A guide to cruising England’s East Coast rivers

The East Coast is an acquired taste for sailing and, after fossicking about the creeks and swatchways of the estuaries over the past 65 years, I have acquired it. My personal favourites are the northern rivers in Suffolk – the Deben, Alde and Ore. They are quieter and evoke the history and mystery of the area more profoundly than their southern neighbours. They are protected, too, by the shifting shingle bars at their entrances. These have always held a certain notoriety amongst sailing folk. The Pilots’ Guide to the Thames Estuary, 1934, was not encouraging, suggesting that ‘a passage over the bar (into the Ore) is very dangerous, while with any sea the result might easily be disastrous.’ Modern pilotage books are more inviting, advising that ‘The bar and knolls shift frequently and the tides run in and out of the rivers very strongly indeed, these combine to make Orford Haven difficult, but no more difficult to enter than the Deben’. Many boats now cross these bars regularly and safely. My family began sailing the Deben in the 1950s, chartering a Deben Cherub from Russell Upson at Everson’s boatyard, now Woodbridge Boatyard. A modest cruise My journey was to begin as far up the River Deben as I could and to travel as far up the River Alde as was possible, using a dinghy when the bridges were too low or the water too shallow. High tide at the railway bridge above Melton, on the Deben, was a tight fit and the dinghy came to a stop amongst the reeds and meadows just below Ufford. Returning to the Tidemill Yacht Harbour in Woodbridge, to collect Sarantina, my Samphire 26, I carried on down the river under just a genoa, past the Sutton Hoo Anglo Saxon burial ship, in a blustery north-easterly wind and grey skies. By the time I reached the mouth of the Deben at Felixstowe Ferry the ebb tide was running hard, the wind definitely strong and the light was beginning to go. I returned upriver to Ramsholt and picked up a mooring by the quay, sheltered from the wind. A delightful, peaceful place. Article continues below… Brisk beat from Bawdsey The morning brought a brisk forecast so I tied in a reef in the calm of the moorings. It seemed a bit like the ‘old sailor’ syndrome but easier to shake out than take in once underway. At The Ferry, the wind headed and strengthened but I could have walked faster than I motor-sailed over the bar at the mouth of the Deben. The wind, now fresh from the north east, left a five-mile beat up the coast to Orford Haven against the flooding tide. Progress up the coast was slow and wet. Counting down the Martello towers to Shingle Street seemed to take forever. I was late at the River Ore entrance but the tide was still just flooding giving a roly-poly, white water reach into the river from the Haven Buoy. I averaged just under … Continue reading A guide to cruising England’s East Coast rivers