A report on the Colne Smack Race held on the River Colne starting at Batemans Tower, Brightlingsea, Essex. The race is open to old sailing oyster smacks, bawleys and shrimpers.
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Smack in Church
Report on Colne Race 1999
Colne Smack and Barge Race - 2001
Brightlinsea Creek before the start
0600 in Brightlingsea Creek, 8th. Sept. 2001- some of the smacks rafted up on the piles
photo Roger Walker
Our race day on Ellen CK222 started with a bang.
As we extricated ourselves from the middle of the raft our port topmast shroud snagged the overhanging galvanised superstructure of the north cardinal pile
and in 17 tons of slow motion the topmast bowed then snapped and 20' of spar, standing and running rigging tumbled to deck. Her 'skilled' crew managed to fish rope out of the sea quickly enough to avoid fouling the props and Tony Pickering was sent up in the bosun's chair to lay on a hitch to the remains of the topmast and send it down as we motored out into the Colne. It is ironic that with a forecast of NW 6 to 9's we were planning to house the topmast anyway.
Due to the poor forecast, six of the smacks and barges with lightweight crews had decided to stay in port and the race committee delayed the start by an hour to 0830 and set an inshore Course E
up the Blackwater in stead of the traditional course up the Wallet towards Clacton.

The Course E - out of the Colne to NW Knoll, hang a right, then beat up the Blackwater to Mersea No.2 off Bradwell Atomic Power Station and back home via Bench Head. Enlarge...

Low water in the Colne was due at about 0930 (0.9m above datum) so we would take the last hour of ebb for the four miles out of the Colne, pick up the flood as we started up the Blackwater, then return into tide with a free wind to Bench Head and carry the tide for the fetch/beat up the Colne - perfect.
18 smacks jilled about in a good working NW breeze before the start off Bateman's Tower, only one or two setting tops'ls - in fact most had housed their topmasts in deference to the forecast gale.

At the gun, Martha II MN69 was just over the line and paid the price with a 15 min. penalty but Dorothy CK159 made a brilliant start in the best tide right off E. Mersea Stone and got the pot for first smack over the line. She was followed closely by Kate CK52 then a mass of smacks including us setting a full main, tow fores'l, No.2 jib and light running jib poled out.

The peace was shattered with a scream from Elle as a 12" herring sluiced up through the helm port and landed twitching on the deck by her feet. As we were racing and didn't want the extra weight on board we returned the fish to his chums.

Primrose CK273 had gone off like a train and rounded the NW Knoll ahead while we rounded sixth ahead of Sunbeam CK328 and in close company.
A lack of bob (lost with the topmast) caused Darren some problems finding the wind on the beat and we fell back through the fleet. Many smacks swung the lead as we tacked between the unseen mud each side of the Blackwater trying to follow the windshifts rolling off Mersea Island.
Mersea No.2 is a tiny racing mark and not shown on charts so strangers to the waters are at a disadvantage and Fashion CK428 lost ground searching for it.
The wind picked up after we turned for home and it was too much to set the light running jib but we still bowled along at 8+ knots I guess and being passed by the first 80' Thames barge Edme snoring along at about 12 knots under a tower of canvas. Fine sailing. The bridge committee reckoned the wind was below 20 knots before the start and over 25 knots at the finish because that is the limit beyond which the tower quivers in the wind.
We hardened up onto a beat as we rounded Bench Head to port then later eased sheets a mite as we ran parallel to the seas breaking on the shoals of the Bench Head till we made the channel of the Colne, the Ellen dipping her shoulders into the chop as she surged to windward. The power of a 1000sq.ft. of canvas in a Force 5-6 is impressive.
Primrose was well in front and took the gun 6 minutes ahead of Lizzie Annie MN23. Sunbeam and Kate came next 27 secs. apart with a tacking duel behind them between My Alice CK348 and Dorothy CK159. The last surviving Harris built smacks, Maria CK21 and Ellen CK222 sandwiched Bona LO178, the only bawley racing today, finished about noon.
Big Mary 78CK and the rare Whistable smack Emeline F14 from Kent came in with Britannia PZ8 setting her lug mizzen then Fashion CK428 from the Crouch and William MN15 picking up as the wind built.
Thankfully the strong winds kept away and although mainly cloudy there was enough blue sky to make a Dutchman's trousers and we all had a super mornings sail.



Course E - Bateman's Tower, NW Knoll (S), Mersea No.2 (S), Bench Head (P), Bateman's Tower.
Smacks Start 0830 (delayed 1 hour)
Place : Smack
1. Primrose CK273
2. Lizzie Annie MN23
3. Sunbeam CK328
4. Kate CK52
5. Dorothy CK159
6. My Alice CK348
7. Maria CK21
8. Bona LO178
9. Hyacinth CK256
10. Ellen CK222
11. Peace CK171
12. Martha II MN69
13. Electron CK36
14. Emeline F14
15. Britannia PZ8
16. Mary 78CK
17. Fashion CK428
18. William MN15
Plus 3 other smacks entered but DNS
1st. smack over the
start line - Dorothy CK159

Barge Start 0900 -
Course 4
1. Edme
2. Marjorie
3. Repertor
4. Phoenician
Plus 3 other barges entered but DNS
1st. barge over the
start line - Marjorie
Elapsed Time
3.32.39 (15 min penalty)


Bateman's Tower on
Westmarsh Point, Brightlingsea
Click here for a map















Roger Walker 25-9-01 (edit Dec 2008)
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