Howle Haven… Hull Haven… Hole Haven… Whatever its form over the centuries this name describes the entrance to a sheltered creek lying off the south-west corner of Canvey Island. Until recent years it was a lonely windswept spot: favoured by smugglers, rendezvous for prize-fighters and more often than not a welcome night ashore. for the skippers of the Dutch eel schuyts and North Sea bargees waiting on the tide.
For centuries sailors had used this Thameside anchorage but nothing came of the various proposals to build a dock hereabouts. Apart from the dynamite and gunpowder hulks moored along this valuable foreshore Hole Haven remained an undisturbed backwater appreciated at the turn of the century only by a handful of coastal mariners, a few inshore fishermen and an increasing number of weekend sailors messing about in boats. Only in recent times has there been any large-scale development here and “Haven Hole” today is recognised as one of the most important terminals for the giant oil tankers and the two ships that bring regular cargoes of valuable natural gas to England from bore-holes drilled deep in the sands of the distant Sahara.
It’s twenty years since Methane Pioneer, a specially adapted dry cargo vessel, edged gingerly to her berth at Canvey and prepared to discharge her first experimental consignment of methane gas. Within eighteen months, following a somewhat spectacular success story in the history of Britain’s fuel and power industry, the specially built Methane Princess and sister ship Methane Progress began a shuttle service between the terminal ports. Since 1964 regular shipments of methane have left Arzew on the Algerian coast bound for Hole Haven and the multi-million pound process- ing complex constructed on Canvey Island. The 12,000-ton cargo of frozen liquefied natural gas is piped into specially insulated alloy tanks and carried on its long journey by sea at ultra-low temperatures (about minus 161°C). On arrival in Essex the gas is reprocessed and stored ready for distribution by means of underground pipelines which supply thousands of consumers in many parts of the country.
Despite the arrival of oil and gas installations Hole Haven and East Haven Creek have managed to retain much of their characteristic marshland quiet and although the once familiar Thames barges have long since disappeared from the scene, today’s red sails in the sunset are likely to be billowing spinnakers set well by later generations of yachtsmen intent on making a run for the tideway and the open sea.
So there it stays. Howle Haven… Hull Haven… Hole Haven. The name of this watery corner on the Essex coast might have seen a change or two in the course of time but its essential value and purpose as a deepwater anchorage for ships great and small remains the same.