Gunkholing – “is a boating term referring to a type of cruising in shallow or shoal water, meandering from place to place, spending the nights in coves. The term refers to the gunk, or mud, typical of the creeks, coves, marshes, sloughs, and rivers that are referred to as gunkholes. While not necessary, gunkholers typically seek out the serenity of isolated anchorages over the crowds of marinas and popular bays, and a minimal draft is preferred, since gunkholers tend to go as far up and into the gunkholes as possible, seeking ever more inaccessible destinations”.

The Wikipedia article refers to yachts going up rivers and creeks, but dinghies can go even further. There is someone I esteem tremendously, Dylan Winter, an English journalist by trade and a keen amateur sailor in sea boats and improvised “duck punts“. Punts have flat bottoms and can go in only inches of water. The duck punt is so-called because it is an ideal boat for ornithologists to go bird-watching. Like me, he is opposed to hunting. He runs a blog called Keep Turning Left with lots of videos about sailing in yachts and small dinghies. Two recent videos have given me a lot of inspiration:

In the first video here, he is rowing in windless conditions in extremely shallow water, and in the second, he is using an Optimist sprit sail rig. He steers with an oar and with his weight in the boat. This is the finest sailing I have ever seen.

In August this year, I discovered the utmost limit of my Tabur 320, my first boat going by the name of Σοφíα. A Spanish internet acquaintance, Juan de la Fuente, also has this singularly ugly plastic ten-foot dinghy, and re-rigged it for sailing on inland lakes in Spain. I set out last August to participate in a regatta with my sailing club. The wind was blowing at about 23 knots and the waves breaking onto the shingle were quite forbidding. I was swamped on launching, and I was unable to bail fully before finding that the watertight buoyancy tanks were not watertight. After several successive capsizes, I noticed that the boat was slowly sinking. I held the boat on its side with the mast just under water, until I was washed up onto the beach. It was a discouraging experience…

I have two boats, the twelve-foot Zef, Sarum, with a Mirror rig which is my sea boat, and I brought the Tabur home a few days ago from the club – for repairs. The rudder was broken on the rough beaching, even though the rig survived. After having seen the Dylan Winter videos, I decided that this would be the future of the Tabur – on rivers and inland creeks. The Oppie sail is very well suited for this kind of sensitive fine sailing in very light winds, and I wanted to be able to take the rig and mast down easily for going under low bridges. This was possible in a recent gunkhole sail in my Zef, but with more difficulty. This was on the river Dives inland from Trouville-Deauville, and the bridge you see in the photo is so low that I had to duck my head! Needless to say, the rig was right down, and the mast was resting on my right thigh, being held off the helm! The ability to do this makes non-navigable waters navigable. All of a sudden, there are no other boats, and I can appreciate the silence except for the sounds of the wind and the birds chirping. But to each boat her job. Sophia is not suited for sea sailing, and Sarum is better on the sea and open water than going up or down rivers and canals.

The other advantage of the Tabur is that it is very light. She can be hauled out of the water and dragged on the grass or wheeled on a hard surface to get round locks and weirs (on a special trolley I made some years ago). I think this is going to open a lot of new perspectives for inland sailing – a gift for sailing in the winter and when conditions are too rough at sea.

I will publish photos of the new rig when it is further advanced. I am waiting for my Oppie sail to arrive in the post, and have only put the first of six coats of yacht varnish on the spars, the mast step and the new rudder. I made the mast, boom and sprit from pine wood, planing to round by hand and sanding, and the inspiration is Dylan Winter’s home made rig that he can fit on just about any boat he wants.

After the Dives, I would like to sail and row on other rivers in Normandy, and perhaps the stretch on the Somme from Abbeville to Amiens, which is possible by going round the locks by hauling the boat out of the water and going without an engine. It was frustrating that my sail up the Somme canal in Sarum two years ago stopped at Abbeville because of the lock and the parsimonious opening hours. I look forward to discovering more rivers in France, and perhaps one day the mighty Loire and the Cher. The Seine is spectacular, but there are too many ships and barges – dangerous if you are not very careful. It is also, for this reason, highly regulated and policed. I would prefer the quiet little waterways.

I have just sent Dylan a little contribution for his films, and I encourage others to do likewise. They cost him money and time, so it is worth encouraging him to continue this work of bringing the Romantic soul to love nature and be in communion with this icon of God. I appreciate his gritty southern English humour and down-to-earth manner. As he would say: Bloodygoodonim!

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