Report on the Thames Crossing Weekend: Friday 20th -Sunday 22nd August 2010

[topcollage images=2 start_with=1]This event came perilously close to being cancelled due to an insufficient number of people expressing interest. To make it viable the cross channel trip to Cherbourg, also in doubt because of too few people, was cancelled. Having originally booked a place on the Cherbourg weekend, I was a little disappointed not to be going there but the challenge and excitement of the journey rather than the destination is what it’s all about, isnt’t it?Skipper for the weekend was Andy Shrimpton; other members of the crew were Graham Hill (First Mate), Clare Sharp,  John Hennebry, Brendon Shaw and Allan Goodfellow.

Our boat “Pegasus”, a Sun Odyssey 37, was berthed at Shotley Marina when we arrived there on the Friday afternoon.Alongside at Shotley Point Marina Shotley is situated on a peninsula where the Stour and the Orwell rivers meet the sea. Looking across to the other side of the river Orwell is the port of Felixstowe with its towering cranes loading and unloading huge container ships. In the other direction across the river Stour is the port of Harwich, where ferries leave daily bound for Holland and Denmark.Entering Felixstow c

The plan was to set off at around 0900 on Saturday, cross the Thames estuary, stay overnight at Ramsgate and return to Shotley on Sunday.  Sounds simple, except for the tides, the wind and the sandbanks that stretch out from the mouth of the Thames into the North Sea like the fingers of a hand.

We set off the next morning at 0900 as planned, although it was 0920 by the time we were through the lock and could get under way. It was a breezy day which held out the promise of good sailing weather. Initially we used the engine with some assistance from the main sail and a force 5 South Westerly wind.

After an hour we switched off the engine in order to do some proper sailing, tacking along our pre-planned route South until we reached Black Deep Channel then South East along Black Deep. As always Andy kept a watchful eye on everything and seemed to have an instinctive awareness of when it was time to change tack or adjust the sails.

However we were making very slow progress against the wind and it eventually became obvious that we would not reach Ramsgate within a reasonable time using sail power alone. So at 1430 on went the engine, down came the genoa, and we continued on our way but at a somewhat faster rate of knots.

By 1600 we were passing though Foulger’s Gat, one of the gaps traversing the Long Sand sandbank where boats can cross safely. This area of sea is the proposed site of the London Array, which by the year 2015 will be the largest wind farm in Europe. A total of 341 wind turbines are planned spread over an area of 245 square miles, generating up to 1,000 MW of power. According to the London Array website offshore construction is expected to begin in 2011.Wind Farm off Thames Estuary c

There are numerous wind turbines already operating in parts of the Thames Estuary,  providing easily recognisable features of interest to otherwise featureless views.

At 1700 and still motor sailing, we were in sight of North Foreland with its famous lighthouse, situated at the most easterly point of the Kent coast.

We eventually arrived at Ramsgate at 1930. The logged distance was 54 miles in a little over 10 hours.

Washed and refreshed we set off to discover the delights that Ramsgate has to offer. Dominating the harbour front is the Royal Ramsgate Yacht Club, a grand Victorian  building with a fantastic view from the bar. Further on we found a few bars and cafes around the East harbour that were lively but very crowded and noisy. The streets leading away from the harbour seemed to be devoid of any life whatsoever.  With a very limited choice of restaurants we opted for Pizza Express, which turned out to be surprisingly good.

For the return journey next day we set off at 0700, intending to arrive back at Shotley by mid-afternoon.  The wind was Southerly 12-16 knots so we tried sailing.  However the tide was initially against us and we decided to use the engine.

By 1015 the wind speed had dropped to almost nothing, so we had no choice but to continue motor cruising. We crossed Long Sand at Fisherman’s Gat , then followed the Black Deep channel, the same route we had taken the day before. The towering cranes of Felixstowe were by now visible on the horizon.

We arrived back at Shotley on schedule at 1530 although it took another hour by the time we had waited to get through the lock and refuelled the boat. With no tacking the distance travelled was only 44 miles – 10 miles less than on the outward journey.

The weekend was a lot of fun, but disappointing to have to resort to using engine power so much.  Having done the Thames Crossing twice I will be trying out something different next year, but I recommend anyone who has not yet done this trip to give it a go.

Allan Goodfellow