2ndMay. Being moored at St Katharine’s Dock has been an amazing experience. It is an oasis of calm. Entry and exit are via a small lock gate, hardly noticeable from the river. Once through the lock, you find yourself in an old walled dock. Originally the site of a hospice and accommodation for pilgrims, the current dock was designed by Thomas Telford and opened in 1828, able to handle more goods and faster than any other dock in the world at the time. Walled for security, it gained a reputation for handling valuable cargos including wine, tea, rum, brandy, marble, indigo and perfumes. In the 1970s was redeveloped to include apartments and restaurants, all just a few minutes walk from the Tower of London and the high-rise buildings of the City of London.
We left mid-morning to catch the tide going downriver (Bob our stowaway seems to be in charge). The Thames was busy with working boats, fast ferries and trip boats and the water was choppy, with wash bouncing us up and down. An hour later we were through the Thames barrier – calling ‘London VTS’ on the VHF a couple of miles away, by the O2, for directions. Listening to the marine VHF brings another dimension to watching boats on the river, with brief banter from tugs and barges (London accents), and cargo vessels (foreign accents) taking instructions from the ever-courteous and refined voices of the Port of London Authority.
The river widens and becomes less busy. The wind was light and in a good direction, so we unfurled our gennaker and sailed downriver at a good pace, gybing at each snake in the river, and aided by the ebbing tide.
Many of the new developments along the river have retained features of the old buildings – the names of the wharves or a beautifully restored crane mounted high up, originally used for loading boats. We passed the pumping station at Crossness – we’d learnt that a huge construction project is underway to create a ‘super sewer’ under the Thames, to replace the Victorian sewer system and carry all of London’s waste to this processing plant. Barges carry soil downriver from the tunnel workings which are used to build sea defences at the mouth of the Thames. At Tilbury a cruise ship at the departure terminal (the only Scots accent we heard) was completing a safety exercise – guests and crew all on deck in lifejackets; half an hour later, the boat was on its way and overtaking us. We were reminded of the Windrush, arriving half a century ago at this port with willing workers on board who have now finally been recognised as British citizens.
The wind strengthened as we reached the mouth of the river and headed for the Medway at a cracking pace (steadily over 9kts). The Medway has a ‘yacht channel’ alongside the big ships channel at its entrance; once past Sheerness Docks and the LNG terminal on the Isle of Grain the river opens out. We anchored in Sharfleet Creek, a peaceful spot with views of mudflats, birds pylons and pipelines.
At least, we thought it was peaceful until we had visitors, in the rain and darkness at 9pm – the Kent police were out on patrol around the islands and came to check us out. They seemed happy and went off into the darkness to continue their shift until 2am.
- Distance: 44 NM; sailed 5 hours, motorsailer 2 hours
- Wind: W/NW 3-4