Organisers: John Davison, HPO, and Jonathan Hague, Rear Commodore Sail & Power
By Jill Moffatt and Kate Newman
The early May Bank Holiday weekend saw the annual LSC pilgrimage to West Mersea. This is the traditional opener of the East Coast rally season and in our opinion is one of the highlights of the Club’s sailing calendar, particularly for foodies and lovers of fresh seafood. The rally is promoted as offering fine dining, great company and a seafood & bubbles Sunday breakfast – plus the best sunset in Britain. It certainly lived up to this impressive billing!
Due to it being close to a Spring tide we needed to make an early start out of Ramsgate at 06:00 hrs on Saturday morning. Of those boats that initially planned to attend the rally by sea, only two managed to sail or motor sail to West Mersea - Avventura from Ramsgate and Ramoth from Ipswich. Given their size, the location of their home ports and the strong winds forecast for the Sunday morning, other Little Ship Club skippers ended up taking the sensible decision to drive round instead.
A highlight of this passage from Ramsgate is always navigation of the shifting sands of the Thames Estuary. Crossing the SW Sunk was completed successfully with 1.4 m under the keel, and the Swin Spitway with just 0.8m to spare - a large margin by East Coast sailors’ reckoning and par for the course, but a bit concerning for some of us South Coasters!
When we arrived at West Mersea, it was just after HW springs so the harbourmaster took the precaution of allocating Avventura a berth on the outer moorings at the entrance to the harbour – a decision that was justified by the proximity of the mud bank behind us, which only became visible at low tide the next morning! Sadly, there was no sign of Sammy the seal who is regularly seen at the end of the town pontoon joining the children in the fun of crabbing. Apparently it might have been a bit too early in the season for him!
Eating, drinking and socialising
West Mersea HPO John Davison was on hand from late afternoon in the West Mersea Yacht Club bar to welcome rally attendees, only leaving his post for a short while to change into more formal attire for dinner.
We then all gathered in the bar at 19:00 for pre-dinner drinks and were given a very warm welcome to the club by the WMYC Commodore Michael Wheeler, Vice-Commodore Alan Jones and various members of their club Committee who joined us for the drinks. John and Jonathan Hague had arranged for a special barrel of beer, ‘Hoodwink’ from Maldon Ales, to be set up behind the bar – the challenge being to drink the barrel dry by the end of the weekend!
We then went upstairs for dinner in the Long Room, which offers a splendid panoramic view over the harbour and surrounding countryside. After an official welcome to the club from Michael Wheeler, both club Commodores - Michael Wheeler for the WMYC and Anne Billard for the LSC - formally exchanged club burgees.
Twenty-five Little Ship Club members sat down to a delicious starter of scallops with cauliflower and parsley dressing, followed by a main of braised shoulder of lamb, crispy sweetbreads, pommes Anna, broad bean pea and lettuce with lamb jus, with a dessert of Tonka bean pannacotta, pistachio biscotti and macerated raspberries.
John Davison excelled himself again by laying on yet another spectacular sunset for the enjoyment of the diners. After dinner we all retired to the bar again, some to continue with the ‘barrel challenge’, others just to enjoy a digestif or two. John had arranged for a late launch to take those on the moorings back to their boats, so we all changed back into our waterproofs for the return journey and sped down the pontoon for the last departure at 22.30 hrs.
On Sunday, it was time for a seafood breakfast at the Company Shed. Having looked at the weather, Ramoth chose to miss the breakfast and opted for an early return to Ipswich. The crew of Avventura made the return trip ashore on the West Mersea club launch, YC1, just in time to reach the island before the depth of water became insufficient to allow the launch to come alongside the pontoon. We were helpfully informed by the boatman as we hurriedly boarded the launch, “We only have five minutes if we are going to be able to make the pontoon in time!”. Phew - we made it! We wouldn't have wanted to miss the seafood breakfast! Indeed, it was fascinating to see the significant mud banks in the harbour en route as they made us even more appreciative of the challenges of following the narrow channel to the landing pontoon.
We all then gathered at 10:00 at the famous Company Shed for the special seafood breakfast, accompanied by wine, juice, bubbly and baguettes. Platters piled high with crab claws, prawns, shrimps and mussels were passed down the long tables along with side plates of oysters, smoked mackerel, smoked salmon and cockles. We were joined by Mary Wickenden, who drove up from London early especially (the fame of these breakfasts having spread amongst club members) as well as guest Vivien Ryser, Treasurer of the RNSA East Coast Branch, former LSC member and long-standing friend of the club. Local residents, and former club HPOs, Shelagh and David Curry also dropped in to say hello whilst out walking their new cockapoo, Stanley (and also joined us later at the WMYC). Those not in a hurry to return home or to yachts then re-assembled once more in the bar and the sunny garden of the WMYC for lunchtime drinks and to resume the ‘beer barrel challenge’.
Navigating the weather
The initial plan at the start of the weekend had been for Avventura to return to Ramsgate mid-afternoon on Sunday, but a check of the updated weather forecast suggested that Monday would be better since the winds were expected to abate, so the decision was made to stay at West Mersea on the Sunday.
Some of the crew elected to enjoy the afternoon sunshine and stroll beside the beach and into the village, with others remaining at the bar where they successfully completed the ‘beer barrel’ challenge, before we all went to the Coast Inn for an early evening meal - fortunately only a short stagger away! John had in the meantime been busy liaising with WMYC who very kindly agreed to provide another late launch to deliver us back to the boat. We duly re-convened in the WMYC bar yet again before heading out for the 20:30 launch. John remained in the bar, postponing his planned evening curry with friends to ensure our safe departure (or perhaps just to make sure that we had all finally left the premises?).
Inevitably Monday dawned windy, however confident that this would abate as forecast, Avventura set sail at 09:00 which was low water, so that we would be on a rising tide leaving the Nass and for when we reached the shallow channels. Needless to say, the forecast changed and the wind did not abate but in fact increased to the top end of F6, hitting us with gusts of up to 36 knots at times! The wind direction also did not behave as advertised and, instead of backing to what would have been a very helpful Easterly, remained firmly in the South and therefore on the nose. After furling the genoa and reefing the main, Avventura ploughed resolutely into a F7 wind and the cross-tides for what turned into a very wet and bumpy 10-hour return trip to Ramsgate.
Thanks are due to Jonathan and John for organising the rally and especially to John for all of his activities as HPO arranging everything on the ground locally. We know that he is definitely looking forward enthusiastically to doing it all again next year!
Dinner: Anne Billard, Jonathan Hague, Ron Gardner, Paul Kelly, Jill Moffatt, Kate Newman, Charles Quayle (Avventura); Mike and Valerie Birch; Anne and Tim Bizzey; Sue Cossell and Richard Keen; Pete, Nicky and Oliver Hampson; Greg and Lydia Hirst, Kay Yuil (Ramoth); Iain Muspratt, Paul Banks, Michael Smith, John Strode; John Davison; Nick Pargeter.
Breakfast: Anne Billard, Jonathan Hague, Ron Gardner, Paul Kelly, Jill Moffatt, Kate Newman, Charles Quayle (Avventura); Anne and Tim Bizzey; Pete and Nicky Hampson; Celia and Anthony Mason; Iain Muspratt, Paul Banks, Michael Smith, John Strode; Mary Wickenden; John Davison; guest Vivien Ryser.
Next rally on the East coast
The next rally on the East Coast is the Club’s 90th Calais Rally on the last bank holiday of May, organized as ever by Norman Hummerstone, where Little Ship Club members will mingle with members of the Royal Naval Sailing Association and other East Coast clubs.