Words and pictures by Martin Longhurst



When I penned the words about the coming of Storm Helene, I little realised the seriousness of the weather situation.  In fact, Waverley was unable to give any more of her planned South Coast sailings and remained stormbound at Southampton until Monday 23 September, causing the further cancellation of the first three Thames cruises.

After a daylight passage to Gravesend, normal service was resumed on the Tuesday with a one-way trip to Southend and Clacton for a trip to the River Blackwater.  This took place under a virtually cloudless blue sky and carried good numbers all day. The return was by coach.  Meanwhile, the steamer proceeded to Harwich to be ready for the next day’s upriver sail.   Clacton, Southend and Gravesend were the intermediate calls on the way to Tower Bridge on Wednesday. 

The pilot boat pushes Waverley’s bow round before we head east

Tug RT Adriaan and box boat MSC Branka at London Gateway

Charleston Express (nearest), CSAV Tyndall and MSC Branka

CMA CGM Africa Four inbound

The former Radio Caroline ship, Ross Revenge, moored in the River Blackwater

Alongside at Clacton

Waverley remained at Tower Pier overnight, positioned for Thursday’s cruise to the Thames Forts, calling at Gravesend and Southend.  This was another perfect day with hardly a breath of wind and another good loading.   At the conclusion of the sail, the paddler returned to Gravesend for a day off-service.  Owing to the intense traffic at Tower Pier, it is not possible to berth Waverley here during the day.

Tug SD Breda takes the strain as Waverley moves away from Tower Pier

The “walkie-talkie” building

The passage through Tower Bridge never fails to impress

Traditionally, Waverley whistles as she passes through

And don’t forget to look back!

Approaching the Thames Barrier at dusk

October 5 saw the last trips by the 1963 Woolwich ferry Ernest Bevin (seen here on 29 September) and her consorts. All three are being replaced by two new ferries in December after the two berths have been refurbished.

So, she sailed back to Tower Pier on Saturday morning for her trip to Southend and Whitstable for time ashore.   This trip to the Kent port is always popular and today was no exception, again blessed with excellent weather, albeit noticeably cooler.   A full hour in the harbour was sufficient for us to enjoy a pint of Whitstable Brewery ale in the Hotel Continental.  Many people took advantage of the single trip from Whitstable with coach return.

Sunset at Northfleet

Return passage on 29 September

After a night alongside Tower Pier, Waverley steamed downstream calling at Gravesend and Southend for a cruise up the River Medway.   It was good to see there was still shipping at the Thamesport container terminal on the River Medway, despite the growth of traffic at the newer London Gateway terminal at Thameshaven.  Unfortunately, this itinerary no longer seems as popular with passengers as it used to be.   As in the last few years, we rendezvoused with the preserved tug Touchstone off Sheerness.   To balance the number of one-way coach parties travelling in the morning, the single upriver sail from Southend had been promoted with some success.

John Burns and James Newman out of use with French tug TSM Kermor while a small Thames Clipper riverbus passes them

Two Cobelfret ferries at Purfleet, Celandine nearest the camera

The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge carries the M25 traffic

Two container ships at Tilbury

The dredger City of London

Picking up the Medway pilot

Touchstone from Waverley

Waverley from Touchstone (Picture: Jean Spells)

Yeoman Bridge brings granite to this wharf from Glensanda, near Oban

A2B Future (nearest) and Majestic at Thamesport on the Medway

Following completion of Sunday's cruise, Waverley proceeded to Gravesend for the night.  Unusually Wednesday and Thursday were the planned off-service days this week.  So, Monday saw the steamer sail for Southend and Clacton for a River Blackwater cruise and a coach home.  Unfortunately, one of bollards on Clacton Pier failed while the paddler was berthing, causing secondary damage to the piles.  Unable to call at Clacton, the itinerary had to be amended so as get everyone back.  The trip westward to the Blackwater was curtailed and Waverley turned east to head for Harwich, where she was due to spend the night.  The coaches were diverted there, and the situation was resolved.

Tuesday's sail was planned as Harwich to London calling at Clacton.  However, as no call was possible there, coaches were provided to carry the passengers to board at Southend, where the steamer made an unscheduled call.   A private evening cruise between Tower and the Thames Barrier took place on the Wednesday.

After early mist, Friday 5 October turned into a perfect day.  A well loaded cruise took the steamer from Southend to Gravesend for a non-landing visit to the Upper Pool of London.  Waverley spent the night alongside Southend Pier before sailing east to Whitstable to give another non-landing trip to The Tower.  Again, a full ship headed upriver but this time under leaden skies accompanied by prolonged heavy rain.  In fact, the rain started as the paddler passed London Gateway about 13.00 and didn't stop until the steamer started her evening cruise at 19.30.  In the meantime, she had called at Gravesend and visited the Upper Pool of London.  The day time cruise carried a full load with 9 coaches at Gravesend to take passengers back to Southend, Whitstable and Margate plus the local passengers. Around 350 enjoyed the "twinkling Thames" in the evening for a single trip to The Tower.   There could hardly have been a greater contrast in the weather on Sunday.  Blue sky and sunshine, albeit with a cool breeze, made for a grand final Thames sail for 2018.  Waverley departed from Tower Pier at 09.30 for Gravesend, Southend for a circumnavigation of the Red Sands Fort.  The steamer was well loaded all day with a single trip to The Tower from Southend taking up any slack.  

Uncharacteristically, Waverley lets off steam

Ernest Bevin and James Newman laid up on 7 October

Work had started on both terminals two days into the closure period – North Woolwich on the left and Woolwich on the right

John Burns being towed to Le Havre by French tug TSM Kermor, assisted by the Medway tug Christine on the upper reaches

Red Sands Fort – the dots on the horizon are the Shivering Sands Fort

YM Wholesome at London Gateway

Opaline passes the Brazillian drilling ship Sertao which had been at the former Tilbury Power Station jetty since 10 March, awaiting orders

At the conclusion of the public sail, Waverley turned in the Upper Pool for the final time in 2018 before heading downriver for Gravesend.   She was alongside for about two hours, taking bunkers, before heading for Weymouth where she arrived in the late afternoon of Monday.   Again, the weather intervened.   The steamer had been scheduled to return to Glasgow for a final weekend of sailings on October 13 and 14.   However, Storm Callum was forecast to pass through the Irish Sea in the next few days, precluding further progress and leading to the cancellation of the last sailings for 2018.   The paddler repositioned to Southampton on 11 October before being finally being able to sail for Glasgow in the afternoon of Thursday 18 October.  She arrived there in the afternoon of Saturday 20th, making a short call at Campbeltown that morning.

Waverley leaves London for the last time in 2018, steaming past The Shard and through Tower Bridge


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