A passage from St Katharine Dock to Pinmill – August 2021
It was time to leave St Kat’s after a pleasant forty eight hours with ample use of laundry, local shops and a run ashore. After all, having come from Ramsgate it was de rigeur to visit the nearby and excellent Town of Ramsgate, one of the oldest if not the oldest London hostelry. As our (electric) cab was barred from parts of Wapping for reasons unfathomable but palpable to the driver who suffered an automatic charge on his previous visit, we were dropped short and it proved necessary to examine the Captain Kidd on the way, younger and in an ex-tea warehouse.
Also locking out were three boats from Manningtree who had also been in Ramsgate and passed through the Copperas Channel before us on Wednesday. Aboard one with his family was Reuben, who sails with us via the Blue Pass Trust, and his brother Isaac. They had used Boris bikes to explore London during their stay.
We had a tug, the Emilia D, again courtesy of Deverells and organised by Chris Livett, booked for an hour before high water so as to be let go in Gallions with a whole ebb to use. So we pulled ourselves gently into the lock assisted by lockmaster Tom who had sailed with us on Cambria some years back as a PLA apprentice and is now putting his skills to good use. Then we waited not many minutes for the tug which helpfully backed into the lock to collect us. There followed an opportunity for enjoying the river scene which is never possible when sailing all the way up and down and a hidden bonus. The Emilia D took us past her home shipyard on the North Greenwich peninsula. Only the preserved loading gantry nearby reminds you of the cable ships that set out from here to link the world. Past Peruvian Wharf recently bought to retain its use as a wharf and not to be lost like so many to development. Past Cutty Sark whose rig is maintained by a small in-house team supported by who rigged Blue Mermaid. The flags on the ship showed a light east or southeast breeze, hardly the best for getting down river.
The tug let us go at the top of Gallions and indeed it proved the first of many reaches to windward. There was a bit more south in the wind in Long Reach giving longs and shorts boding well for progress later if only it grew a little in strength. Passing Broadness is always difficult on the ebb because of the way the tide sets onto the three buoys placed to keep ships right on the sharp turn. Before they were there a dredger sank after hitting the Black Shelf. The tidal set doesn’t follow the fairway lines on the chart so you have to allow enough space from Broadness to avoid the red which looks like it is coming at you at five knots. This takes you perilously close to the first green and of course a light breeze is cancelled out by the tide. By dropping the foresail to help her wind Blue Mermaid came safely through this Scylla and Charybdis of Grays-Thurrock and moved in more breeze to the next challenge, that of two large outbound ships in Northfleet Hope with the tidal set into the wharves of Northfleet lurking in wait. The river at this point has suffered years of reclamation creating a significant pinch point accelerating the water around Tilburyness. A quick look at the chart shows how it is less than half as wide here as it is in St Clements Reach or Northfleet Hope, a short distance away. Much is rightly made of how land will be lost to the sea in future years, but of course most of what will be lost has been reclaimed in the first place. We now grow crops where King John lost his treasure. The first ship was avoided with a short tack towards the Seacon Terminal revealing it to be at an angle to the bank causing a set into the lower end requiring another drop and reset of the foresail for a speedy tack. The second ship passed behind after a brief conversation and we then fetched the length of Gravesend Reach. Following was Saga’s cruise ship Spirit of Discovery with 1300 souls aboard, maybe not full but a post-covid cruise nevertheless, but also a staycation being bound for exotic Pompey.
By Lower Hope Point the tide was almost done and we sought and kindly received agreement from London VTS to anchor close under the seawall for the flood. Mustering shortly before high water and getting the anchor at 0135, we found a nice west-southwesterly with just enough south to fill the staysail which was set while Oli set up the bowsprit for the passage. There was some traffic but a handy gap for us to cross to the Essex side at Sea Reach 7.
It being very light persuaded us to set the big jib under the working jib topsail, and this was fine until a look at the Inshore Forecast revealed a strong wind warning whatever the local forecast might say, and gradually the wind did increase. As we approached the Blacktail Spit in a murky damp false dawn down came the jib topsail and then the jib. Set on a traveller this is a hard call in a breeze and necessitated a bear away to drop the halliard in the lee of the foresail and a sprint back to the wheel before a gybe could occur. And still it breezed up in torrential rain. The wind gods were kind giving a fetch down Swin, the buoys flashing by at 7+ knots with the topsail rucked for an hour. When we ruck for any length of time we unhook the topmast runners and take them right forward. We have done this since a long windy beat with a rucked topsail in a Passage Match with Xylonite later revealed the constant worrying of the topsail cloth by the backstay wires had put several holes in the sail. On that occasion arriving at Mistley that evening the sail was sent down and collected by James Lawrence Sailmakers who effected a repair overnight and the sail was bent on next morning before the next charter arrived that afternoon. This was the kind of service that set James Lawrence apart and is a testament to Mark Butler who ran it.
Somewhat impressively a couple of yachts were crossing the Whitaker Spit going the other way and it was evident the weather was improving from the north.
We met the young flood at the Maplin Approach Buoy and coming close hauled found it possible to lee bow it and slide across the spit towards the Spitway. In fact we crossed the Gunfleet Sand well to the east of the Spitway buoys in no less than ten feet of water an hour’s flood midway between neaps and springs. We had found this much water here before, on the Passage Match in June.
By now the working jib was rigged and set and the topsail set again and there was a glorious broad reach down the Wallet against the tide in bright sunshine. In fact we saved our tide into Harwich and although the wind continued to veer so that we beat from Shotley, we anchored at the Clamp below Pin Mill with flood to spare, eleven hours from the Lower Hope and 24 hours from London.
On Monday we went on the blocks at Pin Mill and cleaned the coming growth of weed and little barnacles from the bottom. This is only six weeks since the last scrub and antifoul but a clean bottom is a wonderful thing. A team from Wakelyn’s Bakery at Fressingfield in Suffolk came and took away the last of De Gallant’s cargo, two bags of Brazilian sugar.
Now painted and spritely and back afloat, we leave Thursday for the Medway to compete in the Match on Saturday.