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Destination London


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An Account of our trip to London.

Apology's if some of this seems old hat to Broads Users but I have posted the same on another forum where the readers are more sea based.

Just back from 2 fantastic weeks taking in 350 miles from Great Yarmouth to St. Kat's London and back, with a few stops along the way.

The Boat, a Sealine 310 Statesman running two Volvo 431b's 205hp petrol engines.

So was this a fool Hardy venture? after all who in their right mind would put that sort of mileage in on a petrol engined boat? surely only a rich eccentric or a total idiot, well it turns out that this may not be the case.

As 2 weeks give lots of tales for me to bore you with I will break things down into bits that are readable by insomniacs as a cure.

Saturday dawned after arriving on the boat full of good intentions to unload the car, put everything away nice and tidily and get an early night on the Friday ready for the off. This plan was never going to happen when we arrived at the Marina to find a certain Luke and Claire had borrowed the vacant berth besides us, for those that have not yet had the pleasure of accepting the fabulous hospitality of these two, all I can say is you are in for an absolute treat, but make sure you have paracetamol for the morning.

So after the compulsory paracetamol and strong coffee the next job was to unload 2 month's of clothing bedding and anything else that was in view as we left the house from the car, is this just us or does everyone else's boating sense go out the window when the 2 weeks takes in a trip to the capital?

Anyway Heather did a sterling job of stuffing all the contents of the bags and suitcases into any cupboards, drawers or storage holes she could find, all I can say is it is a good job we own a Sealine as I don't know to another 1993 34' flybridge that could absorb that quantity of excess.

A bridge had been booked at Great Yarmouth for 1.30pm to allow us to catch the last of the tide for the short hop of 18 miles to Southwold, which would provide the first overnight of our trip. The journey down to the bridge was mostly river with the last couple of miles a chance to see if the engines were doing their thing with a blast over Breydon Water, this is a section separating the North and Southern Broads currently with no speed limit, it is normally littered with hire boats and flappy things which require you to slow down but in between them gives a chance to run things up a bit.

To get out of the Broads there are two routes, Yarmouth or Lowestoft, both have restrictive bridges but Lowestoft is the normal choice as despite throwing a lock into the equation it offers more opening times than Yarmouth. Unfortunately due to Network rails incompetence to maintain a swing bridge and the Broads Authority's incompetence at enforcing navigational rights, this route has been blocked to us for most of the year but as we were leaving the Broads for two weeks it was no issue to go out through the efficient if infrequent Breydon and Haven Lift bridges, unfortunately despite the 24 hour manned Breydon bridge opening exactly on time the part timmers (never understood this as nothing that needs Breydon lifting will fit under Haven) at Haven bridge had obviously been enjoying a similar hospitality to ourselves the night before as we were left holding station in the river between the bridges for 45 minutes while someone was woken up to come and open the bridge.

Having missed the flood we were left with a bumpy wind against tide run down to Southwold, not bad enough to slow us from our planned 20 knot 3500 rpm cruising speed but enough to let you know that you are not in a 40 footer.

The run was uneventful but damp as the nice sunshine we experienced holding between the bridges for 40 minutes gave way to clouds and light rain for the hours run down. Once in Southwold we tied up next to one of the boats that would be doing the trip with us, a Princess 33 and enjoyed a chat with our good friends Wayne, Tracy and their daughter Christy. We then took a quick walk up to Bailey Bridge to catch up with the other boat with friends Jonathan, Tammy and their daughter Rebbeca, who had been taking a breather in Southwold for the week on their Birchwood TS37 and had taken one of the pontoons that are available to the Harbour master on request, in preference to the visitors moorings.

For those not familiar with Southwold it is a traditional fishing Harbour with old wooden staging forming the visitors moorings and the need for long ropes, the tide runs at up to 6 knots and if the 3m tide range is not enough for you they like to make it more fun by rafting you up to 4 deep. It is very much a Marmite port but we love its charm and after excellent fish and chips from the hut just down from the Harbour and few pints in the Yacht club bar we happily settled down for the night full of anticipation for what laid ahead on what would be our longest voyage to date.

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We woke to Sunshine and light winds, as the only boat that could muster a 20 knot cruise we were always going to be running alone after a few other boats that would have run the same speed pulled out of the trip. Wayne and Tracey were on the inside of us and intending to leave for Titchmarsh with Jonathan and Tammy, they both have a cruising speed of 12-14 knots so were leaving around an hour earlier than us but as we had to move to let Wayne out we decided to run out at the same time on the start of the flood as there would be plenty of water to see us in to the backwaters.

Wind against tide forced us to back off to 18 knots around Orford ness after a couple of slams but once down to the ore/auld things smoothed out and we were back to 22 knots over ground, Cutter Buoy came and went and in no time we were crossing the shipping lane into Felixstowe with no ships in sight, well not moving ones anyway although the usual array of vast container ships lay against Felixstowe docks. Pye end buoy lay in front of us along with about 50 more of those flappy things leaving no room to overtake, so with only about a mile to go before the entrance to the Walton Channel we backed off to give us time to ponder what the attraction of going places at ridiculously slow speeds was, have to admit we couldn't think of one.

Stone point was still showing half of its beach and looked lovely in the sunshine, making our way up the channel at only a few knots we had time to remember discovering the back waters for the first time last year and the great few days we spent there, it had been our first proper solo voyage and provided us with the confidence to under take the journey to London this year.

Pulling into Titchmarsh we put onto the fuel barge to take on some water and then made our way to Delta 20 for a couple of nights. Titchmarsh has the type of pontoons that someone local must have had some success in selling for a short time, they seem to put in an appearance at a few of the marinas around that way, they are solid enough but have an expanded metal mesh on top which makes them very slippery when wet, worth remembering if you visit in or after rain and are tempted to jump from the boat.

It looks like the spoil from digging the marina was merely mounded up around the sides, nicely grassed but meaning there are no real views from the boat other than the banks that surround you, it does however have a very nice clubhouse and restaurant along with a well stocked chandlers and plenty of grassed areas around. The bar seemed the obvious choice to wait for our cruising partners so a pint of bombardier hit the spot before enjoying a nice carvery meal from the restaurant.

Day 3 was a free day and as the sun had replaced the forecast rain it seemed a good idea to take to the dinghy's for a jaunt down to Stone point, where we all pulled them onto the beach and enjoyed a picnic for a couple hours before continuing on into Oakly creek to watch the colony of 70 odd Harbour and Grey seals play around the boats. It was only the threatening grey clouds that convinced us it was time to leave and make our way back up to the Twizzel and into the Marina just before the heavens opened.

Another very good value meal and a few drinks finished off the day and we all retired to the boats to get ready for the next days trip down to Gillingham.

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Tuesday started early with a phone call from Jonathan who had been up since 5.30 working out the weather. A SW had been forecast but it was meant to be light, at 7am it was but was now forecast to increase to a 4-5 later when we were supposed to be running with the tide, nothing else for it but to make a start around 9am and run against the tide to give smoother seas and avoid the wind against tide later.

Problem with that was there would be insufficient water at the Wallet Spitway for us to safely cross, fortunately a second route in deeper water had been pre planned and we took the Medusa Channel out to Medusa Buoy before turning and making for Barrow Deep for our run into the Thames Estuary, the inshore route would have kept us in sight of land but the second route meant we would be 12 miles off shore so I suppose in international waters, don't think it counts as going abroad though :grin:, this was the first time we had ever been out of sight of land but possibly because of the sunshine and flat seas it was not in the least bit concerning, we were just enjoying the ride.

We cruised past knock John tower and soon the old WW2 Maunsell forts that used to guard the Thames entrance were in full view looking like the tripods from war of the worlds. It was a little strange to think at this point still around 8 miles off shore, if we were to venture a couple of hundred yards to port or starboard we would run aground and indeed when the other 2 boats came through an hour or so later the sand banks were in full view as the tide continued to ebb.

Lots of big commercial stuff was in evidence around the estuary all heading in different directions but none of it difficult to miss as we cut across to pick up the Medway safe water buoy and make our way up to Gillingham Marina for fuel. While we were making our way up the Medway we got a VHF call from Jonathan suggesting it might be a good idea to run all the way to St. Kats given that Wednesdays Forecast was for Heavy Showers and high winds, as we could not get into St. Kats till about 6.30pm it seemed a sensible call so I dutifully put in a phone call to them to see if they could accommodate us a day earlier but was met with the answer phone on which I left a message to call us. we then lost VHF contact with Jonathan despite being able to hear him loud and clear yet strangely we could get Sea Gem who was next to him no problem so passed messages amongst ourselves.

Being unsure of the speed limit in the Medway we had backed off down to 7 knots at Garrison Point and made our way slowly up the Medway until about an hour later we came to the speed limit sign (wont make that mistake again) It wasn't that the Medway held any great charm in its lower reaches, a gas terminal and a container port being the two major features oh and tons of those flappy things doing there best to get in the way at any opportunity. As you near Gillingham Marina you come to Folly Corner, this particular Folly seemed to be purely an idea to sink a few ships and leave there rotting structures to point the way around the corner this was followed soon after by the rather nasty sight of Gillingham Marina, I am sure in another 50 years or so someone will hail it as a great piece of architecture but to us the concrete form of the Leisure centre next to the massive black metal lock gates looked more like an attempt to recreate a 60's city in the sky, especially given its elevation at about 8m above the river.

While fueling up at what must be the worlds slowest petrol pump we whiled away the 1 and 1/2 hours that it took us to put 400 liters into Clanny by phoning St. Kats again, still answer phone, and chatting to the very friendly Marina staff about the amount of times the coastguard ends up having to pull half a dozen flappy types at once back to the marina after the wind has died and the tide is carrying them out to sea.

It was then we heard Crackerjack calling the Marina for instruction and a few minutes later that we got the call from St. Kats to say they had space for us, calling Crackerjack to see what Jonathan wanted to do was met with "well were here now so we might as well stay". Despite us running the 48 miles from Titchmarsh at twice the speed of the other 2 boats we were still the last to lock in and climb the 6m or so to join the other two boats in a fairly depressing looking Marina, no doubt it was very good but it certainly wasn't nice to look at and it seemed to have a layer of diesel smoke lying across it almost like mist.

Soon after tying up the reason for the mist became obvious as Jonathan restarted his port engine turning the layer of mist into more of a fog, he had lost a piston on the way from Titchmarsh but the injector for the poorly cylinder was still determined to do its job and poor as much fuel as possible into the hole. At this point the Dunkirk spirit kicked in on Crackerjack and the call St. Kats or bust was heard to ring round the marina, determined that even if Crackerjack had to return from St. Kats on a low loader she was damn well going to get there.

Not many people populate Gillingham Marina during the week and for this reason the bar and cafe/restaurant don't normally open evenings, that said the staff did offer to stay on to open up if we required it but the joint decision was to make do with a few beers on the boat and a take out from Dominos.

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For future reference Ian

That would explain then Perry why the large Gunfleet wind farm vessel went about 1 cable south of the safe water buoys before crossing about 2 hours after LW on the way back, oop's not got to that bit yet cheersbar

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Wednesday and the big one, this was the day that we would, god willing, make it to our holy grail, the place we planned to go last year but never made so the culmination of 2 years planning.

So far the trip had been perfect navigationaly, a mix of my passage planning and Jonathan's vigilance in studying wind directions and strengths as well as a great call to run against the tide early on the last leg.

At this point I think it only fair to say a great big well done to Sea Gem and her crew Wayne, Tracey and Kristy. A year before they had never thought of owning a boat and even after buying there 26' Fairline Sunfury last October Tracey still had absolutely no way of stepping onto the pontoon, let alone the boat. Here they were less than a year later with their second boat, which back in Easter had not been ready even for a quick spin out of Lowestoft, sitting in Gillingham Marina ready to undertake the final leg of the trip to London. The pre voyage run up could certainly not be classed as smooth for them with Wayne putting serious work into making Sea Gem sea worthy along with gaining a very high level of competency in navigational and mechanical skills, Kristy being hell bent on total control of ropes and fenders not to mention passage planning and navigation by compass and Tracey over coming what could only be classed as a total phobia of anything on water to be able to walk around the boat with confidence, she had even managed to looked cool and unflustered during the whole of the trip so far.

The morning had started fairly benignly with little wind and light grey overcast sky's, unfortunately the forecast for the afternoon was force 4-5 possibly 6 with heavy showers and as we couldn't get into St.Kats until 7.30pm, thanks to it's tidal nature and lock times, we would be running in the late afternoon.

Jonathan and Wayne would be running slowly up the Thames given Crackerjack's engine problem and were hoping to make 7-8 knots on one engine. We would be flying up the first part of the Thames at 20 knots plus before slowing to take in the sights later, or at least that was the plan.

The other two boats locked out at mid day leaving us to ponder the wonders or not of Gillingham Marina, definitely best summed up as a petrol stop for petrol boats due to it being 15p a liter less than Chatham which, by all accounts is a much nicer Marina, not that there was anything really wrong with Gillingham and in fairness the staff had been very friendly and helpful but it wasn't really the sort of place I had envisaged it being for the last stop before London.

It was during this pondering that I realised we were just about to make our first trip up the Thames and we had no red duster, we had a flagpole courtesy of Jonathan last year but no flag, fortunately Gillingham has a very well stocked Chandlery, you can even buy a boat straight from the showroom complete with trailer if you feel the need, so a flag was soon sourced, this did show up another of my lack of knowledge area's in that I had no clue what size to buy, the chap in the showroom was non the wiser either but very helpful in opening all the packets and unfolding the flags so we could get a better idea of size. I settled on a 1 yard jobby as the 1 1/4 seemed a little too large, I was later informed by Jonathan that I still had ideas of grandeur well above my station as at 34' we should be flying a 3/4 yard but what can I say other than I have a big pole :naughty: . Leaving the store meant passing the brokerage board and it was there that a Humber 40 caught my eye, as we had plenty of time before we needed to leave it seemed a good idea to take a look so grabbing hold of the broker we went off to have a look around, it was a serious boat that Heather instantly decided to buy due to the round island berth in the fore cabin, she has a thing for round beds, but the urge to buy what was a massive boat was resisted and we made our way back to Clanny ready for the off, some 2 and 1/2 hours after the others had departed.

We radioed the Harbour master to request a lock and were instructed to enter on green, the lock seemed benign with the water at the top but a certain trepidation set in as the method of draining dawned on us, the gates at the front of the lock which had looked so uninviting from the river are cylindrical and they simply rotate the gates till there is a good size gap down the middle to let the water out, it was a strange feeling, almost like sitting at the head of a waterfall, as we watched the water cascading out in front of us at a serious rate, the journey down, while never frantic was certainly fast and it was not long before the rotating started again to free us from a very oppressive lock, not as big as the monsters that our European explorers were experiencing but daunting none the less.

Once free of the lock we headed off down the Medway chatting excitedly about the trip ahead and paying very little attention to the river we were on or the folly to our port. Shortly after it became obvious that the chart plotter was malfunctioning, the thing was showing us heading for land when there was nothing but a wide expanse of water in front of us, it even had safe water buoys straight down the middle. Strangely I did not notice these on the way in as the channel had been well buoyed with red and green buoys which it now seemed someone had removed. I had sensibly reset our depth alarm and keel offset prior to the journey, this was something that had driven us mad on the Broads as the previous owner had set a keel offset of 1.5m despite the transducer being only .3m above the bottom of the outdrives and he had topped that off by setting a 1.5m depth alarm, even on the Southerns the alarm would go off on a regular basis whenever less than 3m of water was encountered but without the handbook I had never worked out how to reset them, this trip being the catalyst for turning to the tinter web to find out how. Suddenly that familiar beep was sounding again and a quick glance at the sounder showed 0.4m under our hull, slamming the gears into reverse stirred plenty of mud from the bottom of the Medway and it was only then that I realised that I had completely missed the turn to port so clearly marked with Buoys and those sunken folly's I referred to earlier, no doubt the marked channel was navigable at a higher state of tide but 2 hours after low was not the time. Reversing out and turning round once there was 1m of water underneath I tried to give the impression to the yachts around us that we had just gone for a look but I am not sure I was successful and it sent a bit of a shudder down the spine to think what would have happened if we had been doing 20 knots instead of the 5 we were traveling at.

Now back in the channel and with all buoys in view we eased Clanny back to her 20 knot cruise while calling Medway VTS for information about the grain swatch as someone had mentioned in the marina that there was work underway in the area. VTS told us to speak to the working vessel in the area, which we did to be told that other small vessels had been using it without problem and that he was well clear so we were free to continue. The Medway wasn't finished with us yet though, as we rounded the turn next to the Gas terminal a sight I can only describe as hell sat in front of us.

The sky over the estuary was jet black, punctuated only by the many flashes of white crashing to the ground, the wind which was behind us and blowing straight down the Medway suddenly noticeably increased as if to push us into the arms of the abyss, the storm was moving at a fair rate towards us so there was nothing to do but venture into it, I sent the crew down stairs, put on the waterproofs and dug in. As the rain started a vessel seemed to be taking a very strange route into the River but as he was approaching from our starboard side I altered course to pass behind, the red buoy marking the channel had been removed while the work was ongoing but its position was showing on my chart plotter and I had recently been given a reminder that it was better to trust than ignore it so we rounded the position as the vessel crossing us came into a clearer view, it was only now that the lettering spelling out guard was readable and it was also at this time that the VHF burst into life with the guard boat telling VTS that a small vessel was in the swatch channel, the response was comforting with Medway VTS telling him that we had permission to be there but as we passed close astern the full fury of the storm unleashed itself, everything, including the large container vessel 200 yards to our starboard side and the Guard boat at most 50 off our port suddenly disappeared, the rain was stinging into my face and it was all I could do to keep a fix on our position on the chart plotter in front of me, the rain continued for about 15 minutes in which time we made virtually no progress up the Thames and the relief I felt as it started to ease was probably in the league of that felt by a young teenager realising that their parents weren't in as they wobbled up the drive fresh from discovering alcohol for the first time, Especially as it dawned on me that during my readying for the storm I had not considered our visibility to others and turned on the nav lights.

With the worst of the storm now behind us I pushed Clanny back onto the plane and was quickly joined by Tom on the flybridge who had been sent up from the saloon to make sure I was ok. Surprisingly within a few minutes the familiar shape of 2 boats were in front of us, this surprised us as they had left two and a half hours before us and as I slowed to let a last flurry of rain pass I could see they were making good progress pushed on by the tide, they were travelling at a good 10 knots over ground which is too fast for Clanny in displacement mode. It later transpired that the working vessel had not been so helpful to Crackerjack and Sea Gem as they approached at low tide saying to them "go where you want as long as you don't take my cables with you" with this they had decided to go out past the Montgomery and come back the long way round adding a considerable distance to their voyage.

The rain had now stopped and it was only a minute or two after we pushed Clanny back to her cruising speed that we were waving to Sea Gem and Crackerjack in turn before pushing on to 30 knots to give a safe distance between us and the container ship in the channel which the charts said we had got to cross to stay on the small vessel track.

The skys were still very grey but the wind had gone and at least for now the rain had stopped, just as well as I was already on my third waterproof jacket, my storm proof sailing coat had given in quickly to the brunt of the storm, my shower proof golf top offering little resistance to the second lighter band soaking my smartphone in the pocket into the proccess and only leaving me with my £4.99 Matalan plastic paca mac for any further onslaught.

We passed by the fuel dock at Gravesend and then the container port and cruise terminal at Tillbury slowing briefly to allow a big ship to turn in the river, and then the first Thames landmark was overhead in the form of the huge Queen Elizabeth bridge. Next came the Thames flood barrier which we passed through at speed a la Jeremy Clarkson but in truth, despite its massive scale and obvious engineering genius, it seemed a little less spectacular than we were expecting, in no time the o2 arena was on our port side shortly followed by the reappearance of heavy rain.

Not wishing to see tower bridge for the first time through a rainstorm I pulled the dinghy that was on the front coach roof and as such preventing forward vision from the internal helm to one side, it didn't give much of a view but enough to pull over next to the wall and give the rain time to pass over, which it did eventually about 3/4 of an hour later. The final few turns were taken on the Flybridge before Tower bridge in all its glory appeared in front of us.

St. Katherines was just about to open the lock and there was room for us, the weather had taken its toll on us through the journey so despite our plans to pass through Tower Bridge for a bit of sightseeing we were happy to pull straight into the lock at about 7pm for entry into St Katherines Haven and the end of our Journey to London.

The weather wasn't finished yet though and the rain played its encore while we sat in what must be the worlds slowest lock with one more cloudburst doing its best to soak every last inch of us but I was armed with my secret weapon Matalan paca mac which proved to be the only waterproof item capable of fighting off the enemy.

It was not much later that Crakerjack and Sea Gem were locked in to Join us in a nice little corner of St. Katherines where an epic journey, spoiled a bit by the rain came to an end with a ceremonial opening of a couple of bottles of bubbly on the Pontoon. All 3 boats even with engine issues for Crackerjack had made it and it felt fantastic to be stood in the middle of London after taking our own boats from the Broads to the Capital.

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I have checked re the flag and at 31ft you should have 31" of flag, so a yard is about right if you allow for the bathing platform. We made it to the lock just as the gates were closing and could see Ian in the lock which was full of boats, a shame we couldn't all go in together. We has a little run under Tower bridge whilst we waited :grin:

Very well written Ian :bow A great insight into the loneliness of fast petrol boating :naughty:

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Hi Ian

On behalf of crew Sea Jem I would like to thank you for your kind words.

The real "well done" should go to the many we have met, or exhanged posts with on NBN.

The knowledge, help and support given to us through our short boating career has been nothing short of fantastic - without NBN I doubt we would have made it through Mutford lock (Tracy, Easter :o:cry:o ), never mind to St. kats.

Thanks to everyone

Crew SeaJem

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All 3 boats were now safely in the Marina, some of the story remains untold for a very good reason that will no doubt become clear before this tale ends but for now we have a planned 4 nights and 3 full days to take in the pleasures of London.

Pre Voyage we had been told that Limehouse Basin was a cheaper and better alternative to St. Kats and that may well be the case but having not stayed at Limehouse I can't really comment, what I can say that while expensive in terms of usual marina prices, at the price we paid (£176 inc electric for 4 nights) we were very happy with St. Kats given it's location. We were about at the times you would expect to see the rodents of the night but despite bait stations on every pontoon we did not see any evidence of the rats the size of dogs we had been warned of, we didn't even see any the size of rats. During our stay we had only 4 gripes with the marina,

1, That despite the toilet shower blocks being very new and modern, ideally placed at the end of pontoons and with plenty of showering room and space to put your clothes, the maintenance of them was not as good as it could have been. In fairness the footfall to the pontoons was by far the greatest we had ever seen with a constant flow of people up and down, the crews of the same vessels even seemed to change completely at times so whether a little sub letting was going on I wouldn't like to say. In one of the toilets a seat was broken off, to be expected I suppose given the amount of use but for it then to stay the same way for 4 nights seemed a little inexcusable, in London it would also seem that soap is a bad thing as there is none in the toilets, not that the dispensers are empty but that no one had thought to put them there in the first place. The toilets were cleaned daily but why they were not maintained I can't say.

2, Again maintenance related in that all of the pontoons have their own gate each with a code lock and each with their own code, for this reason if one breaks there is no other way to get down to your boat, on Thursday night the number 1 on the lock protecting our pontoon gave up the ghost and despite being reported to marina staff was not repaired by the time we left on Sunday, this also highlighted another issue in that the failed lock did not pose that much of a problem, you just put your arm round and opened it from the inside. There were security patrols around the marina and I don't know or didn't here of any security issues while we were there but if you are going to put locks on pontoons then surely they should do something.

3, Marina staff seemed to be very scarce apart from at lock times, as these were only once a day during our stop due to where the tide times were falling it meant that if you did have a question there was no one around to answer it.

4, the speed of the lock, it is a big lock taking upto 10 boats at a time but it takes about 15 minutes to fill and that is with hardly any difference in the levels, add in getting boats in and out and you only get a lock in either direction once an hour so some new pumps would not go amiss.

So the gripes out of the way and on to the positives, St. Kats is located right next to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, Tower Hill Tube Station is a 2 minute walk and the wealth of bars, coffee shops and restaurants that surround the marina give a really vibrant atmosphere to the place. In general the upkeep in terms of cleanliness was first rate with no rubbish blowing around the place although the 2 wheely bins on our pontoon did not always accommodate all of the days rubbish and a couple of lose black bags were in evidence one night all gone by 7am though.

Without reservation I would throughly recommend St. Kats for a first visit to London but that is made without sampling any of the other marinas in the vicinity.

During our time in London we did the tourist trail, or as much as we could manage in the time. It had always been our intention to take in a show while there but the unpredictable nature of boating meant that we were not able to book tickets prior to our arrival. Heather wanted a family friendly show as we had both Tom 15 and Rachel, special needs 12 on board the Lion King was the show of choice, this proved to be another of the choices we always seem to make in that none of the ticket sellers had discounted tickets, apparently Disney never discount, and the only place to get them from would be the theater box office, we made our way through Covent garden, pausing to watch a very good street magician, see the human statues and listen to a quartet playing in the lower mall of the old market, now totally given over to coffee shops and restaurants but still a great place to spend time.

The Lion king was playing at the Lycium Theater just off Covent Garden and on inquiring it looked like we were looking for a second show, the first time they could offer four seats together was two months away but as luck would have it while we were there four of the best seats in the house were returned for the Saturday Matinée performance, the £240 price tag stung a bit but the look on Heathers face said there was no way I was getting out of this so tickets duly purchased.

Next stop was the London Camera exchange to pick up a new camera, our old faithful had been left at home and although we had a digicam with us the only other method we had of capturing stills had been the smart phone that got soaked in my pocket on the way up the Thames and had so willingly expired.

Not being photographers the strange array of equipment in front of us was mind boggling with prices from ouch to second mortgage, we settled on the cheapest one that looked a bit like an expensive one and left with a Fuji Finepix 1600 which is apparently a bridge but unlike the ones on the Broads it seems to work quite well, just a shame about the people with the finger on the button.

Further walking took us to St. James's park, where an Ice cream sat on the grass while putting the newly purchased camera together was very welcome, given that they day was one of the few properly warm ones that we encountered through the two weeks, then on past Trafalgar Square and down the mall to the Queens little place.

More walking took us back to the tube and back to the Marina. Those that know Heather they will understand why this amount of foot bashing took its toll but given that last year she was in a wheelchair it is understandable that no more than a few drinks on the boat were all that could be managed for the rest of the evening.

Friday was given over to a tour of the Tower, which while very interesting is probably better visited at a quieter time, queuing was the order of the day to see all the main sights including an hour to get in to the Crown Jewels, Sorry Leroy but this is serious bling that I think you are going to struggle to get your hands on.

Sometime during Friday I also hatched a very misguided plan to fill up Clanny from the BP station about 1/2 a mile from St. Kats but couldn't find transport for the 5 jerry cans I had on Board, with hindsight it would have been better to fill these at Gillingham but at that time the plan had been to run back to Chatham for the night after leaving St. Kats so I had intended to re-visit Gillingham to refill while passing. Filling from the BP station was not a cost saver as it was only 4p liter cheaper but it would allow me to run straight to Bradwell instead of going down the Medway again, we probably had enough fuel on board but it was too close a call to make to be comfortable with.

Saturday saw an early start to visit the London Dungeons at 9am, it didn't rate very highly on the fear factor but it was an entertaining couple of hours that had the added benefit of teaching Tom some of the History of London in a way he was happy to take in, he now retains a knowledge of the Black Plague, the Great Fire, Sweeney Tod, the body snatchers and Jack the Ripper. Inside there is also a short water ride and an optional chair drop at the end so in my opinion I would say good value.

The main event then followed in the form of the Lion King, it took me a bit of time to get my head around the dancers holding the animals as I couldn't work out which to watch but after 20 minutes it all seemed to merge together and was throughly enjoyed by all.

We had all planned to meet up for a free showing of wind in the willows on the south bank at the amphitheater before going out for a meal but rain put paid to this, the others had all gone off to Harrods while we had been at the theater giving us a couple of hours to spare before meeting up for a last meal at Cafe Rouge prior to our departure from London on Sunday, it was in this time that I re visited the idea of petrol from BP with Jonathan's folding bikes, complete with luggage racks available to us.

I tied a Jerry can to each, grabbed Tom and off we cycled, this plan worked well while the cans were empty but the front end did get a bit light once 20 litres of fuel was added to the cans, a point emphasised on returning to the marina, getting off the bikes to go through the gate Tom then proceeded down the fairly steep and slightly slippy ramp to the pontoon ahead, it was then he discovered that with no one on the bike the weight on the luggage rack had a negative effect on the front brake, he also discovered that pulling the bike back by the handlebars just resulted in the front pointing skyward while the considerable weight on the back made its way down the ramp with Tom hanging on for grim death. It was at this point that the decision to call at Gillingham was confirmed.

Saturday was rounded off with a lovely meal at Cafe Rouge with us all together for the last time, during the day Jonathan had been busy mechanically and isolated the fuel to the duff cylinder, it still sounded slightly odd but at least the majority of the smoke had been stemmed and he was confident that he could run the engine for maneuvering and as a back up, if required to his good engine, unfortunately though due to the lock times available Jonathan and Wayne would not be able to run further than the Meadway on Sunday and as the forecast for the Monday was for 6's and 7's they had decided to stay put for a couple more days at St. Kats. We obviously decided to do the honorable thing and leave anyway as we had enough speed to see us from St.Kats to Bradwell even taking in a stop at the ultra slow fuel pump and a sightseeing trip up the Thames.

Sunday we said our goodbyes with intentions of meeting up on Friday at Lowestoft for the Airshow, the others locked out at 12.10 for a trip up the Thames on the new reduced smoke Crackerjack while we were due out on the 1.10 lock for a trip up to Vauxhall bridge then down to Gillingham for Low water and on up to Bradwell which would time the Wallet Spitway to give enough water for us to pass.

The Thames was probably amongst the roughest water we encountered through the whole trip thanks to the wash thrown up by all the traffic zipping around everywhere but it was great to see the sights, Tower Bridge, the oxo building, the millennium bridge, houses of parliament, London Eye and so much more before returning down river where once past Tower Bridge the water flattened out and Clanny's throttles were set to give 23 knots over ground for the run to Gillingham.

The pump did not disappoint and it took us about an hour to put 257 liters of fuel on board before returning to the Thames estuary on the outward leg to Bradwell.

As we exited the Estuary we were joined for a short time by one of the Gravesend Porpoises, a real treat and we are now claiming to have seen a dolphin while at sea, even if it was a bit smaller. Unfortunately our friend was alone and soon disappeared to find the rest of the pod.

We were running against the tide but with the wind, despite it only being a 3 or 4 by the time we reached Gunfleet windfarm for the turn towards the Blackwater estuary things had cut up a bit bouncy, not bad enough to push us off the plane but enough to make you aware. we paused briefly for me to go down and turn on the nav lights as the evening gloom started to zap what was left of the day light and meant you saw the flashes from the buoys long before the buoy itself, we turned at our preset waypoint to bring us in line with the Wallet spitway and slowed down to stand off for the large gunfleet windfarm working vessel which was crossing us from starboard. This I was struggling to understand as it proceeded about a cable south of the safe water marks for the spitway, I said to Heather that if he kept going he would go aground but it then turned and crossed the spitway which, thanks to Perry's post showing the local contours now makes sense but at the time confused me a little and made me doubt myself in crossing at the marks.

As we made the final approach to Bradwell dusk had given way to darkness with the breakwater looking much more like a ship under its red lights. The entrance to Bradwell was simple enough once the withy's could be seen up close but the wind on our bows combined with only having a foot or so to spare on our bow accross the marina channel meant we did, for the first time this trip, have to have two goes at getting into our allocated berth before tying up in the dark at 9pm. This was the first time we had seen darkness at sea and it was comforting to find that it looked just as you imagine from doing the day skipper course and not in the least bit frightening.

A meal of chicken and pasta washed down with tea finished off the day and we retired to bed with another new experience under our belt.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Monday dawned bright and sunny and without the forecast 6's and 7's, all that was planned was a quick trip across the bay, or Blackwater to be precise, and into Tollesbury marina which someone, had recommended as a great place for a couple of days relaxation, mind you you will need it after doing the approach for the first time.

Tollesbury can only be accessed +/- 1 hour from high tide due to a drying creek approach and a sill at the entrance. This gave us a bit of time for Breakfast and a look round the Marina at Bradwell, Charlie, our King Charles, loved Bradwell but I think that was more to do with his re acquaintance with grass after 4 days in London. It is a pleasant place and seems to have a very nice club house which looks like it would house some lively times but we had been too tired to try it out the previous night. Unfortunately we did not have time for a walk around the local area before our planned departure at 11.30am to the fuel berth, this stop it turned out was unnecessary but at the time we had plans to do Ipswich and possibly Woodbridge on the way back, plus if you have a petrol boat you are not going to turn down the opportunity to fill up quay side if only for the novelty value.

The fuel pump was a revelation after Gillingham dispensing fuel at a greater rate than Clanny could take it on board, it was a bit frustrating having to fill her at half speed but it still only took about 5 minutes to put in 120 liters to fill her back up again.

Leaving the fuel berth I was faced with another one of those flappy things, the fuel berth at Bradwell is located at the far end of the first run of pontoon and by now the forecast wind had started to build, to the extent that we needed a spring to get off. We then turned to come back up the isle and out into the channel.

Unfortunately, being a raggie, the skipper of the flappy thing had made his passage plan from his berth to the fuel pontoon, well it was a good 50 yards so he wanted to make sure he could do it on a single tide, and started his approach down the isle with the aforementioned stiff breeze making it virtually impossible for his 1.5hp outboard to make any progress towards the correct side of the isle and left him crabbing towards us totally blocking the right side to me, not being one to wallow in his misery, well not much anyway, I did the only decent thing and cleared out of his way passing him green to green, his friendly and thankful comment as I passed him was "do you not know which side is starboard", my reply I do but as you are on it and the only way for me to pass you on it would be to go through the piles on your port side I just decided to help you out, at which point he looked to his port side, realised his error and did the only honorable thing a saily can do, put his head down and pretended he couldn't see me.

It was only a short hop across to Tollesbury and we were looking forward to our quick run out. As we pulled out of the channel into the Blackwater guess what we could see? yep hundreds of the bloody things, we found out later it was Mersea reggata week. Strangely, although deluded, as evidenced by the fact that they were drying their bedding instead of using an engine, most of the skippers of the bigger stuff seemed to know what they were doing and finding a path through proved fairly easy, those that we had to cross even genuinely acknowledging us and thanking us for giving them room and passing behind them, this was naturally short lived once a couple of small dinghy's were encountered around the Buoyed approach channel as they did everything they could to get in the way, and to think that I almost started to learn some respect for them.

Once through the initially well buoyed channel it all gets a bit vague, Buoys mentioned in the pilot book don't exist and those that are there appear to be taking you straight back out into the estuary, a look at the chart will just confuse things further as there is land on the chart, the thing is as your approach is at high water all of the land is water so there is nothing visual to confirm you are on the right path. As mentioned earlier I had now learned to trust my plotter and it did a sterling job of taking me to the various buoys but whether I could have worked them out without the aid of the plotter I would not like to say and if you don't get it right the land is not far enough under the water to miss the bottom of your boat.

once through the bit that looks like open water the buoys that are there start to make sense and guide you nicely into the Marina entrance past the landmark lightship parked outside. there is an accurate tide gauge for the sill directly at the entrance but I was surprised by how long the depth sounder was showing it shallow, the only other experience I have of a marina sill is Woodbridge where it is a metal blade a few mill thick, Tollesbury has a mud bank as could easily be seen as the water dropped later, which is about 10' wide.

We had previously booked our berth and our VHF call was promptly answered with our berth number. the Isles were a lot wider than Bradwell and even with the wind blowing a good bit it was easy enough to get into, just as well as another very arrogant raggie had obviously spent many years living on spam to be able to afford the amount of varnish he had put on the outside of his wood work in the berth next to us.

Tollesbury is a good sized marina, not massive but plenty big enough and Steve was right about it being a great place to relax, it proved to be the perfect antidote to the hectic pace we had been keeping up in London.

There is a good size covered heated swimming pool, two excellent hard court tennis courts, a nice club house with a pool table you can almost get all the way round with a Que. The menu is limited but long enough to give a reasonable choice with titles such as thai green curry coming in at about £8, it is not the best food in the world but it is not bad and definitely very edible. There is a laundrette, a reasonable chandlers and a small boat sales and it was all nice enough for us to cancel thoughts of going to woodbridge and settle for a few nights at Tollesbury instead.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Clive,

It is a great trip, whether it will be bettered as we go further afield remains to be seen but I have a feeling we will remember it for the rest of our boating lives.

Time wise it is going to depend on what ship but on Clanny we set the throttles to 20 knots through the water, well off her 35 knot top speed but chosen to give optimum cruising economy.

southwold is 18 miles,

Southwold to Walton Backwaters from memory about 35 miles

Walton Backwaters to Gillingham was about 50 miles

Gillingham to St. Kats another 40 odd

Total millage covered was 352 from Reedham to Reedham including a couple of runs out to the airshow and a bit of river stuff

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The rest of Monday and Tuesday was spent in mostly warm sunshine, Ideal for playing in the pool, not so ideal for someone with my athleticism to be playing tennis.

I can claim to be the undefeated family champion though, just a shame it wasn't my sparkling tennis that facilitated this instead of me being the only one that actually knew what a tennis racket looked like. My 20 mph serves must have looked like a ballistic missile to Tom, having never faced such ferocity before but it was a good job I was far enough ahead by the time he worked out he had to wait such a long time after they had passed the net before swinging the bat his end.

There are a few lovely walks from the Marina but having exerted so much energy in the tennis, trying to walk them in their entirety would have been tantamount to foolish for me and anyway we were supposed to be relaxing :D

Tuesday evening bought the news that Thursday, Friday and Saturday would be blessed with strong winds turning Easterly, something that turned out not to be entirely true but having previously experienced a 5-6 from the East for a short run from Southwold to Lowestoft we were in no hurry to attempt the 60+ miles we had left in those conditions. Instead it was decided to cut our planned trip to Ipswich and make straight back up to Lowestoft in time for the Airshow on Thursday and rejoin the rest of the 3 strong armada that we had left behind in London.

The drying entrance meant that we could not leave Tollesbury until about 1.30pm but at around 9.30am we got a text from Sea Gem asking if we could bring some diesel with us when we left. A phone call revealed that while they had plenty of the stuff aboard half of it was in a tank they had no way of using as the Princess 33 they were on had no share tap on the tanks, for this reason they were getting a little low on red stuff, unfortunately for Sea Gems crew we would not catch up with them before they got to Lowestoft but they did have a couple of spare drums on board so they should be ok.

We waited until dead high water at 2pm before slipping our ropes in order to use what push we could from the tide on the run back up, the exit was a lot less stressful than the entrance, having already navigated the channel a couple of days earlier and our run up to Lowestoft was undertaken on flat seas, well as flat as the North sea ever gets, we did run into a decent chop just past Orfordness which stayed with us until half way between Southwold and Lowestoft but it was never enough to have to back off and the couple of knots of tide meant that our 3500 rpm was showing 22-23 knots speed over ground on the GPS. The wallet was smooth, Felixstowe came and went followed by the dome of Sizewell nuclear power station slipping past our port side, the familiar sight of Southwold Harbour and then its pier telling that we were almost back and then what seemed like only minutes later we were radioing Lowestoft for permission to enter the harbour and make our way to Havens Hamilton dock marina to rendezvous with Crackerjack and Sea Gem who had arrived 15 minutes before us following their 11 hour voyage from Queensbourgh, in some ways there was even a pang of jealousy as our 2 3/4 hour 62 Nm trip had flown by so quickly.

So here we were, Back at the gateway to the Broads, not only had the petrol powered Clanny been the only boat to go through the trip without missing a beat but it also turned out that the 1.55 miles per gallon that she returned, fair enough at 20knots through the water so well off her top recorded speed of 35 knots over ground but still plenty to give some serious mile munching, I would consider a very respectable cruising economy.

Who said that petrol was not viable for serious sea work?

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