The forecast did not look promising, winds S or south SW 4/5 after a day of F5/7. We ourselves were reluctant to go as our cruise leader, John Crowe had decided to sail straight to Chatham because more foul weather was predicted later. Very kindly John and Elizabeth Harrison invited us on board Brilliant. A convivial pre-cruise get together in the Lightship at Suffolk Yacht Harbour before an early start the next day was enjoyed by all five boats on the cruise, plus Ali Su and Nelli Kim who were bound for London. 0645 saw us motoring down the Orwell in bright sunshine with not a breath of wind and so it continued. A brief attempt at sailing ended after just ten minutes and even the Thames estuary was glassy smooth, so much for the forecast. Five club boats eventually moored alongside the visitors’ pontoon close to the lock. SADs in the marina’s attractive marquee, after nearly a ten hour passage of about 50 nmiles, were very much appreciated.
With two days at the marina we headed first to the historic dockyard. Interesting tours of the ropewalk and the submarine were highlights particularly the latter as our guide had been a submariner. He was full of interesting stories about the restrictions of living on board for three months at a time with only two sets of clothes which could not be washed ! We should also have done the ‘guided tour’ with Mike Garnett around the destroyer, Cavalier, as he too had a fund of stories from his life in the Royal navy so we learnt later. Back for the BBQ in the marquee where it was decided that lighting the charcoal with the fabric billowing everywhere in the very windy conditions was not a sensible idea so the men cooked outside and provided a splendid feast.
Rochester with its attractive high street, memorable cathedral and spectacular castle was visited by most of us and everyone agreed with Neville that the town of Chatham should be given a miss. We all met up in the local pub near the marina for a final supper together as Kalypso and Coranto had their own voyage plans.
Locking out at the civilised hour of 1030 we motor sailed until looking back we saw very dark clouds approaching and wisely decided to lower the main. No sooner done than gusts of 30 knots hit the boat followed by a sharp shower. Expeditious picked up a buoy at Queenborough for lunch with Garnett 2 attached from a line astern, while Brilliant anchored in Stangate creek. At the agreed time of 1430 all three boats proceeded up the Swale. Navigational warnings a few days earlier had stated that the Kingsferry bridge in the Swale was closed to leisure craft. Fortunately there was no longer a problem. On contacting the bridge keeper he agreed to raise the bridge after 1520 when the Sheerness train had gone through. Circling round we eventually saw the bridge rise about two thirds of the way up the pillars and then proceeded at speed underneath. The river beyond was deserted and the landscape bleak until we approached Harty Ferry where we had no problem picking up a mooring for the night.
The three of us left two hours after high water and once out of the Swale maintained a course of 1 degree east for SW Barrow being very watchful of the depth. Definitely a route to be recommended only after careful tidal calculations and in flat calm conditions. Approaching the Colne channel John Crowe was jokingly asked what had happened to the predicted wind. Neptune must have heard as instantly the wind sprang up and all the boats raced towards Brightlingsea, joined by Richard and Christine’s Hotspur. Expeditious with John and his keen crew, Paul Shaw, quickly drew ahead. Our arrival was celebrated on Brilliant followed by a most enjoyable meal for all ten of us in the local curry house.
The final leg of the trip at last gave everyone a splendid sail. Expeditious, Garnett 2 and Hotspur left at 0930 in winds up to force 5 followed later by Brilliant. We hurtled down the Colne channel with winds gusting in excess of 27 knots. Then with a following wind up the Wallet we continued to sail all the way into the Orwell. A great end to a most enjoyable and sociable cruise. Thank you very much John on Expeditious.
Participating boats: Expeditious, Brilliant, Garnett 2, Coranto and Kalypso.