Sunday, August 03, 2014

...and into the Medway

Blogger seems to have chopped off the end of my last post, so here it is again:

I had every intention of updating the blog last night. But somehow my eyes closed as soon as my head hit the pillow, around 10pm, and here we are nine hours later.....

Our day in London was delightful, although the weather was so sticky and muggy I kept wondering if I was going down with flu! While Andy went off to do the touristy bit, and Sym was at work, I filled up with water (managing to lose one of our hose fittings in the dock in the process), scrubbed down the decks, took a load of washing to the laundrette, and then went to the office to pay and arrange Saturday's lock out. Aaaaarrgh, not just the bill (£120 for two nights) but the 0600 lock was full with a party of eight Dutch boats, plus a couple of others, and we would have to go on the 0700. There are only five hours of fair tide going down the Thames and HW was at 0615, so this was bad news. They did put us down as a reserve for the 0600 lock and said to pop in at 0530 to see if there was a chance of a space.

Around midday we got Sam off the boat. St Kat's had provided us with a magnificent finger pontoon, with masses of space for the wheelchair, so this was quite easy. We also made use of their disabled shower room which had everything except decent ventilation - I was even hotter after the shower than I had been before! Then back across the dock for lunch - there was a wonderful array of tents serving street food ranging from fish and chips to Ethiopian goat stew. Sam went for Portuguese food while I had a lighter option of falafel with salad. What a lovely way to lunch.

Then back to the boat with Sam while Andy set off for the Tower Bridge Experience (he didn't go in the end as the queue was massive) and I wandered round the Tower (outside) admiring the installation of ceramic poppies to commemorate WW1.

Back to the boat to spend an hour or so squatting in the cockpit locker trying to get the external VHF speaker working again - it was just a loose connection, but the speaker is surrounded by a cage of antimagnetic stuff to stop it interfering with the autopilot, and when Sam put the cage in he didn't want it coming off in a hurry, so it all took a bit of time. It is now working, hurrah! which makes it much easier to monitor the Port of London radio traffic while we're under way.

Andy and I filled up with fuel from our big jerrycan and he went off to refill it at the filling station I'd found earlier, while I did a shop - at Waitrose, where else.

Sym rejoined us, together with his sister Kitty, and we all went off for dim sum at the St Kat's branch of Ping Pong - culinarily excellent but slightly marred by the loudest party of birthday revellers we had ever heard. It was Sym's treat as he felt he hadn't done much on board, although actually a spare helm, keen pair of eyes and general moral support does wonders!

We also debated options for Saturday. With a forecast including some easterly bits, strengthening winds, rain and thunder, the prospect of running out of tide started to look quite probable. We decided I'd pop down to the capitainerie at 0530 and if there was no prospect of a lock space at 0600, ask if we could go the next day instead.

Saturday dawned grey and drizzly but the chap on lock duty was cautiously optimistic and said to stand by on VHF channel 80. I woke the crew who were not very full of beans, took off the shore power cable and a couple of dock lines, and waited to see what transpired. At 0555 we got the call and were out of our berth and round there in about three minutes. Thank you so much Mr Lockmaster! There would even have been space for the second reserve boat which didn't respond to calls.

Out into an absolutely flat calm, rather chilly Thames, empty except for dozens of yachts, and a really rather dull passage down. The rain stopped, the easterlies never strengthened above 5 knots and then went away to be replaced by gradually strengthening south-westerlies, we raised the main as we came into Gravesend which boosted our motor-sailing speed a little, and we ran out of fair tide somewhere near the Isle of Grain with enough time to get into the entrance of the Medway around midday.

It seemed like a good time to decide where we were actually going. A call to Chatham marina produced the info that it was "rammed" and not accepting bookings, so we called the evidently less fashionable Gillingham marina which was very happy to welcome us.

It took about an hour and a half to motorsail up the Medway, almost straight into the SW3-4. As we reached the marina there seemed to be numerous boats circling, but it transpired that all but one were waiting for the fuel berth, so we went straight into the little lock and out into the marina.

And I must say it seems very pleasant here. The marina was here when Sam and I were dinghy-sailing on the Medway almost 30 years ago, and it looks as though it's been done up a couple of times since but not much recently. It's surrounded by mature trees and shrubs which help shield it from the noise of the A289 just outside. There's a leisure centre with pool, sauna, gym etc on site, and also a restaurant and bar with great views of the Medway. There's a huge chandlery, and a biggish Tesco Express five minutes' walk away. And there seems to be almost no one around except for the 14 Dutch boats which left at 0600.

View of the Medway from the leisure centre restaurant. On the far bank is the Wilsonian Sailing Club where Sam & I first sailed together in 1987

Today is a chill-out day, although Andy has gone out exploring and may make it to the Historic Dockyard. Tomorrow the plan is to head for Bradwell - to be confirmed once I've done detailed passage planning.

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