Saturday, 19 September 2009


The Estuary is best enjoyed by little boats. Any boat with a draught of over, say, two feet is asking to be taken to sea and, in the Estuary, is much confined to the channels. The crew has to take soundings or gaze at echo sounders when there are better things to see.

There is a perfectly respectable opinion that ‘going aground’ in the estuary is a thoroughly bad thing, something never to be risked and to be avoided at all costs, and, something, if by misfortune experienced, not to be talked about. This, however, is a very limiting opinion. If sandbanks are always to be given a wide berth then, at a stroke, much of the Estuary becomes out of bounds. Certainly, if small boatowners only feel happy sailing at high water on a ‘good tide’ they miss much of the glory of the Estuary.

The small ‘punts’ that fished the Estuary were always using the sandbanks and mudbanks. If, as sometimes happened, a boat returning home ran out of water under her keel the crew, without fuss, would step over the side of the boat and spread two fisherman’s anchors wide apart in the sand or mud and walk ashore creaking in their long boots. The boat would not complain. She would be quite happy to stay where she was left for as long as was required. The salmon boats were often left so anchored as a matter of course. When the fishing demanded it the boat spent a lonely night far from home. It was once common to see a salmon boat with all her gear floating lonely as a cloud somewhere in the middle of the Estuary.

It was remarkable how cleverly the small ‘punts’ would creep atround the banks only a couple of yards from the sand or mud. Mostly boats were rowed and the Seagull outboard motor only used when winds or tides were unfavourable or when time was pressing. My skipper kept a pint of fuel in a screwtopped pop bottle under a thwart. That was his reserve in total.

It is comforting for the solitary boatsman to know that as a last resort he is strong enough to push his boat off a bank and into deeper water. Ergo, as one grows older and weaker one requires an ever lighter boat for the estuary. For my eightieth birthday I shall be looking for a kayak.

Tomorrow: Keats in Teignmouth

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