Monday, 18 June 2012

Gravesend & Gillingham - The Waiting Game

After our stopover at South Dock Marina in Southwark, London it was off down The Thames towards the Channel Ports, so we could cross to France.

Given the continuing bad weather and our inexperience with wide, tidal rivers we decided to make a short-ish hop to Gravesend, rather than try for a longer voyage all the way to The Medway. Having spoken to Andy at Embankment Marina, Gravesend we established that as you need to enter the marina via a lock, it wouldn't be possible to go into the Marina immediately, but a brand-new pontoon on the Thames itself had recently opened, and we could moor there overnight.

Almost straight away we were in for some excitement, as the RNLI Lifeboat at Gravesend had been called out to tow in a boat whose engine had failed in the Thames.

I've been a fan and a supporter of the RNLI for many years and it was great to see a successful rescue happen. The boat was towed in and moored behind us on the pontoon whilst they waited for a new engine to be brought down from Ipswich.

The night on the pontoon was pretty rough, with high winds plus the large wash created every time the Port of London pilot boat went out (it felt like every 10 minutes, but I'm sure it wasn't really), so as it became clear the weather wasn't improving, we moved into the Marina when the tide was high enough to allow us through the lock.

Andy, the marina manager, couldn't have been more helpful during our few days stay. Always on hand with advice and information, nothing was too much trouble for him. Emma fell a bit in love with him and would repeatedly ask "Where's Andy?" if she couldn't see him around the marina!

We also met Andy's brother, Malcolm and his partner Margaret. Malcolm is a Thames Lighterman who divides his time between London and Devon. He's also a part-time pirate and gave Emma a Jolly Roger flag, which immediately had to be put up in her cabin.

Malcolm, Margaret & Andy at The Embankment Marina, Gravesend

After a couple of nights the weather improved enough for us to move on down The Thames and on into The Medway to Gillingham Marina, where again we had to wait for the weather to improve enough for us to cross the Channel into France.

Whilst we were in Gravesend I developed a bit of a soft-spot for the town. Yes, it's a bit run down in places, but there are some wonderful buildings, a lively town centre and it's all in walking distance. Unfortunately, I can't really say the same for Gillingham.

Again we had to lock into the Marina and we were directed in to "Berth 3". The winds were very high and after several attempts at getting into Berth 3, we had to give up and moor in an unofficial space, with help of our new neighbours on "Floating Fun". Trying to get into Berth 3 Stephen had felt the boat pushing against something soft, under the water. We reported the problem to the Marina office who just looked at us like we were mad. It was only a couple of days later our neighbouring boat reported the same thing to us and said they'd found a mudbank. They also told us that Berth 3 was notorious for being the m ost difficult spot in the Marina to get into. We duly reported the mudbank to the Marina who really didn't seem to care. Although it was smart and new, this summed up my feeling about this Marina.

But, we did have some visitors during our stay, which was great. Our friends, Malcolm and Lois came down and took us for a wonderful pub lunch. Malcolm is a native of Gillingham (although now has escaped to Dorset) so took us for a tour of the highlights (houses he lived in, church he was christened in) and was able to recommend a good local beer in the pub (Spitfire Beer - wonderful!).

Finally, there was a weather window and our pilots, Andrew and Roy, decided we should be off. The trip across the channel was to be done in two stages, to take advantage of tide and winds (if you travel with the tide and wind, you use less fuel). Firstly to Ramsgate, then overnight there and then across to Calais.

Supplies were got in (milk, cake, biscuits) and Mum & Dad came down to see us off. Finally, at about 2pm, we left Gillingham.

Mum, Emma & Dad just before we left Gillingam

Whilst I really enjoyed travelling along the Thames and the Medway, it didn't really feel like we were really doing the trip we planned whilst still in the UK, so much as I dislike sea trips (I get very seasick) I was a relief to be away.

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