3rd-4thMay. Waiting for the tide, we left our peaceful anchorage in Sharfleet Creek at noon. The weather forecast was for a very gentle northerly wind as we headed north, so were expecting to use the motor. From the mouth of the Medway, we passed close to the wreck of the 2ndworld war munitions ship, the Richard Montgomery, still visible above the water, then across the shipping channel at the mouth of the Thames at buoy Sea Reach 1.
Crossing the Thames Estuary requires planning and local knowledge or a good pilot book. For us, there were choices to make in order to navigate safely between sandbanks. Here’s a sense of it: We could go up the Middle Deep channel and keep heading north into the East Swin beside the Gunfleet Sands windfarm. Or we could turn west at the start of the East Swin channel, go through the shallow Wallet Spitway and head north up the Wallet, nearer the shore. We opted for the East Swin route, as we weren’t confident that there would be sufficient depth in the Wallet Spitway on a falling tide.
In practice that means sailing across a vast expanse of apparently clear water but knowing there are hidden shallows all around. We followed a careful series of waypoints between buoyed channels, tracking our progress on the electronic chart plotter while regularly marking our position on the paper chart. At one point we were ghosting along beautifully on a beam reach, sailing at almost the same speed as the gentle breeze, knowing we were only a few metres from a treacherous sand bank which by eye was almost invisible – only detected by a slight change in the colour of the water.
As we approached Harwich, we headed west to go along the Medusa channel, a recognised yacht route into the River Orwell which requires careful navigation between buoys to remain in sufficiently deep water. The sky darkened, the wind strengthened within minutes and it started to rain. Motor-sailing into the rising wind, the tide set strongly against us, much more strongly than we expected from the tidal predictions. Our last hour turned into three, and after a battle with the cold and tide, it was with relief that we turned into the calmer waters of the River Stour to anchor for the night, just as it was getting dark.
The following day we sailed up the river to Ipswich, a 14 mile journey past busy marinas, rows of moorings and many boats out sailing. It was squally with wind speeds gusting up to 28kts and rain occasionally turning to hail. The lock was open as we arrived at Ipswich Haven marina and tied up. After two nights at anchor, we were glad to get to hot showers and stretch our legs on land.
- Distance: 54NM Medway to R Stour, 14NM R Stour to Ipswich. 2 hours sailed, 8 hours motorsailed.
- Wind: var 3 increasing to N4/5, the next day gusting to Force 7 in squalls and hail