An Eventful Week

Words and Pictures by Martin Longhurst

Paddling to Southwold

On Tuesday 1 October 2002, Waverley started her day at Tilbury Landing Stage, having spent an off service day there since completing her Sunday sails. The day was warm and bright but misty, as the wind had veered to southerly. Promptly at 11.00 she sprang off her berth and headed downstream for Southend, where more passengers boarded for the trip to Clacton.

Princess Pocahontas standing in as the Gravesend Ferry

Shortly after leaving Southend we encountered the cargo ship Global Discovery of Panama at anchor. Visibility did not improve as we steamed on and we lost sight of the coast completely for a time. Ironically, the vis was better out to sea!

The Spitway Swin buoy

Roddy McKee, acting as commentator today, explained details of Waverley's course through the numerous sandbanks. To reach Clacton the steamer slowed to pass through the shallow Spitway between the Swin and the Wallet (don't these areas of water have strange names!).
Arrival at Clacton was made in good time and after a good exchange of passengers, the paddler left with over 200 on board for an afternoon cruise to view the Suffolk coast. In view of the still limited visibility, Captain Colledge decided to head for something we could see clearly instead - the independent principality of Sealand, otherwise known as the Roughs Tower. We looped around this WW2 structure, where the only sign of life was a burning light, before heading straight back to Clacton, where the day's public schedule ended.

The crew's day was not over, however, as the steamer sailed light to Harwich Ha'penny Pier, where she lay overnight before a further light passage to Southwold on Wednesday morning. Departure was at 05.45, the paddler berthing at Southwold Pier for the first time ever at 07.40.





Just over 600 boarded prior to departure, which was made at 09.00 sharp. Purser Jim McFadzean called for three cheers to mark the first call as we steamed away. Unfortunately, although the sea was very calm, this meant that visibility was no better than yesterday. Nevertheless, we did manage to see Sizewell Nuclear Power Station and the radio masts and the red and white lighthouse at Orford Ness. Slightly soon the enormous cranes at Felixstowe Harbour could be made out.

Across the bay, The Naze Tower loomed out of the mist followed by Frinton and Clacton. Then back through the Spitway to deep water and out of sight of the coast. Knock John, Shivering Sands and Red Sands Forts could be seen in the distance out to sea. Essex became visible again and subsequently Kent. Tilbury was made by 15.30 and speed was reduced to keep time.

One of the Woolwich Free Ferries, the John Burns

On arrival at Tower Pier there was a spontaneous round of applause in appreciation of the crew's efforts on this remarkable day. On disembarking, we found that a free river bus service was in operation on account of the day's Tube Strike. We joined Hydrospace Delta for an unexpected passage to Waterloo. This provided the opportunity for an unusual shot in the gathering gloom.

Paddle Wheel Incident

On passage from Margate and Whitstable on Thursday 3 October 2002, Waverley left Southend on time at 13.00. After she had been under way for about half an hour she suffered a failure of her starboard No 1 radius rod just south of Canvey Island. This failure takes a long time to rectify and the ship had to be towed to Tilbury Landing Stage for repairs alongside. After three-quarters of an hour at anchor, Sun Sussex took the steamer in tow. Tilbury was reached after about two hours and coaches home were arranged for all passengers as soon as they became available after their school bus commitments.

A repair team from George Prior's was on the way south before the paddler was berthed and Chief Engineer Ken Henderson was confident that repairs can be completed in time for Saturday's sailings. Unfortunately this meant that Friday's sailings were cancelled. Report by Roddy McKee.

To London from Harwich

Alongside Ha'penny Pier with the cranes of Felixstowe across the river

Maersk Importer inbound for Parkeston Quay

New radius rods were manufactured by George Prior's and the final parts were delivered to Tilbury at 19.30. Fitting continued until 00.50 and the paddler was able to sail for Harwich at 01.30. She anchored off for some time before going alongside Ha'penny Pier ready to board her passengers for Saturday's sail.

A glimpse of the repaired starboard wheel

Spirits were not totally dampened in the Engineering Department - this dolphin was rigged up to keep Ed the Ted company. Both rise and fall with every revolution of the main engine.

Promptly at 10.00 she let go and set course for Clacton, Tilbury and Tower Pier. The weather had turned chilly and grey, but remained dry. She berthed at Clacton some 20 minutes early and embarked passengers for most of this time. Out to sea a distant and faint view was had of Richborough Power Station chimneys in south-east Kent.

There was disappointment at Tilbury, however, as the Gravesend Ferry was not running. The regular vessel Duchess M remained out of service with mechanical problems and the relief Princess Pocahontas was otherwise engaged, leaving the ferry service with no vessel.

Cobelfret's Victorine (left) and Amandine alongside at their Purfleet Terminal

Waverley passed through Tower Bridge just on time and berthed at Tower Pier. As in 2001, a special scafolding staircase and landing platform has been constructed on the Pier pontoon for Waverley's use. Although this provides a safe access between the ship and the pier, it restricts the flow to single file for quite a distance, thus causing extended embarkation and disembarkation times.

On this occasion, passengers for Clacton and Harwich were getting off to be coached home and the process took about 40 minutes. Tug Revenge took the Waverley in tow towards London Bridge and then swung her just downstream of that bridge before shaping up for Tower Bridge.

Alongside Tower Pier with HMS Belfast on the South Bank

The paddler broadside across the river in the course of her turn

Approaching the Bridge as it opens

Passing through with City Hall visible between the bascules

Passing Butler's Wharf with Tug Revenge also heading downstream to her mooring

Taking the Southenders to the Pool

The paddler spent the night at Tilbury before proceeding to take up her Sunday schedule at Southend. Such was the level of bookings that only ticket holders were able to be taken. Indeed some ticket holders were unable to reach the Pier Head on time, owing to packed pier trains, and had to divert to Tilbury to join the ship. Here all waiting passengers were able to board, leaving just 10 spare spaces.

Dart 9 (left) and Dart 3 at the Dartford International Freight Terminal

Eva Oden outbound under the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, with Littlebrook Power Station beyond

Tanker Bro Axel taking bunkers from Whitspray, which also fuels the Waverley

Tied up at Wapping were three of Woods River Cruises luxury dining vessels

The paddler steamed into the Upper Pool with the tow rope attached from the Revenge, which swung the Waverley just upstream of Tower Bridge on this occasion, under the walls of The Tower of London.

Some 20 minutes had to elapse between lifts of the Bridge to minimise road traffic congestion. In the meantime the Waverley stemmed the flood tide and gave passengers a good look at the HMS Belfast and the many passing pleasure craft.

Hydrospace Delta in the Upper Pool of London

Finally, the Bridge re-opened and the steamer was able to set course for Tilbury and Southend. The full complement of passengers took full advantage of the ship's facilities during the down river passage. Tilbury was reached on time and soon the paddler was on her final leg to Southend.

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