Saturday, July 09, 2005

Saturday, 9th July

It’s 1600, and we are anchored in Ray Gut, less than a mile to the west of Southend-on-Sea’s famous pier. (Famous for being the longest pleasure pier in the world, or so it is said.) The iron and wooden structure has a train which runs almost the entire mile or so of its length, but I’m sure I’m safe here, because a few years ago a ship coming up the River Thames sliced the pier in half. The duty officer had fallen asleep while at the controls!

The pier has had some tragic events; I remember seeing it on fire with smoke billowing out of the amusement arcade. What a sorry sight it looked when the fire was out. Since then, a lot of work has taken place to improve the pier’s entrance. At one time there was a pedestrian access over a rather low road bridge, and on more than one occasion double-decker buses became wedged under it.

This morning I woke at the usual time of 0500; rain was belting down and visibility was poor. Low water was predicted for 0913, which meant I had to be out of the River Swale before then, so as to make the best of the rising tide, and not to be caught in the River when the flood tide was entering. In the event ‘Bumper’ left her visitor’s mooring at 0830. We were able to sail much of the way to open water; albeit, rather shallow, which meant there was a mass of broken water. That can be a little daunting, but with the aid of the engine, we made progress north eastwards against the strong flood tide as far as the starboard hand Columbine buoy.

A change of tack, while beating into a northerly force 4, enabled us to make westwards with the current helping us. I was thankful that we could just maintain a course clear of the very shallow water on the north side of the Isle of Sheppey. From the Spile Buoy onwards our speed shot up to 4 knots. On the way we had to cross the Medway Channel by Medway No 1 Buoy; I could see a huge container ship, obviously intent on entering the Medway for berthing at Sheerness. As it turned out, my judgement on whether we would get across the dredged channel before her arrival was good. She passed astern of us by half-a-mile.

This part of the Thames south of Southend is a very busy stretch of water. Large cargo vessels come and go all the time. Several anchor off Shoeburyness while waiting for Pilots or sailing orders from their merchant owners.

When we arrived at the end of Southend Pier, it was 1400 hours, and a pleasure ‘steamer’ crammed full of holidaymakers apparently had to leave on time without any thought for the little yacht heading towards her. I was able to take evasive action to avoid a collision, but only just! Technically the captain should have observed a sailing vessel was approaching the end of the pier and that the flood tide was remorselessly pushing her towards his vessel. Had he realised this he would have delayed his departure for five minutes.

All’s well that ends well!

If conditions remain settled, I’ll stay here in Ray Gut for the night, with the aim of setting off early tomorrow, hoping to reach Burnham before the day is out. High water will be at about the same as Sheerness, around 0344. If the wind remains a northerly, our chances should be good. I hope the high pressure system will not bring about an easterly.

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