Posted by: Ross Gardner | August 29, 2011

The Good Ship Volharding

Sails and the Sky. Copyright 2011 Ross Gardner

Back afloat again, on the good ship Volharding.  She is a handsome Dutch sailing barge, more than a hundred years old and now splendidly and luxuriously restored.  The purpose for this four day trip was to take a group of young carers around the Essex coast, sailing out of Maldon, exploring the Blackwater Estuary and the wonderfully remote Walton Backwaters.

Volharding,  of course, is the same vessel that we use to offer fund raising wildlife trips to raise the money to pay for the young carers trips.

Even a mixed bag with the weather wasn’t nearly enough to dampen the enthusiasm of the crew.  All of the kids on board, in some way, have to care for another or others.  Most usually this is a family member who, for many different reasons, is poorly or disabled.  Such responsibilties and constant compromise would be a burden on anybody, let alone young people still at school and having to contend with the trials and tribulations of their own lives.

For many reasons these trips that myself and my partner Lola organise are a great privelege for us.  The use of a wonderful boat and the opportunity to discover more intimately the natural treasures of the fine Essex coastline.  But most of all is being able to allow the groups young carers to share all of this and experience the unique the freedom of the open sea and peacefulness of the wilder stretches of the coast.  Such is the good nature and good company of these children, and the carefree way that they are able to enjoy the open coast and its wildlife, the sailing, swimming and the tranquility of the sea, that it is so easy to forget how valuable such things are to those who are rarely able access them.

Golden Samphire (Inula crithmoides). Copyright 2011 Ross Gardner

As for the route, the Blackwater Estuary and all of its creeks and channels is a marvellous area around which to sail.  Weighing anchor of the eastern tip of Mersea Island is to find yourself in place as far removed from the bustle of the town as you could want.  A place to watch the terns spearing into the water for fish and to pick out the Godwits, Avocets and Ringed Plovers – probing, sifting and picking their way along the water’s edge.  At the Walton Backwaters, north of Walton on the Naze, is to be found the Essex coast at its most remote, where the boat is more essential than the car or even the foot, to discover its most hidden wonders.  There are spits and dunes and saltmarsh edges where those wild plants grow that occur in no other habitats: the likes of sea holly, prickly saltwort, sea rocket and golden samphire.  There are seabirds aplenty and always at least the brief company of seals.  Even on this trip, with our focus less fixed on wildlife, we were able to see all these things and more.

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