Like thousands of sailors, I’ve sailed in and out of the River Crouch many times between Fairway No 1 Buoy and the Whitaker Buoy, which is well clear of Foulness Sand. Not so long ago I was sailing ‘Talitha’, my small keelboat, into the mouth of the River Roach, and I was surprised to find a new green and red buoy marking Branklet Spit. I was even more surprised to discover a brand new port hand buoy further to the South with the name Crow. It took me a little while to twig on that something was different. Back in the Crouch, a closer inspection of Horse Shoal Buoy and Fairway No 1 confirmed there had been a big makeover of the buoyage system.
Yesterday I was at Wallasea Island, and my eagle eye did not fail to observe a pile of shabby buoys that had been dumped in the storage yard by the big ship jetty. Around them there were stacks of wood, metal rods and large coils of rusty wire. Beyond there was a series of dilapidated warehouses. Was this an Arts Council funded project? It could well have been, for if you look at this scene with the eye of an artist you will observe that in the apparent chaos there is order – a functional order brought about by the necessity for access by dumper trucks etc. Objects are grouped according to type, e.g., stacks of wood, lengths of steel rod, coils of wire, and slap in the middle are the iconic buoys. The past function of these faded relics can be ascertained by their top marks, their colours and the shapes of the buoys themselves. When I photographed them they were bathed in defining sunlight and their forms were enhanced by telltale shadows imparting a chiaroscuro effect.
‘Sunken Buxey’, ‘Ridge’, ‘Crouch’ and ‘Swallow Tail’; these familiar names brought back memories. At one time or another they have marked my progress in or out of the Crouch, perhaps when it was blowing old boots or when the visibility was poor, or when rain was pelting down or in pitch darkness, hoping to spot their characteristic flashing lights. Late evening the dazzling, setting sun could make finding these buoys so very difficult and testing, especially at the end of a long day when all I wanted was to get in, drop the hook and prepare for a good night’s sleep. There were times when my heart pounded and I was relieved to find that I wasn’t about to crash my yacht on Swallow Tail Bank.
Now, with better buoyage, including an additional 26 new buoys, getting in and out of the Crouch will be safer and easier. I had thought that with improved electronic navigation systems, GPS and the like, the Authorities would reduce the number of buoys; whereas it is the exact opposite, on account of spoil from the Crossrail project being shipped to Wallasea Island. New charts will be required yet again, and the chart of my GPS is out of date!
New Buoys for the River Crouch
Revised Buoyage Chart
Positions of New Crouch Buoys
Notices to Mariners – Raysand Channel