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  • Writer's pictureAsha

Onward to River Deben!

Although the advantages of being in the Ipswich Dock are alluring to the point of inviting sailors to grow roots, we have resisted its charm and casted off our lines again to head further north. Not that much further, to be honest, but the little sea voyage delivered some unwanted surprises. After leaving Ipswich we spent one night on a buoy outside Levington to easily align with the tide to take us into the River Deben. Mark was nearly as excited about sailing there as if it was a carbon copy of the River Orwell. Having fallen for the Orwell I hid my skepticism at Mark’s excitement that the Deben could rival the Orwell.

We dropped the buoy and headed off. As we were passing Felixstowe, sea fog set in and after a few minutes all the cranes, massive container carriers and coastline disappeared into the milky mist. We could still hear the hustle of the busy port and the foghorn, but as for visibility, according to the radio weather warning, it was down to a hundred meters. Despite the blue skies and sun above, we couldn’t see a thing, except for the fog of course.

Mark’s attempts to switch on the radar were met with bitter disappointment, so he pulled out the instruction manual and after trying every trick in that book he managed to get the radar working. Phew! What a relief! We still couldn’t see anything, but the radar was bouncing its waves off objects on the sea and off the coastline, which gave us some sense of safety.

Good job the radar came on as we were very close to the entrance to the River Deben. I didn’t appreciate what sort of an entrance it was but now I doubt I would like to do it again, especially in such conditions. It is no more, no less, but a moving target. One entering the river must forget about the convenient existence of chart plotter and relay on the “in-the-moment” kind of feedback, so visual, including current markings, depth finder, and radar. The reason for that are the ever-shifting sand banks. The last time Mark visited the River Deben, the entrance looked completely different and he also had a different boat – a catamaran – so that means a vessel that draws far less than Altor does.

To enter the River Deben it is advisable to talk to the Harbour Master to find out where the sand bar has currently shifted to, the approximate depth over the sandbar at any particular state of tide, and whether the buoys were put in the newly updated positions. Only then it is advisable to proceed assuming clement conditions, as this entrance can be dangerous and over the years has claimed many boats. This may sound dramatic, but it is not an exaggeration at all!

As we came in, the tide swelled all around pushing us from one side of the channel to the next and in this situations it is as important to look to where you have come from as well as where you are heading to, in order to ensure that the tide is not taking you off course and into a dangerous situation. We entered at one hour before high tide (nips) and the minimum depth we saw over the bar was 0.7 of a meter under Altor’s keel. That is close enough for us.

To celebrate the safe arrival and settle the nerves we enjoyed a wee drum before going ashore. We headed to the seafront and while walking down the beach we saw an animal swimming towards the shore. Our bets were on seal or an otter but much to our surprise a deer emerged from the sea and walked onto the sand, shook off the water and undisturbed by our presence climbed up the pebble-covered shore and disappeared in the undergrowth. We had some amazing encounters with animals so far, and this one is certainly one for the books as well!

The following day we visited Felixstowe Ferry and enjoyed a fish dinner at a turbo-speed, as currently the only way to eat out is literally eat out – in the garden of the restaurant. As blessed as we are with the sunny weather, the northerly winds don’t make for a pleasant experience and enjoyment of hot food and cold drinks. My choice would be to sit inside, in front of a roaring fire, then I could have a pint, but not in a beer garden, dressed like an Eskimo, rushing to avoid frost bite.

Fortunately, no harm, no foul, so the following day we moved up the river and went by dinghy to Woodbridge. It is a very pretty town, but slowly giving into the sign of the times, which is very unfortunate. A bakery that has been providing delicious goods since Mark’s childhood appear to have succumbed to the current climate and is now displaying the “Closed” sign on the dusty windows. What a shame...

As happy as we were with the availability of eating out, we resorted to getting some supplies and finding a picnic area along the river near a Melton Boat Yard, among which we found a catamaran named “Rebecca”, which Mark and his family remembered afloat years ago when they were spending their holidays on the River Deben.

As the forecast got stuck for the foreseeable future on the “northerlies” we might be spending a few more days here, which I welcome, as I now know that my skepticism was unjust and the River Deben lived up to Mark’s flamboyant reports.

Woodbridge tide mill

The River Deben - certainly a treat!

Early morning on the River Orwell outside Levington

No words needed....

Early morning on the River Orwell

Sailing in fog

On the River Deben

On the River Deben

Home sweet home

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