Ready for anything

Half term at the end of October has typically been the end of our sailing season. With the restrictions on residentials we offered day trips from Brightlingsea to Inclusion Ventures, a fantastic charity working with families in Jaywick and West Clacton. Two days were planned, one for female and one for male teenagers. The first coincided with a gale but was postponed as an accompanying staff member was isolating because of covid symptoms in her family and the test results were slow and then inconclusive. So it was with vim and vigour that we met the male group on the Hard with waterproofs and lifejackets, having prepared them for a wet and windy day. The previous evening leader Tai had spoken with the group and explained the torrential rain in the forecast. To their credit, all wished to come.

They arrived in a minibus from the excellent Tendring Community Transport, alighted and spent the next few minutes changing into wet weather gear in the shelter. As a boy I had spent many an hour on the benches here, often in the company of retired fishermen on their daily constitutional. Later in life it made a fine staging post when the nearby Anchor became crowded, maybe after a Colne Race when Dick Cresswell stood atop the bar to sing “A Farmer’s Boy”. Now proudly restored the shelter continues to provide seafarers with respite.

And so aboard in two boat runs against a slowly gathering south-westerly and the expected rain. Once the first boat load was aboard and after a safety talk they turned keenly to prepare for sea. The second arrived and were helped to lift the boat into the davits. Then the mainsheet was run out and the long slog started to pull the barge along two shackles, 30 fathoms of anchor chain. The boys worked hard despite the weather and we could see they would become a good crew if time and covid allowed, for the purpose of these day trips is to give people a taste of life aboard with a view to a longer residential next year.

With inclement weather we are constantly checking the forecast. Earlier, Dover already had a gale forecast but Thames did not. Our policy is not to sail with clients when there is one and as we shortened up the anchor one came through for our area. This meant aborting the sail and putting the barge back to her anchored state. Then everyone had a chance to go along the bowsprit and aloft before lunch and a game of Monopoly below, followed by a slightly earlier departure than planned.

There often is bad weather at this time of year and whether it is any different to a few years ago is for clever people to decide. I remember celebrating Halloween in the Crouch a few years back, anchored as close as we could get to the lee of the barns at Raypits Farm as the barge rolled when the F9 gale found us. It made apple bobbing doubly difficult. Apparently research suggests covid can be bobbed too so that is out as well! But on a week-long residential it is very rare to cancel for weather. Rather you may lay wind bound for a day or even two, using the chance to shop for provisions and explore the beach or woods nearby. A day trip or short weekend can be a much more challenging scenario as it has been a few times this year. (more photos)

Richard Titchener, skipper