Cuckmere River Conquered
By Martin Hopton
Parker 27 'Shemar'
From the 2002/01 SSA Newsletter
Posted 23 Feb 2002
My article on interesting and challenging anchorages in last summer’s Newsletter stirred up quite a bit of interest as it would seem that few of you had even heard of the Cuckmere River let alone sailed into it. This didn’t surprise me as it is well off the beaten track and doesn’t appear to feature in pilot books.
In August last year, having got fed up with tiying to fight our way westwards against strong head winds, Sheila and I changed our cruising plans and headed east. After visits to Littlehampton and Brighton we set sail for Newhaven in a SW 3/4 with the option of taking a look at the Cuckmere Haven if time permitted.
It did and, as we passed Seaford Head, we could see the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters stretching out before us towards Beachy Head in the distance. We rounded up, furled the sails and motored into the bay. Although Seaford Head affords some protection from westerly winds there was quite a swell rolling into the Cuckmere Haven on that day. There are no navigation marks but we could see the long shingle beach and the wooden training walls marking the entrance to the river.
It was decision time and as we had arrived at high tide and hopefully slack water we decided to go for it. With the keel half raised and the echo sounder showing 1.2 metres at the shallowest point we passed through the narrow entrance and into the tranquil river beyond to the obvious amazement of those watching from the shore. Shemar was still afloat and in one piece!
Shemar anchored in Cuckmere river
Once inside the river the depth improved and we found ourselves in a narrow and fairly straight channel surrounded by beautiful rolling countryside. We motored gently up to the road bridge about a mile inland and then returned to a hole further back. Having dug the anchor into the western bank Shemar fell back on the wind to lie in the middle of the channel where she stayed afloat when the tide went out. The ebb runs strongly and we had a hard row to the Golden Galleon pub by the bridge. The manager, who was also an auxiliary coastguard, asked us if we were in trouble or needed help, as he was not used to seeing boats in the river. We reassured him and settled down to an enjoyable evening meal.
The weather kept us in the Cuckmere River for the next three days. It is part of the Seven Sisters Country Park and popular with visitors many of whom walk the South Downs Way. There is a visitors’ centre that conducts tours of the park and other activities such as canoeing. The river is full of wild life such as geese and swans. One evening, when we returned from the pub, we found a cormorant sitting on the cockpit guard-rails. He took no notice of us and was still there when we woke up the following morning at which point he went off to fish for his breakfast.
Shemar under motor in narrow channel of Cuckmere River
The locals walk their dogs along the river bank and often stopped to have a chat. One told us that he had never seen another yacht in the river during the twenty years he had been using the park. This is not surprising as there is not much room and there are a number of obstructions on the river bed one of which we managed to nudge on the way out. Although we enjoyed our visit, the Cuckmere is probably not really suitable for anything other than Seals. However, we felt a sense of achievement in having been there.