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Down River Cruise - 2009

Articles > Down River Cruise - 2009

Down River Medway Cruise 2009

With the loss of our clubhouse Weybridge Mariners’ tidal boating has been limited for a while with many hands turning out to clear up and participate in the rebuild.

The Mariners  have taken their boats across to France and Belgium many times in the past. This year our Rear Commodore (Tidal) Charles Worby proposed that we went down to the River Medway.  The original plan for the Medway was only to go as far as Rochester or perhaps Allington.  However, some of us were keen to go further as we had been on the tidal Medway in the past taking our boats on Admiral’s Cruises hosted by Rochester Cruising Club.   These cruises first started in 1960 allow the Mayor of Rochester as Admiral of the River to ‘beat his bounds’.   Vessels from many clubs accompany him on the cruise from RCC out to the sunken munitions ship Richard Montgomery taking positions all round the wreck when a wreath is cast onto the waters and a dedication given for those who perished in the two World Wars. The Admiral is saluted on the way back and each vessel is given a commemorative pennant. 

Initial planning to go further than Rochester involved looking at the Environment Agency’s River Medway User’s Guide.  This indicated that most of the bridges beyond Allington limited the head room to 2.55 metres (8.4”).   Clearly, we would not get far based on this information.  Alouette can only make 8.6”, China Rose and some of the other boats had no chance.  It was very difficult to believe that so many bridges all had the same headroom.  This led to further  research. Several Forums and general web surfing led to another Environment Agency site which gave profile details of all Medway bridges from Allington to Tonbridge.  Armed with this data it was suggested to our Wendy (our Commodore) that she approached Charles with a view to doing the non-tidal Medway.  We were delighted when he agreed to this suggestion.

 At the end of July Su and I left our home mooring aboard Alouette with our neighbours David and Denise aboard Nkwazi (Stevens 1140).  They had guests on board including Denise’s mother who uses a wheelchair.  Sacha their Staffordshire bull terrier suitably kitted with a lifejacket also came for the trip.   The wheelchair was to become very useful to us on Alouette as Su had been uncertain about making the trip due to problems with her knees.   We reached Teddington in the early evening joining three other Mariner boats Mike and Ann aboard New Horizon (Freeman 30), Pat and Keith aboard Elsidore,  (Birchwood 33) and Russell, Theresa and Mark aboard Lady Redmac (another Stevens 1140).   We were later joined by Wendy and John aboard China Rose (Ocean 31), Charles our Down River Rear Commodore and Janice aboard Mustard (Colvic 26) and Kenny and Lesley aboard   Indi, (Lissen). 


At just after 11 am next morning the eight Mariner boats left Teddington.  The Thames forecast was SE 4-5 becoming SW 3-4 later.   Su and I always enjoy the trip down through London passing under the many bridges and seeing all the famous landmarks.  Our first stop was planned for Greenwich Yacht Club (GYC) located halfway between the O2 Millennium Dome and the Barrier.  Mid-afternoon, we were all tied up and finished with engines (FWE).  We had six boats moored on the pontoon by rafting three out and two smaller boats on the inside.  Unfortunately, we were unable to eat at the yacht club, however some of the members of Greenwich Yacht Club kindly ferried us in their private cars to the local pub for our evening meal.  Fast moving boats can make it rocky for vessels rafted out so careful fendering is mandatory.  Kenny did say that a speed easement might have been possible had we requested such from London VTS.

 We left GYC the next day with Charles leading the WMC flotilla.    Alouette acted as sweeper (appropriate for a Broom?) making the trip to the Medway via the Concrete Barge at Queenborough where we moored to wait the morning tide. Initially, Charles moored Mustard alongside the jetty to sort out some problems.   The rest of the boats went alongside the concrete barge.  Once they were tied up Alouette served as a ferry to take Denise and Sacha ashore.  We expected a call to fetch her back but Denise being Denise hitched a trip back on a fishing boat!  Mike then lowered his dinghy to see if Charles needed and help.  Later, Charles and Janice brought Mustard across to join the rest of us.   In the evening David set up a barbeque and everyone joined in with the consumption of our meal downed with wine or beer as desired. Later, a chilling breeze led to the erection of an improvised wind shield.   

 The next day we set off again to proceed to Rochester Cruising Club where we planned to stay for two days. Our stay in Rochester was spent site seeing, shopping and generally taking it easy.  Denise’s mother Ann was collected so that she could be taken to the Liverpool football game. Quite unbelievably, she regularly attends the Liverpool games and recently met the manager and many of the players as a special guest.  

 Timing for the next section of our cruise was critical.   Since the water up at Allington all but dries out at the bottom of the tide we would like to be up there near the top of the tide.  However, this gives problems passing under the stone bridge at Aylesford.  Charles had discussed access and moorings at Allington Lock by telephone with the lock-keeper.  The plan was to leave Rochester Cruising Club two hours before high water.   This would allow all the boats to get under the Aylesford Stone Bridge which has only 2.9 metres (9’6”) at MHWS. 

Allington Lock at low water 

 Indi was not to make this leg of our cruise but instead moved back to Chatham prior to returning to the Thames as they only had one week’s holiday.

 The rest of us moved up the Medway as planned.  China Rose took the lead as Charles was still having problems with Mustard.  Alouette again took the sweeper position. I had dropped my radar mast for the run up although as it happened, this was not necessary.  An hour after leaving we were running into debris off Snodland.   This posed a hazard all the way up requiring a sharp lookout and careful boat handling.   Although mainly floating rushes, there were often quite large branches and other floating rubbish which could cause problems.    On reaching Allington Lock we had to wait for some boats to be moved from below the lock before China Rose and the other vessels could enter.   Eventually, all the boats bar Alouette got in.  We tied up on the starboard side just below the lock and a small sailing boat tied onto us waiting for the second lock in.  Finally, we went through and moored alongside at 1.30pm.  All the other Mariners’ vessels moored to port coming out of the lock but we managed to fit into a small space on the opposite bank next to an electricity power point which was useful as our electric fridge does hit the battery.  

Allington Lock Keepers House

Allington Lock is the Teddington of the Medway being the limit for tidal navigation. Although the original lock here was built in 1792, the current lock dates from the late 1930’s and was refurbished in 1999.  Just up river from the other boats on their side is a huge sluice gate structure which was opened in 1937. This could be crossed giving access to the Malta Inn which is very popular with holiday makers providing food and drink.  We sat outside in their gardens for drinks and later ate inside.  The other facilities at this lock include a modern timber building housing a toilet and shower complex.

Visitors to the River Medway require a licence which has to be obtained from the Lock-keeper.  However, there is a reciprocal agreement for Thames E.A. licence holders whereby it is free for 2 weeks.  We picked up our licences purchased a key for the electric lifting bridge at Yalding and accessing toilets, water and sewage disposal facilities. Initially, the lock-keeper suggested  that the 2 Stevens and China Rose might not make the trip much beyond Maidstone which gave me concern as I had persuaded everyone that we could make it.   Charles was now having doubts and looking more closely at the bridge profiles.  We decided that we would take a chance.     

We all left Allington the next morning to proceed up to Maidstone tying up starboard side-to on the right bank upstream of Maidstone Bridge which has three arches.  All the boats got under with no difficulty in spite of this bridge being identified in the E.A River Medway User’s Guide along with most of the other bridges as having only 2.55 metres headroom.  Access to a large shopping centre is very good from this mooring and by borrowing Denise’s mother’s  wheelchair Su was able to get into town with the ladies.  I stayed with some of the others for a drink in the nightclub/come bar next to the Law Courts alongside.  Although good for daytime mooring we were dubious about staying overnight outside a nightclub.

 We all moved off mid afternoon on a beautiful sunny day.   The river is lined with trees along this stretch.   The first lock after Allington is East Farleigh.  Advice for entering this lock is given in the Medway User’s Guide. The locks on the Medway are not electric like the Thames.   Here we have to wind the sluices and manually operate the gates. Fortunately, Keith aboard Elsidore had a windlass on board from having been up the Medway many years earlier.  However, the locks could only accommodate a maximum of four of our boats at a time.  We split into two groups but we only had the one windlass handle.  We realised we needed two windlasses and two keys.     Fortunately the second group were able to borrow another windlass from a local boat owner.  Next came the first real challenge - East Farleigh Bridge.  This is a low arched bridge with a centre clearance of only 3.2 metres dropping to 2.4 metres 2 metres either side.  This presented no problem for Alouette but we watched Russell on Lady Redmac negotiate this bridge with breath held.   He brought her through perfectly.

 From East Farleigh Bridge we continued via Teston and Hamstead Locks, through the lifting bridge at Yalding and moored on the left bank by the towpath opposite an oast house.   There were sufficient moorings for the second group to join us.  By the towpath there is a hedge and behind lies Twyford Marina.  A little further down is Teapot Island which has a teapot museum and souvenir shop.  We were told that they also demonstrate the making teapots here having wheels and kilns but this was not apparent whilst we were there. Across the river lies the Anchor Inn where we have our evening meal.

The Anchor Inn

On the trip from Teston Lock to Yalding we passed possibly 2000 boats.  They were moored first on the right bank and then on both banks.   These were all on private moorings.  Should all these vessels decide to take to the river at the same time the situation would be unmanageable.   Visitor moorings on this stretch appear non existent.

 The next day Charles called a skipper’s meeting and it was decided that all the boats would move  to the meadow further upriver to stay for a couple of days relaxation. Before that, some of us walked across the fields into Yalding.  This village is famous for its moated vicarage, many old cottages and Georgian houses.   We also found a village blacksmith who had certificates he had gained for horse shoe competitions all over the south of England.

All the boats moved off in the afternoon through more locks and under low bridges to arrive at the meadow late afternoon.  We had no real problem with headroom for any of the boats.   Once alongside on the meadow we erected a gazebo and got the barbeques going.  We were glad of the shelter afforded by the gazebo as later we had rain and  all packed in under cover.

Although I knew that the higher boats would not be able to make Cannon Bridge (listed in the E.A. bridge profiles as 2.5 metres (8’2”) at Tonbridge we were told by local boaters that Alouette might just make it.  Based on this information we decided to give it a try in company with New Horizon.   Our Commodore, Wendy offered to crew for me as Su preferred to stay seated.  East Lock, Hartlake Bridge, Porters Lock, Eldridges Lock, the Gravel PitBridge and then the dreaded Cannon Bridge.  This is low!   We folded down our topside windows, lay our searchlight on its side and pulled the topside throttle out of gear and lay it down at full astern.   With the engine stopped we were able to man handle Alouette under the bridge using our hands.


Cannon Bridge

Ann and Mike on New Horizon followed and we both moored up just below the Great Bridge which at 1.9 Metres (6’2”) is definitely beyond Alouette.   However, Alouette had made Tonbridge which is as I had hoped. We had lunch at the riverside pub and then I visited Tonbridge Castle which that afternoon was being used for a glamorous wedding complete with coach and horses.  Later in the afternoon we returned down river arriving back at the meadow at 6pm.   We joined everyone else for a half hour walk across the fields to the local pub called Bell Inn for drinks and an evening meal.   Su made the trip in the wheelchair albeit a very bumpy ride.

The neat day we started our homeward run. The trip back to Allington was made in one go and we were all tied up by 4 pm.

The tides were not good for us Monday with high water at Allington Lock not forecast until 4.45 pm.  It was overcast but warm and we managed to get away just before 3pm.   The trip down was much as we had experienced on the way up with the debris and other nasties. We arrived back at Rochester Cruising Club just before 5pm but again we were unable to eat there.

The next day was spent in Rochester with everyone doing their own thing.  Mike and I visited Hoo Marina across the river using our bus passes, others went into Chatham to the Marine Museum or the Dickens’ Experience also in Chatham.

 Wednesday we had another day in Rochester and there were further visits to Chatham.   We set sail just after 5pm in the afternoon and got back to the concrete barge at Queenboro’ just after .

The next leg of our cruise we had hoped would be to stop at St Kats or Limehouse.   Unfortunately, both were fully booked.   Irrespective, we left Queenboro’ at 10.30 am. Sea conditions were perfect.  This was not what David our next door neighbour wanted.  He had hoped to have more demanding sea conditions to test Nkwazi rather than a repeat of the trip down.  An hour later we passed a narrow boat coming down from the Thames.   It was called Allington  and so we guessed it was bound for the Medway!   I’m sure they were happy with the slight seas.

 With the non availability of St. Kats and Limehouse we decided to try South Dock.   We were not keen as none of us had been there for many years.  However, the area has been totally rebuilt such that it is more akin to Limehouse and very pleasant. In the evening we all had a meal in the Moby Dick overlooking Greenland Dock once used by the Whalers. many years ago.

 The next day Su and I decided to go up to the West End.   This proved not to have been a good idea as her knees soon troubled her so much that we had to make the trip back almost as soon as we got there. 

Late afternoon the Mariners came out of South Dock after paying our mooring fees (£20.45 for Alouette).  We passed through London making good headway on the tide and arrived back at Teddington  just after 8pm. As mooring spaces at Teddington are limited Su and I offered to move further up river.  Since it was now getting dark I decided to stop off at the Small Boat Club just below Kingston.  Simon, one of their members tied us up for the overnight stop.

 This was the end of the Weybridge Mariners’ Cruise.  Our thanks to Charles for again organising a highly enjoyable Summer Cruise.

The only real downside for Thames boaters visiting the Medway is the rubbish and debris that goes up and down with the tide on the trip up to Allington.   Although presumably not the responsibility of the E.A. the clearance of this hazard would make visiting a much more attractive proposition.   Also, the River User’s Guide would benefit from including the Bridge Profile Data or at least pointing to it.



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