Wednesday 28th August – River Roach to Queenborough
The day starts with a hazy sun and light wind as we leave the Roach and Crouch. Today we will navigate our way south across the Thames Estuary to Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent to meet our friend Janet Wragg who has volunteered for a second stint with us – she must be mad! The Thames Estuary is scattered with sand banks and shipping lanes so careful navigation is needed. Unusually (for us) we have set up a route on the GPS so that we can follow the buoys across the estuary like following a daisy chain.
We have to sail about 10 miles out of the Crouch to get round the huge Maplin Sands off Shoeburyness to the Whittaker Channel before turning south. In the event, we are able to sail to the Whittaker but then the wind falls away and the day becomes sunny, cloudless and windless so we motor most of the rest of the way in company with quite a few other boats. No doubt the Thames estuary can be a challenge but not today. We put “George” (the autohelm) to work and set to cleaning the boat.
As we turn south we are surprised to hear an explosion and notice that the military range at Foulness has started live firing near where we anchored last night. Every so often there is a “crump” and a spectacular pillar of fire and smoke by the Maplin Sands at intervals during the day. It makes for a diversion.
As we near the Isle of Sheppey the wind sets in a little so we slowly sail into Queenborough where we moor up to the 24 hour pontoon just as Janet arrives – perfect timing! We enjoy a cup of tea with Janet and her friends Ray and Eileen as well as chatting to the local youths who are diving off the pontoon as youths will.
Tea done and Janet settled in, we sail off up the Medway to Stangate Creek to anchor in peace and quiet (and at no charge) for the night.
Day’s run: 28.2 nm
Total miles to date: 2217.0 nm
Engine hours: 5.0 hours
Total engine hours: 270.4 hours
Hours sailed: 10.0 Hours
Total hours sailed; 486.2 hours
Thursday 29th August – Stangate Creek to Limehouse MarinaWe up-anchor at 0900 and sail out into the Thames estuary. However, the wind is from the west so for most of the rest of the day we have to motor into the wind. It is a lovely day and although Janet and Yvonne have made this trip in the past it is a complete novelty for John. Initially the estuary is several miles wide and we can see Southend-on-Sea in the distance to the north with its long pier out into the estuary (claimed to be the longest in the country). As we motor along we see seals basking on the sands and two trawlers pair trawling – there is life in the Thames. We keep just out of the main channel as there are frequent shipping movements in and out of London.
We pass Canvey island (with its old oil terminals, some now defunct) then get a little sail down to Tilbury, where there are large active docks. We are asked by Thames Port Control to move over to let a ro-ro ferry manoeuver – everyone is very polite as is normal in maritime radio conversations. We had been keeping to the rules so all is well.
We chug on, passing Woolwich with its old Arsenal and free ferry. There are a number of Dutch square-riggers and tall ships moored here, presumably waiting to go up to London for the Festival of classic ships once the Clipper Race boats have departed next Sunday.
A little further west and we reach the Thames Barrier. All ships have to get permission to transit the barrier, which we duly do by contacting the London Port Control. It is all official but in a relaxed and well controlled way. The barrier is a tremendous piece of engineering and has proved its worth over the years.
A tall ship sails eastwards through the barrier as we motor in the opposite direction. A plane comes in low over us to land at City Airport. We are surprised how busy this airport is, given the flow of planes above us.
The London skyline opens up as we transit the Barrier and we are soon passing the O2 dome with its new cable car running high above the river between the north and south banks.
There is a walkway over the dome with plenty of customers making the climb in the bright sunshine. Here the river bends sharply south round the Isle of Dogs, best known now for the Canary Wharf development but with a great deal of other development using the old West India Docks as a central feature.
We are beginning to see the high speed catamaran ferries and other trip boats, many of which seem to move at great speed and send up a huge wakes that rocks us around.
The worst are the big RIBS that give tourists excitement as they speed along the river, weaving between craft and over their wakes. They all carry flashing yellow lights but they move so fast that we have to rely on them missing us, not the other way round. However, it is sunny and it is exciting coming into London this way for the first time.
We pass Greenwich with its wonderful buildings and the Cutty Sark. Soon we are round the other side of the Isle of Dogs and on the final straight. We are in good time so we carry on up to Tower Bridge and the iconic London skyline that is continuing to evolve. On cue, the Bridge opens to let a Thames barge through – just the job.
We call up Limehouse marina to book the lock into the basin. This also involves opening a swing bridge so there is plenty of interest.
In the Marina all is peaceful, with a mix of canal and sea going boats as this is the point where the Grand Union canal joins the Thames. It is a historic place that has been rejunevated by the investment that has been going on since the 1980’s and a good base for us over the next couple of days.
We make phone calls to friends we are going to meet tomorrow then cook supper on board. It’s been a long but good day.
Day’s run: 41.3 nm
Total miles to date: 2259.3 nm
Engine hours: 9.4 hours (includes some motoring yesterday)
Total engine: 279.8 hours
Hours sailed: 8.5 Hours
Total hours sailed: 494.7 hours
Friday 30th August – A day in London
We awake to a sunny morning with some coots swimming around us and a heron standing on the adjacent pontoon. We have arranged to meet friends at lunchtime and in the evening so it will be a sociable day. We breakfast and shower. John does some work whilst Janet and Yvonne do the laundry and catch up on the cleaning.
Limehouse is an interesting and long settled area. It was settled as one of the few healthy areas alongside the river marshes. By Queen Elizabeth first’s time it was the centre of world trade and her explorer Sir Humphrey Gilbert lived here. From directly below the Grapes Inn Sir Walter Raleigh set sail on his third voyage to the New World. In later times Captain James Cook lived here whilst resident in London.
Limehouse Basin became the terminus of the Grand Union Canal, linking the Thames to the Midlands and the North. It is still possible to travel by canal boat from here via the Regent’s Canal to many parts of England. A hundred years ago it was a busy, thriving dock where it was almost possible to walk across the harbour by stepping from one boat to another. However, gradual decline set in, firstly from competition from the railways and then by the shift in shipping down the Thames as vessels became larger. It was closed in 1969 for shipping but was rejuvenated in the 1980’s as part of the docklands scheme.
Our friend Viv Lavis and her daughter Mary arrived at Limehouse DLR station at midday and after the usual confusion about which entrance to meet at are escorted by John to the boat. John and Viv have known each other since their teenage years in Sevenoaks. En route we find a boat named Vivienne Mary so the photois taken. We enjoy coffee on board and show our visitors round the boat before we set off for the Grapes Inn.
The Grapes is one of the traditional London waterside pubs that dates back about 500 years. It is located not far in Narrow Lane and, appropriately, is really narrow, being squeezed in between its neighbours with a veranda overlooking the Thames. It makes the most of being a favourite haunt of Charles Dickens with a picture and a collection of his works but it is a genuine, proper pub with good beer, good food and a nice ambience. We pass a pleasant long lunch catching up on news and watching the passing boats on the Thames.
Viv and Mary leave after three. We shop at the local Tesco Metro, then have a cup of tea and read in the afternoon sun.
Our friends Dick and Gill Shute arrive at 6. We have known them since John and Dick’s college days at Loughborough. They have come up from Burford to meet up with us.
We enjoy drinks on board before setting out to walk along the Thames Path along towards Tower Bridge. The walk is mainly along the Embankment. John can remember both this and the other side of the River as derelict, depressed areas. Now they have been regenerated and are thriving areas.
We walk to the Prospect of Whitby, which claims to be the oldest waterside pub in London. It is a much larger establishment than the Grapes and is more of a gastro pub with several rooms to eat in plus a big outside area. We enjoy a leisurely meal and catch up on news. Our children are all now past college years so there is much to catch up on.
The evening draws on and too soon it is time to depart our separate ways. We have to walk back an inland route as the Thames Path is shut at dusk. We walk past the Limehouse road tunnel which we realise must pass under the Limehouse Basin – it’s a busy area.
Saturday 31stAugust – Limehouse to Queenborough.
We lock out of Limehouse at 0930 to take the tide back down the River. There is a gentle north westerly wind so once we are past the Thames Barrier we can set the sails and manage to sail for the rest of the day.
Somehow the sights pass quicker in this direction although in reality we take just as long to reach Queenborough as we did to do the journey in the opposite direction two days ago. The trip is uneventful, although the wind freshens at times to make for fast sailing. Later it drops so the spinnaker comes out as we sail out into the Estuary.
We have arranged to meet John’s brother Dick and partner Carole at Queenborough. The 24 hour access jetty there is full of motor boats and small yachts but we persuade the harbour master to allow us to tie up for a “couple of hours” to meet up with Dick.
Dick and Carole’s hobby is their horses so they arrive at 6 after they have fed and watered the various steeds. Another good evening ensues, with drinks on board and then a meal at Queenborough Yacht Club. The chef there is working single handed so the meal extends in time but there is plenty to chat about.
Back at the jetty we part company and return to Sundart where an irate harbour master shoos us off to raft up on a visitors buoy where we pass an uneventful night.
Day’s run: 32.3 nm
Total miles to date: 2291.6 nm
Engine hours: 2.0 hours
Total engine hours: 281.8 hours
Hours sailed: 8.0 Hours
Total hours sailed; 502.7 hours
Sunday 1st September – Queenborough to Ramsgate.
We are up and off by 0900. There is a nice breeze from the west so once we are clear of Sheerness we can goose wing out of the Thames estuary. The main hazard en route is the Margate sand Bank off that town. There is an inshore route (known as the Overland Route) or an offshore route which is deeper. We calculate the tidal heights and times and conclude that we can take the shorter, Overland Route. This we duly do, passing the Isle of Sheppey, Whitstable and Margate en route.
Eventually we reach North Foreland, a well known landmark for seafarers with it long established lighthouse (one of the oldest in the UK) and its chalk cliffs. We turn south and after a few miles we reach Ramsgate. We obtain permission to enter the port form Port Control (although there is no longer any ferry traffic here) and reach Ramsgate Martina. There are plenty of spaces here as the holiday season is about over.
Harbour formalities done, we walk into town.
Ramsgate is an attractive port to visit as there are plenty of pubs, restaurants and shops by the water front. The town is partly built up the chalk cliffs with terraced streets and houses to the south.
We wander through the town then return to the water front for a drink at the Royal Temple Yacht Club (RTYC), a long established, traditional yachting establishment that has magnificent views over the harbour.
Back onboard we enjoy a vegetable curry before turning in.
Day’s run: 29.1 nm
Total miles to date: 2320.7 nm
Engine hours: 0.6 hours
Total engine hours: 282.4 hours
Hours sailed: 7.0 Hours
Total hours sailed; 509.7 hours
Monday 2nd September – Ramsgate to Dover
The tide will run south in the afternoon so we have the morning in port. John decides he needs to work to complete an assignment for a customer. Janet and Yvonne walk into town up some steep steps up the cliffs to stock up at the local Waitrose.
We lunch, then fill the diesel tank and set off. The forecast is for light winds and so it is as we get permission and leave harbour.
Outside we see some of the Clipper Round the World race boats. The back marker, sponsored by Chinese Company, is becalmed near the harbour entrance so we motor sail over to take photos and exchange waves. Further out we can see other Clipper yachts sailing so we motor on a bit further to catch the breeze.
This is an interesting area to sail, there being the Goodwin Sands off shore. This was for long a “ship trap” with many boats caught out by the tides and shifting sands as they tried to pass through the stretch of water known as the Downs. As a youth bought up in Kent, John has memories of tales being told of cricket matches being played on the Goodwins at spring low tides and of naval actions in these waters.
To our surprise the wind continues to increase, blowing from the south west. We beat down the channel inshore of the Goodwins. To our surprise we match the tail end Clipper boat to the end of the Goodwins (as we had found more wind) but once we meet it we are “toast” as that racing machine gets into its stride and sails south and away from us. It has been a fun encounter.
The wind continues to increase as does the swell. We take in two reefs off Deal and continue south past the majestic cliffs at South Foreland and its conspicuous lighthouse. It is a good if rather bouncy sail and a satisfying way to traverse these renowned waters.
We round South Foreland and see an almost constant stream of ferries entering and leaving Dover. It is the busiest port we have come across in our travels so far. We have to call up Dover Port Control when we are within two miles of the harbour entrance and are instructed to stow our sails and motor in as there is a lull in ferry activity.
We arrange to berth at the Granville Dock on the west side so once inside the enormous harbour we track past the huge ferry port on the eastern side. However, there is a cruise ship just about to leave the western port so we have to hang about for twenty minutes whilst it edges its way out of harbour. It gives us time to take in the view including the very imposing castle high up the hill.
Cruise ship gone we are soon moored up below the famous white cliffs of Dover. There is a constant sound of traffic in the distance – this port does not seem to sleep!
We enjoy a good supper of sea bass, sealed in foil courtesy of the trip to Waitrose, before turning in. Tomorrow we will head off west.
Day’s run: 17.6 nm
Total miles to date: 2338.3 nm
Engine hours: 1.4 hours
Total engine hours: 283.8 hours
Hours sailed: 4.5 Hours
Total hours sailed; 514.2 hours.
A following wind and fair weather to you all.
Yvonne and John