East Coast rivers are a rich cruising ground. Local sailor Dick Durham shares the best spots to explore this season

It’s often seemed to me a bit of a geographical oversight to name the Thames Estuary the ‘East Coast’.

What about the rest of England and Scotland north of Lowestoft?

But then when you consider there are 14 rivers, over 60 creeks, any number of swatchways, four all-tide harbours – and one half-tide harbour – an inland sea, and more anchorages than you can shake a tiller at between Lowestoft and Dover, you can understand why.

Many of the anchorages are free of charge and within dinghy distance of a waterside pub.

If you’d prefer a visitor’s mooring there are plenty of those, too, also mostly free of charge.

If, after such a welcome you still prefer a walk-ashore berth, there are those as well in the 16 or so marinas which have grown up over the years.

Boats on a shingle beach under a blue sky

Lots to see in Aldeburgh, moor below the yacht club. Credit: Paul Williams/Alamy Stock Photo

Let’s take a classic passage from Queenborough on The Swale in Kent to Aldeburgh on the River Alde in Suffolk.

Drop the mooring at high water and carry a slack tide out of the River Medway and into the last stretch of the Thames at Sea Reach.

Working northwards across the river, take your ‘offing’ down the coast from the Blacktail Spit buoy which will give you the best part of six hours fair ebb tide.

That will be more than enough to carry you through the critical pinch point of this coast between the Buxey and Gunfleet Sands – the Spitway, well-marked with the Swin and Wallet Spitway buoys.

With luck the ebb will still be running and you can carry it all the way down the Wallet and into Harwich Harbour taking the first of the young flood up to Pin Mill on the River Orwell.

Shingle on one of the East Coast Rivers

Strong tides and shifting banks make the sail in through Shingle Street an exciting ride. Credit: Clynt Garnham Suffolk/Alamy

Pick up a visitor’s buoy here and put ashore for the Butt & Oyster pub which serves real ale and excellent food every night.

As the crow flies you will have covered 45 miles.

In the morning leave at half ebb and drop back out of the river and steer north towards the Ore entrance buoy.

By the time you have arrived, the new flood will be running and, taking care to sail in close to the shifting channel buoys, enjoy the thrill of racing through Shingle Street and into the river, having sailed 10 miles further north.

You will now have an extra lift from the flood as you make for Aldeburgh, a further 18 miles up stream as HW is an hour and a quarter after the entrance time.

Continues below…

Moor below the Aldeburgh Yacht Club – a good place for a pint, but don’t miss the High Street fish and chip shop which always has a queue.

This is a passage to make ideally in south-west, west or north-west winds.

When blowing hard from anywhere in the east, Shingle Street is to be avoided – shelter can be sought in the Rivers Crouch, Blackwater or Colne where there are many anchorages, visitor’s buoys and a couple of marinas.

A chart showing East Coast rivers

Credit: Maxine Heath

If you have to leave your boat because of bad weather, Burnham Marina is a good spot with a local railway station which connects to London’s Liverpool Street.

Titchmarsh Marina, too, is served by the station at Walton-on-the-Naze and is probably the most sheltered spot on the East Coast being in the heart of the Walton Backwaters.

The beauty of the East Coast is that there is so much to see and in a fortnight or three weeks you can explore every river including the harbour at Lowestoft, the half-tide harbour at Southwold, with all the rivers between including the Thames – lock into St Katharine Dock in the heart of the City!

People queuing outside a fish and chip shop

Fish and chips in Aldeburgh is worth the wait. Credit: Mark Mercer/Alamy

For isolation and the world of the marshland maze then Tollesbury, Mersea and Bradwell on the Blackwater; Paglesham, and North Fambridge on the Crouch and Roach, or Erwarton and Wrabness on the Stour are for you.

Probably the most scenic river, often compared to Devon’s River Dart is the River Deben, with its tidemill at Woodbridge and the Saxon burial site at Sutton Hoo, the ‘First page of English history.’

Sailing East Coast rivers

Time taken: 2 weeks

Queenborough to Swin Spitway – 25M
Swin Spitway to Pin Mill – 23M
Shotley Spit to Deben Bar – 6.5M
Deben Bar to Orford Haven Buoy – 5.5M
Orford Haven Buoy to Aldeburgh – 9.5M

Trains: Queenborough, Burnham-on-Crouch, Harwich, Ipswich, Walton-on-the-Naze

Hazards while sailing East Coast rivers

Thames Estuary sand bars, strong tides and shipping.

Offshore windfarm developments require frequent chart updating and attention to Notice to Mariners for ongoing exclusion zones.

Many rivers have shallow entrances that are hazardous in strong easterlies.

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