20th October 2013
The alarms rang simultaneously at 0500 and I poured a splosh of meths into the saucer to preheat the burner for a quick coffee before we set off. We quickly donned our wet weather gear although it wasn’t yet raining and didn’t look too bad under the full moon. The tide was ebbing out of the Medway so we let go the warps and set off. Ironically there wasn’t much wind although it had been blowing over night. We motored past Garrison Point and hoisted the yankee soon to be followed by the main with a couple of pre-emptive reefs tucked in. We waited to clear around the stern of a ship before heading north to Grain Edge (unlit!) and the crossing of the shallow water before joining the Thames for real. Another ship was unusually leaving the Thames and heading for the Medway. I wasn’t really expecting to be dodging so many ships so early. The wind had now kicked in and I was glad of the small main. In all of Sumara’s thousands of miles sailing she has only been knocked down twice – both in the Thames!
Sailing up the Thames has certain challenges. On a spring tide, like today, there is a fair bit of current. If the wind is slack great care must be taken not to be swept into jetties or against moored barges. Sailing at night can be deceptive as there are many unlit mooring buoys and dim lights that blend into the city back scatter. When short tacking the frequent ships add to the fun especially near Tilbury but the biggest danger to my mind are other yachts who often seem oblivious to their actions.
In the Sea Reach great foreboding clouds came across and strong winds forced the lee rail under. A dredger seemed concerned that we would run aground and called up VTS on 68 to express their concerns on air. We tucked in a tack to calm them down but actually had enough water to sail on for another 100 m (unless the dredger knew something we didn’t!). The wind now decided to shift to more south westerly so more short tacks were tucked in before we could just make Tilbury. Here we came across a large dredger underway called Victor Horta. We heard him call up to say he was going to berth starboard to at Tilbury. I called him to ask if he wanted me out of the way and he asked if we could pass to the south. We hardened up but as he slowed and we sped up I was getting very close to his stern with a lot of prop wash it was getting a bit hairy so I applied a bit of engine to clear out of his way as fast as I could.
We then enjoyed the brisk and by now wet sail further upstream until we came upon a whole fleet of yachts. Well about ten of them, which is a lot for this kind of weekend in October. As we approached the barrier we were going to need a final tack but a small red yacht came bearing down on us. I hardened up but there was no way I could clear the moored barges that we were being swept towards. Our predicament was pretty obvious but the little red yacht ploughed on. I shouted out but they just came on. If I tacked I would have definitely rammed them. The 30 second warm start on the engine was going to be touch and go but I reached for the starter in the hope it would kick in a bit earlier as Sumara went into irons being unable to tack.
With the moored barges coming towards us at a couple of knots the engine did eventually start as the little boat sailed past seemly totally unaware of the situation. Maybe they would have got out of the way at the last moment but it seemed very thoughtless to force a hard pressed yacht into moored barges for the sake of a minor course charge.
We passed through the barrier under power and sail but the wind was so gusty and with more river traffic we deicide to call it day and motor the last few miles to South Dock and what is now our home.