The summer of 2013 was coming fast to a close and it was time to bid Ireland and Scotland farewell. To snap this picture of the Buckingham Palace guards in London we had to sail there from Dublin.
~ The changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, London ~
Just prior to leaving Dublin, cruising pals Sue & John Spencer from San Antonio, Texas joined us as crew. They own a Nordhavn 40 (yes…there is a cult). Their boat ‘Uno Mas’ was the smallest in the fleet when we crossed the Atlantic in 2004.
We all set sail across the Irish Sea, then south down the length of it rounding the tip of England at Land’s End. We put into southwest Cornwall at Falmouth – a quaint seaside resort town filled with pubs, bistros and a nice stretch of beach…oh yea, throw in a castle and another maritime museum – both are becoming ubiquitous. We enjoyed all things Cornish – especially the Cornish pasty. The traditional pasty is a hardy size empanada-like bundle of dough filled with mixed vegetables. However, today’s pasties come in a wide variety of fillings – tikki chicken, stilton cheese & beef, mac n’ cheese (ick)…no matter – they all go great with a pint! Speaking of pints, we frequented a terrific quayside pub with head scraping rafters and a cozy atmosphere aptly named the Chain Locker, circa 1550.
~ The gang at the entrance to the Chain Locker Pub, the kegs are done~
~ Panoramic view of Falmouth harbor our first port in England ~
~ Falmouth ocean front ~
When cruising along the coast of Ireland and England we passed some spectacular land promontories or in nautical speak “headlands”. Mariners pay close attention to these projections of land because they are easy to run into. They are difficult to see in the dark and are frequently shrouded in fog and mist. They also play havoc with sea conditions by whipping the wind and producing strong currents. They are scary when viewed on the charts because there are always marked ship wrecks just off of them.
~ Headland off of Ireland ~
~ Headland off the coast of England ~
~ Headland off Dover, aka white cliffs~Dartmouth – South Devon
Set in a picturesque location on the River Dart, appropriately named Dartmouth is protected by the surrounding lush green Devon hills. This small deep water Royal Naval port has always been of strategic importance and played a vital role in the UK’s nautical history. As far back as the early 12th century it was used as the sailing point for the Crusades. Warfleet Creek is named after the vast naval fleets that assembled there. For over 600 years, Dartmouth castle has guarded the narrow entrance. Bayard’s cove is Dartmouth’s oldest wharf and is on a cobbled quayside. This is where the Mayflower provisioned in 1620 as the Pilgrim Fathers made their way from Southampton to America on their voyage to the New World.
~ Entrance to Dartmouth harbour ~
Our timing was spot on as we arrived in time to enjoy the Royal Regatta Week. The Port of Dartmouth Royal Regatta transforms the town into a hub of water based events. The population swells from 6,000 to 100,000 as revelers descend upon Dartmouth to take part in or watch various rowing and sailing competitions. The party atmosphere is enhanced by other sporting activities, multiple air displays, fairground rides, live music, various competitions and two firework displays.
The Dartmouth Harbour Authority gave us a premier mooring – right in the center of the harbor. Their ‘Notice to Mariners’ read like a Special Ops assignment – extremely thorough and very informative, concerning boat restrictions during the Regatta week.
~ The OP in the center of the Dart River ~
We were told that on the weekend as the schedule of events ratchets up we should expect boats to “raft up” alongside us. Sure enough by Saturday, we were sandwiched in with a total of 7 boats rafted off us. Party time!
~ Boats rafting off the ‘Pearl’, see black arrow ~
~ Company! ~
~ Town quay swelling with people ~
~ The same town quay the day after the Royal Regatta week ends ~
~ Balloon anyone? ~
The week was jam packed with festivities! I can’t decide what was more thrilling, – the ‘Red Arrows’, the British version of our ‘Blue Angels’, the Royal Navy Helicopter Search & Rescue ‘Black Cats’, the aerial stunts of ‘The Blades’ or the sound deafening and frightenly low flying ‘Hurricane’. ALL viewed from the OP fly bridge and performing just above our heads! Oh yea…the fireworks…they were pretty amazing too.
~ The amazing Red Arrows ~
~ One of the Blades ~
~ The hills are alive! Those are spectators…not sheep ~
~ Festive street in Darmouth ~
~ Royal Navy Search & Rescue helicopter ~
~ Awesome fireworks ~
In addition to all the festivities in town and on the water, Braun & I were able to get a private and personal tour of the Britannia Royal Naval College. Indeed…a memorable week for all of us.
~ The Britannia Royal Navy College in the background ~
~ Nearby charming town of Totnes ~ Portsmouth – Wessex
The Wessex County coast is awash with historic heritage, its many ideal ports home to the Royal Navy. In a rejuvenated Portsmouth you can spend hours milling around the Dockyards enjoying all things Navy! We climbed aboard the pride of Nelson’s Navy, HMS Victory. We thoroughly enjoyed the newly renovated museum that houses the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship and its vast collection of her artifacts. There’s a D-Day museum, and a Submarine museum, all in the midst of the wharfs buzzing with restaurants, pubs and shops…something for everyone.
~ Nelson’s HMS Victory ~
Portsmouth skyline ~ Cotswold’s – Classic English countryside
We took a break from coastal cruising and rode a train inland for several hours to the villages of Cotswold. We roamed for several days through the quaint classic English countryside. At every turn there were charming flower-clad cottages with thatched roofs on cobbled lanes. This Cotswolds’ area is one of the most popular for “ramblers” – hikers. Public footpaths meander through neat fields past picturesque villages with cottages built with the native honey-colored stone. I was certain that Snow White and her seven dwarfs were going to pop out at any minute!
~ Home with thatched roof near Chipping Camden, Cotswolds
~ Lower Slaughter area ~
~ Reputed to be the oldest Inn in England, 947 AD. Once called The Royalist Inn it is now renovated and has reverted to it’s historic name used in medieval times, The Porch House ~
~ Sue and Tina enjoying a pint of cider – it’s August in England~ Portsmouth to Brighton – in the English Channel
It was September 11th when we put to sea for a voyage along the busy English Channel from Portsmouth to Brighton. Frequent threat advisories cautioned a high alert in English waters. Sure enough, as we eased out of Portsmouth Harbor the VHF radio began crackling with messages concerning the high state of alert and necessity for a sharp look out.
Our careful watch produced a visual on a military vessel about the size of a PT boat. It shadowed us for over an hour keeping a steady distance of 4-5 miles. Then there was a direct call on the radio to Ocean Pearl. We correctly reasoned it must be them and it was the UK Border Agency patrol ship, Valiant.
They radioed requesting the usual information – type of vessel, flag, last and next ports of call, cargo, etc. Then the bit about “had we cleared customs and immigration into the UK”? We answered “negative”, and explained we had cleared into Ireland, a European Union country. We responded further, it was our understanding once cleared in we were authorized to pass through all EU countries including the UK. Then Braun remembered you never tell the law the law and particularly on 9/11. Sure enough, our explanation was curtly dismissed with the Valiant’s own “Negative” and notification that they would meet us in our next port, Brighton, to conduct proper entry formalities.
~ Border Patrol boat Valiant waiting for us in Brighton ~
The exchange with the Valiant was somewhat to be expected, but just 10 minutes later we heard a loud Vietnam rotor blade noise, like the overture to the movie Apocalypse Now. A look out the window and there it was – a military helicopter just a few feet above the boat! I mean close!
~ Helo overhead, that’s Ocean Pearl’s mast light, right foreground ~
We thought the Valiant may have elevated us as a threat and sent out the big guns, but the helo radioed that they were S&R (Search and Rescue). They wanted to conduct a drill that involved landing a man on our boat. Would we agree to participate? Sure, we radioed back, hoping the Valiant was listening in so we could score some brownie points toward our passing their customs inspection. The S&R pilot advised us to steadily maintain our course and speed and the exercise began with a line being lowered.
~ Getting the line ready ~
~ Helo near boat with the resuce jumper, paramedic about to land ~
Braun sent all of us below on the OP in case the helo swept in a bit low and hit our deck – which would have meant a drop of only a few feet! Our precautions were unnecessary as the pilot was a real pro and quickly we had “David” from Her Majesty’s Coastguard on board, cheery as he could be.
~Just stopping by to say hello ~
~ David and Braun ~
We had a chat with Dave and Braun asked him if we could get him a “pint”, to which he replied that he was still on duty (duh!) but would be off in a couple of hours and was looking forward to some tea and stickies. Stickies? What are they? And what is a burly guy like you going to do with them, we asked. He got a big laugh out of that and explained they are small sweet cakes and quite tasty.
He thanked us for training with them and then mentioned we should not be alarmed should we see him on departure changing lines in midair. That was the final part of the drill – they would simulate a damaged cable and he would have to switch off the bad cable while ascending, dangling for a moment looking helpless – not to worry, all in a days work. So like Santa, he was up and away, waving all the while.
~ Saying goodby, getting ready to do the midair cable swap ~
Just never know how the day will unfold on the high seas! London – St Katherine’s Dock
It was necessary to plan our voyage from the English Channel to London up the Thames River very carefully. The Thames can be trecherous – strong, estuarial tidal streams with a 10-12 foot tide (4 pages in the pilot book dedicated to tidal streams!), many shallow spots due to sandbanks shifting, lots of marks and LOTS of maritime traffic. We wanted ideal conditions to reach our end destination for this season. London was only 60 miles away however; we had to time our arrival at St. Katherine’s Dock at near high or slack tide to “lock up”. The marina is protected from the river’s extreme tidal flows by a lock and you have to time your entry just right.
We departed Ramsgate anticipating a 30 mile run to Queenborough. To time the tide we made arrangements to tie up to a concrete “lighter”, which is a small floating concrete dock anchored by chain in a creek off the Thames. The weather and sea were forecasted to be light…HA! We were smacked by an outgoing tide slowing us down and winds gusting up at times to 40 knots (a gale) as we neared the mouth of the Thames. We beat through it and eventually were rewarded with a calm evening tied up to the lighter. It ain’t all easy!
~ The Thames Estuary on the chart plotter with AIS targets (ship traffic) and many, many navigational marks ~
The next day we were up early as we were planned an 11:30 am arrival at St Kate’s dock which is located adjacent to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge! This part of the trip up the Thames was thrilling! We passed by Greenwich, a World Heritage Site and home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Meridian Line. Also the historic Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory, and Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Royal Naval College. Big time maritime! Then, soon in the distance, Tower Bridge…yahoo! We had arrived!
~ Tower Bridge, we are tied up to the (out of the picture) right of these historic Thames sailing barges~
~ The Captain at the wing station in the lock at St Kate’s’ Dock ~
St Katherine’s has played a significant role in worldwide trade and commerce for over 1,000 years. Formerly a working dock, today it’s an attractive waterfront development featuring a mixture of shops, restaurants, luxury flats, offices as well as a state-of-the-art marina.
It also home to a collection of historic Thames sailing barges (see Tower Bridge photo above). These craft were used on the river for hundreds of years to transport cargo. They are propelled mostly by the tide and are not very manuverable. When they approach a dock they usually crash land and thus the origin of the slang “to barge in”.
St. Kates is a wonderful end point to another memorable ocean passage, terrific cruising and touring of Ireland, Scotland and England…and especially the new friends we made along the way!!
~ A panoramic of southside of London…note my puny photoshop arrow where St Kate’s is located at the left tower of the Tower Bridge ~
We bid farewell to John & Sue in London. We’re so grateful for all their help. John was especially helpful in the planning for and navigation of the Thames River. And every evening they know how to put the “happy” in Happy Hour :-).
~ Sue and John as we depart Ramsgate – it was nippy! ~
~John and Sue – mostly empty glasses~
It’s been a cracker (Irish speak for good time) summer. We’ll winter the boat in the city just beside the Tower of London and in sight of the Tower Bridge. It’s time to take our home leave and start planning and chart plotting for next season.
Until the next voyage…Cheers!
Over and out ~
Tina & Braun
~The sun sets on the Ocean Pearl, two seafarers and an old warehouse~