31st March to 7th April – Chichester to St. Katharine Dock
With the exception of a malfunctioning plotter (Raymarine are replacing it FOC), Hejira was in good shape for the departure at the end of March. A great deal of work has been done over the winter and I have to thank Barry Locke-Edmunds and Bob Haywood for their valued assistance.
The Hejira ‘shake down’ for this year is to make an anticlockwise circumnavigation of the UK with a number of different crew joining for the various legs but taking a liberty with the purist’s view of ‘round the UK’ by using the Caledonian Canal.
The nature of passages ‘up channel’ is that one has to leave at low tide to carry the best of the stream and, following the winter storms, this was to present us with some challenges.
At low water springs, the pontoon alongside our berth in Northney dries at a drunken angle and the depth sounder was only showing dashes.
I am sure that we pushed off through soft mud to leave the berth and we crept out very gingerly with disconcerting depths until over the Chichester bar and away with a light South Easterly allowing only the occasional indulgence of unassisted sailing as we tried to maintain our speed to make Beachy Head before the tidal stream became too adverse.
Having caught up with some old sailing friends in Sovereign Marina in Eastbourne, we were looking to lock out about 1 ½ hours before low water and having checked the recent survey in the Marina office, we knew it would be shallow as the shingle bank had been swept across the entrance and the depths greatly reduced but the duty lock keeper considered that we should have sufficient depth.
Monitoring the lock channel as we prepared for our lock out, we were surprised to hear a departing fishing boat report the depth in the channel of ‘less than a metre’ The lock keeper was clearly concerned with this intelligence and suggested we wait until the flood which seemed prudent. We were understandably surprised to hear two other fishing boats looking to lock out and decided to follow them out hoping to use their advance soundings, fully prepared to turn around and lock back in. Explaining this to the lock staff, they accepted the philosophy and we proceeded into the lock.
I asked the larger charter fishing boat if they would be kind enough to radio the depths in the channel on their way out and told them that I actually draw less than 1 metre with my keel raised. He unhelpfully said ‘Bugger you mate, I’m not hanging around for you, you’ve got no chance of getting out in that’ When I asked, he told me he drew 3 foot 3 inches! We successfully crept out with sufficient water and that is probably where we should leave the subject.
Our passage to Ramsgate was notable for an experience in the Ramsgate Channel inshore of the Goodwin Sands past Deal. We spotted two ‘lobby pot’ markers and a load of seagulls on the water between them. As we approached, the seagulls seemed rather regimented and resolved into a line of floats marking a 500m long net on the surface! We successfully negotiated this unexpected hazard only to see another half a mile further on. The flood/ebb hiatus occurs in this area and it is possible to experience a favourable flood followed by a favourable ebb. The tidal stream across the Ramsgate Harbour entrance was very strong and it was unexpectedly turbulent. Ramsgate has a certain charm and we enjoyed our stay with visitors for dinner on board but it was disconcerting to find ourselves connected to the French mobile network !
I have been past the Thames Estuary several times but never ventured into the Thames from the sea. Intending to leave Hejira in St.Kats for a couple of weeks (Paula’s Easter Holiday from School) I was looking forward to taking the Swale inside the Isle of Sheppey. Taken on the flood, this presented few issues save for the railway bridge. The pilot book suggests that this can be a problem if it has been opened previously as the motors overheat and need a rest to cool down. In the event we had a half hour wait for a train and then carried the tide up to Queenborough where the pilot book indicated there was an all tide, walk ashore pontoon. The reality was that the pontoon had been disconnected for ‘health & safely’ but it was still a welcome overnight mooring.
A leisurely start for the tide ‘up river’ allowed for a decent breakfast on board but it was very worrying to see an all but submerged 40 gallon steel drum float past the pontoon.
Once under way, we kept a watch on the bow and had to manoeuvre to avoid the very same drum, dead on our course. We maintained our watch at the bow and later, up river, identified a 10 inch square 15 foot long wooden beam adrift in the channel.
The Thames is very industrial up to the Barrier when it becomes considerably more interesting and after a very pleasant overnight in Limehouse, the allocated berth in St Katherine Dock, directly outside the Dickens Inn has proved to be perfect for two weeks exploring the delights of London.