To the upper reaches of the Medway - Aug 1 to 8 1998
After prolonged wet weather during the first half of 1998, the sun duly appeared just in time for the HSC summer cruise. This was the second year running that we enjoyed a well attended weeks cruise in pretty well ideal weather - will our luck hold for next year
The party consisted of Richard, Steve, Bob, John, Mark S, Josephine, Mark T. The general plan was to explore the river Medway and we did indeed get well up into the picturesque upper reaches. Moral dropped a bit low as we struggled up the last tidal reach late one evening with no definite prospect for a campsite, but apart from that it was a good trip. The Thames estuary crossings at the beginning and end of the week provided a sharp contrast with the inland waterway cruising during the middle of the week. We took three dinghies, these being the two club Wayfarers and my home made boat which carried an elderly British Seagull outboard so that it could act as a tug boat on the upper Medway where sailing is hardly feasible. As we discovered last year, the three boats were very well matched for speed making it easy to cruise in company. My boat seemed fastest in the light winds and the strong winds, the Wayfarers having the edge in intermediate conditions.
Saturday: Most of the party gathered at Wallasea campsite and had an evening meal at the Anchor pub in Canewdon. The forecast was good and we resolved to strike camp at 6-00am in the morning to catch the tide which was essential if we were to get through Havengore bridge.
Sunday: Yes, we really did manage to get up at around 5-00am but we did not get the boats loaded and away until nearly 8-00am. Sid and his dog popped over from Southend to wave us goodbye. When we reached Havengore, the tide was ebbing fast and the bridge keeper was reluctant to open the bridge, warning us that there was little water on the other side. Perhaps he had not taken into account that our dinghies have less draft than most of the craft which pass through Havengore. We circled round a few times and eventually bells started clanging and the bridge lifted. As we sailed through the bridge keeper shouted to us to keep clear of shallow water at the starboard side of the channel. My boat was first through and the others followed, perhaps assuming that I knew the way, which I did not. I headed straight out to sea for about a mile to be sure of clearing the Maplins completely. This was probably unnecessary since the shallowest part is the ‘Broomway’, a submerged track a couple of hundred yards out. We then headed Southwest towards the huge chimney on the Isle of Grain at the mouth of the Medway. Back in the sixties it was proposed to build a new London airport by reclaiming land on the Maplin sands and as part of the feasibility study a small artificial island was built from dredged sand. The airport was never built but the artificial island remains and we sailed close by it in the morning sunshine. I understand that over the years the island has changed shape but it has not washed away in the tide as some predicted it would and it is now a nature reserve. Landing is prohibited but yachts can shelter in the lee of the island.
The wind lightened and we made rather slow progress against the ebb into the mouth of the Medway, passing the power station and oil refinery to starboard and the Sheerness quaysides to port. After some discussion between the three crews we agreed to divert to Queenborough for lunch. Improved facilities at Queenborough include a long jetty terminating with a small floating pontoon which is visited by a passenger ferry from Southend. Mooring space here is limited and one is only supposed to park for up to 15 minutes. We did stay a bit longer, keeping within sight of the boats so that they could be moved if necessary.
After lunch we had the flood tide to help us but the wind died completely for a time and we rowed lazily up the Medway, myself trying not to hear suggestions that I should test the outboard motor. The wind returned later in the afternoon and we sailed on through Gillingham, Chatham and Rochester, eventually camping on the east bank about a mile above the M2 motorway bridge. We were tired after the long day afloat but some of us still managed to walk another mile to a pub at the village of Wouldham.
Monday: The tide was ebbing during the morning and early afternoon so we parked the boats in a small marina on the other side of the river to our camping place then we went for a walk of about 6 miles. It was a pleasant walk, up onto the wooded North Downs with views across the Medway valley and estuary then a good meal at the hamlet of Luddesdown. We returned to our boats to find the weather deteriorating fast with a gusty wind from the south and intermittent rain, the only rain of this holiday. Some doubt was expressed as to whether we would be able to tack up the river against the strong wind and indeed one member of the party was of the opinion that the only possible option was to turn round and head back to Paglesham. After some discussion we tied in reefs and set off up the river. It was not the strength of the wind but the shallowness of the water which proved to be the main difficulty and we stopped for an hour at Wouldram to let the tide fill the river a bit more. Even after this stop it was awkward sailing with frequent unexpected groundings on shallow patches. My boat appeared to be much faster than the Wayfarers under these conditions so we went on ahead to look for a camping place. There are paper reclaiming mills and other industrial sites along this stretch and one would not wish to camp alongside one of these. Between the factories the scenery is quite pleasant but the river banks are muddy and even if one could get ashore much of the territory is overgrown with brambles so we could find no reasonable camping place. As we approached Aylesford, progress was slowing and mutiny seemed probable. It was getting dark and I felt slightly responsible for having suggested the Medway as a cruise venue. I decided to start the outboard motor and take the two Wayfarers in tow, at least that way the party would keep together. We motored to Aylesford where we had to stop and anchor since our masts would not go under the bridge. While we were anchored, the owner of a riverside house looked down from a garden above to ask where we were going. We said that we were looking for somewhere to camp which received the immediate reply that we could camp right there on the lawn above us and this we did, with gratitude.
Arlesford bridge - taken on our return downriver, not in the dark on the way up!
Tuesday: The sunny weather had returned and everyone was now in good spirits and keen to continue up river. The masts were lowered since we would be passing frequent low bridges and overhanging trees. My boat became a tug, with the Wayfarers side by side behind, one on each quarter cleat. The British Seagull outboard proved to be effective giving all three boats walking speed on little more than half throttle but it is much noisier than modern outboards. Our first stop was at Allington lock and sluices, the end of the tidal water. This lock is manned and the lock keeper collected our fees for use of the navigation up river. Further locks are unmanned and we hired a lock key to operate them. We stopped for lunch and shopping right in the centre of Maidstone then on into very pretty rural stretches, enjoying the novelty of playing with the locks. We noticed a number of kingfishers and one otter, or possibly it was a mink. Mark S. left the party to take the train home from East Farleigh. The rest of us continued to the village of Wateringbury where a most helpful marina manager allowed us to set up our tents in his boat parking space.
Our boats in the centre of Maidstone
Lock above Maidstone
Negotiating Farley Bridge
Wednesday: We decided to leave our tents in place at the marina and to spend the day ashore to make a change from sitting in the boats. After a late start we set off for a walk. The sun was very hot indeed and we ambled slowly along the riverside path, taking a long lunch stop at a pub at Yelding bridge. Here there is a little museum of tools used in maintaining the river and one of the river keepers showed us round, lamenting how computers and other modern methods were hindering his work. We returned through Yelding village and back over higher ground, passing orchards and oast houses. We noticed a disused row of tiny dwelling places that mght have been temporary accommodation for Londoners who used to take working holidays fruit picking in ‘the garden of England’.
Tiny cottages at Yelding
Thursday: We motored back down river, aiming to get all the way to Allington lock for high tide at lunch time so as to have the ebb to continue. We made a brief stop in Maidstone then took lunch at a horribly overcrowded pub near Allington lock. A couple of miles below Allington I put away the engine and we raised our masts and sails. That evening we landed and camped near the fort on Hoo island near Gillingham. I have since learnt that one is not really supposed to land here, but the fort end of the island is deserted and isolated, would anyone mind a few small tents amongst the marsh and scrub bushes? A shingle spit extends from the end of the island and allows landing at any tide state. We wandered around the disused fort which is similar in style to Hurst castle on the Solent, having a circle of cannon positions behind massive iron shutters.
Friday: We set off to sail to Lower Halstow for lunch but the wind fell very light and on Richard’s suggestion we changed our plan to head for Gillingham which gave us the benefit of favourable tide. At Gillingham we tied up at the top of the tide at a quaint wharf used by a small sailing club. Josephine’s sister in law lives in Gillingham and her son and friend came for a brief sail in my boat. We then took the ebb tide down the estuary to Stangate creek where there are several landing places which are not too muddy at low tide. After sailing around investigating various possibilities we eventually chose to camp on the east side of the creek on Chetney marshes.
Saturday: It was now time to head back across the Thames estuary to Paglesham but the wind was light and we made tediously slow progress sailing and rowing out of the Medway Estuary. We needed to get to Havengore bridge for high water early in the afternoon so I reluctantly started the engine and once again took the Wayfarers in tow, this time in line astern since I thought that the slight swell might be a problem towing them side by side. It was interesting to see Southend from the sea, although it is not far from Paglesham it is not a place we often sail to. It was a hot day and the beach was packed with sun-bathers all along the seafront. We motored on past the empty barracks at Shoeburyness, where we once had winter storage for our boats, then the engine was switched off as a breeze sprang up. The bridge keeper at Havengore cheerfully waved us through and we completed the voyage in fine style, the boats sailing fast and three abreast up the final stretch to Paglesham hard. Back at Paglesham we brought the three boats up alongside the jetty by the hard to unload the camping gear.