London, the Thames and Tower Bridge.
Where do I start on this one? I suppose the best place is where I left off at Fox’s in Ipswich. We had wonderful nights there and laughed until the tears ran down our legs and the beer ran dry.
We did stay longer than intended although I am not sure if it was because of the hang overs or some electrical problems. We did have to have a new alternator and thanks to Stuart, the best electrician I have seen, we also got the chart plotter and other problems resolved.
We left Fox’s about midday on Tuesday 14th June 2011 heading for Queenborough down the River Medway. The chart we had showed that there were sand banks everywhere and we expected to see palm trees, ice crème sellers and a few Brits with hankies on their heads paddling. As it was the channels between the banks are large and we sailed all the way there.
Drifting into danger in Queenborough
We arrived in Queenborough about 10pm just as the light disappeared so stumbled up the river in the dark almost grounding Cygnus on the mud. The river itself is nothing to write home about and was pretty full with boats picking up a buoy overnight. (To all those girls who are getting excited the buoys are small round yellow floats you tie your boat to). They were in a completely different place to what was marked on the chart and only two were left in the middle of a long line of boats. We went to pick up one and soon realised they were vacant because the rope that was supposed to hang off them was missing. Aiden, our live aboard contortionists hung over the bow and managed to get a line through the buoy. Once we were secured we had a quick drink and retired knowing we would have to be up early the next morning to catch the tide into London.
Going up the Thames to London
I must admit I did not sleep very well as I knew we had gone in at high tide and this would ebb during the night leaving a lot of mud. I just imagined that there would be no water left and the boat would be on its side. As it was my calculations were ok and we were still floating … just.
At 0645 Angelina got up to join me and we cast off from the buoy to sail up the Thames into London. Unfortunately earlier in the morning I had replaced a rubber grommet in the gear selector and now could not engage the engine. We were now drifting towards the mud a few feet away and other boats! Not what you want at 7am in the morning. Turning to super gazelle mode we dropped the anchor to hold us whilst sorting the problem out. This took a few minutes and we were off again. Sailing is all about making mistakes and learning from them. We were certainly learning quickly.
Sailing up the Thames
Now let me say this from the outset. The Thames into London is 90% boring and 10% obstacle course. You have to fight between ferries and fast cats who just want to see you fighting your boat through their wake. The winds are strong, the tide often sweeps you all over and Tilbury Docks is a nightmare of huge ships manoeuvring all over. The tide is so strong you have to go with it up the river Thames. It takes six to seven hours to reach St Katherine’s marina which is right next to Tower Bridge. If you don’t time it right it is impossible to get to where you want to go. Then again, it is our capital city and we did want to see the London attractions.
We managed to dodge all the large shipping most of the way until we got to the Thames barrier. You have to get permission to go through and are allocated a specific opening. This went fine apart from the huge dredger that reached the barrier at the same time as us. Being courteous and because it was 100m bigger than us, we let him through first. We even got a rib with blue lights alongside telling us to follow him through but to keep out of his way as he would be turning and taking up most of the Thames river. We did this and as he turned we held back to let him turn. The rib then came alongside again accusing us of being in his way. Hey Ho.
Sailing to St Katharines dock in the heart of London
St Katharines docks
We eventually reached St Katharine’s dock in central London right under Tower Bridge and radioed for permission to enter as you have to pass through a lock to get in. The entrance reminded me of traitor’s gate!
We were told they would be ten minutes so we just bobbed around next to Tower Bridge, a pier, ferries, a police boat and the fast cats whilst a large crowd stood there to watch. No pressure then.
Traitor’s gate in London eventually lowered and we went in with Angelina and Aiden tying us up alongside. There were so many people watching it felt as if we had returned from sinking the Spanish Armada. I am sure they disappointed when for once things went to plan and we didn’t even lose anything over the side. We went through the rest of the lock and who should be there to greet us but Robin Knox-Johnston himself. Wow, we had really made our mark and were becoming either famous or infamous. I looked across to wave like all round the world sailors do. Instead he turned back to the Clipper event he was promoting on the pontoon ignoring our trials and tribulations of circumnavigating the Thames. One day Robin, one day.
Mark and Angelina
So here we are for a week or so in the centre of London which gives us chance to catch up with a few friends oh and of course have a few more drinks by the Thames.