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The End of the 2002 Season

Words and Pictures by Martin Longhurst, with additional reporting by Roddy McKee

On Tuesday 8 October 2002 the Waverley had been due to sail from Tilbury to Harwich, but poor weather forced a diversion to the River Medway in lieu. She spent the night at Tilbury as a consequence.

On another front, the decision to award the contract for the Completion Phase of Waverley's Heritage Rebuild to George Prior was made. Since the work would take place at Great Yarmouth, it was decided that the destination for the following Monday's Mystery Cruise would be Great Yarmouth, which would be the paddler's first passenger call at the Norfolk port. Consequently, the short October Bristol Channel season, already billed as "by Waverley or another ship," would be taken by the Balmoral.

Roddy McKee reports:

9 October 2002, booked to be Harwich to Tower Pier: With Waverley trapped in the river by the weather, runners were dispatched, David and Naomi Duncan to Harwich and Peter Bushell to Clacton, and coaches ordered. Meanwhile the Royal Hospital School party, with their own coach transport arranged, were the first to arrive in Tilbury. As soon as the Harwich passengers arrived Waverley sailed from Tilbury at 12.04 for a short cruise down river, swinging off Shellhaven and returning to Tilbury just after 13.15 to collect the Clacton contingent. In ten minutes she was off again, once more eastwards. With the strong easterly wind and flood tide both going in the same direction Sea Reach was quite placid, but the headwind did much to convince any doubters that it would not have been a good idea to sail down from Harwich. Waverley reversed course again south of Canvey Island at 14.30, the wind over the deck dropped away, the sun came out and the same doubters began to believe it might be a fun day after all. The cruise upriver proceeded sedately with aim of being right time for the booked bridge lift at 17.30, and the exceptionally high tide revealed a few points of interest that can normally be seen only from the bridge deck and the upper deck, if at all. Rarely does the commentator have the luxury of commenting on the industrial archaeology of the Deptford Creek lift bridge! Waverley's public sailing was intended to terminate at Tower Pier, as it did for the Harwich and Clacton passengers returning by coach, but the Royal Hospital School party's coaches were still at Tilbury, and their drivers were enjoying the sail. Thus the paddler set off down river for Tilbury with the school party still on board. Also on board were a delighted Australian couple on the last day of their UK holiday, who had been disappointed at not finding Waverley on the Clyde when visiting relations in Clydebank, phoned the Glasgow Office and been advised that if they could get to Tower Pier by 17.30 they could have a single trip to Tilbury. They were also much impressed by the new Electrostar when escorted back to Fenchurch Street by the L&HC Branch Secretary, and commented how little graffiti we seemed to have in this country. Perhaps it was as well that by then the East End was cloaked in darkness.

10 October 2002, booked to be Tilbury to Margate: Waverley sailed on time from Tilbury at 10.30, but with passengers warned in advance that the weather was still wild in the outer estuary and the intended sailing to Margate was subject to alteration. By now the wind was in the nor'east, which made for reasonably smooth conditions at Southend, if not along the Kent shore. It also meant that Waverley was being blown straight off Southend Pier, made all the more exciting by her bows projecting beyond the eastern end of the face, thanks to the presence of the jack-up rig and the barge being used to restore the western end of the pier. However, a particularly mighty into-wind heave on the part of Purser Jim McFadzean, and some energetic grunting on the part of the windlass and capstan achieved a successful alongside. Having taken on a gratifyingly large load of wind-swept Southend passengers, Waverley departed, not for the east Kent coast, but for the calmer waters of the Medway, turning in Chatham reach with assistance of arguably the most eccentrically-named of the Rochester tugs, the Nippashore.

On Friday the scheduled sailings between Southend and Tower Pier operated as scheduled.

Saturday dawned wet and got wetter. Waverley's departure from Tower Pier was delayed for a few minutes past the scheduled time of 09.00 while we waited for her tug, Revenge, to come upstream. Just as the steamer slipped her mooring the rain got heavier. Stoic passengers nevertheless stood their ground while the ship was turned and Tower Bridge was raised for us to go downstream. Tilbury was made on time and here, as well as at Tower Pier, unbooked passengers were only taken for single journeys to Southend or Clacton. The rain continued all the way to Southend, where a good number got off and a lesser number joined. The usual slow passage along the Spitway Channel preceded a slightly early arrival at Clacton for time ashore.

Passengers re-boarding at Clacton after time ashore

Fortunately the rain stopped before sailing time and it remained dry for the remainder of the day. Passengers from Clacton, Southend and Tilbury were able to take a single journey on the steamer, with coach return from Tower Pier. They were able to enjoy a full display of twinkling by the Thames.

Sunday started off calm and dry but with a very depressing forecast of heavy rain and wind spreading from the west.

Approaching Tower Bridge at the start of the cruise

There was patchy drizzle on the way to Tilbury and Southend. Again the sailing was fully booked. We steamed off to the south making for the mouth of the River Medway, for the first time in accordance with the timetable!

The container ship Canmar Pride alongside at Thamesport on the River Medway (well it's near the Thames!)

Approaching Upnor a tow line was established with the tug Horton, formerly owned by Blyth Harbour Commissioners. Then the Kingswear Castle came into view and the Horton swung the Waverley just as the KC steamed by.

After slipping the tow, the Waverley quickly caught up the KC and the passengers of the two ships gave each other hearty cheers. There were 121 passengers on the smaller paddler, including Professor Alan Robinson, the founder of the PSPS.

Having been overtaken, the KC passed across the Waverley's stern to come up her port side.

Long whistle blasts and further cheers were exchanged before the Waverley resumed her full speed for the return leg to Southend.

Steam curls round Waverley's forward funnel from her whistle

Snow Flower, a reefer, (left) and the car carrier Saint Elmo at Sheerness Docks

After leaving Southend the weather closed in with prolonged spells of rain and a stiffening wind. The Kentish shore could scarcely be seen through the murk.

Thanks are due to Peter and Alan Bushell and the other rafflers for raising some 2,635 for PSPS funds during the Thames season. The two Don's from the Wessex Branch also helped, having confessed to feeling at a loose end while on board!

Unfortunately weather conditions were deteriorating and the forecast was even worse. Reluctantly, therefore, the decision was taken that plans for the following day's Mystery Cruise to Great Yarmouth would have to be abandoned and the ship would have to sail there without passengers.

Approaching Tower Bridge at the end of the cruise

Having turned by London Bridge, the paddler passes HMS Belfast

So it was that Waverley's last public sail in 2002 was from Tower Pier to Tilbury, with coaches home from there for Southend's evening cruise passengers.

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