Log #12g Rivers Ore, Alde & Butley

October 9, 1999 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 12 England, S&E coast rivers, The Logs

Log #12g Rivers Ore, Alde & Butley
Date: Sat, 09 Oct 1999 09:29:28 ‑0400 (EDT)
Limehouse Basin, London

Hi Folks,

Here is the next installment of our voyage up the east coast rivers. Now that we are settled in for the winter, I hope to get caught up on my logs as I have easy ready access to E‑mail through the Cruising Association. Incidentally, I enjoy hearing from friends via E‑mail and can access it on a regular basis (hint hint).

All is well with us here in London, and we have met with several of the boats with whom we sailed across from Bermuda and the Azores.

Take care,

Log #12g Rivers Ore, Alde and Butley

Written at Limehouse Basin, London
51 30.7N, 000 02.2W
Oct. 8, 1999

We are now settled in at the Cruising Association headquarters here at Limehouse Basin for the winter, about a mile downstream of the Tower of London just off the Thames River. We had a great sail after we left Brighyon until we got past North Foreland into the Thames Estuary, but more about that in the relevant log when I get to it.

My last log had us ready to leave the Deben River on Sept. 1. However on Aug. 31, while we were dinghying around the shoreline of the Deben where we were anchored, we saw Captain Nancy motoring down from Woodbridge, and hailed them to come over to Veleda and secure alongside. We had a very nice visit with Brian (of the mud up to his knees)  and Irene and had them stay for supper and rafted alongside overnight. It was quite pleasant to have guests on board while at anchor and not have to worry about them taking a dinghy back to their boat after an enjoyable night of eating, drinking, and conversation.

Captain Nancy left about an hour before we did the next day. It was a pleasant one hour motor down to the mouth of the Deben and we cleared the bar with no difficulty, then set our Genny and motorsailed up to the River Ore. In crossing the bar into a river, the strategy is to reach the mouth shortly after low tide so the bars and shoals can be seen at low water, but one crosses them and goes up river on a rising tide. If an error is made and the boat grounds on a rising tide, it is just a matter of waiting a bit until the water rises sufficiently to get off. However if one grounds on a falling tide and cannot get off immediately, that boat is then in deep trouble as it would have to stay aground on the falling tide until the next rising tide which could be 6 to 10 hours away, and meantime possibly lying on its side on a drying shoal. I hope we never have to experience such a hazardous, horrible, humiliating situation.

Anyways, we crossed the bar with no problems, and motored 8 miles up the Ore to secure to a vacant buoy at Orford, in sight of a turreted castle and square towered Norman Church up in the village. The trip up was parallel to the coast, separated from the open water of the North Sea by a long low shale island called Orfordness, home to some military communications installations and a bird sanctuary. This island has developed over the centuries so that the medieval town of Orford, which in the time of Henry VIII was an important east coast port and fishing village, is now almost cut off from the sea by this long 8 mile stretch of narrow river. The castle, church and town dock are the touristy remnants of a medieval prominence, giving the town a pleasant old world charm. The castle is intact, with four 100 foot towers connected by fortified walls and passageways encompassing three floors for a kitchen/storeroom on the ground level, a great hall for audiences and feasts on the second, and chambers, chapel, and siege defenses on the third and roof levels. It is situated on a hill dominating the area and giving a beautiful panorama of the surrounding countryside from its fighting towers and rooftop.

We couldn’t find any harbourmaster in Orford, and thus just stayed on the buoy free of charge for the night before heading further up river the next day. The further stretch of the river is called the Alde River where we secured to another buoy across from the Aldeburgh Yacht Club, 4 miles up from Orford. We checked in with the local CA port captain about use of this buoy to be informed that its owner was off for a few days, and no problem using it, but it might not be heavy enough for a long stay. As we only wanted to explore the area by dinghy, then head back downstream later that afternoon, we left Veleda on the buoy, and took Sprite another 5 miles up to the headwaters of the Alde at the Maltings at Snape Bridge , a former malting factory converted into an artists colony, with boutiques, a high end shopping arcade, and a theatre for the performing arts in an upscale renovated warehouse.

The trip up was a bird watcher’s paradise. The river wended its way through low lying marsh with wider and wider mud banks developing as we went upstream and the tide ebbed. We have to be careful of navigating up rivers on a falling tide even in the dinghy, as we could get above a shallow bank that would dry at low tide, thus preventing us from getting back for several hours until the tide started its flood. There is a special ecology of tidal rivers with mixed fresh and salt waters exposing mud flats through marshy estuaries with the daily tides, providing nurture for a wide variety of insect, plant, fish, and bird life. Most of these estuaries on the east coast are nature reserves, and upstream development is restricted to meet ecological requirements.

It still seems strange to dinghy up to a town at low tide in a narrow stream just navigable for a shallow draft skiff, and see at the town dock 30 and 40 foot sailboats or 70 foot spritsail barges tied alongside in the mud, patiently sitting there until the next high tide allows them to float in their own element. The Aldeburgh Yacht Club has staked out the navigable channel from Aldeburgh upstream to Snapes Bridge with “withies” indicating deeper water. These “withies” are tree branches stuck in the mud banks. The port markers are painted red and are bare stakes or tree stems, some with a can stuck on top. The starboard markers are green and have branches and twigs left on the stakes. Of course over the season the paint fades away, and the leaves fall off the branches, making it difficult to ascertain whether a particular “withy” is a port or starboard marker. These are important markers as going on the wrong side can immediately put you on a mud bank, and the water is a muddy brown that gives no clue as to its depth. A guideline in such river or shallow creek navigation is to stay on the outside of bends where the water will be deeper. Another difficulty, especially when going towards the sun, is that the mud banks slant into the water at such a shallow angle that to discern where the water ends and the mud flat starts is difficult, as it looks a uniform glossy brown smooth surface. We have encountered this optical problem not only in Sprite on the narrow streams, but also in Veleda while navigating rivers near low tide.

We returned to Aldeburgh, an old seaside resort town, without incident, making sure to set off sufficiently before low tide trapped us at Snape Bridge. After a short walk around the town and a shower at the yacht club, we left in Veleda to head down river to an anchorage just above the mouth of the Ore in the Butley River. It was a narrow uninhabited stretch in which we anchored mid stream. A couple of other boats motored past us to anchor a bit further upstream, including one converted spritsail barge.

The next morning before we left, I dinghied a couple of miles upstream, wending my way through low marshy terrain. On the way back to Veleda I saw a narrow gravel hard that came to the water’s edge, providing the only place I could get ashore without having to wade through mud banks. There were a couple of small rowboats, one with the pretentious name of BUTLEY FERRY on a faded wooden strip on the transom. At the top of the hard was a path going along the earthen levee wall, intersected by another path coming from what appeared to be a farm in the bogs. While looking around, I saw a family came down the path over the bog with bicycles and had a pleasant conversation with them. After a short conversation, they indicated they were taking the ferry across the creek (the Butley River was all of 15 feet wide near low tide). Then a ferry man shuffled up to take them across. Sure enough, that rowboat was the Butley Ferry. The family had called the ferryman earlier to arrange the crossing. Two pounds for children under 12 and three for adults. It was enjoyable talking with this garrulous ferryman and the family.

They were amazed that a Canadian boat was up the river and the fact that I negotiated the “BAR” was an achievement almost on par with crossing the Atlantic. Apparently there are many boaters in these three rivers (Ore, Alde and Butley) who have never crossed the bar and regale strangers with the perils of such a crossing. They race in the rivers, and go from one community to another within the rivers to anchor for a weekend or even a longer holiday, but still within the rivers — not across the bar. I left as the kids were getting ready to get into the rowboat with their bikes and continued on towards Veleda. A couple of hundred yards down I was hailed over by the barge that went upriver from us last night, and offered a cup of coffee. I declined but had a nice chat with the father and a couple of his teenage sons. Sure enough, they were from Aldeburgh and were down here on the Butley for a weekend getaway, but they had never gone across the BAR. Crossing it was really no big deal, but it could look ferocious at maximum flood or ebb current, and I guess that periodically some poor soul miscalculated and was swept into the shoals to maintain the horror stories of crossing the BAR.

I returned to Veleda and we weighed anchor, crossing the bar again with no problem, heading down to the Orwell River past Harwich and Felixstow up to Pin Mill and Ipswich, for our first time putting Veleda on the hard.