Clive Marsh sails from Rye Bay upriver to Bodiam Castle in East Sussex by Orkney Longliner and Sussex beach boat

Most sailboats that moor at Rye have a fairly narrow tidal window.

By the time they can get off the mud and push against the flood tide to get out to sea, it’s time to come back again unless they want to stay out at sea.

If you want a reasonable length of time out at sea and return to get under the bridges all the way to Bodiam Castle, near Robertsbridge, you really need a shallow and low air draught motor boat.

Then, with a little planning you can spend a few hours at sea, fishing or messing about in the bay before returning to take a further five hours for the river trip to Bodiam.

This is a good day out for a family of varying ages with interesting stops every few hours.

Each year more small boats cross the Atlantic than sail from Rye Bay to Bodiam so you can expect a quiet time.

I’ve found that two of my boats, the Orkney Longliner with its little cuddy and the roomy Sussex Beach boat, both have their advantages.

Orkney Longliner

Orkney cuddy-style fishing boats are excellent sea boats.

I’ve owned three different models but found the Orkney Longliner 16 to be ideal for this type of little adventure.

I came across my Orkney Longliner at a yard in Lymington and had her delivered to my home in East Sussex near Rye where I kept her on a road trailer.

She had good seaworthy lines, no fuss or unnecessary extras.

She had a 9hp 4-stroke long shaft outboard engine which was tiller operated and with a remote tank. I sat aft to keep an eye on the passengers.

An Orkney Longliner with a cuddy

The Orkney Longliner has a useful cuddy. Credit: Clive Marsh

My other Orkney had a steering consul and Morse control but I prefer to keep things simple.

Orkneys have good outboard mountings. I also carried a spare 3.3hp motor and a pair of oars just in case.

Other equipment included an anchor, a sea anchor, bailer, VHF radio, compass, mobile phone and personal buoyancy for one and all.

The Orkney Longliner rows well once she gets going, the only problem is knowing where to keep the necessarily long oars – a problem in most small boats with a cuddy.

The cuddy is useful for keeping things dry and people warm but it is removable should you prefer to go completely open.

I have taken this little boat out in choppy conditions and she has always kept me dry and safe.

I can’t testify whether her buoyancy is adequate, she is one of the older models, but I have never felt that she was likely to be swamped.

She is very responsive and easy to handle. Most of these Longliners are used for saltwater fishing and the build quality is first class.

Orkney boats are based in Arundel and it’s well worth a visit to see their latest and current models. They are just good boats.

Sussex beach boat

Another boat I have used for this trip is my traditional Sussex beach boat with raised freeboard.

It does not have a cuddy but the built-up topsides provide shelter from the wind at sea and the open plan enables a better distribution of crew weight.

A small boat moored by a pontoon

Open Sussex Beach Boat with handy outboard mounting and space for the oars. Credit: Clive Marsh

I have comfortably accommodated five people fishing in the bay.

Two other advantages are the safe outboard well and the ability to stow long oars within the boat. She needs long oars because of the additional freeboard.

Usual adventure

Our trip starts at the lifeboat station at Rye Harbour where there is a slipway.

If the tide permits I normally leave my car and trailer on the hard above the slip.

However, this can flood on a spring tide, in which case you should leave your car and trailer in the nearby free car park.

I wouldn’t rush to launch until the flood tide has calmed down a little because it can be fierce.

The river is banked with a submerged wall that you need to keep clear of.

Commercial traffic includes large coastal ships and you should not enter the river between the entrance and the ship wharf (Rye Wharf) when there are shipping movements.

This should be indicated by traffic lights but I always call the harbour office by phone or VHF and seek advice.

Continues below…

The bar can be a bit tricky at times but once across I usually head down channel towards Fairlight.

This avoids crossing the firing range which is up-channel a little way.

A range safety boat often waits by the entrance to the river to warn sailors of firing practice but I would not rely on it.

This all sounds a bit threatening but it is just a question of being aware of what is going on. There are usually plenty of local boaters around to give advice.

Out in the bay you can’t help but catch mackerel when in season.

You can keep these for the barbecue later when inland again.

The view is outstanding and both the Orkney Longliner and Sussex Beach Boat make useful platforms from which to photograph yachts racing.

Rye has a varied fleet of muddy yachts including many classics.

River entry

Soon it will be time to enter the river and head back to Rye where you can stop at the Strand Quay in town for a coffee and cake before heading upriver to the lock.

This is where a low motor boat can get under the road and rail bridges –few yachts bother to do this.

To get through the lock you’ll have to have pre-arranged the time with the lock keeper. It is a serious lock operated from a control room.

Once through you enter a very different world, peace and quiet and little chance of passing another boat underway.

As you travel upriver there are a number of forks, just always take the fork on your port hand side.

A boat moored on a river

Newenden for lunch and a rest. Credit: Clive Marsh

There are more little road bridges and a small rail bridge used by the Kent & East Sussex Railway steam trains.

The river passes through farmland a little like the Broads, and there are plenty of places to gently nudge your bow into the bank and take a rest or make a brew.

The first village is Newenden with its ancient bridge, pub, cafes, church and cricket pitch.

Well worth a stop for some refreshments before heading up to Bodiam Castle, a National Trust place with shop and restaurant.

There’s plenty for the kids to do all along the way without getting bored being stuck on a boat out at sea.

The river is narrow when close to Bodiam and you might want to moor a way back and walk. Also, watch out for the double bank in the river which catches many boaters out.

A full day

To get from the sea to Bodiam is generally a full day if you take stops.

Your return will need to coincide with tides and the lock arrangements.

If you cannot coordinate this then there is a slipway on the freshwater side of the lock by arrangement with the lock keeper, but you’d need to somehow collect your car and trailer from the harbour.

A castle under a blue sky

The ultimate goal. Kids get to raid
the castle at Bodiam and grown ups have a latte at the National Trust cafe. Credit: Clive Marsh

It may sound a bit complicated but it is really no more tricky than a sea passage plan for a yacht and well worth the planning time to give the kids a little adventure going from the sea to the castle.

Of course it should go without saying but for any sea passage with children, however short, I will have another competent crew on board, shore communications, a weather forecast and all the necessary safety equipment.

Children like to play, explore and do things hands-on.

These little sea fishing boats can give them more opportunity for this than they might get on a longer sea passage.

And they are easy to clean out when the kids have gone.

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