my plethora of newly
acquired kayaking kit, which I lugged back to the club house to get changed (whilst
thinking ‘I must find a better system for carrying all this gear!’). After
climbing into my giant thermal Babygro, getting into my clearly brand new
drysuit and donning my buoyancy aid and spray deck, I was ready to go kayaking!
I was greeted at the launching point by Barry, Kevin, John, Andy E, Steve, James W, Mike D, Andy B and Liz who were all looking excited and raring to go.
After a quick safety briefing, Barry and Kevin explained what would be happening and where we would be going. The plan was for a crossing from the Sailing Club to the South shore of Osea Island, followed by a circumnavigation, a quick cuppa stop, and then a passage back to the Sailing Club and dry land.
As I got into my boat, and Kevin helped me to secure my
spray deck, I could feel my excitement, and anxiety building. I was about to
embark on my first ever sea kayaking trip! Barry pushed me carefully into the
rising tide, and I was away. The prevailing wind was making the conditions
rather ‘lumpy’ and it took me a while to relax and start breathing properly.
Barry was talking to me the whole time, and before I realised it, we were halfway
through the initial crossing to Osea Island. After adjusting to the rising and
falling motion of the waves, I was now starting to rather enjoy the feeling of
bobbing up and down.
We were soon approaching the South shore of Osea, and I was informed by Barry that we would be ‘hand-railing’ around the shoreline. As I looked back into the distance, towards where we had launched, I felt rather chuffed with myself that I’d managed to get all the way across and had remained ‘right-way-up’.
As we made our way along the coastline, everyone was giving
me useful advice, and making sure I was okay. As I had already come to know,
the friendship and camaraderie of BCC was second-to-none!
Before long we approached the West end of Osea Island and it was here that I was about to learn why a ‘drysuit’ was called a drysuit! As I tried to turn my boat to continue around the island, the wind caught me, and over I went!
My weeks of pool training paid off, and whilst capsized I followed
the drill and banged loudly on the bottom of my boat three times, proceeded to
run both my hands either side of the boat waiting for my rescuer’s boat to
brush my hands for a ‘T’ rescue. After I could hold my breath no longer, I
realised that I was on my own and promptly pulled my deck, rolled forward and
exited the boat.
Seconds later I bobbed up to the surface to be greeted by a smiling Kevin who had come to my rescue. He had been trying his best to get to me, but the wind had unfortunately hindered his progress.
After Kevin had bailed out my boat, and I had a couple of
attempts at trying to re-enter my boat, I was back in, and soon continuing on
my way. I had to get wet sometime, and it really wasn’t that bad. The drysuit
and buoyancy aid did their jobs admirably, as did the ‘wet exits’ I had
practiced many times in the pool training sessions.
We continued around the North shore of the island and were joined for a short period by a friendly seal who had come to check out the beginner kayaker, and see what all the commotion was about.
By this point we had been paddling for what must have been a couple of hours, and I was informed that we would soon be making a brief ‘tea’ stop at ‘East Point’ before our final approach back to Marconi Sailing Club. This was very welcome as my arms and legs were now starting to tire.
Tea & Ponchos
I trained my kayak close to the shoreline, and Liz who had already landed on the point, pulled me up onto the gravel bar and beached me. As I got out of my boat I grabbed my poncho, bread rolls and flask of tea from the rear hatch of my boat. It was so windy at this point that my poncho was flapping about like a Superhero’s cape (Kayak Man sprung to mind!), and James W came to assist me with securing the arm holes.
After enjoying my tea and rolls, we witnessed what must have been a few hundred geese flying over the mainland before packing away our ponchos and getting back into our boats for the final leg of our voyage.
I was now feeling refreshed, and ready to continue on my journey. The wind had dropped, and the waves calmed dramatically. By this point, the grey sky was starting to ‘blue-up’ and the sun just had time to make a brief appearance before starting to say goodbye for the day.
Back To Reality
As I paddled back across the channel to re-join the reality of a cold February Sunday afternoon, I reflected on what a thoroughly enjoyable, and inspiring day it had been. Great company, great scenery, great paddling and an experience that I will never forget!
Thank you to all the members of BCC that accompanied me on
this trip, and for your help and advice. Special thanks go to Barry for the
loan of his sea boat, his guidance and patience, and Kevin for rescuing me
after my encounter with the river Blackwater’s finest!
Lots of happy snaps were taken of the OB training day, which speak for themselves, a lot of fun and tree climbing, along with white water danger(?) ok, maybe that’s a bit over the top, anyway here are some more to oggle at.
I had been anxiously monitoring the weather report all the week before my first Bramston Winter Wild camp, and every time I checked, the forecast was worse than the time before. On the Wednesday, I received an email circular, saying that one of the kayak instructors in the area had cancelled his weekend course due to the predicted extreme weather conditions. I was beginning to think that our trip may not happen, but Bramston kayakers are made of sterner stuff, and on Friday it was confirmed that we would meet at the unearthly time of 6:30 am at Heybridge Basin, to be on the water at 7:00.
We loaded our kayaks in the dark, and finally got on the water at about 07:20, just as it was beginning to get light. Led by Barry, with Andy B, Andy E, James, Alan, Roger, and me. The forecasted rain wasn’t there, and we had a nice easy paddle along the Blackwater Estuary to sales Point, with a force 4 not interfering with our progress. The conditions did not however look good for the planned 4 mile open crossing to Colne Point, and we decided to finish for the day at our camp site.
Having pitched our tents, some of the team got to work collecting firewood, until it began to rain. This was actually welcome, as it gave us the excuse to go to bed for a couple of hours, and catch up on our lost sleep. Two hours later, the rain had stopped, we got up, had some lunch, and walked along the sea wall to St. Peter’s on the Wall chapel, and collected more firewood on the way back.
The wood was soaking wet, and I was very impressed by Barry and his helpers ability to get a fire going on the beach. Dinner was cooked, and eaten, followed by an evening of drinking beer, wine, and comparing the contents of each others hip flasks, and some much larger bottles. Sitting there in the dark, fire crackling away, with some good company, and a warm feeling inside me, I felt no urge to cross the water to my nice warm bed on Mersea Island. The tide came in, and got within about 3 feet of the fire, then receded, as we looked across at all the pretty lights illuminating the Mersea foreshore.
We had a good lay in on the Sunday morning, eventually cooking our breakfasts, then packing out boats ready for the return paddle. We got on the water for 1 O’clock, and the paddle back would be a completely different affair to the day before. The wind was blowing force 5, and gusting higher, straight from the west, and in our faces, with no chance of shelter from the shore. The high wind was also holding back the tide, which should have turned, and I must admit, it was a bit of a struggle for me, but Barry and James stayed with me, and we finally got to Osea Island at about 4:00 pm, just as it was getting dark. Although this was probably the slowest time ever recorded for this journey, it didn’t matter, as we still had to wait up to 3 hours before the tide would be high enough to get back out at Heybridge Basin. However, Andy B had received a phone call to say that his daughter had been injured and was on her way to hospital, so he, accompanied by Roger, pressed on, and managed to find a way across the mud to the Heybridgeshore. Several hot drinks, and some food later, we decided that we would press on to Heybridge, and make alternative arrangements if the tide had not yet risen enough. The wind had now dropped quite a bit, making the night paddle back to Heybridge a highlight of the trip, with flocks of birds flying around us as we disturbed their resting spots on the water. When we got near to Heybridge, Mark, who driven all the way from Colchester, was waiting on the shore, and called us to say the water was high enough. The temperature on land was still a very warm for the time of year 15 deg C, and we were soon in the pub having a drink and discussing the events of the weekend.
Thanks to Barry for organizing and leading, and everyone else for their good company. I’m already looking forward to the next one!
Sunday saw Kevin, Barry, Liz and me having a play off of Old Felixstowe in the surf zone. It was a first time for Liz and me in this area. We were told that the surf would start off small and get bigger, in fact it was the other way round. Paddling beyond the sandbank finger saw us in a nice steady swell 6 – 9ft at a guess, boats were disappearing in between the troughs, so enough to practice on and get the adrenalin flowing, at least for me. After a while I took a break on the shingle sand bank at the mouth of the Debden. Very interesting to watch the surf line change by the minute as the tide turned. Very fast flowing volume of water. Anyway, the pictures don’t do it justice, but it was really good practice. Zoom in on the photos to get a better look.
…..”When it started with 2 metre high waves, I was thinking bloody Hell! How high will they be when it get’s big. Definitely an interesting place to paddle. Had some fun trying the deep diggity dig at the end” …Liz
Most of our regular WW paddlers were unable to join us for this weekend as they were doing there 3* Sea assessment which unfortunately clashed with the club calendered trip. A very last minute decision was made to head for Devon as there was a lot of rain predicted due to hurricane Calum.
Kevin managed to book us a room at the Fox Tor Cafe bunkhouse in Princetown with enough time to get a meal and a pint, or three at The Plume of feathers next door. In the pub to help our pints go down we looked at the WW guide book, maps, river level websites and weather sites to devise a plan for Saturday. With some ideas of rivers and a good weather picture in mind we decided to confirm with James in the morning over breakfast. James arrived at about 11 as we were stepping out of the pub.
Saturday: West Dart River, Two Bridges to Dartmeet.
Being an unknown river to all of us, at a high level, no other paddlers about and up to a kilometre walk out. The kit checks at the put-in were quite thorough. First aid, Throw lines, Crabs, Group shelter the list goes on and the boats get heavier. As we got on the water at Two bridges it was apparent that we would have to paddle hard against a force 4-5 head wind as it blew us back up the flowing river. The first few kilometres of the river was relatively featureless open moorland, coming around a corner we could first hear faster water and then see an event horizon so it was time to get out river right and have a look. This was a 50 metre bolder garden a grade 3+ with several steps and overhanging trees at the bottom. I happily agreed to be the probe (first to run the rapid) the line I chose went well until the bottom drop where the flow pushed to the left more than expected putting me against a rock putting me upside down in the pool at the end, one failed roll and one more successful I was in the eddy river right signalling to the others I was OK. James next, he took a similar line to me and hit the same rock as me with the same result plus swim (one sticker to James). It was now Kevin’s turn aka Yoda, once again the same line until the bottom, after watching the two probes fluff it, his line went to the left of “that rock” a duck under the tree and into the pool at the bottom. This is why you send the probe first!
The rest of the west Dart was a lovely river with plenty of technical sections low trees, bushes and rock-gardens to contend with, but only worth doing when the upper dart is on Huge to avoid a scrape.
Saturday: Upper Dart, Dartmeet to New Bridge.
At the top of the Upper Dart while James and Yoda were doing the car shuttle to get the top car, I was approached by a couple of guys asking if we were doing the upper and could they join us? Dave a 5* WW paddler and his mate Steve. After the introductions and a quick briefing on signals and kit carried, off we set. Dave set a blistering pace down the mad mile, the river level now on High, with Kevin as tail-end Yoda. All was going well until at Luckey Tor or not so lucky for James when the stopper decided to grabbed him, he bailed out (second sticker) and followed Yoda’s upturned boat down and continued down the river for another 200 metres boatless getting out river left with his paddle. Yoda rolled up and got into my eddy river right, where was James boat? Where was Dave and Steve? Steve had taken a swim and Dave had chased him down the river probably 400 metres or more, they were fine. I got out of my boat walked up the bank, to find James’s boat mid river between a rock and a tree. About 45 minutes later, 2 failed attempts to get Yoda over to the pinned boat, lines and pullies set-up, the boat was free and reunited with its owner, who decided to walk out he’d had enough. With energy levels low and now four, we continued down. The next big feature took me four attempts to roll up successfully, my lack of WW lately and fatigue was showing. The next feature (sorry don’t no the name) I took a swim (one sticker for me). Now Euthanasia falls, guess what, I took a swim (sticker two for me!) this was getting frustrating I was begging to feel like a liability for the rest of the group. With furious determination, back in my boat Dave said we only have a couple of features to go including “Surprise surprise”. Surprise surprise is a slide on the right into a slot with a drop into it on the left. My decision was to drop-in off the left, as I got there I looked down to my right to see this huge white hole of water 6-8ft below, Its to late now in I go. Dave said “that was a different line” “you disappeared” the good thing though no need to roll or swim. That was the end of the upper-dart thankfully, I was shattered physically and mentally and my boat 3 years old now looked second hand. A huge day.
The crazy woman in the pub and the lockout.
Nursing our bumps and aching limbs in the packed Plume of Feathers that evening with fine food, ale and planning Sundays capers. We observed a lady at the bar slowly getting sloshed, as it got later and the pubs clientele dwindled and she decided to join us “Oh no”. After around 10 minutes of introductions and chatter I had to nip to the loo, to be joined by one of the guys at the bar “thanks mate for saving us” he said. “you ********” I said, in a nice way, we both laughed and returned to the bar. She was being very complementary to us, things like James was cute, I had gorgeous eyes and Kevin didn’t look his age. Clearly her beer goggles were working very well. It turned out she had had an argument with her boyfriend and he had gone home. She was insisting on buying us a drink and wouldn’t take “no thank you” as an answer, in fact she was buying everyone in the pub a drink and putting them on her room. In hindsight I wonder if the room was booked on her boyfriends credit card! Seeing an opportunity when she wondered off we took our chance and legged it. As I entered the bunk house and having a key, a thought entered my mind “did one of us tell her where we were staying?” so I locked the door and went to bed. In the morning speaking to other occupants of the bunkhouse it turned out someone had locked two people out and they had to sleep in there car, “I’ve no idea who that was” oops!
Sunday: Dart Loop, New Bridge to Holne Bridge Weir.
Compared to Saturday levels, Sunday was pretty mild apart from the tree across New Bridge, the river level was now on the sill and dropping. We were joined by two guys that James new, James and Nick. We had a very gentle trip down the loop indecent free. The decision was made not to park and finish at the dart country park as they were charging unreasonable half term prices, cutting the trip short by about half a mile the cars had been parked on the road by Holne bridge weir. Time to go home via Royal Wootton Bassett for a great meal at Sally Pussy PH.
The plan was to take open boats out onto the tidal Estuary from Beeleigh Link and paddle through Northey Island and back again off the water by 16:00, 17:00 at the latest. That was the plan! After an initial muddy start Kevin and I headed off on a lazy paddle along the tidal Estuary, with the Ebb tide doing most of the work. There were some big fish tracking our progress, every now and then they’d make a huge splash and you would see a very fast V shaped wake appear in front of you, along with plenty of bird life. Maldon came and went, with large mud flats forming either side of us and the ships all high and dry. Passing Brian, better known as Byrhtnoth Statue at the end of Maldon promenade put us into the main Estuary of the Blackwater.
Northey Island was now high and dry . so we decided to circumnavigate it. With the distinct lack of water Northey Island became huge, we eventually got into Southey Creek and tracked it almost to the causeway at the western end stopping on a mud bank for a cup of tea.The mud was deep and sticky but the water was clear, so we sat in our boats enjoying the solitude. We then rafted up and drifted across to Osea Island landing on the mud banks about 100 metres short of the solid beach. Mud banks everywhere. We had about half an hour before low tide (16:30) so made a slow easy paddle towards Maldon with nothing but the sound of the birds to keep us company. Absolutely beautiful, with the tall ships making haunting silhouettes against the blue sky.
However, a distinct lack of water and the supposed tidal flow made hard going from Hilly Pool buoy. From here on in, this started to become an endurance test.
We were paddling in 2 inches of water, the mud too thick to get out and push so it was punting, pushing with paddles and grunting off the sticky soft mud. Every now and then a bit of relief came as we passed over slightly deeper water. Brian was a welcome sight, but the sun was starting to go down and the tide was still draining out! We had some water going through the Hythe passing Maldon, but soon had to get out and pull the boats through the mud, luckily there were some hard spots to stand on, but get it wrong and you went deep. So it was paddle,punt push all the way to Beeliegh. The estuary with no water and low light looked fantastic. Pulling the boats out at Beeliegh finished me off and I had to sit down, absolutely knackered. Brilliant paddle, great being out on the sea in an open boat, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but wish the tide had helped us get home. Thanks to Kevin, my paddling partner and to Maldon Golf Course grounds manager for coming back to let us out (The car park was closed). 19:00 off the water, it was dark, he wasn’t very happy, but we were very grateful to him.