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 Queenborough To St Kathrines Dock 1st August 2007

07:05 and I’m feeling cosy snuggled down in my sleeping bag after a good nights sleep. The River Thames, and London town is the order of the day, so it’s out of bed, kettle on a quick check on the weather, and a stretch on deck, with a few yawns thrown in. Ron is stirring as I make a pot of tea. I ask Ron if he would like porridge for breakfast. OK, he agrees, so I put the pot on to make some. After breakfast it’s the usual ablutions before we prepare to leave. It’s just after 08:00 when we start the engine and let go the buoy. Making our way out there is a couple of boats ahead, and another getting ready to leave, so we must be leaving at the right time. After we pass the east cardinal at Queenborough spit, we cross the channel to the west shore, passing the Grain power station, and into the Little Nore. We follow the channel as far as the No 7 starboard buoy before rounding the end of Sheerness Middle Sand, leaving the dangerous wreck to port. Its now 10:15, and time for coffee, the weather is good with little wind, but it’s usually blowing the wrong way in rivers anyway. The main objective is to arrive at our destination safely.

It's 40 miles to St Kathrines Dock, which on boat speed through the water under engine would take about 8hrs, but with the tide under us, we should arrive about an hour before the tide changes, which would halt our progress and push us back down the river. We can still see the two yachts ahead of us as we head towards the Yantlet Channel where the estuary narrows into the Thames. We followed the port buoys staying well clear of the main channel, as the ships that had been waiting for the tide were now passing us as they made their way in. We crossed the channel from the Lower Hope Port buoy to the Mucking Starboard No 5 buoy when there was no traffic. We continued up river past Gravesend towards Tilbury Docks, and as we rounded the bend at Tilbury Ness, we hit the back wash which slowed the boat from 7kn to 3kn, but we soon altered course further into the channel to resume our original speed.

The first sight we encounter is the Q E 2 Bridge which carries the M25, which is full of commuter traffic, which is hardly moving as normal. Like most major rivers the Thames has many large industrial sites along its banks, as well as dock yards and factory jetty’s

12:50 and Ron has made some sandwiches and another drink, which we eat as we proceed up river. There are no ships about now but we still keep a lookout for the largest of the debris that is floating down river, it’s mainly bits of trees and plastic bottles, but we have seen an exterior door with hinges protruding, which could do some damage if we collided with the hinge part.

We pass Barking Creek and into the Thames Barrier Control Zone, where we are required to radio ahead to advise of our approach to the barrier. Ron calls the control on ch14, and is asked our details i.e. type, length, depth, speed, and is asked to call back when we are closer, when we will be given the OK and which gate letter to pass through. Then it’s Woolwich Arsenal on the south shore just before the Woolwich Free Ferry, the first of my childhood memories crossing back and forth across the river on the paddle boats and watching the workings of the engines through the viewing windows, as they turned the side paddle wheels.  

When the Thames Barrier comes into view Ron contacts the control again, and we are directed to pass through gate 'F'. This is the first time I have seen the Thames Barrier, and I must say it looks impressive from the water, and it's stainless steel piers are an unusual shape, I guess they have made to look like sails. Once through the barrier its round the next bent and up through Bugsby's Reach, keeping an eye on the GPS to watch us go from east to west again just past the India Basin. We will only cross the Greenwich Meridian once on the way in, but on the way back down the river we will cross three times,

The next landmark I am looking for is the Cutty Sark tavern. When I lived in Greenwich I went to school just round the corner from the pub which was called the Union Tavern, but was renamed when the famous tea clipper was brought to Greenwich and put in dry dock. There used to be Thames barges moored alongside in the summer evenings, with skiffle groups playing the popular music of the day, and still using the tea chest and broom stick for the base, plus, wash board and thimbles, and of course the guitar, and no amplifiers. We pass the pub which looks different from the water, and there are no boats moored, as we head on up river, the Royal Naval College comes into view looking truly magnificent with the Maritime Museum behind, and the Royal observatory on the top General Wolf hill in Greenwich park. I used to go sledging down this hill in the winter with my brothers, but only from the middle where it levels out, before plunging downhill again, across the footpath at the bottom, and down the final slope onto the level playing fields.

Sadly the next sight should have been the Cutty Sark, but the devastating fire in May has all but destroyed her, and as we pass all that can be seen are the hoardings surrounding the site, which is partly hidden behind the entrance to the foot tunnel which crosses under the river. After another two miles we are passing Limehouse Basin, which is as far as the Two Old Gits in a boat ventured up the river, but St Kathrines Dock is only another mile and a half and Johnny, Ron's youngest son will meet up with us. The London water taxis called the Clippers, are more frequent now and it's amazing how little wash they make as they speed up and down the river. Its the best way to beat the London traffic, if you work and live close the river. 

Its just over half an hour as we approach Tower Bridge which is as far as we go. Ron calls the marina to check the time of the next lock opening at the entrance to enter the marina, and is told that we only have to wait for one boat to enter the lock before the inner gate can be closed, the levels adjusted and the boats waiting to depart to be let loose. As we wait, we circle round, keeping an eye on the lock gate and the river traffic passing by. Two fast boats with blue flashing lights pass heading up river at full speed, and we wonder what could be wrong. I notice a woman near the lock jumping in the air and waving and wonder who it could be, I grab the bin's for a closer look and recognise that it's Jan that's so pleased to see us, we didn't know Jan was coming to meet us, so it was a complete surprise.

          Tower Bridge Spotted                   Waiting to enter lock                             Entering Lock

When we had passed through the lock and tied up alongside, I went to the marina entrance gate and let Jan through. When we returned to the boat Jan produced some goodies which included Champagne, Cheeses, snacks, and chocolate, which we ate, and drank, while sitting in the cockpit. Jan wanted to know all that had happened since we last met in Oban, and we had a relaxing time catching up, and enjoying the warm sunny afternoon and evening, before it was time for Jan to bid us farewell before making her way home.