Three men and their boats

PUBLISHED: 12:30 14 April 2015 | UPDATED: 12:30 14 April 2015

A gentle sail on a summer’s day on the Orwell

A gentle sail on a summer’s day on the Orwell


If you’re sailing the Suffolk coast this summer you’ll need the East Coast Pilot by your side – it’s been the roadmap of these watery parts for a decade. Author Garth Cooper, and fellow sailing enthusiasts Dick Holness and Colin Jarman travelled thousands of miles on land and sea to produce the latest edition

Garth CooperGarth Cooper

The summer of 2014 was one of best in recent years, which was just as well for Garth Cooper and Dick Holness who were busy ploughing furrows – some quite literally – up and down the east coast.

While their publishing partner Colin Jarman was back on dry land – unwell but manning the office – Garth and Dick, co-authors of East Coast Pilot, got wet, were chased by seals, ran aground a couple of times, did a lot of sea miles and car miles, and took thousands of photographs.

“We also met a lot of really nice people who went out of their way to help us,” says Garth.

Pilot guides are the road maps of coastal waters. “Go deep sea and the charts that guide your course will be relatively sparsely marked, perhaps with the exception of our local waters in the southern North Sea and Thames Estuary.

The Maybush pub and the boatyard dominate the riverfront at Waldringfield on the DebenThe Maybush pub and the boatyard dominate the riverfront at Waldringfield on the Deben

“But come close inshore and, with sand banks and obstructions abounding, a more detailed presentation of what lies below the waves becomes necessary. Hence the pilot guides.”

Pilot guides have always been produced ever since skippers plied their trades up and down coastal waters, and generous-spirited late Victorian and Edwardian yachtsmen, who wanted to share the wonders of their new sport, introduced the earliest guides for leisure sailors.

One of the first guides to the east coast was by William Wilson in 1934, grandfather of the present CEO of St Ives-based chart publisher Imray. In 1954 Jack Coote produced East Coast Rivers, published by Yachting Monthly. Imray reintroduced its own modern-style pilot guide, The East Coast, in 1984, then Colin, Garth and Dick launched the East Coast Pilot in 2005.

“This latest edition of ECP is our fourth,” says Garth, “and we’re already making plans for the fifth in three years time.” So ever-changing is the east coast, with its sandbanks and swatchways constantly on the move, its increasing volumes of shipping, and its expanding wind farms, that any guide for sailors needs regular and frequent updating.

In their latest version of ECP Garth, Dick and Colin have incorporated hundreds of corrections accumulated via the support website since the previous edition was published in 2011. They’ve revisited all the rivers and ports, and spent hours on the phone checking data.

They’ve taken new photographs at sea level and from the air, updated charts and introduced new honorary port pilots, who provide a valuable service as contacts for users of the guide.

They’ve also refreshed the support website .

“Dick worked out he’d done 765 miles afloat, 1,129 miles by car, revised 64% of the text, or 49,000 words, and taken 2,540 photographs,” says Garth.

“I calculated I’d done around 850 miles afloat, 650 miles by car, taken around 500 photographs and rewritten 44% of the book.” All three of them read every one of the 75,000 words in the book.

“There’s nothing magical about producing a pilotage guide,” says Garth. “It means every time we take to the water, we have a camera and notebook at the ready.

“Fellow sailors are sometimes bemused at our antics – we go close up to buoys and check their position with our GPS, we sail in and out of harbour entrances checking depths and points of interest, and sometimes we appear to be sailing aimlessly round in circles. Why is our secret, but rest assured it’s important.

“And should we be seen sitting on the mud, well, our excuse is that it was only right and proper we ran aground so others didn’t.”

Why do we do it? It’s needed, we enjoy it and we meet a lot of interesting people, which adds to our enjoyment of this magnificent sailing area. And we all want to give something back to the sport, which, in my case, I’ve enjoyed for over 65 years.

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