Miles logged: 56
Total miles logged: 697
Days since leaving Fleetwood: 23
Days at sea: 15
We spent two days at Dover, berthed in the comfortable Granville Dock. Tuesday was a rest day but on Wednesday we stayed in Dover due to high winds. This was the first ‘weather day’ of the trip; the fact that for over three weeks we have had no need for a weather day illustrates how fortunate we have been with the weather thus far. In retrospect we might have been able to complete the passage to Shotley yesterday but there was certainly a keen wind blowing and the sea outside Dover’s breakwaters looked angry. I think we made the right decision.
I spent much of Tuesday morning planning our route to Shotley across the Thames estuary and exchanged several emails with Roger Gaspar whose excellent book ‘Crossing the Thames Estuary’ is the definitive reference work for these waters. Some food shopping in Dover and a run along the sea-front and along the stone piers completed a useful day. The forecast for Wednesday did not improve throughout Tuesday and, with Roger’s input, we took the decision to call a ‘weather day’ for Wednesday. This afforded the opportunity for a lie-in, a proper, unhurried breakfast and a look at the papers. We decided to visit Dover Castle; it is perched high up on the white cliffs and it was quite a climb to reach. We were rather taken aback by the extraordinarily high entrance charge but there was a great deal to see and much of it was of great interest to me. I particularly enjoyed tours of the tunnels which were used during the Second World War, a look round the underground hospital and a tour of the huge medieval castle – England’s largest – and several fascinating exhibitions in the outbuildings.
From the vantage point of the castle there is a fine view of the port and of the English Channel and in spite of the slight haze the coast of France was clearly visible. Visible also were the white horses on the waves. Being barely able to stand in the wind up at the castle I was glad that we were not at sea.
We witnessed a sad spectacle back in Granville Dock where the port staff were craning out a number of inflatable boats which had been used to ferry migrants across the Channel. Most of these were not proper inflatable boats but were very poor quality, flat-bottomed vessels constructed of cheap material, not of proper marine rubber. The flat bottoms must have made for hopeless handling at sea. Some had their outboard motors still attached and in a couple there was evidence of the use to which they had been put – a rucksack, a shirt and pieces of rubbish. It seemed to me that those who operate these vessels may be manufacturing very low quality, highly unseaworthy and inexpensive inflatable vessels in order to ply their trade at maximum profit; in any event, in years of sea-sailing I cannot recall seeing such shoddy vessels other than on this occasion.
This morning, Thursday, was promising from the start. We had agreed to depart Dover at 0700 and opening the companionway hatch at 0600 bright sun shone in. Sunglasses were needed when preparing the boats for departure. The wind was lighter than expected but the forecast was that it would increase later on.
Pleasure yachts are expected to use the Western entrance at Dover but I sought permission to depart via the Eastern entrance, which is used by the continuous stream of ferries, and permission was granted. The traffic lights turned green-white-green for us moments after a ferry from Ireland had entered. Immediately we were motoring alongside the White Cliffs of Dover. This continued for some miles. Passing Deal, then Ramsgate, we drew level with the octagonal light-house at North Foreland and at that point felt able to declare that we had completed our passage of the South Coast of England. The compass was pointing north; for much of the next couple of weeks we expect to be heading in that direction.
Heading away from the Kent coast we passed a number of anchored ships, presumably awaiting orders, and headed out towards the vast London Array wind-farm, until 2018 the largest in the world. Our course took us amongst the turbines which was an exciting prospect in planning but when within the wind-farm the distance between the turbines was sufficiently great to present no difficulty in navigation. There are three safe-water buoys in the route through the wind-farm, the Outer, Middle and Inner Long Sand buoys and these were easy to find. The passage is known as Foulger’s Gat. Through the wind-farm we crossed the deep-water channel called Black Deep before passing over the Sunk Sand shoaling area by means of the short Little Sunk passage. At this point the depth under Bubble’s keel fell to five metres. From then we headed north-west to clear the Gunfleet Sands before heading into the River Stour (apparently pronounced to rhyme with ‘cure’) and into the entrance lock for Shotley Marina.
Waiting for us at the lock, and watching us – as single-handers – attempting to secure to the very narrow floating pontoon, was my friend Martin, a fellow yachtsman, who had travelled down from Lincolnshire. It was good to catch up with him later.
Shotley Marina is a quiet and pleasant place but we are unlikely to be here long; the weather and tides look promising for a fast passage to Lowestoft – Britain’s most easterly town – tomorrow. I was able to find time during today’s passage to make the passage plan for Lowestoft so provided that the weather is suitable tomorrow morning we will depart Shotley at around 1100.
There is a collection of some video clips from the Thames crossing in the YouTube channel here.