This year, the raiders returned to the River Blackwater on the UK's East Coast, much to the satisfaction of the crew of Kite.
Pictures: Andrew Wolstenholme

Back in early August, 21 small boats with their crews gathered near the mouth of the Blackwater River in Essex, the idea was enjoy four days of exploring the rivers and creeks of the estuary in good company. The event has grown from the first 'raid' created by Charles-Henri le Moing on the River Douro in Portugal, developed by Albacore-Dacmar in France though the 1990s and has now been adopted in several countries. The concept is simple: sail-and-oar boats, typically under 24' (7.3m), cruise together to encourage sociable sailing and counter the notion that sailing is for the wealthy few. The English version began in 2011 and has visited the Solent, Plymouth, Falmouth, the Clyde, the Norfolk Broads and this year was its second time on the East Coast.

Americans call this 'thin water' sailing, and for the Essex rivers a shallow draft boat with a lifting centreboard is vital if you want to explore these beautiful creeks. Sailing out of Bradwell Marina on the south side of the estuary under the gaze of the surprisingly beautiful nuclear power station, the fleet explored around Mersea Island, visited West Mersey SC for a pee and a pint, wound up the river to Maylandsea Yacht Club where the tide had its own agenda and the visit was cut short. The downwind up-river trip to Maldon included a masterclass in seamanship by one of the many Thames sailing barges as it cast off to turn in the narrow channel.

The English Raid management, Moray MacPhail, Geoff Probert and Peter Chesworth, brought a 'no-stone-unturned' approach to the organisation. There was great food, an evening talk by Dave Selby extolling the virtues of economic yachting with comedy, even a brewery tour combined with a tapas meal. Their greatest triumph was clear blue skies, a warm sea breeze that piped up every afternoon and beautiful sunsets.

Kite – designed by Andrew Wolstenholme and built by Colin Henwood – is a 21' (6.4m) modern epoxy-ply gaff sloop, rafted up with Albatross, a 20' (6m) GRP Bay Raider Expedition built by Swallow Yachts. Both are ideal raid boats with more cockpit than cabin and great sailing performance.

The Dutch crew aboard their Iain Oughtred Caledonian Yawl Reul Iúil at a West Mersea lunch stop.

Ten Bob, a 17' (5.2m) Shilling designed by Phil Swift and built by Willow Bay Boats enjoying a warm breeze.

The mighty Molly, a GRP replica of an American New Bedford whale boat crewed by the 'Henley Whalers', is a regular on the UK and European raid circuit.

Swallow Yachts' Bay Raiders are also raid regulars, with no less than eleven of them at this year's English Raid.

The wherry/dory Ann, designed built and sailed by Jim Wise with a very impressive sailing performance.

Sea Hawk, a tri-canoe sailed by Simon Knight in a relaxed style in the gentle morning breeze - which would pick up in the afternoon and he would get rather wet!

Andrew and Colin's Kite again, demonstrating a comfortable boat can also sail really well.

Maldon waterfront with the English Raid boats rafted alongside the traditional Thames sailing barges.

The Dutch entry Reuil Iúil has the ideal rig for sail and oar which can be quickly dropped and the boat made ready for rowing.

This article was first published in Watercraft Magazine, Nov/Dec 2022