My Cruiser 'The Pelican'

By Len A.Hynds

It had been a marvellous holiday, in my 30 foot Seamaster Cruiser, travelling from our marina moorings at Allington on the Medway through the tidal lock, along the length of the meandering ever-widening Medway, past the towns of Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham, to stop overnight in Stangate Creek, just a short distance from the open sea at Sheerness. It was a notorious bad holding ground for anchors, so I stayed awake that first night, watching the position of the naked flame burning some three, miles away on the Isle of Grain refinery, to ensure our anchor was still firmly embedded, and we weren’t drifting.

The weather forecast next morning was not good, and I had to rethink my plans of cruising up the exposed East coast, to cruise inland into East Anglia. Tilly was never happy at sea travel, and was happier when we were cruising inland rivers. We discussed the problem, and I proposed that we went inland up the Thames Estuary, and we should reach the narrower part of the Thames only about half a mile wide beyond Gravesend well before the storm reached it, and it was only about 18 miles distant.

We decided upon doing that, and on making an early start I entered the Estuary and turned left beyond the Grain Tower, and its buoy marking the dangerous sand spit. I marked the new chart for Len, who was about 13, and let him steer by compass and eventual buoy observance, keeping well out of the deep water channel, but far enough out to miss sandbanks beneath the surface off Allhallows and Cliffe. I got a few hours sleep.

We travelled many miles on that holiday, to beyond Oxford, where the Thames actually is sometimes called The Isis. On the way back three weeks later, we went though the last tidal lock and after a few miles I decided to travel up the Grand Union Canal for about 15 miles where Tilly’s distant cousins lived in a cottage on the banks. By lowering the masthead we managed to negotiate all those road bridges, and spent a good 24 hours with her cousins.

Unfortunately some of those locks had not been used for years, and took time to negotiate, plus the fact one engine filter got fouled with a fine weed, meaning another delay whilst I stripped it down.

I had to make the journey though the tidal Thames with the tide, but a plastic bag wrapped itself around the prop just before the House of Commons, so dropping the anchor in mid-river I had to go over the back and underneath to cut it free.

These unfortunate delays had put me behind with my planned schedule, and going through the London bridges was quite hair raising as the outgoing tide was in full force, and the speed of the water through the arches was like going down a chute, and with the speed of the river more than the speed of my 30 foot cruiser, steering was almost impossible. Passing through the Thames Barrier things seemed to ease as the river widened, and I kept near to the Kent side, and by the time I reached Gravesend, the tide was on the turn. It was now late afternoon, and I still had six hours of daylight left to negotiate the wide Estuary, and then to turn into the Medway, where I knew I could find Stangate Creek, even in the dark.

The weather forecast a bad storm coming down the North Sea towards the Estuary, but the forecaster on the radio thought that it wouldn’t reach the Thames Estuary until the middle of the night, by which time I should be safely moored inland at Stangate.

Tilly and I discussed if in fact we should tie up to a jetty at Gravesend, and Tilly and the two boys, Len and Nicholas should travel home by train or taxi, whilst I stayed with the ‘Pelican’ until the weather cleared before I brought her around.

It was decided to press on, and I had travelled about 9 miles along the estuary, and the wind increased so much, that my binoculars could not pick up the next navigation buoy, so it had to be by dead reckoning with the compass, and the incoming waves were becoming so high that we were really close to the next buoy before we could see it. I knew that it would be more dangerous to try and turn to run before those View of rough sea from boat waves back to the safety of Gravesend, whereas just off the Medway there was always more of a gap between incoming high waves, and all cruisers of the Pelicans length, had no real deep keel, and could easily be turned over if struck by a high wave on the side.

We were now close to the Medway, and I steered past it watching for a gap in the waves, so I could do a swift turn, to get them behind us. It was now raining, which seemed to be skimming the wave tops, mixing with the curling wave tops which were blown into the air.

It was then that Len pointed out to me a tiny speedboat containing a man and a woman, and they appeared to be in trouble as they tried to ride the incoming waves. They kept vanishing in troughs. I kept going towards them, and when close enough shouted for him to turn, as he was heading out to sea, and away from Sheerness Beach from which they had come. I turned and sheltered them back towards the beach. His wife was terrified, and I offered to take them aboard and tow his boat into Queenborough, but the fool would have none of it. They had no life-jackets, anchors or flares.

I got them within sight of the beach, but had to leave them, as I was perilously close to the sandbank beneath me. Luckily the coastguard had been watching, and had alerted Manston Helicopter, who saved both husband and wife as their boat sank beneath them just hundreds of yards from the beach.

These idiots who launch their boats from a beach, with no experience, have no ideas of the dangers involved at sea.

In view of that week-end sailor giving poor Tilly a few more shattered nerves, I sold the dear old Pelican shortly afterwards. What really did it was seaweed on the mast rigging, showing how many times we had dipped under curling waves.

Aargh Well!!