Friday, June 19, 2009

So. Where was I? (More T.I.N.S)

There I was...

It was now about 0430, and the boat was hauling along on the tidal current, doing about 7 knots and I was sticking to the navigational program, while desperately trying to keep awake. Dave was noticeably nervous too, and would poke his head up every few minutes to ensure that I hadn't nodded off.

Cold, damp, rocking back and forth while fighting nausea was not my idea of a good time.

We passed Ramsgate and soon entered the Thames Estuary and made the turn to the west. The winds calmed way down and the sun made its slow rise on our backs. Some coffee and some snackage made being awake a bit easier and we continued our mission to the St Katherine's Dock.

The Kentish coast was to our South, a mile or so away. Most people would think that our journey was getting easier, right?

It was.

View Larger Map

We were just past Margate and were steaming along quite happily, enjoying brekkies and coffee when the Customs Boat came flying up on our port side.

"Heave to, please", the Nice armed Customs man requested via loudspeaker.

I pulled back power and quickly, two men were onboard giving us all the look of "What are you doing..."

They began the 20 questions;

Who are you. Passports?

Where did you come from? Last Port?

Next Port? Where is your Original Importation Certificate?

"I gave it to the Customs Officer in Southampton", said I.

The Customs Guy; "Well, we need to have the Original, or we can seize your boat until you pay the 18% importation Fee."


Remember a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I made about 30 Original, signed copies?

Hah! I love it when my plan comes to fruition!!!

I gave the nice Man my "only original", and he made a note and of course, took it with him.

"What am I going to do if another Customs Boat comes along and needs my original Importation Certificate?"

"Oh, don't worry. They won't ask for one, since I have it." Said Leader Customs Dude.

After a few moments of regular chit chat, they gave us a "Cheerio, Welcome to the United Kingdom" noise and they were off.

Soon, we came upon some really ominous looking Forts on the water. I went to this website Maunsell Forts to let you see what we came upon on the misty waters.

They looked like "Imperial Walkers", or whatever George Lucas called them in the Star Wars series. Here is a advertisement for a Toy "Walker"

These were looking much more creepy in the foggy morning as we passed by slowly. Totally cool!

(Thanks to for allowing non-profit use of these great Hywel Williams images!)

Apparently, these structures were finally abandoned in 1956 and squatters came in the mid-sixties and set up "pirate radio stations".

We zoomed along, not really cognizant that we happened to be on the right timing to have the tide push us into the River Thames, proper. We passed the Isle of Sheppey and the sunk Liberty Ship with warning signs all around. It seems that this vessel is still filled with thousands of 500 pound ordnance for the Army Air Corps and they government just didn't want to disturb the ship and its lethal cargo.

If a flea was to flatulate within 300 yards, we could all go up in a giant bang!

I tried to find the wreck on Google Maps, but mysteriously, it won't show.

Things that make you say, "Hmmmmm."

We finally got into the River, and things were really looking up. Dave went below to make lunch, which was Campbell's chicken soup with no water added. Pretty salty, but what the hey.

We were getting into the docklands and it was very industrialized. And that was when the fanbelt on the motor decided to let go.

Instantly, an alarm started squealing, letting me know that we were now overheating.

I immediately pulled to the right, heading to the nearest dock to effect repair. we tied up quickly and I went below looking for a fanbelt. I knew that there was at least four of them on board, so no problem.

While I was going through every locker in my hasty search, a Dock Official came up and said, "Uh, you need to leave, now".

I asked why, since we were trying to fix our boat?

"Look over there, mate. That ship is pulling up here and he will smash your boat because he needs to tie up now."

Start motor without fan belt, get underway in one minute and raise sails.

We were well and truly Clucked.

Now we began the most scary and exciting sail in my short career, tacking back and forth on the river trying to make way West, into a westerly wind. With no motor. There was only about another thirty miles to go, at a speed of five knots...

Tighten and set sail on port tack, go about two hundred yards, TACK!

Go on Starboard tack about two hundred yards, TACK!

Back and forth, trying to make way using all of our remaining strength to keep the boat intact and safe.

More later...

Ok. Back again.

So as we were bashing back and forth on a crowded and industrial river, I was down below tossing the boat looking for a fan belt.

"Didn't you make sure we had enough spares?" Asked my smarmy crew.

"Yes, I made sure there were spares, especially for the motor!"

I went through every locker, every drawer. No fan belts. I tried to find out any phone numbers to any marinas coming up. I got the number to Gallions Reach, called them, but the damned British Vodaphone cell phone was cutting out. All I got over the phone is that the marina was after the green crane.

Green Crane? WTF is the Green Crane??? I could see two green cranes. Neither of them hid the opening to a two hundred year old locked dock!

32 hours of underway time had really affected my temper and coherent, rational headwork. I was in a full blown panic because I was responsible and we were stuck, trying to tack against a wind and a now turning tide.


The Thames flows with the tide in excess of five knots. This is bad, since we can only go max - maybe seven knots.

Finally, I figures we were within VHF hailing distance and I tried calling. Turns out my radios only work one way, either outbound or inbound. We set on radio on International, and would call out while listening on the "U.S" set radio. (This was our cross to bear for the entire four year stay.)

Gallions Reach called back that they had us in sight!

We made about three more tacks and could just reach the marina, but when we turned in the tide would pull us back to the East! Maximum cursing and frustration!

I made a snap, command decision: I turned on the engine, ready to let it destroy itself in a last savage thrust to make it to safety.

There are no anchorage places in Downtown London. We would have to let the tide take us back to the Isle of Sheppey to find an anchorage.


I powered the boat while under sail/engine right up to the Lock that led to the quiet, closing-in-ten-minutes marina. I secured the engine as soon as the lines were in the dockmaster's hands!

We muscled the boat into the dock and over to a berth.

View Larger Map

The small red dot by the water is about the entrance to the marina. We scurried about and secured sails, put away gear and policed the boat to make sure it would be ready to move the next day. My crew needed rest and two of us needed a beer, yesterday.

It was now about 1700, and we had completed the most harrowing journey in my short sailing career, we had traveled about two hundred mile in varying conditions with a total lack of expertise and we felt very lucky to have had no real problems. We called up a mini-cab to take us home for some showers and clean clothes. It was Tuesday after all, and that meant Little Ship Club night!

There was a great sense of relief as we grabbed our bags. I went into the cabin one final time and grabbed the charts and opened up the Navigation Desk

I pulled the top up...


In the Navigation Desk. Not in a parts locker or tool box.


It goes to show; Whatever is lost will be found in the last place place you look.

Sail on, Wildebeest!


Liz said...

This is fast becoming a page turner - so much fun! ...especially since we DO know that all survived including your marriage :)!

So much to comment on... but tops are the Imperial Walkers and the finding of the fan belts.

The IW's - very something indeed!

The finding of the fan belts because I can relate somewhat. Although not as mission critical, I have on several occasions bemoaned how I can lose something in the confines of my motorhome. This happened a lot on the first few trips and then I finally knew where stuff was and I DON'T move it!!! Actually, I did move one item but left myself a note in its original location.

Oh, the Customs part - heh...

Barco Sin Vela II said...

Ann; Thanks for the kind comment. The funny thing about any kind of new experience, is that attitude and capability will pretty much overcome most negative happenstances.

One of the many (now forgotten faces) of fellow cruisers in the UK once said; "If something bad happens, I go below and make a cup of tea. Usually things get better."

Buck said...

I agree with Ann... Very well done! And I learned something today, what with chasing the link to the Estuary towers. There's some duty I'm glad I never had to pull.

I also agree with Ann about misplacing stuff within a very small space. I used to think it was just ME, now I know there are at least two other kindred souls.

Barco Sin Vela II said...

Thanks, Buck.

I'm having a great time dredging up these memories. It brings me back in a real and vivid way.

I wish we could do this all again, but the problem would be that there would not be as much excitement.

All of us know better. Doesn't matter if it is a boat, rv or any other conveyance.