The wind-farm on the Gunfleet Sands was built after we sailed south in 2006. The beautiful turbines stand sentinel along the northernmost rib of the Thames Estuary, turning gently. Under the lowering sky and peeping sun they wave as if to invite you in, sirens masking the dangerous shallows.
I sailed the muddy swirls of the east coast for four seasons. The Stone Banks buoy and green Medusa are old friends, and the piers that poke out into the North Sea like brave fingers standing up to the wind and sea, the colourful fabrications of Jaywick just visible through binoculars, and the white rash of caravans outside St Osyth. The shallow patch just by the Eagle buoy stretched towards us as we glided past just north of the danger mark, trying not to speed by coming too close to the wind.
For twenty miles, we had a kind wind on the beam, and made good speed. After the Eagle, we had to turn into the Colne river. The generous skipper let me keep the helm for a while and I set us well west, aiming at the hulk of Bradwell power station until the last minute, to give us the longest board possible into the river. Even so, we tacked and tacked, using the tide to our advantage, working hard to make ground to windward. A sleek yellow trimaran came shooting past us, one hull out of the water. A cloud of hardy dinghy racers rushed to and fro until we lowered our sails and endured the roar of the engine for the last few minutes before tying up in Vandal’s new home.
It was cold. Very cold. We all had a lot of clothes on, so we looked like puffed up birds rounded by the layers. Hats, gloves, thermals, socks, hot-water bottles on the feet when we rested below nursing our circulation. It was great to be back at sea, with a good breeze on the beam and Vandal zipping along, smelling the salt and seeing lonely seagulls dipping into the ripples. The warming drink was welcome too, after nearly six hours at sea, watching the languid pace of Brightlingsea harbour in December.