Mersea Island resident Juliet Doyle reports back from the nautical haven with some handy dates for the summer calendar.
Mersea Island certainly pulled out all the stops for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, with the best ever Food, Drink & Leisure Festival, a spectacular concert (with much flag-waving and community singing), a huge street party, and masses of fantastic live music from local bands throughout the holiday. For one day only, the island declared Independence, and anyone wanting to drive onto the island had to buy a 50p ‘passport’ with all takings going to the Help the Heroes charity.
West Mersea even launched its very own Royal Barge, the Mermaid of Mersea – made entirely from recycled materials by a dedicated team, the youngest of whom is 70 years old, the oldest a youthful 91.
Another recent launch here is Mersea Island Fresh Catch – allowing the public to buy fresh fish direct from local fisherman in the old traditional way, from the jetty on Coast Road. With prices significantly cheaper than supermarket fish counters, this is proving understandably successful. If you’re visiting the island on a Tuesday or Thursday, come along and try for yourself.
Looking ahead, without doubt the biggest week in the Mersea calendar begins on the night of 17th August, with the wildly popular Saltdog gig at the Coast Inn. Get your tickets early! On Saturday 18th, the Mersea Carnival makes a welcome comeback and on Sunday 19th it’s the start of Mersea Week – the most successful sailing regatta on the East Coast.
“Sunday 19th August marks the start of Mersea Week – the most successful sailing regatta on the East Coast.”
Tuesday 21st sees the ‘Round the Island Race’, when dinghies circumnavigate the island, in the direction of their choice, and have to be carried across the Strood, the causeway that links Mersea Island to the mainland. The spectacle of scores of colourful small boats crossing the road always attracts a large crowd of onlookers and helpers. On Thursday 22nd it’s Shanty Night at the Coast Inn, raising funds for the RNLI – a charity very close to the hearts of all who sail the island’s shores.
This year’s special Jubilee Regatta on Saturday 25 August rounds off the week with a fitting climax. It’s one of the last traditional East Coast Regattas still taking place, just as it did over 150 years ago.
Some 200 boats take part in the morning’s sailing races, from smacks and brigs, racing and classic yachts, to fisherman’s open boats and dinghies. Watersports get underway in the afternoon, with fun rowing races and other activities, including ‘walking the greasy pole’, which is rigged over the side of the ‘Dawn’, a restored Thames sailing barge which recently starred in a Griff Rhys Jones programme on BBC1.
“Whilst all these traditional activities are taking place on the water”, says Regatta Commodore Chrissie Westgate, “landlubbers are certainly not forgotten! From noon until midnight there is a huge array of free, family-friendly waterfront entertainment. The day’s programme of continuous live music begins with the vibrant African drummers, One Drum. Bands, choirs, dance groups and solo musicians all take their turn on the stage, whilst stilt-walkers and story-tellers entertain the crowds. Local craft and refreshment stalls fill the car park, along with a bar provided by Mersea Island’s own vineyard. At 5 pm there’s a fabulous outdoor barn-dance and later you can dance again until midnight with the island’s Moondance Band. A spectacular firework display takes place at dusk, lighting up the entire waterfront and drawing one very special week on Mersea Island towards its close.”