The Marina, St Katherine's Dock, owned and managed by Taylor Woodrow, was actually quite the dynamic sailing community. Each year, they sponsored a "Frostbite Rally" (How true!) where sailboats from throughout the Thames community would come out, endure very cold weather for a chance to shake out the sails and race to Erith Yacht Club. And back.
You see, a person cannot just sail any old way they desire... You will comply with the tides. No other way to go east or west without the water pushing you. Unless you have a motor. Big motor.
Digression time: I have been reading Samuel Pepys' diary online, and I noticed that when ever the author had business at the Docklands (Pepys was based closer to Charing Cross) he would take a boat. 1. It was safer. A person could get hurt once he passed by the Tower and entered the very dangerous East End. 2. It was faster. If you go with the tide, you could really get up to 7 or 8 knots! So I noticed in his diary that he would inevitably wind up having a meal or staying all day at his business location. When the tide reversed he could get a boat and man to take him home. Oh, there was that little problem of Plagues and such...
So, in accordance with the tides, we had a start time of High tide starting to ebb. We could get to Erith in about an hour and a half, or so.
Naturally, I had absolutely no idea of the tides and wherever the heck Erith Yacht Club was or the distances involved. I got a local Pub Manager and my buddy Paul Ferris to crew for us. No doubt, it would be a great time!
Friday comes, and we waited in vain for Paul to show up. He showed up in a suit and tie, completely hammered at 0500 Saturday, Race day. I was not amused. All Paul could say was, "You should have been there, Tatty Bogle's was awesome, there were so many hot women, I have eveeedence..."
I put him to bed and got out and began preparing the boat for departure.
About 1100, we got underway to make progress to the lock and once out to loiter around the starting line. Paul was up and at'em at the crack of noon, seeming none the worse for his all nighter in So-Ho.
In fact, Paul asked for a cold one as he began to survey our sail situation. He started running up and down the boat, pulling this, adjusting that, while carrying a full beer, while nursing what had to be a full blown 'gover, I was impressed.
As we traversed the West dock's bridge and entered the lock, people were beginning to notice our bimini top and full plastic forward enclosure. In fact, the locals were laughing at what they called "The Bloomin' Greenhouse". There was much hilarity, indeed.
We made our way out and headed for the Tower Bridge, about a hundred yards away. The Start line was at the Royal Naval Reserve Dock. All the boats zigged and zagged, I tried to keep us to the West, near the bridge to avoid colliding with the aggressive racers.
Again, we were made fun of and mocked for having the "liveaboard boat" with a greenhouse. The British are very proud of their sailing skills and are fierce racing competitors. But I still felt a twinge of resentment for being mocked.
Finally the starting gun sounded and we had a flying start. I think we were last over the line, but no bother. There was a fine Westerly breeze, blowing maybe ten knots. Add in the water speed of five knots and we had a net speed of about five knots of wind.
We passed one, then two, three, twenty boats in fast procession. It turns out that our old, blown out main and 150 Genoa were baggy and round, making an excellent shape for down wind running. Paul and Nigel, our crew were flitting about adjusting trim while I steered us gently, trying not lose speed with excess rudder inputs.
Here, we are passing Greenwich and the Cutty Sark.
I was really surprised that we had passed all the boats, save one, a brand new 49 foot Swedish boat with new sails and a ringer crew. (read ringer as "Professional") I think if we had another five miles that we would have passed them, too!
Approaching the Erith Yacht Club, we heard the finish gun. It was quite confusing to me, since I didn't use a chart and had no idea where we were. Paul and Nigel were the only one's who knew what was going on.
They were cheering and yelling, hootin' and hollerin', the nearest competition behind us was over a mile back!
Ok. It was a second place finish, but hey; The tone was much more respectful that evening in the club bar. Plus, we barbecued four T-Bone steaks on our grill, while tied up in the mooring field. Many lustful glances were made as the meat bubbled and burned over the open grill.
At the bar, located on a beached disused ferry, we made merry in that great ferry bar and made friends with some of the other boats and crews. There was too many "Barley Pops", and I got the notion that our friends were keeping us up late. Maybe on purpose.
Reveille came at the crack of 0700. We shrugged off the cobwebs and faced a freshening breeze out of the West. We were second over the start line and began the tacking up the Thames routine.
I forgot to mention that the cats were onboard. They puked and cried from fear, especially with the slam and crack of each tack. One cat took refuge in our bed, burrowed under the blankets shivering in fear. The other one took to hiding in the wine bottle locker, each tack shoving full wine bottles back and forth.
Nevertheless, we had a mission on that windy and rainy day: Make it home! As we zig and zagged, we got progressively closer to the apartments and businesses (All built of brick!) and dodged large mooring balls. Paul would say, "Wait for it.... wait..."
I would say, "water is getting shallower, we're gonna hit bottom!"
Paul would continue cooing, "... miles of room, gallons of water--TACK!"
This exchange went back and forth, about thirty times. Finally, even Nigel was having enough of Paul's recklessness; "Dammit Ferris, this is their Home, for Gawd's sake!"
"Miles of room, gallons of water... look; we're gaining on them!"
View of the boats behind:
Finally, we arrived at the Tower bridge and I think we wound up third over all, before the PHRF times were adjusted. We locked through and enjoyed a great post race party. We were "Mentioned in Dispatches". Not too bad.
A couple days later, we received a note from the Taylor Woodrow organization, we were invited to Lunch with the Former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Robin Gillet (Lotsalaphabetafterhisname). I have pictures of that lunch, but haven't dug them up. They were nice enough to give us a Plaque in honor of our participation in the Frost Bite Rally of 1997:
Too much fun!