I grew up on the mouth of an estuary, and a huge amount of my sailing time has been spent dashing around racing on high speed performance craft on the open sea where I’ve not felt so contained by the edges of land. However, in recent times, I’ve partaken in additional water sports such as paddle boarding, encouraging me to seek out the protection afforded by estuaries, creeks and rivers more.
Although I’m a Man of Kent, I was recently lucky enough to visit the rivers of the Stour, Deben and Ore/Alde on the Suffolk coast of eastern England, and to my surprise found myself enjoying an altogether slower and more relaxed mode on the water. One that allowed me the time to look about and really take in the type and design of boats being sailed there.
Often being protected by relatively narrow water ways, it is refreshing to see how certain boats haven’t felt the need to evolve themselves into modern racing craft and have maintained a timeless character of their own - which to the observer was a joy in itself. Many of those craft were wooden, and it shows how the locality didn’t demand the high-performance more common shape of today. Yet on 15 miles of navigable river on the River Alde from Orford Sailing Club up to Aldeburgh Yacht Club at Slaughden, you can still see a menagerie of boats, old and new, racing up with the tide side by side.
Just being situated in such picturesque surroundings made me want to get in and sail a more traditional boat than the carbon one I sail today. At Orford the obvious choice looked like a Cornish Shrimper. However, an experience I have promised myself for another visit is to travel up to Hunter’s Yard in Ludham on the Norfolk Broads, and to sail some of the gaff sloops and gunter and lug rigged craft that date from the 1930’s which they hire out. Such classic boats still have a unique draw of their own.
It goes to show that wherever you are based near water, be it a river, an estuary or the open sea, we are all drawn to it. Either to participate, or to watch others enjoying it – be it small boat racing, cruising, paddleboarding, or on a waterway somewhere living out a scene from ‘Swallows and Amazons’ - a book by English author Arthur Ransome, coincidently published in 1930.