The following report on Waverley’s first weekend on the Thames this year was passed to the Branch by Roy Tait.
“Waverley arrived at Margate early on Friday morning having sailed 130 nautical miles overnight from Portsmouth. After embarking her self-loading cargo she paddled round the Kent coast bound for the City of London via Whitstable, Southend-on-Sea and Gravesend. At Whitstable she had a one and half hour layover to refuel. With a good load on board, Waverley headed across the Thames Estuary to call at the 1.3 mile-long Southend Pier then onwards to Gravesend.
Waverley bunkering at Whitstable
Gravesend Town Pier is the oldest surviving cast wrought iron pier in the world and Grade II listed. The pier and buildings reopened after renovation in 2002 though it was unsuitable for ships like Waverley. Ten years on and today Waverley had the honour of officially opening the new Waverley-sized pontoon. After some fine weather early afternoon the rain started, light turning heavy at times, just as the forecast had predicted. Waverley paddled in to Gravesend fashionably late to find the brass band and dignitaries taking shelter in the pier buildings. In the finest traditions of fundraising, after the ribbon cutting ceremony the ribbon – or should that be pair of ribbons – were auctioned in the ship’s souvenir shop.
The red ribbon parts to formally re-open Gravesend Town Pier on Friday 28th September
Waverley continued upstream; through the Thames Barrier, past the Millennium Do… O2 Arena, beneath the cable cars of the new Emirates Air Line suspended 300 feet above, and past Canary Wharf, twice. Right on cue the centre span of the floodlit iconic Tower Bridge lifted for the similarly iconic Waverley as she slipped through to berth on time at Tower Pier. On the bank opposite her guardians for the night, HMS ‘Belfast’ and the Brazilian frigate ‘Brasil’.
On Saturday, under a cloudless blue sky, Waverley was canted using a bow line tied to the 1948-built tug ‘Revenge’. Waverley paddled down the Thames to Clacton-on-Sea calling en-route at Gravesend and Southend. Once again the ship was pleasingly loaded with over 540 souls on board.
Waverley at Clacton-on-Sea
On arriving back at Tower Pier the Mississippi-styled “paddle steamer” ‘Dixie Queen’ tied up behind Waverley. The contrast on the pier between the disgorging Waverley passengers and boarding ‘Dixie Queen’ passengers was marked. One group puffing their way up the steep access bridge wrapped in thick outer garments, the other group somewhat younger group tottering tentatively downhill in heels and the flimsiest of outer garments.
A full ship left Tower Pier on the Sunday morning for the River Medway, again calling at Gravesend and Southend. En-route PSPS, Commodore and Friends of Waverley members assembled in the lower bar at the invitation of WSN Chairman Nick James. Nick introduced former newspaper editor, author and Guardian columnist Ian Jack. Ian talked for around 20 minutes on why the Waverley mattered to him, recalling his holidays in Port Glasgow and his induction in to the world of Clyde paddle steamers, cruising and the ‘interesting characters’ that it attracts. His talk struck a chord with many of his audience and a healthy Q&A session followed debating the merits of modern marine architecture (conclusion; there are no merits) and recruiting the next generation of ‘interesting characters’ who will ensure Waverley’s future.
A fully-laden paddler arrives at Southend Pier
A pilot clambered aboard Waverley at Sheerness at the mouth of the Medway. Abeam Kingsnorth power station Waverley met up with Kingswear Castle. Much waving and whistle blowing ensued as Kingswear Castle made passes along both sides of her younger companion.
Waverley returned to Southend, Gravesend and up river to Tower Pier. As she was approaching Tower Bridge one of the Thames Clipper ‘taxis’ elected to deviate from their usual course and pass under the opening centre span, directly in to the path of the approaching Waverley. Captain Clark proceeded to demonstrate his ability to convey concise messages via steam whistle!
Waverley approaches Tower Bridge
After disembarking most of her passengers at Tower Pier Waverley departed to Gravesend where she’d berth until her next scheduled sailing on Tuesday.”
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