Richard Writes: It was a long hot day with light airs or less most of the time making for a challenging match. The late start was at 1000 with low water at Sheerness at 1400 and a published time limit of 1700 later extended to 1800.The crew of Cambria were pleased to be joined by a hard-working team put together by Chris Livett.
At high water there was an air from the west turning the wind turbines at Tilbury, their indication of wind speed and direction to sailormen being in itself ample reason for the generous public subsidy we all provide. But this air was failing all the time and was due to be replaced by a small sea breeze later, but how much later we all worried, none more so than the poor Officer of the Day, beset by woes on such a day as to where to shorten course. The outboard was called into service at Cliffe Jetty with half an hour and a mile and a half to go to the start, and such was its effect that we were too early! The anchor was dropped at the five minute gun a couple of hundred yards above the line at the derelict beacon on Lower Hope Point, with the intention of controlling our progress sternfirst if necessary. Needless to say it got a good bight rather than just crowning the bottom and led to the first of many sterling efforts from the crew that day.
But as the anchor came off the ground, the start gun went and the lightest of easterly airs filled the sails; and the barge with the two knots of steerage way created by the tide under her belt gathered way under control. The next problem was missing the many large, unforgiving and expensively-accoutred navigation buoys in our path with so little wind and roaring ebb tide. By dropping all three headsails and middling the mizzen, Cambria came round for the Lower Hope buoy as, with luckily and helpful advice on tidal set from Chris, we correctly read the line of current coming off it. It is a mystery why, as ships become more dependent on electronic navigation and need buoys less, there seem to be ever more of them in these waters. For generations a light and a beacon on a point was enough, but now several are marked by buoys (in some cases multiple buoys) which can only really be there to stop ships piling up but which are an enormous challenge to small and sailing vessels driving with the tide round corners where the current bends rapidly. The top of Sea Reach is no different.
At this stage Cambria was clean away with the lightest of breezes and for a short while the small running sail on the bowsprit pulled well. Avoiding more buoys and doing the right thing by the shipping we kept south in the developing south-easterly wind. This kept us safe but out of the best run of the ebb, and the Lady of the Lea deserved the accolades accorded her later at the prizegiving for making the best of the tide and sailing through our lee. She was first to the turn at Sea Reach No 3 North by several hundred yards. Cambria rounded a few minutes later and Niagara a short while after that.
There was still a good hour or so of flow down and there seemed little merit in fighting it, so Cambria sailed high for the slack in the Swatch while the crew prepared the running gear for a set. With a large green and yellow cruising shute set boomed out, we overhauled Lady of the Lea and held off Niagara until the East Blythe and the bowsprits until the West Blythe. It is just before this that the accompanying photo was taken. You can see ahead a large (“ultra large” was said) container ship manoeuvring for London Gateway while a Cobelfret ferry passes. Ahead are Niagara and to starboard following boat Jacob Marley. If you look carefully, you may be able to make out the smooth in the Muckings which indeed heralded a death of the easterly and a new southwesterly which came at us in the Lower Hope, after a period of nail-biting as we again marshalled every available moving molecule to miss the same buoys we had avoided six hours previously.
Cambria played the tide well through the Lower Hope and overtook Adieu and Marjorie and snapped for a moment at the elusive heels of the Niagara. At the time limit, Niagara had got into Gravesend Reach and Marjorie, Adieu and Cambria were in a bunch near the Ovens. The race was over, but there was still a glorious sail for half an hour to the finish line and barges were given guns and the fog horn from the steam tug Portwey. It sounded like the old days.
At the prizegiving and supper in the excellent Three Daws, the Officer of the Day was cheered for making the best of a difficult day. The match has many supporters and sponsors and it was good to hear the representative of Shipowners the insurance house confirm their assistance will continue next year.