There can be a harmony and tranquillity to a gently rising tidal estuarine flow. In the Lynher the brown, muddy waters creep slowly across the shoreline and up through the creeks and gulley’s; inching their way across the sunbathed mudflats. The brown black ooze sparkles in the sun, iridescent light reflection patterns etched across its flats and depressions. The creeping tides progress is marked by a thin, sinuous, silvery white line of froth. Occasionally, clumps of brown bubbles, sculpted into a myriad of geometric designs snake and swirl across the eddies, the result of fertiliser run off from the surrounding hills.
Dead leaves surf the very leading edges of this creeping tide, having their last hurrah before decomposing back into life nurturing nutrients; their photosynthesising activity for the mighty shoreline oaks, is done. It is a sure sign that autumn is on its way.
Across the mirror glass watery surface, the odd twig and small branch stick a spidery limb skywards as they float on their last journey, to be eventually washed up on some beach or rocky shoreline. With any luck, they will be retrieved by a beachcomber and dried out and given new life again; as a beachcombing artwork, bought from a local harbour gallery or souvenir shop, thereby gaining a new life in someone’s home. A treasured memory of a good holiday, a pleasant and happy time along a Devon or Cornish coastline.
The natural beauty of the Lynher was deeply welcomed after the industrial busyness of the Tamar.
The haul up the Tamar was a long slog into stiff northerly breezes. Multiple tacks across the channel, confined in places as we past the dockyard; the Police boats quick to edge closer if they thought we had ventured too close to the eastern shore. Progress was slow and on the odd occasion the motor was used to ease us past a tricky spot. Arwen was not designed for rowing and even with the favourable incoming spring tide, rowing into the wind would have been exhausting, if not nearly impossible.
To purists, using the motor is a travesty; the cause of poor sailing skills development; a destroyer of peace and quiet; a foul polluter. And, yes to an extent I agree. After all I am the man who shuns the use of a GPS when mountain walking. I prefer the old ways, the honed craft of simultaneously using map and compass. Shunned too are SATNAV’s in cars……destroyer of basic map and atlas skills. On these fronts, I am clearly a luddite! On the other hand, her indoors is a pragmatist. An outstanding navigator using maps, she knows when to resort to SATNAV, and does so. So it is, that I am the same with the outboard. I’m relaxed about resorting to its use on occasions. I am out to enjoy the journey whether it be by sail, oar or motor and on this particular day, I practically had the water to myself, so I was of little intrusion into others enjoyment.
Progress up the Lynher, via Anthony Passage was easier. The steady breeze, now beam-on, allowed a good reach under jib and mizzen and the incoming tide helped. Arwen ghosted along, the sound of small wavelets slapping her bow; the faint outboard engine sounds from ribs depositing navy recruits aboard their permanently moored training ship fading with increasing distance upriver from Jupiter Point.
Past Forder Creek with its old medieval mills, quarries, limekilns and quaysides. Once upon a time, a hive of industrial activity, flour milling, fulling, market gardening and lime burning, the mill still stands; the area now a conservation area. Formerly of the Trematon manor granted to Sir Nigel Loring by the Black Prince himself in 1373, medieval tenants would have brought their grain to be milled and ground to flour. How much of it they would keep for themselves – I know not. In a later century, the quaysides became dung docks. The night soil and street sweepings from the new Devonport dock in the 1820’s bought across and deposited on quaysides; a prize much valued by the Tamar Valley farmers for its rich organic matter.
That is the thing about the Tamar Valley and its tributaries. They are alive with history. It is a world UNESCO heritage site for its former industrial archaeology; rightly so. Scattered across the far recesses of tributaries that join the Lynher, the old crumbling remains of decaying quaysides lie forlorn; once thriving, now difficult to access due to the centuries of mud that have deposited between them and the tributary channels. Left now as roosting places for birds. Their Tamar slate rocks are now lichen covered and blackened above the water line; and weed fringed below. Grassy and brambles adorn their flattened surfaces; their access tracks overgrown and forgotten.
We were entering the world of tidal, reed fringed marshes and lagoons, tiny creeks and vast, treacherously shallow inlets. I kept a sharp eye on the chart and searched frequently for the red and green buoys that marked the meandering channel up towards the deep-water anchorage of dandy hole. Occasionally a dull thud reverberated from Arwen’s bilges as centreboard hit sandbank and raised itself, straining against the elastic downhaul holding it in place. A good, yet primitive depth sounder.
Herons and egrets raised their heads; their intense scrutiny of shallow waters momentarily broken by our brief passing. Cormorants, basking in the sun on buoys, bobbed up and down, stretching and contracting their necks and wings, trying to decide whether this interloping boat was friend or foe; should they fly or stay put? They didn’t quite have the courage of two small terns I met earlier. They choose to stay and ‘fight’. I’d selected their mooring can at the Lynher. Big mistake on my part. Respect the natural world or it will bite you back when you least expect it. The terns, busy preening and chatting to each other when I arrived, were exceedingly disgruntled about having to give up their yellow, flat topped can. So indignant, they actually refused to move when I tried to thread a mooring painter through the metal loop. I physically pushed them off; they wheeled away upwards and spent a few minutes circling Arwen, their shrill calls making their feelings very plain. I did, with fairness, feel very guilty for several minutes after.
Our gently sedate progress up river was rudely and abruptly ended as we rounded Dandy Hole and past Redshanks Beach. The mile-long stretch of straight, narrow channel between steep wooded slopes ahead was a seething mass of angry, white topped wavelets, foam and spray. Of course it would be. Poor pilotage on my part. Wind against tide channelled down a narrow passage; didn’t see that one coming. Should have though! Under sail we did try tacking, but centreboard grounded several times and it was clear we were ahead of sufficient tidal depth at this point. Upriver, an 18’ or so, old wooden motor cruiser gingerly made its way up the channel, its skipper crossing the channel from side to side, clearly following the depths on a depth counter of some form. His progress slow, planned, considered. Under motor, Arwen couldn’t go that slow. The current surged her forward, the wind held her firm. At low revs, she floundered and her bow was pushed off course, back downstream. At some point I knew we would catch up the little cruiser ahead and overtake her. The skill would be to pick the appropriate safe point to do so.
The problem with using a Tohatsu 3.5 hp is that it has an integral 1.5 litre tank; that and the fact that it is very difficult to judge when it is about to run out of fuel and require a top up. Suffice to say, it was a hairy minute or two hanging off the transom balancing a funnel and fuel bottle trying to top up the tank without spilling a drop into the water, mid channel, in a stiff breeze, going broadside, back down the river. We did manage it but it was hairy! I guess sailing is as much about lessons learned and experience gained as it is about enjoying the scenery and being out on the water. Several lessons and much experience was being ‘gained’ on this trip; not least of which was better pilotage and passage planning skills for the future!
As we regained composure and gently surged ahead on sufficient revs to overcome the wind but not spoil the serenity of the scenery, the wooden cruiser dropped alongside.
“Hello, do you know the passage up to St German’s? Can we follow you in?”
“Sorry, I’m not familiar with it either, but the channel there with its pole markers leads up to the Treluggan yard; the channel up the Tiddy, meanders over to the left; watch for the mudflats on the starboard, they are very shallow and extend out some way; what do you draw?”
I crept forward, eyes flickering from chart to markers; from features on shorelines to transits. Drawing no more than 3’ I wasn’t unduly worried. The tide still had two hours to go; I’d strand myself and float off. I’d rather avoid the boat behind stranding as well due to my ignorance and inability to read chart depths. Pressure on!!
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it was with relief that I tied alongside the little floating pontoon outside the sailing club. There was greater relief to watch the lovely little motor boat edge past me, safe and sound too. I suspect more down to her skipper’s exceptional boat handling and pilotage skills than my ‘pathfinding’! Phew!