WandererEast – Whitstable
5-day event of cruising and racing 29th August to 3rd September 2023
Report by Elizabeth Doggart
Photos by contributors to the online WandererEast album initiated by Doug Hughes
Wanderer sailors from far and wide came together in the new venture of “Wanderer East” to enjoy a few days of cruising and racing from 29th August to 3rd September 2023 at the charming Kent seaside town of Whitstable. Whitstable Yacht Club is home to a tight-knit community of Wanderer sailors who have the good fortune to enjoy sailing along the attractive bays and creeks of the north Kent coast. The Wanderer class, with their distinctive sail profile (and glorious spinnakers), stability and versatility, is the perfect vessel for what the RYA dinghy trail calls the “dinghy cruising paradise” of the Swale.
We welcomed our Wanderer visitors with joy in happy anticipation of the days to come, as campervans took up residence at the end of the harbour quay and boats were rigged at the top of the club ramp.
Having settled in, we agreed we would meet again at the Old Neptune pub, Whitstable’s glorious landmark and the only pub in the UK that literally is on the beach.
The Old Neptune, or “Neppy” as it is fondly known by the locals, welcomed us with its usual charm and aplomb. We took over a cosy corner, drinking Kentish beer and enjoying an evening meal while pouring over the charts and planning the courses to come.
Day One: across the Swale to Shellness (but not all!)
The briefing completed, seven boats prepared for their sailing adventure. The plan, in rather breezier conditions than forecast, was amended to sail across the Swale, the estuary to the west of Whitstable which separates the Isle of Sheppey from the mainland, and then decide on the final destination. The promising start to the day was obviously going to be rather more challenging in the strengthening NW breeze than the perfect sailing conditions we had hoped for. From a fresh Nor’westerly Whitstable harbour offers no protection and for the unwary sailor the West Quay wall becomes an uncomfortably solid lee shore hazard. With waves heaping up on the beach launching became increasingly difficult. Four boats did well to clear the breaking waves to wait offshore for all to launch. Sadly, caught by a nasty squall and a swamping, the other three boats conceded to the force of nature and abandoned their valiant attempts to get away. As the four Wanderers beyond the breakers set off, we who were left managed to get our remaining boats altogether out of the water. Slightly more battered and bruised but we made it thanks to heroic efforts! Many an experienced sailor amongst us, we had faced rough waters before and knew the importance of working together as a team. Our determination and camaraderie got us through.
Shellness is a remote, low headland of sand, shells and seals on the eastern point of the island.
It was a hard beat for 90 minutes as the four boats tacked into the north-westerly under reefed sails to sail the straight-line distance of just 3 nautical miles. On landing at the island everything seemed to change.
The clouds cleared, the wind dropped, the sky was blue and the water calm. Shellness seemed a world apart from the mainland with Whitstable still shrouded by low cloud. To the landward side the Swale National Nature Reserve guards against the intrusion of people while to the seaward side a World War II observation post still seems to guard against the threat of an invasion.
Compared to the rough crossing, a benign run back to Whitstable was greeted by our unlucky friends who had had regrouped to help run the boats up the beach. Richard thanked the true heroes of the day.
Day Two: Faversham Creek – Shipwrights’ Arms
A much happier day for all! We were off to Faversham Creek. A delightful place to land our Wanderers all spirits restored from the previous day’s adventures! The Wanderers under a light wind, nevertheless glided gracefully through the gentle waves, their sails and spinnakers wafting gently making a delightful scene to any passer-by who might be lucky enough to view us from the land. A majestic entrance of Wanderers sailed into the creek. We landed. An impressively seamanlike landing on the creek bank at the Shipwrights’ Arms.
A sandwich lunch in good company was enjoyed as we sat together on the banks of Faversham Creek, admiring the beauty of the surrounding area, the wildlife and sheer prettiness of the area.
Some of us ventured further afield to the nearby wonderful “Shipwrights’ Arms” a 17th Century pub of great character and charm. It is over 300 years old but was first licensed in 1738. I love this place you can almost feel the presence of the ghosts of pirates oozing from the ancient timbers.
We were granted a perfect return sail on one fetch.
Day Three: Leysdown–on-Sea
We set sail to Leysdown, a small holiday resort on the Isle of Sheppey which looks out to the North Sea. A somewhat unpromising, dull, murky, windless start, but again first the ghost of a breeze and then a steady F2 breeze, produced tiny ripples across the full extent of the Swale as the boats, glided, seemingly sailing themselves effortlessly, to the buoyed mouth of the estuary and on towards the prominent headland of Warden Point. This was not the first time I have enjoyed this crossing, with laughter echoing across the sea, singing sea shanties, sharing stories and revelling in the joy of nature’s wonders. But the beauty of this passage was the sound of silence, except for the rippling of tiny waves playing their tune on the bow.
Leysdown is not the easiest place to access. There is just 90 minutes either side of high water before the water recedes a long way. At high water the part sandy beach is hidden on approach from the south east. But once landed we secured our boats to avoid grounding on stones within the sand.
Now that the school holidays were over and the sea wall defences were up, we had to climb walls to get into the village behind, secure vittles such as tea and ice cream and use the facilities. I was lucky enough to be hauled over a sea wall by two lifeguards! Sadly, they had disappeared on my return, but I made it back to the rest of the group in time for the tide and breeze, which quite magically had come round to give us another fetch straight back to Whitstable.
As we ventured further from the shore, we encountered a number of playful grey seals, which have grown in population in the greater Thames Estuary. These beautiful creatures swam some distance from our boats, bobbing their heads in harmony with the waves. We couldn’t help but feel a sense of pleasure at having spotted them!
As the sun began to set behind Sheppey, casting a warm golden glow across the sea to Whitstable we reflected on our sailing and new friendships. For now, we had come to an end of the first WandererEast, which may become a feature of future Wanderer events whether at Whitstable or other sail cruising venues in the east of England. It was an absolute pleasure to share our enjoyment of cruising in our home waters with our visitors and to introduce them to the interest and attraction of the Swale. We hope to see more of our new friends on their return.
But it was not quite over, for now we had two days of Wanderer racing to look forward to.
13 WCOA sailors and 3 WYC members with 8 boats took part in WandererEast. WCOA participants: Kate Ahern and Ian Hay, Peter Cutts, Elizabeth Doggart, Fef Griffin, Doug Hughes, Nigel and Maria Lamb, Richard and Jane Maltby, Trevor Sharp, Neil and Lindsey Weatherley.