To Whitstable for Oysters?

Words and Pictures by Martin Longhurst

The sun was beating down on Waverley's decks as she boarded her passengers at Tower Pier on Saturday 28 September 2002. Tug Revenge took the steamer in hand as she was turned just downstream of London Bridge. Steaming through Tower Bridge, Purser Jim McFadzean sent greetings to the people watching on the bridge from "Paddle Steamer Waverley - The Pride of the Clyde" and sounded a good blast on her whistle.

Today the two paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle were due to meet at Whitstable Harbour. Owing to heavy bookings on the mighty paddler's return leg, a lot of passengers had only been able to buy single journey tickets to Southend or Whitstable. As the KC was returning to Strood with some spare places, Jeremy Gold was offering tickets for this trip, as well as tickets for a 45 minute trip "Round the Bay" at Whitstable.

Good time was made down the Thames and arrival took place at Southend, the first stop today, some 40 minutes prior to scheduled departure. The approach was made awkward by the presence of a rig carrying a crane for work on the pier head.

Rounding the eastern tip of the Isle of Sheppey the long thin shape of the KC could be made out in the distance as she steamed for Whitstable Harbour. She had intended to sail along The Swale (the channel that separates Sheppey from the mainland) but the Kingsferry Bridge was under repair, so she had come round the outside of the island. Waverley's superior speed meant she made her berth on the western quay ahead of the KC.

Whitstable Harbour looks scarsely wide enough to take Waverley's beam

Approaching the western quay or timber berth (aggregates on the eastern quay)

Passengers eager to visit the Historic Seaside Town

Kingswear Castle steams into view ...

... and prepares to berth astern of the Waverley

KC turns to sail back to Strood, seen between Union Pluto and Waverley

Passengers enjoyed an hour and a half ashore in the Kentish town before rejoining the steamer for the up river passage. Extra numbers boarded for the single trip from Whitstable to London, with coach return, together with some KC passengers doing a round trip from Strood. At Southend evening revellers embarked for the evening trip during which entertainment was provided by Christine and the Stompers Jazz Band.

St David's Cross flies from the jack staff as the sun sets


The band came on deck for the final leg through Tower Bridge

During this trip a small party from Holland was aboard to mark the retirement of Waverley supporter John Pieterse from Maasluis, near Rotterdam. John has sailed on the Waverley for at least the last 15 years and hopes to make more visits in the future! John works for an oil company, which owns a tank terminal at Thurrock. We were pleased to tell his boss that John always made a point of inspecting the tanks when the steamer passed.

Sunday dawned with patchy fog across the South East, especially near water.

The Thames was no exception and Waverley's tug, Revenge, was fog bound down river and was unable to reach Tower Pier until just after eleven o'clock. She took up the tow rapidly and the steamer moved off her berth at 11.08, some 38 minutes late, but with a near capacity crowd on board.

The paddler was punching the tide all the way to Tilbury, but nevertheless managed to make up some time. A few more passengers joined and then we were quickly under way for Southend. On route Frank Turner gave a short talk about the Maunsell Sea Forts in the Lower Bar.

The soaring space-age skyline of Southend's Life-boat Station

After the call at Southend, he gave a further talk and a thorough commentary as we passed the Red Sands and Shivering Sands Forts. After completing the viewing of the Forts, the steamer headed for the Kentish shore to return westward along a different channel. Some evening cruise passengers joined at Southend.

The Red Sands Fort, former home of anti-aircraft gunners and Radio 390

Further out to sea stands Shivering Sands Fort (Radio City - my favourite!). Waverley tammies available in the Ship's Shop, price 7.95 - exceptional value.

The sun goes down over Northfleet Cement Works (at least it's not a power station!). London International Cruise Terminal on the right (Tilbury Landing Stage to you and me)

Her London passengers away, the paddler waits briefly at Tower Pier before heading back downstream for Tilbury

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