Down River Cruise - 2003
Articles > Down River Cruise - 2003
WMC Trip to the East Coast 25th July – 9th August 2003
Having sold our small boat in April this year we were thrilled and delighted to be invited by Bill and Angie Jenkins on their new Broom Crown ‘Searrach’ to go to Bruges with them with the Weybridge Mariners. We had been suffering definite withdrawal symptoms from the loss of our boat of 12 years. Apart from feeling very excited about the prospect, we felt this was a good opportunity, before buying another boat, to find out whether we would feel happy doing channel crossings and coastal work or just stay with river cruising. We had only been as far as the Thames Barrier on our last boat.
Friday, 25th July. Bill, Angie and I on Searrach, together with Chris and Su aboard Alouette set off from our home moorings above Penton Hook Lock at approximately 4pm. Chris is the Club’s Vice Commodore and Angie is Honorary Treasurer with Bill being Assistant Honorary Secretary. John was still working and it had been arranged for my son to drive him to the nearest lock, once John got home. After going downstream through Penton Hook Lock we encountered our first problem. Bill filled up with diesel at Harris’ boatyard and the engine then wouldn’t start again. Our hearts sank as Bill tried over and over again to no avail. The young lad who had served us told Bill to take the floorboards up and he would take a look. I felt pessimistic as the lad was quite young and I felt ‘possibly not a lot of experience’ How wrong I was! He soon pinpointed the problem telling Bill that the glass filter bowl that goes into the fuel pipes was broken. He also found that a lot of things had been left undone after it’s recent service and a hammer had been left on the floor where the engine was! He soon had us underway again and as we had been delayed, John was able to join us at the next lock, which was Chertsey. We had told Alouette to go on which they did slowly and then waited for us to arrive at Sunbury Lock. Searrach and Alouette finally arrived at Teddington Lock at 9.05pm where we met the other Club members. There were Les and Sally aboard Enterprise, Gerry and Annette on Paradox, John and Penny on Norsal and Keith and Pat on Elsidore. They were all going on the unofficial cruise to the East coast with John Patman, the leader. Then there were the two other boats that were accompanying us to Bruges. Charles and Janice on Mustard, Charles being our Rear Commodore (Tidal) and there were Peter and Ron on Summertime.
It was good to see them there and John and I being fairly new members found it very nice to meet them all. We walked over the bridge to Tide End Cottage for an evening meal and then on to BMYC for a last drink where we met Keith and Pat from Elsidore.
Saturday, 26th July. We all moved off our moorings at Teddington around 9.20am proceeding downstream. Charles handled the radio commitments, re-transmitting instructions to the rest of our small flotilla of 3 boats. John and I have always enjoyed the experience of going to London via the river Thames under all the beautiful bridges, going past the famous landmarks. It is so impressive. We reached Limehouse Basin at around 3pm to meet with the Pirates (as they called themselves) and spent a leisurely afternoon socialising, with some of the men sitting outside the Cruising Association by Limehouse.
We, the crew of Searrach and Alouette, decided to go for a Chinese meal that evening. It all became a little hilarious as poor Chris, who I think was a little worse for wear after his earlier drink with the boys, fell asleep during the meal and I clumsily sent the red wine flying as I tried in vain to wake him up! As if that wasn’t enough, on waking, Chris tried his prowess with the Chinese waitresses, to no avail. Su then told us all that in his youth in the merchant navy he was nicknamed ‘Knocker Knight!’ I think the restaurant was pleased to see the back of us!
Sunday, 27th July At 11.45am the flotilla of eight boats set off for Queenborough, the first leg of the trip. The weather was overcast. As we cut across to the Medway, near Garrison Point I spotted the masts of the Montgomery. Such a sad sight, it looked really eerie with the masts just visible out of the water. I wondered how many poor men had lost their lives going down with the boat? I later found out the history of the American Liberty ship and thankfully no lives were lost. She sailed from America to England with a cargo of munitions for the Second World War but whilst at anchor in the Thames estuary off Sheerness went aground on the sand. Attempts to refloat her failed and during gales in 1944 she lost all buoyancy and settled firmly into the sand, where she remains to this day. It is estimated that over 1,400 tons of explosives still remain on board! Should it explode every building in Sheerness would be destroyed and a massive tidal wave would cause untold damage over the Isle of Sheppey, and up the River Thames and Medway. What a frightening thought! I feel relieved to find out that Surveys are carried out because of the potential danger, the latest survey being August 1998 which shows that the position of the wreck is not moving.
All eight boats arrived at Queenborough at approximately 5.30pm. Searrach, Mustard and Alouette picked up a mooring buoy and moored three abreast while the others moored a little further afield on what buoys were available. Charles, our tidal commodore told us that the weather wasn’t looking good for our channel crossing to Bruges. We would wait until the morning to see if the weather improved, if not, we would take a trip to the east coast.
Monday, 28th July Sadly, no improvement in weather and time was running out for a channel crossing with some of us having to be back at work in two weeks. Charles made the decision for our small flotilla of four boats to travel the east coast. We had decided that our first destination would be Burnham-on-Crouch. The Pirates were going to head for Bradwell Marina on the Crouch. Weather still not good so Summertime went out to test how choppy things were out there. He radioed back to say that it wasn’t too bad so we set off with Summertime going first followed by Searrach, Mustard and Alouette taking up the rear. The Pirates went ahead of us heading for Bradwell.
Only a short way into the journey, Chris radioed to say his fan belt had broken and he was in trouble. Bill from Searrach decided he would turn back and try to get a line to Chris. The idea was to try to tow him back to Queenborough where the waters were calmer and hopefully Chris would be able to fit another one. Summertime and Mustard were told of the decision. Charles from Mustard said that he would turn around and be on standby for us. Having John on board Searrach was quite an asset at this stage as whilst Bill tried to steer as near as was safely possible in the choppy waters, John tied two ropes together and stood on the bow waiting for the first opportunity to throw the rope across. The rope landed on Alouette on the first attempt but with Chris’ engine switched off the boat was bobbing around like a cork in the choppy waters and it quickly slipped off before Chris was able to scramble to it. A second attempt was made, this time success! Although the rope made contact again and slipped off as before, this time Chris had his boat hook ready and scooped it up from the water. Chris tied the rope firmly on to the bow and we towed Alouette back to the calmer waters of Queenborough. Whilst undoing the bottom nut on the alternator to replace the fan belt Chris broke the bottom lug so couldn’t re-position the alternator correctly. He then had to improvise with a wooden wedge. Once this was completed we were underway again. We wondered what had happened to Summertime so Bill tried to radio him to tell him all was now ok but could not raise him. We were later told that he had switched channels and had decided to join the unofficial cruise. With the problems we had encountered the journey took us eight hours but the main thing was that we were all safe.
A large number of mainly sailing boats were tied up to mooring buoys on the way in to Burnham Yacht Harbour. It was quite a narrow entrance and we arrived at 8pm. By 8.15pm we were all tied up on pontoons.
I think the highlight of the journey for Charles was seeing the seals basking on the Buxey Sands. He radioed us to take a look and a light-hearted argument ensued with Angie and I looking through the binoculars and deciding that they were not seals but rowing boats moored there. Charles responded that if that were the case, they were seal shaped rowing boats!
Tuesday 29th July Spent a very pleasant day at Burnham-on-Crouch exploring the town with the girls taking an interest in the shops and the men going round the three chandlers that were there. Also, stocking up time on food and drink whilst the men did checks on their boats. Chris tended to his alternator problems and then came and helped Bill change the very heavy domestic batteries he had in his boat. Chris hurt his hand and wrist while helping replace the batteries. In the evening we all enjoyed a pleasant meal at the clubhouse.
Wednesday 30th July We set off at 12.50pm for Brightlingsea after having a lazy morning with everybody doing his or her own thing. The skies were overcast and the clouds looked ominous. Chris and Su took a very early morning walk and later, Su decided to go to the town and have her hair cut really short for the rest of the cruise. Janice accompanied her. As they were returning, the heavens opened up, so much for poor Su’s nice hairdo! John and I had a long walk around the harbour, taking photographs. Angie read her Harry Potter book and the men did last minute checks to their boats and we were on our way. The journey was uneventful and took us three hours and forty minutes. We arrived at Brightlingsea at 4.30pm. The moorings are on pontoons with no direct access to the shore. We all ordered the water taxi a little later and spent a pleasant evening at the Colne Yacht Club where I noticed our club burgee, which must have been left on a previous visit from the Weybridge Mariners.
Thursday 31st July Took the water taxi again this morning where we explored the town while the men did other things! Found a really nice fresh fish shop where we all bought a variety of food, dressed crab, anchovies, mackerel, soft roe and smoked salmon. After a tasty lunch we set off at 1.20pm for Suffolk Yacht Harbour.
John and I were looking forward to this as we were meeting up with the Pirates again for the first time since we had left Queenborough on Monday and we felt that everybody on both cruises had made us feel very welcome, hence we were already beginning to feel part of the Weybridge Mariners.
We arrived at 5.25pm and after speaking to the Pirates it was decided that we would all book a meal at the Lightship. Up until now the weather hadn’t been too special but Sally predicted a heat wave from Saturday. I told Angie as she was longing for some sunshine but she was a little sceptical about the information, preferring to wait and see. Little did we know how true that prediction would be, breaking all records!
We all enjoyed a really delicious meal and catching up with all the news. It was quite late by the time we eventually left.
Friday 1st August Departed from Suffolk Yacht Harbour at 1.20pm with the Pirates leaving a little earlier all bound upriver for Ipswich on the River Orwell. We arrived at 2.30pm, all 8 boats being moored close together. John and I decided to explore Ipswich. A big and impressive town with every conceivable big named chain store, designer shops, small antique shops and also a market. As we explored the town a cloudburst sent us scurrying for cover in a watering hole! Who should we meet there but Les, Sally, Keith and Pat. After a drink and a chat we were on our way again. When we finally arrived back we found that John Patman had kindly been trying to attempt to fit a new alternator for Chris as by now Chris’ hand and wrist were really playing him up. John fitted the new one, only to find it wasn’t a direct match. It was changed and another was fitted, sadly, this was found to be wrong also. By this time it was getting quite late and Chris said that he would fit the old alternator back in the morning. Poor John and Chris. All that time and effort to no avail.
That evening we (Searrach, Mustard and Alouette crew) decided to go into Ipswich for an Indian meal. A really good time was had by all and as we left the Indian restaurant we were hit by this ‘ear-bashing’ music from a club opposite with bouncers on the doors. Somebody, can’t remember who, dared me to try to get into the club, past the bouncers. In my inebriated state I took up the challenge and after chatting to the fearsome looking bouncers, was let in. I now realise that they must have been humouring me, probably thinking, “It’ll be all right to let one wrinkly in!” Of course, once inside, I couldn’t wait to rush out and join my own crowd again! John and I walked on ahead and suddenly realised something was wrong. Su had slipped down a ridge between the pavement and the canal edge, which was not possible to see in the darkness, stopping short of falling in the canal! She had badly bruised her left foot. Those poor Knights. Chris with a poorly hand and Su with a poorly foot!……and so to bed.
Saturday 2nd August John, feeling very sorry for Chris and Su offered to crew aboard Alouette on the next stage of our cruise. We left our moorings at 10.10am and our little flotilla of 3 boats cleared the lock by 10.30am arriving at Tidemill Yacht Harbour, Woodbridge at 3pm. I must report that this was my absolute favourite place of the whole trip. A gentle and unspoilt harbour surrounded by rolling countryside. The river Deben is well buoyed and provided us with a very interesting and beautiful entrance to Tidemill Yacht Harbour via a well sheltered, meandering river entrance. The weather was all that Sally had predicted and a little ice-cream boat, darting in and out of the big boats, gave us a welcome thirst quencher as we slowly made our way up the river Deben to the Yacht Harbour.
The town of Woodbridge holds an abundance of interests. Its narrow streets are lined with history from medieval buildings to Tudor chimneys and Georgian pillars. It is such a beautiful town with flowers in bloom everywhere and for those who like to shop, a large arcade. We all fell in love with the place and a joint decision was made to stay here an extra day. Bill and Angie had relatives living close by who came to visit them. They all went to the Captain’s Table in Woodbridge for a meal. On their return, they told us that the food had been excellent and the service first class. John and I, together with Mustard and Alouettes’ crew decided that a homemade impromptu supper with liquid refreshments was the order of the day and set about enjoying ourselves aboard Searrach.
Sunday 3rd August A leisurely day was spent exploring Woodbridge and the Yacht Harbour and enjoying the gentle relaxing atmosphere, taking in the sunshine and messing around in Searrachs dinghy, taking it in turns, 3 at a time to explore the River Deben. In the evening we all took a slow stroll into Woodbridge, ending up with a nice meal at the Bull Hotel, opposite the Old Town Hall in Church Street.
Monday 4th August Charles and Chris got up really early to catch the train back to Ipswich to get the right parts for Chris’ alternator, hoping to fix it once and for all. Bill told us we would be leaving at approximately 1.30pm today so John and I took the opportunity to take a walk past the 17th century Woodbridge Tidemill and stroll beside the river Deben passing Martlesham and Artlesham creek. We spotted many oystercatchers and a curlew wading into the ebbing tide, grubbing for little insects as the water receded. During our journey we noticed a National Trust Walk, which we thought we might explore on our way back. I think we had been too enthusiastic as after 2 hours, sore feet and lost in the National Trust Park we were beginning to panic that we wouldn’t find our way back in time and would hold everyone up. We finally arrived back after 3 hours at 1.10pm. We needn’t have worried as Chris and Charles had their heads below Alouette’s floorboards, having managed to get the right parts. Angie, Su and Janice had walked into Woodbridge and found some great bargains in the sales.
We finally left at 2.30pm with the alternator fixed and me having a large blister on my right foot through the long walk done in my flip-flops! Entirely my own fault. It was a glorious summer’s day with temperatures almost reaching 100f. Very hot on the boat with little shade as we had no canopy so Angie came up with a very ingenious idea. She took her sarong off and rigged it up on the flybridge tying one end to John’s deck shoes and the other ends to parts of the rail. This produced lots of shade to lie under. It looked rather like a Bedouin tent!
We arrived at Titchmarsh Marina at 6.15pm via Pye End and up the Walton backwaters meeting up once again with the Pirates.
Tuesday 5th August Both flotillas decided to stay another day as although sunny and warm, it was windy and the forecast was 5-6.
We all decided to go to Frinton-on Sea, leaving in taxis. We met up with the Pirates by the promenade. It was another beautiful day and very warm again so some of us decided to have a paddle in the sea. Some horseplay ensued and many of us got splashed. I have always been a little accident prone and ended up losing my footing and falling into the sea, getting soaked! Certainly one way of cooling off!
We then had traditional fish and chips in the town centre. On our return, the traffic was gridlocked so Janice and Charles decided to walk back, not a good idea with my foot blister so we waited with the others for taxis back. Our evening was spent in the ‘Harbour Lights’ situated inside the marina.
Wednesday 6th August Our next destination was Burnham-on-Crouch on the homeward run. Both flotillas departed at 8.30am. Searrach decided to move off a little later and catch up with the others en route. Once again, another glorious day, it had been forecast that this would be the hottest day of the year. Temperatures topping 100f.
We set off at 10.15am through the Walton backwaters and approaching Pye Sands. Angie and I made bacon sarnies all round with coffee. We all sat on the flybridge to eat and drink. Bill started to pick up speed, the spray of water was bouncing off the lower windscreen and I was concerned that as both doors were open in the cabin the spray would be coming in there also. I popped down to close both doors and as I turned to come back up the stairs to the flybridge there was an almighty thud. I was thrown backwards through the cabin, past the galley and landed on my back in the foreword cabin cutting my head on the air vent near the floor and banging the top of my head on the wood surrounds. From then on, everything seemed to stand still. I wondered if I’d broken anything, all my body hurt and I had jarred my back. I could hear voices on the flybridge. I later learnt that poor Angie had slid all the way across the flybridge on her collapsible chair. The bacon sarnies had flown overboard together with the coffee and a drinking glass had shattered. Luckily Angie hadn’t injured herself. Bill suddenly realised that I wasn’t there and looked downstairs to see me lying on the floor. At this stage I can’t praise Angie enough, she was a real trooper, picking her way downstairs to reach me, which was no mean feat as we were at a 30-degree angle! We were stuck very firmly on a sandbank. She tended my cut head, trying to stem the bleeding and was absolutely marvellous. I realised at this point that I’d been thrown from one side of the cabin to the other on impact, hence all my bruises both sides. Thankfully I hadn’t broken anything.
Poor Bill, what a fright for him in his new boat, hitting a sandbank like that. Angie and I likened it to hitting a brick wall. Bill told me that a fishing boat had been in channel markers 6 and 7 on the port side where it should not have been and he had to steer round the fishing boat causing our boat to hit the hidden sandbank. Bill immediately rang the coastguard to state our position and what had happened. Stranded there, all we could do was sit and wait for the tide to rise. It was 10.40am when it happened and none of us were entirely sure when we would get off. Bill and John climbed off the boat, walking round it to examine the boat for any damage. None was seen, apart from a possible bent prop. I can’t praise Angie’s nursing skills enough. I told her she was in the wrong profession, she would have made a wonderful nurse.
The 4 of us sat there on the tilting boat, frightening each other even more by recalling our closest near death experiences whist we waited for the tide to rise! After about 3 hours small boats started to pass us taking photos as they sailed by. We felt like a peep show. Suddenly the boat started to creek eerily and gradually it righted itself. We were at last on the move again. By this time, I felt very tired and kept falling asleep but Angie kept waking me up again asking me if I was all right. We finally arrived at Burnham-on-Crouch at 4.30pm. Both flotillas were booked in for a meal that evening but I didn’t really feel up to it and left early. That night I couldn’t sleep and finally decided to get up very early, only to find Angie already up. She also wasn’t able to sleep for worrying about me! Poor Angie, I think she suffered as much mentally as I did physically!
Thursday 7th August John got up very early this morning to be first in the Marina’s showers. He came back very red faced and on questioning him, it appears he had an identity problem! He had gone into the ladies showers by mistake. He told me that as he showered he heard a hair dryer being used and wondered what things were coming to when even the sailors needed hairdryers! As he came out, Penny spotted him and quickly put him right!
We left Burnham-on-Crouch at 11.30am and as we cruised along the coast there were very loud booming noises with firing going off every few minutes. It was okay though as they didn’t hit us! Further along the coast by Buxey Sands, what should we see but seals with their young, basking in the hot sunshine. No rowing boats this time, just seals! It was good to be homeward bound with both flotillas joining each other for the last few legs of the journey. As we neared Queenborough at approximately 5pm, Summertime left the flotilla to go home.
Searrach, Mustard and Alouette moored 3 abreast on the concrete lighter whilst Enterprise, Paradox Norsal and Elsidore took swinging buoys and moored abreast also. The pirates had decided to go ashore on their dinghies for a meal but we had a new member, Maggie, joining Alouette for the journey home. We all decided to get together an el fresco meal, to be eaten on the concrete lighter with everyone gathering chairs and tables in preparation. Maggie called us around 8.30pm and Bill and John went to pick her up in the dinghy (together with her little disabled dog, Hendy who she’d brought along.) The wind suddenly blew up quite fiercely so we transferred to Searrach where we all had a very pleasant evening.
Friday 8th August The Pirates slipped ropes at 4am heading for St. Katherine’s Dock but we decided that was a bit too early and left an hour later after the initial early morning mist. It was a pleasant trip in the warm sunshine and a good feeling to be back in familiar surroundings once again, passing all the famous landmarks, finally arriving at St Kat’s at 11.30am. We all had a little walk around before collapsing in our boats to chill out in the now searing heat. Su and Chris decided to head to Oxford Street on the bus and I admired their energy but felt thoroughly exhausted from the heat as most of us did. Penny popped round later to show us all the photos she had taken on the trip. What a lovely reminder of the cruise and what a good idea of Penny’s to have the 1-hour developing. I copied her idea and soon had my reels of film developed also.
That evening we all decided to walk over Tower Bridge to Butler’s Wharf where there are numerous little restaurants. Sadly we had left it a little late and none of them could fit in a table for 9 people without a very long wait. We ended up in Tower Bridge road at a ‘not very special’ Indian restaurant. The company was good though and we still managed to enjoy ourselves.
Saturday 9th August Our flotilla of 7 boats locked out of St Kats at 9.05am heading upstream. The weather was unbelievable again, breaking all records. Alouette said goodbye to us all at Kingston where it was decided that Su and Maggie would take advantage of the summer sales. One by one, our flotilla broke off ‘waving their goodbyes’ as they reached their home moorings.
As John and I reflected on our cruise we decided that when we eventually get another boat, we would like to do coastal work and we would also like to cross the channel. My little accident hadn’t put me off. Thanks to Bill and Angie we had the opportunity to find all this out. We thoroughly enjoyed our holiday and made a lot of new friends. We now can’t wait to go to Bruges next year if that is on the agenda, weather permitting of course.