Ramsgate back to London

Determined to get the boat back to London, I arrived early Thursday morning intent on doing a singlehanded night sail that evening.

I found Excalibur calmly bopping away in Ramsgate marina with very little signs of seagull shit to my relief. The marina staff later explained that the seagulls are the bane of their life come the off season. They installed bird scarers (a tannoy that plays a seagull in distress squark) which worked for a time, but then the seagulls got used to the noise, and one seagull was so uninterested in the bird scarer, that he built a nest right under the machine. The staff do what they can, but it’s a loosing battle.

I worked from the boat in the day on my clients ocean themed website, which still amuses me. Got a full English at the ship shape, and tried blending in by reading Fishing News. A scantily clad prawn trawler called Village Belle dominated Page 3.

The evening soon came, and I started preparations. My diet for the following 15 hours would consist of sugar and stodge. I scattered around the cockpit in various lockers coke, lucozade, ham wraps, a turkey and sausage roll, flasks of tea and bottles of water.

Clothing wise, I got out the big guns. My friend Andy gave me some serious thermals that divers use under their dry suits, which are amazing. The Gil Helmsman gloves also came out, along with the silk inner liner gloves (very important). Walking around like the marshmallow monster, I slipped the lines at 19:30 and left the marina.

By the time I got out of the outer harbour I was sweating profusely and incredibly hot. So off came all those layers, and I’m now motoring along in the stillness of the night in my salopettes and tshirt, on a November night.

The forecast for the trip was zero wind. I tried setting up the auto pilot, but my digital compass has lost its ability to tell which way is north which renders the autopilot unusable. The biggest downside was that I’d have to hand steer all the way back to London, unable to leave the cockpit or take any 15 minute naps. Still, I was quite excited to get Excalibur back home, and I love the peace and quiet of a night sail.

There was a full moon, and the moon was incredibly bright shining through clouds overhead, it illuminated the entire boat and the surrounding seas which glistened. I couldn’t have been happier.

I seemed to have a habit of loosing things through the night. I lost my head torch, and had to run around the boat, finally giving up and sitting down, it dropped out between my legs. I lost my M&S turkey, bacon & cranberry sausage roll, which infuriated me greatly. I had come to an agreement with myself that at 1am, I’d crack open and devour my M&S turkey, bacon & cranberry sausage roll as a treat. Come 1am I couldn’t find the bloody thing. I ran down below 3 times, looked in the same back locker twice, looked in the main sheet bag, went back down below. Annoyed and upset, I sat down and took control of the helm, looked to my right, and the bloody M&S turkey, bacon & cranberry sausage roll was there, right next to me.

As the night went on I added more and more layers. I chatted to Trina by recording voice messages over whatsapp. I couldn’t take my eyes off the horizon as I’d loose my flashing buoy.

The night basically just consisted of staring at a flashing light for ages, passing it, and then staring at the next one, which seemed to take even longer to arrive at.

There were an incredible amount of tankers and cargo ships passing by. Some days the Thames estuary seems empty, and you wonder where all the tankers are. Perhaps they all arrange to take the same day off, sit around and play cards and drink rum. That’s what I like to think. Nevertheless, they didn’t worry me. I stayed out of their way, and they stayed out of mine.

I read an article shared by a friend on consumerism, and pondered what cargo they were taking to London. I really recommend reading this article, it’s far more interesting than the tripe I write.

The Gift of Death

The clouds parted, and red sands towers appeared out of the darkness, and were illuminated by the moon. A light sea mist was all around me, adding to an already atmospheric feeling of serenity. 

The tide had turned and I now crawled along at 2.5knots, which mean’t I had to stare at the same flashing buoy for even longer.

Unable to leave the cockpit (I didn’t want to cut the engine and loose precious time), one drinks bottle turned into a wee bottle come hand warmer. Great tip for single handed sailors, your wee is incredibly warm, and shouldn’t be squandered on the sea, not immediately anyhow. I’ll be sure disinfect the bottle once in the marina 😉

I thought I spotted a seal looking up at me out of the water at one point, and then another further along. I leaned over and said “OH allo!!!” and then realised it was a small fishing buoy. What a plonker! Though a little later I did hear a splash, which must have been a seal or some other sea mammal.

As I pottered along, closing my eyes for no more than 5 seconds, I arrived at the lower part of the Thames. Looking at my chart plotter, I saw my electronic chart for some reason now ends at the lower Thames. I’m not sure where the rest of the chart has gone. I quickly downloaded Navionics for my Nexus 5 (£26). Sunrise was only a few hours away, but with the lack of sleep I didn’t want any mishaps.

Dawn came around 6am. The colours were amazing. The sky consisted of shades of mauve and soft pinks, which reflected on the water. Soft mist hung just above the land, and drifted horizontally, creating wafts of mist tails. That’s the only way I can describe it.

Throughout the night I changed my helming position to keep awake. My funniest moment came when I was standing up, with the tiller between my legs. I closed my eyes for a second, and my body must have thought it was time to sleep. My legs gave way and I stumbled back a few steps. So it seems it’s not possible to fall asleep standing up.

Further along, the Thames becomes a industrial hub of cargo ships, unloading or preparing to set off to wherever. This time I was sat down and helmed, closing my eyes for a nano second, when I heard something approaching fast. I looked round and saw a black police rib. The policemen came up and asked a couple of questions, had a jovial chat. Where have I come from, where am I going. I don’t think I made much sense having been up for 24 hours by then. They zoomed off, and I heard them being told off for driving on the wrong side of the Thames by London VTS lol!

My dopey dozy state subsided as I got nearer the Thames barrier.

I chatted to my friend Dave, who was kindly waiting with a drone to record my return. I had my phone tucked into my hoody and was just relating that I was coming round the corner, when the police guys in the rib made came back! “You guys can’t get enough of me!” I joked as Tower Bridge came into view. I looked around, and a big border force boat was shadowing behind me, and two more police boats patrolling on the other side of the Thames.

The guys said they were conducting a PR piece on the Thames, and would I mind if they came onboard. One guy came on board and we chatted about this and that, where they were stationed etc. “That’s it, that should be a enough for the cameras” Off they went

Later that evening I found Excalibur featured on the news.

I gave the border force a wave, and then got onto the phone to Dave.

I pottered around Tower Bridge whilst Dave took some drone footage, hooked up to a mooring buoy outside the marina. Five minutes later I’m in the lock, throwing my lines to Gus. Thanks Gus!

Another 10 minutes  on, and I meet my new neighbour David, as he takes my line, hands me a beer, and I’m done. I’m in.

74 miles in 15 hours, averaging 4.93 knots.

That’s that done!

Trip stats
Departure date: 02/11/2017
Departure time: 07:30
Tide departure details: Departed 4 hours before HW Dover
Departure port: Ramsgate Marina
Destination port: St Katharine Docks, London
Arrival date: 03/11/2017
Arrival time: 10:30
Distance Traveled: 74nm
Route: Departed from Ramsgate, and stuck close to North Foreland in a light breeze. Cut across to the Princes Channel, down to No.2 leading to the medway, and then cut across to Sea Reach 2 on the lower Thames Estuary. Followed the Thames all the way to Tower Bridge.
Author: Tim Butler

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