Saturday 20 August
Having heard the weather forecast of strong winds, my crew decided we were going to stay in London an extra night, which gave them the chance to take the Second Mate up on her invitation for a meal at her new flat. Whilst there the car battery was replaced so they could transfer the last of the house contents from the flat onto me, which involved the Mate driving her car for the first and last time straight through central London. They made the most of the transport to do a big stock-up shop at the huge Tesco at Surrey Quays, and loaded all that into my stores as well. Do they know how to have a good time?!
Friday 19 August
A slightly quieter morning, and a grey, mizzly day. They left me to head off for a belated birthday lunch treat at The Swan at The Globe, apparently a great river view from a lovely venue and a fabulous meal, with my crew’s longest-serving friends, who came back to see me before heading home. Then it was time for some galley work to prepare supper for an ex-work colleague of the Skipper, and his delightful wife, who loved me and were excited to hear our plans. He’s a kite surfer, but sounded like he would add his name to the list of wannabe crew. I can’t wait to take them all out and show them my version of a good time.
Thursday 18 August
This morning was chores central – the Mate tackled the laundry mountain while Skipper scaled hose-gate to fill my water tanks from the distant source. Eventually they were ready to head across London to celebrate the second mate’s brother’s brilliant A Level results, which will see him off to Nottingham University to blow up the Chemistry Department. The whole family enjoyed a day of treats and treatments, and came home late but a lot less stressed than they set off this morning.
Wednesday 17 August
I was left alone to have a quiet day in the sultry heat of summer in London, while the crew went to visit people who can’t visit us. However, I was prevented from being lonely by the second mate’s brother, who was happy to have some time to himself before heading off on his own arrangements. I had more first-time visitors in the evening, and I think they liked me. I know the lovely lady was pleasantly surprised to find me bigger, prettier (obviously) and less wobbly than the last boat the Mate took her on, and her husband sounded like he’d be up for some sailing fun with us! It must have been a special occasion, as the fairy lights finally came out of their box and were wound around my cockpit, looking very festive.
Tuesday 16 August
Finally, I get to see the place where I’m registered, and all the sights along the river: I went under the arching road bridge of the Dartford crossing, the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge (and over the tunnel that carries the M25 traffic in the other direction, according to my chart plotter), past Fords in Dagenham, a site enshrined in the Mate’s family folklore, and through the Thames Barrier just downstream of Greenwich – a truly awe-inspiring sight for my crew. They enjoyed snapping photos of all the landmarks familiar from land: the O2 (Millenium Dome) with its multi-coloured cranes, London’s only lighthouse and the Emirates cable car that soars over the river. A multitude of river craft was churning the waters as we approached the lock gates of South Dock, opened for our arrival, and I effectively washed in sideways, bouncing off the stone walls in spite of strategically placed fenders, two of which gave up the fight and were later fished out of the lock basin by the helpful lock-keeper. Once I was in he slid the gates shut behind me and some degree of calm was restored, albeit with a few new grey hairs for my poor crew, and a few new scratches for me. Ginger beer and chocolate were the immediate remedy, and soon we were ready to turn the tight corner into our visitor’s pontoon berth. The people tied me up without further drama, and that’s where the fun really began.
South Dock was built as the holding dock for the much bigger Greenland Dock next door, which is now the home of Surrey Quays Watersports Centre. Smart apartment blocks have been developed around three sides of the dock, and most of the vessels moored here are canal barges and houseboats. Most of these never leave the dock, so it doesn’t see many visiting yachts. It is surrounded by a wire fence, and the access to the visitor’s pontoon is down an iron ladder on the dock wall, the top of which is housed in a fenced cage with a security keypad on the gate. I’m just glad I wasn’t going anywhere, as my crew had something of a palaver to get shopping down the ladder, never mind filling my tanks with water, when the tap was some 80 metres away. Heigh ho, never a dull day in sailing.
Anyway, this ‘escale’ was all about catching up with friends and family, and me having a chance to show off to some of the crew’s friends I hadn’t met before, and it wasn’t long before my second mate and her brother arrived aboard. The Mate’s friendly personal trainer brought her family over for supper too, and it sounded like a good time was had by all. I love the Little L’s visiting – they find all my hidey holes and really make themselves at home. There seemed to be a second shift of visitors, as another couple arrived for the last of the supper just before the small people took their parents home for bedtime. I’ve never seen so much action in one day.
Monday 15 August
Today the Mate woke up as the sun rose, and saw it set – either a very long day, or the nights are drawing in towards Autumn already. We left the Medway at 0700 in a flat calm, but enjoyed a perfect broad reach sail into the Thames on a favourable tide. I had to keep well clear of several large commercial vessels, and Skipper caught a brief glimpse of a dolphin off Canvey Island. We stopped for the night at Gravesend, but I’m too big to borrow a sailing club mooring, so we picked up one belonging to the Port of London Authority (PLA). Within minutes their launch was alongside and her crew were inviting mine to part with £25, which turned out to be an expensively bouncy, bumpy night. It was decided not to bother making a trip ashore, but there was plenty of admin to do to organise the imminent visitors to us in London.
Sunday 14 August
On days as hot and windless as this, my crew are glad I have Trevver, my powerful engine friend, so we can go places without the need to shake out the canvas. We pottered all the way up the Medway, from the mudflats and power stations of the estuary at the seaward end, past sailing clubs and moorings, through areas of heavy industry and commercial enterprise, and back in time, enjoying views of Chatham Historic Dockyard and Upnor Castle. We had private fly pasts from a Typhoon jet, the Red Arrows, and a pretty little red plane. Skipper found me a new spot to anchor in Sharfleet Creek, and Mate enjoyed a refreshing swim around me in water still registering 21˚C. I dozed off in another beautiful sunset.
Saturday 13 August
Today was decreed a rest day, so the crew enjoyed a lazy Saturday morning, but then they seemed to forget, but I enjoyed not going anywhere. Skipper attempted to mend the puncture he’d inflicted on my tender, while Mate got busy in the galley, baking bread, flapjack and potatoes, and preparing stewed apples and some sort of chilli in advance of guests visiting next week. I was disturbed from my afternoon siesta by an engine nearby, and was intrigued by the sight of this curious creature: is it a bird? Is it a plane? It doesn’t seem sure, as it flies in the sky, and lands like a large seabird on the surface of the water ahead of me. Amazing.
Friday 12 August
A warm and sunny morning inspired the Mate to suggest hoisting the mainsail while still at anchor. Unfortunately the wind rose quickly and by the time the anchor was weighed she needed to gybe the mainsail to follow the channel, while the Skipper was still busy at the bow. Gybing me safely is a two-handed job as the mainsail needs to be pulled hard in, I’m turned through the wind and the sail is then let out gently on the other side, so it all got a bit tricky for a while. We sailed out into the open sea alongside a traditional barge, who kept pace with us until we spent a long time taking in a reef as the wind continued to build, while her gaff rig held her angle to the wind – an interesting illustration of traditional design for local conditions over a modern ‘go anywhere’ sail plan. Mid-evening found us in the most industrial landscape so far, at the mouth of the River Medway in Kent, marshy flatlands against a backdrop of power stations, docks and wind turbines. Once again we anchored in our own private creek.
Thursday 11 August
Today was one of those days that began like it wasn’t going to go to plan, and then didn’t but ended up being much better. Mate woke up early to grey windy skies and rain, but by the time Skipper surfaced the weather was improving and the bike bags were lugged across our (absent) neighbour’s deck to be built on the pontoon, ready for a lift from the obliging water taxi. The crew left me to snooze and went off to Beth Chatto’s garden in Elmstead Market, a pleasant cycle ride of about eight miles through Essex country lanes.
Apparently the gravel garden is unusual and particularly stunning, begun as an experiment in the owner’s quest to put the right plant in the right place. Designed with drought-tolerant plants and not irrigated, it offers ideas and inspiration to gardeners wanting to adapt to the effects of climate change, whilst achieving beauty and harmony in their horticultural environments.
After a light lunch and a little retail therapy, the intrepid duo set off on a different route home, the result of the Mate’s research on Google Maps. They stopped off at a well-stocked farm shop to fill the panniers with a selection of goodies, and continued down a long hill to Alresford Creek. The map showed the Ford of the name…but the road petered out to a gravel track that ended on the soft, muddy banks of the creek, definitely not crossable on wheels. Undaunted except by the thought of the long push back up the hill to rejoin the main road, Skipper applied his iPhone to the task of finding an alternative route, soon determining a footpath along the water’s edge. They set off through summer-long grass, following the top edge of a dyke, the words “mad woman” heard at regular intervals. The bikes are designed for this type of terrain(!), it was very peaceful and the Mate identified four black-tailed godwit feeding in the mud. Eventually they reached the head of the creek at Tide Mill, complete with leat running from the millpond and a wooden water wheel. At the top of the track leading to the road was a gate with a notice…prohibiting cycles. On the way back into Brightlingsea a supermarket was raided for yet more provisions, and they arrived home worn out from a round trip of 20 miles. They filled my tanks up with fresh water and we went back to Pyefleet Channel to anchor for one last night.