Richard Writes: This amazing special school for young people with severe learning difficulties sailed first with us last year, when their headteacher wanted to try out the idea as it had worked well for him at another. On Monday a keen group of eight students and four staff arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed at Maldon Hythe Quay to join Richard, Hilary and Stretch on Reminder. The students included three who came last year, which is always good to see as they help new people settle in and reinforce their own learning and confidence. Food and gear was left on the quay to let the bus get away while everyone looked over the barge, before making a human chain to bring it aboard. After lunch there was the usual safety brief and deck brief before the tide served and we left the quay, turning on the anchor, which gave the students a first taste of winding winch handles. A fair but fresh to strong wind meant the engines could be dispensed with off the Bath Wall and foresail and gradually more mainsail could be set by the students for the run down river. We were careful to set enough sail to keep control but little enough to allow the new crew to slowly come to terms with their new home as it gybed at Herring and Hillypool Points. Down by Stone the wind eased and the gaskets came off the topsail to speed us to the Colne.
Everyone had settled in enough by then for several tacks before coming to anchor in a vigorous W5, while below the first of many tasty meals took shape in the galley. After dinner and hearing how people found their first day there were low suger awards for what every student had achieved, and this was repeated each evening as confidence and achievement developed. This was something we learned from the school last year and it works provided everyone is a winner. We continue to steer well clear of “man of the match” type divisive accolades.
Tuesday dawned a bit overcast with a light WSW breeze due to grow. As usual the students wound the anchor cable short, set the gear and got the barge under way, taking it in turns in two watches christened Superstars and Dreamteam rather than starboard and port. So one got us sailing while the other washed up after breakfast and then took over to set the staysail, cat the anchor and steer. Initial progress was slow but had help from the last two hours of ebb. From Clacton Pier an increasing southerly drove Reminder at four knots over the ground against the flood. This meant we could cut off much of the Pye Sand when entering Walton as the tide had risen. On the way Hilary did an A to Z in the two watches. By the time we needed to gybe off the Naze there was a good F4 and the students demonstrated great stickability winding in the vang and main brail. At four hours flood we crossed the Pye and had four tacks until we fetched up Hamford Water, rounded up and anchored off Oakley Creek. One of the students went aloft and put a turn on the topsail that would shame many a barge mate. A boat was sent ashore to Walton for essential supplies while those who wished climbed the rigging and played I Spy. Meanwhile the skipper ashore shopping was delighted to find he needed to visit both Tesco and the Coop as both have generously supported Sea-Change in the past and he really cannot recall which he visited first and so which lacked a couple of items. At dinner the pudding question was who people would most like to meet and why.
Wednesday was an amazingly hot day with blue skies and a warm westerly breeze. The crew were adept applying subscreen to themselves and brass polish before low water saw us visiting the seals in Oakley Creek. They look to be doing well with a good clutch of young and are clearly well-nourished. Then it was up anchor and a short motor through the chicane into the Walton Channel for a picnic, football, beach art, toasted marsh mallows, treasure hunt and paddling on Stone Point. The point has changed much since we last visited in October, with it seemingly retreating southwards while still moving west. There seemed less though enough water immediately west of the point, which usually means what was there before has been filled by the movement of shingle. Meanwhile the protective bund formed of dredged materials from Harwich along to saltings to the Naze has gone, and is now the new and larger Stone Point, much of it where the channel used to be. The cooks went aboard first enabling the second watch a more leisurely row to the barge with some great dexterity being employed. Actually it was all staff Mandy’s idea and she was among the first to try. It turned out one of the students had rowed before, once and for a short while, and really shone showing an ability his teachers had not seen in the more limited confines of school. Deck scrubbing completed the nautical activities for the day and slowly the barge was looking clean and smart to match her new paintwork. In judging the treasure hunt Hilary and Stretch had great difficulty as both teams had great stories as to how their chosen object had reached the beach, but luckily one team was missing one piece of seaweed. Also, it was Bailey’s birthday so the song was sung and signed, candles blown out and cards given. The pudding question came from the students and was two-fold: if you had a country to name what would you call it and why, and what animal would you be. There was a strong canine/lupine trend but the tiggers sounded to have the most fun, and as for countries, well, you name it…
The forecast for Thursday was colder and windy and as expected we awoke to a NW F7 almost straight up the creek. After some remaining scrubbing, the slow process of recovering the anchor commenced with the shackle well in the water, but we eventually broke out old coldnose, backed away from the mud and did a pirouette to turn into the wind in the narrow creek as the wind moderated somewhat. Even so, negotiating the chicane at the creek entrance took some quick helming with two on it in the wind and cross current, even for so handy a barge as Reminder with her twin propellors. The wind was cold despite the sun, and some people needed time off from counting containers, ships and cranes at Felixstowe to have a warm below. The students steered us to Pin Mill where we anchored opposite the Hard, had lunch and tried crabbing which proved a great success with 26 caught on the young flood while stores were bought ashore in Chelmondiston. Barges were congregating for the barge match at the weekend and as the wind fell we were joined for a beautiful sunset in a clear sky by Mirosa, long-time queen of the fleet, and Reminder’s sister ship Adieu. On the Hard local barge Melissa had Marjorie and Edme for company and Cambria was waiting for Sea-Change’s barge course next week. The pudding questions were what would you have to improve your world, and what is your favourite meal? A tidy home was an interesting improvement and the skipper’s hope to uninvent electricity was hardly taken seriously as it is so unlikely to happen he can sound as keen as he likes while banging away on his mobile phone to say so. There was a smattering of the expected fast food meals but a refreshing number of real recipes, mirroring the wholesome and plentiful fare this week. The crabs were counted and released after the daily awards and then one team washed up while the other prepared for bed.
Friday being the last day Hilary wrote our names around the white board and we all had to remember what we had done and seen during the week until we filled it up. And we did. Anchors aweigh at 10, Ipswich lock at 11 and lunch alongside Orwell Quay at 12, certificate awards at 1300 and minibus home at 1400; the day had a pleasing rhythm. Thank you Lexden Springs for what the skipper called the “can do charter”: it turned out everybody stretched their boundaries and exceeded expectations, and it was especially enjoyable working with staff so much in sympathy with our approach. Photos here.