29-30 April. Early on Monday morning we waved goodbye to Michal (from Poland), the talkative novice supervisor of the marina at Ramsgate, and set out for a trip round North Foreland and into the Thames Estuary.  Sunshine was a relief after the cold wind of Hannah, and the wind was very light, which gave us chance to try out our new ‘big sail’ – an 80sqm furling gennaker (made by Sanders Sails and hand painted by Ocean Art). 

On a circumnavigation it would be easy to miss out London. Situated many miles inland, it also involves more navigation in the busy, shallow waters of the Thames Estuary. But the skipper was insistent for various reasons, including linking up with a previous journey down the Thames in our rowing skiff ‘Hebe’ (a separate story!)

On this occasion the journey of over 60 nautical miles was also against the tide almost the whole way (not recommended – the tide proved to be stronger than all our calculated predictions – 2kts against us for several hours). But we pressed on with a light wind behind us and bright sun overhead.

The rolling green fields of Kent were punctuated by traditional British holiday resorts with familiar names like Broadstairs and Margate on the south side of the Thames Estuary. On the North side we passed bleak industrial landscape, stretching north from Southsea along the aptly named Foulness Island.  We passed Shivering Sands and Red Sands forts: collections of strange-looking rusty buildings sitting precariously on top of spindly legs in the middle of the ocean.  Originally military buildings, they have been used for various purposes, including pirate radio in the 1960s.  

Travelling up the Thames Estuary is not something we’ve done before, and we appreciated the rare opportunity. As we got closer to London, the estuary narrowed to become recognisably a river and the number of commercial vessels of all sizes increased.  

The banks of the river filled up with cranes, huge docks, container ships, tugs, barges, and smaller vessels carrying all sorts of cargo up and down the river.  We stopped for the night, picking up a buoy off Thurrock Yacht Club, just past Tilbury, with kind permission of the helpful YC Secretary.  It’s a bit bouncy whenever a ship passes and the wake rolls towards the shore, and we could hear the constant rumbling of the dockyard, but – tired out from a long day – we had a peaceful night’s sleep.

Tuesday morning and we set off again, past more industrial landscape: under the QEII bridge at Dartford, past container ports, the Ford factory at Dagenham – and then gradually we started to see a change.  Many of the old dockland areas are being regenerated and there are new apartment blocks rising up along the riverside, squeezed in beside ancient pubs and churches.  Then we started to see London’s city skyline – the towering buildings of Canary Wharf, the Shard. Through the Thames Barrier, the O2 and then we were at Greenwich, past the Cutty Sark – and finally, Tower Bridge, with St Katharine’s Dock, our destination, just below it.  We had arrived in London, travelling the same way people have arrived in the city for centuries.

  • Distance: 67NM Ramsgate to Tilbury: sailed 2 hrs motorsailed 8.5 hrs
  • Distance: 20NM Tilbury to London Bridge: motored
  • Wind: NE3-4