Thames Season 2009 - Second Report

Report by Martin Longhurst

On Monday 28 September 2009 Waverley sailed from Tilbury to Southend and Clacton for an afternoon to the River Blackwater.   The returns were by coach as the paddler was positioning on to Southwold for Tuesday’s sail.   She anchored off the Suffolk port about 8 p.m. and came alongside on Tuesday morning.   Despite the apparently calm conditions, the localised ground swell necessitated the doubling up of the mooring lines.   About 300 came on board for the sail direct to Tower Pier.  Captain Clark took the steamer well out to sea for the trip in glorious weather.  

Wednesday was off-service at Tilbury but on Thursday the steamer offered a cruise from Margate and Whitstable to Tower Pier which carried about 700 souls.   Waverley spent the night in the Pool of London before offering a round trip to the River Medway.   Calls were made at Tilbury and Southend before the paddler headed into the Medway. Today was PSPS members’ hospitality day on board and small escorted parties were able to visit the bridge and engine room.  At Thamesport the light blue hulled container ship Maersk Leda was completing loading operations.   The steamer was turned by the small tug Boa just off the Bull Nose at Chatham.   Very soon after this, a call went out for a doctor.      

The flag of Kent flies from the jack staff at the Kentish port of Sheerness as Lineas Suardiaz's Bouzas comes alongside

On the way out of the river the container ship had departed her berth and it became apparent that Waverley was going to make an out of course call at Sheerness to land the ill passenger.   Soon the steamer was under way again and she was only a quarter of an hour late leaving Southend.   As usual she swept majestically through Tower Bridge after her transit of the twinkling Thames.

Saturday’s programme offered two almost separate opportunities to sail.   Firstly, there was a single trip from Tower Pier to Southend direct which carried just under 300 who all disembarked at the Essex pier.  Then some 700 joined the steamer for a non-landing round trip to the Upper Pool of London.   Sea conditions at Southend were marginal but Captain Clark brought the paddler smartly alongside and the transfer of 1,000 passengers was swiftly accomplished using three gangways.   Then astern off the pier to get some sea room to turn for London - during this movement two waves broke over the stern, soaking quite a few people as far for’ard as the after funnel.   We were now heading into the stiff westerly breeze and passengers on deck wrapped up well.   A further 100 or so joined at Tilbury.   Fortunately we got away with only 20 minutes between lifts (instead of the normal 30) which was just as well as the large numbers at Southend had put us about half-an-hour late and there was a train party of 300 from Birmingham New Street on board and their train was due to leave Tilbury Town at 19.42 sharp.   In view of the poor conditions, Southend passengers were returned by road.   [Owing to a fatality earlier in the day, the train was diverted to depart from Romford.]

Following the conclusion of the passenger sailing and after taking bunkers, Waverley steamed for Harwich arriving just after midnight.   Her Sunday sail was due to start from the Essex port, a test closure of the Thames Barrier precluding a sailing from London. A coach connection was offered from Great Yarmouth.  The steamer also called at Clacton and passengers were coached home from Tower Pier.

Monday was an off-service day at Tilbury but Waverley’s nomadic trips around the Thames Estuary resumed on Tuesday.   She steamed east to Southend and Clacton for a River Blackwater cruise, also spending the night sheltered in the Essex river.   This placed her ready to return to Clacton for the new cruise to Southend and Whitstable, unfortunately in the pouring rain.   Then on to Harwich to give an upriver sailing in glorious conditions, with a coach connection from Ipswich, finishing at Tower Pier.    Friday took the steamer back to Southend for another non-landing upstream trip, followed by a Show Boat trip to position the paddler for her weekend programme.

Saturday saw about 300 join the steamer at Tower Pier for her Whitstable sailing, calling at Southend only.   Loadings built up during the day as two or three hundred were due to make the single voyage from Whitstable to Tower with coach return.   The weather was bright with sunny intervals and very light winds.  Leaving Southend we passed the Brazilian training ship Brasil in bound for a visit to London.  

Doesn't look much like a submarine - the Brazilian Navy's training ship Brasil

We had just over an hour in the Kent port, time enough for two pints of Whitstable Brewery IPA or Raspberry Wheat Beer at the excellent Continental Hotel.   On the leg back from Whitstable, Southend RNLI made a collection from passengers amounting to £441.   We saw the inshore lifeboat in action while we alongside the pier, towing in a broken down boat.   The Thames twinkled enticingly as we steamed back to the capital, arriving to a spontaneously round of applause from passengers.   The steamer spent the night alongside Tower Pier.

One of the additional fenders fitted by Gordon Reid at Southampton to save damage at Tower Pier and Tilbury Landing Stage

On Sunday we departed from Tower Pier at 10.00 once again, this time heading for Tilbury, Southend and cruise round the Thames Forts.   It was a bit of a grey day but the winds remained light.   Between 400 and 500 passengers were on board from Tower to Southend and a similar number round the Forts after a substantial changeover at the Essex pier.    Captain Clark did an excellent job giving us some unusual views of the Forts.   Firstly we round the south side of Red Sands Fort, noting its new landing stage and aerial array (earlier in the year there had been some RSL broadcasting from the Fort).   

The container ship Saigon Express heads past Knock John Fort on her way to Tilbury

Then on to Shivering Sands and finally the climax of the closest yet approach to Knock John Fort.   The PLA had granted special permission for us to cross the Knock John Channel, normally reserved for deep draft vessels.   Unfortunately after turning back for Southend, we encountered some rain for an hour or so.   Also on board were the lucky winners of the 2007 Grand Draw First Prize of a cruise on a Fred Olsen cruise. 

An evening cruise was offered from Southend, with coach return from Tilbury, and from Tilbury itself.   Some 130 joined at Tilbury as a fund raiser for the nearby St Luke’s Hospice.   After the Tower, Waverley completed her final passenger sailing of the 2009 Thames season to Tilbury.   Here she took bunkers and water and the ship was prepared for her long voyage north.   She departed from Tilbury at about midnight for Weymouth to take more fuel, arriving about 18.30 on Monday leaving about four hours later.

Waverley heads back to Tilbury for the final time in 2009

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