A common feature of sailing accounts relating to voyages in and out of Benfleet Creek is that successive generations at some stage misjudge the tide and get stranded on a mud bank. It is almost as if it is some rite of passage.
Nick Ardley, Hugh Falkus and earlier still, W. Edward Wigfull, all participated. Wigfull was an illustrator of books, magazines and newspapers and his account appears in the Yachting Weekly (1914) entitled “Round about Canvey.”
Unfortunately for Wigfull the editor of the Yachting Weekly not only desired facts, but carried his eccentricity as an editor further by insisting on the facts being actually personally experienced by his contributors. It was in the attempt to gratify this whim that the series of mishaps occurred.
Fearing the hidden mud
He writes “We determined to discover for ourselves the way to Benfleet; many times had we dodged about the entrance and even hesitantly penetrated as far as the old oyster watch boat, but not beyond, fearing the hidden mud.
So we fixed on a day a week in advance for the venture. When it came it was a dull morning, but with a nice breeze about S.W. By making a good tack straight out from the shore at Leigh, we should be able to fetch up the greater part of the way on the next high tide about 12.30, which would give a nice sufficiency of water, my boat drawing about 2 feet 10 inches.
I can see the average reader smile, but we measure our draught in inches in this locality. This very day of writing, that two inches lacking of 3 feet enabled us to creep up to our moorings. The crew consisted of my wife, sister in law, small daughter and myself and of course we got away later than we intended.
The long tack out came off as per programme, but no sooner were we round on the other, than the wind became westerly, dead ahead. However, we determined to keep on. The first part of the creek is fairly wide, and there was plenty of water, so, carefully sounding with the boathook inshore, we got along very well.
…Go straight instead of wiggly-waggling…
As the creek narrowed, the tacks became shorter. “Why Don’t you go straight instead of wiggly-waggling all over the place like this?” asked the junior member, until at last it was not worth while making fast the jib sheets on each board .
A barge yacht, the ideal boat for these waters, was beating up ahead of us, and we were gratified to find that each tack brought us nearer to her – in spite of the fact that she could hold on much further inshore.
This proved our undoing, for, coming about close under her lee, we held on further than we should in the hopes of clearing ahead at the next meeting. Our boat came round all right, but a little spur of mud, outlying, caught and held us.
It was, of course, just on the top of the tide, and, after exhausting all known means of getting her off, we decided to abandon ship. So, after tidying up the gear and laying out the anchor, we piled ourselves and personal luggage into the dinghy and started to row home.
We decided to abandon ship
Unfortunately the opening of Leigh Creek tempted us. If we could get through, it would save a mile or so. Cautiously we tried – there was plenty of water – until we found the watershed was about 200 yards in, and we could go no further.
The water was dropping behind us; it was too late to row the laden boat back. Six feet of mud separated the dinghy from the bank, so I prepared to carry the ladies across. This method of debarkation is also one of the common festures of yachting in the Thames estuary, so we were used to it.
I lost my balance and fell
But, alas! the mud here was much softer than at our moorings, and the weight of the first passenger drove my feet too deeply in for recovering. I lost my balance and fell. Happily the lady – it happened to be my sister in law – managed to keep on her feet, and struggled through.
Hastily scraping the outer coats of mud off – moments were precious if we did not want to leave the dinghy, too – I placed stones for the others to gain the shore. Then I started to wade back, pushing the boat in front of me. Suddenly I trod in a deep hole and the water came up to my waist before I managed to throw myself across the stern of the dinghy.
Of necessity I had to climb aboard; naturally the lunch and our coats were in the stern sheets, so that as soon as, I put my knee on the stern, the water out of my high boots emptied itself indiscriminately amongst them”.
A fuller account can be found on the Canvey Archive site (www.canveyisland.org.uk).