Small boats good – Big Boats….


When people ask me about the slug and its small facilities I usually tell them that the view from my cockpit is as good as that from a boat costing ten or twenty times as much.

I often wonder what the guys on big boats with deep keels think of me as I sail past them heading for the upper reaches of some river or estuary on my way to explore places they have never been.

Of course they look down on me – physically for sure and metaphorically as well I guess.

When they see the plug ugly scratched and faded 18 footer I call the slug slipping past they would be perfectly justified in regarding me as a bit of a loser.

Financially that is certainly true. I am 54 now and realise that I will never be able to afford to buy and run a 30 footer with full standing headroom.

The UKs 20,000 mile long splendidly crinkly coastline has some great creeks and rivers to explore.  Not for the depth challenged lozenges of course – they are stuck at the entrances watching us small boat sailors come and go.

 Take a virtual tour of our coast on Google Earth. I do it on your coasts all the time. I love looking at your creeks and islands – even the ones in the Great Lakes. Then there is the  Gulf Coast, San Jauns and the inner passage  - so many places. Blimey you guys are well blessed with some great sailing areas. You could spend a decade on Google Earth and not see half of them.

When I am sailing,  my favourite time of day,  is towards the evening as the sun is starting to go down and the light is playing tricks on the water, sparkling off the mud and changing the saltmarsh to every colour you could ever imagine  – red, yellow, green, blue, purple and everything  in between.

I have never understood why people like to moor up and watch the sun going down from their cockpits. For me its my favourite time of day.

Why watch one sunset when you can sail through a thousand in one evening.

Over in the far east of the UK there is a river called the Colne  (pronounced cone – as in the edible ice cream holder).  Just opposite Brightlingsea is an  all weather deep water anchorage called Pyefleet Creek.

It can be a wonderfully tranquil place but in the in the middle of the summer on a Friday or Saturday night it  gets pretty crowded  with  big boats.

It seems to me that its the big boats ones that moor up first – they have to I guess in order to get the best spots where they can guarantee that our 12 to 15 foot  East Coast tides won’t leave them aground in the middle of the night with their boats canted over at unpheasably steep angles. 

Some of them can’t actually take the ground at all – if they go over then the returning tide will flood the cockpit and cabin before the hull starts to lift. That sounds like a design fault to me – but what do I know.

These depth challenged owners drop their hooks and  settle down early for the night.  They take station in their cockpits and watch carefully to make sure that the late comers don’t drop their anchors  too close. The tide in Pyefleet runs at about 1.5 knots through the anchorage and with 20 big boats all swinging with the tide at slightly different times then the owners will start to fret about their shiny topsides

As I sail past heading for the top of the creek – an area they know nothing of - they will s raise a hand in my direction. We are all sailors after all.

Sometimes you can see the sun sparkling off the ice in their drinks or the condensation gathering on the sides of the beer bottles.  These people have fridges that eat so much electrical power that they have to run generators or their engines for an hour or two every day just to keep the batteries charged up.

They have four  rings on their cookers   so their gas bottles are as big as beer kegs. Some have two loos on board.  That makes keeping a boat sound perilously close to house work.

There was a bloke on one of the web forums the other day complaining about the cost of his navigation system - $15,000. I use a chart and a $50 GPS from ebay. Most of my depth sounding is done with a pea stick as the slug only draws 18 inches. I do have an echo-sounder but it has a tough time penetrating our silty east coast water – especially when the bottom is getting close.

The other problem they have is that their boats are too big to sail single handed. They will always deny it of course. They will tell you that they can sail alone without any problems. What they mean is that with plenty of sea room and the autopilot on they can raise both a main and genoa and schlep along ten miles from land while on passage at six knots.

But as soon as they come within two miles of land  the best they can do is to drop the sails and motor. Downwind in familiar waters they might risk rolling out a bit of genoa but as for tacking up a channel – never alone and probably not often unless that have one man on each winch and another to trim the main.

Dropping an anchor when sailing single handing is easy enough – but retrieving  it needs careful timing, not much in the way of a cross wind and electric windlass. Do you guys have any idea how much one of those things costs?

You know, as I sail past the depth challenged 30 foot lozenges in Pyefleet Creek I feel real genuine pity for their owners.  I get to spend the night in the peaceful upper reaches with just the birds and the seals for company. At some point during the night I will feel the slugs triple keels gently settle into the mud before lifting again with the incoming tide.

You know even the bit about the view from my cockpit being just as good as that from a boat coasting ten times as much. Thats not actually true. Its much, much better.

Dylan Winter 2010

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