WAVERLEY – Southend, Thames Shipping & Forts. Sat 24th Sept 2011

Supporting the preservation and operation of paddle steamers Waverley and Kingswear Castle

WAVERLEY – Southend, Thames Shipping & Forts. Sat 24th Sept 2011

Still having cruising vouchers to use, I decided to travel to London for one of Waverleys trips on the Thames.  The weather forecast for Saturday 24th looked good, and a sailing with convenient departure and return times meant that I could do it in a day …..a very long day!

So another early start from Cardiff Central Station on the 06.25 to Paddington, arrived at Tower Pier at 09.15 and had to join the non ticket holders queue – near the front.  A lot of people had booked, taking advantage of the good weather and heeding the call to support the ships.  At 09.45 the numbers boarding had slowed and with room to spare, non ticket holders were boarded.

Casting off at 10.00 we were assisted to swing around by the tug Revenge and we passed the square rigger Tenacious that was also waiting to pass through Tower Bridge.

Through Tower Bridge followed by Tenacious

A trip on the Thames is very interesting as it meanders through East London, passing Docklands, Canary Wharf, The O2 Arena (millennium dome), Greenwich and the Thames Barrier.  Jeremy Gold gave a very interesting commentary and I noticed that many passenger had bought copies of Clive Headons (Bristol Channel branch member) excellent map of the Thames.

Approaching the Thames Barrier

We called in at Tilbury to disembark the passengers doing the short morning cruise, including members of a vintage cycling club with their very old cycles (some with acetylene lamps) a number of the cyclists wore period dress. A similar number of passengers boarded for the trip to Southend.

Approaching Southend Pier

At Southend many passengers disembarked for 3 hours ashore, while a number boarded for the cruise to view the Thames Forts. Today, Kingswear Castle was out on the Thames doing an estuary cruise and whilst we were alongside at Southend she passed close by with much sounding of her whistle which Waverley similarly responded to. 

Leaving the pier, we moved a short distance offshore, slowed down and paused briefly while the ashes of long time local PSPS member Alan Bushell were scattered.

Back up to full speed we headed out into the estuary towards the ‘forts’.  Roddy McKee took up the microphone for the commentary, as we slowed to pass close by and view, first the Red Sands Fort then further out to sea, the Shivering Sands Fort. To view the wikipedia information on the forts click HERE.

Approaching Red Sands Fort
A closer look, and a Thames Barge
Shivering Sands Fort

The Thames shipping part of the cruise is to return via the Southend anchorage, where often there are about a dozen ships anchored, waiting to proceed up the Thames or to sea ‘for orders’ for their next destination. Today, there was just the one ship – she’d been there for a couple of weeks waiting ‘for orders’.
Back at Southend, the tide had fallen and disembarkation had to be done at a lower level. Crew members had to remove scaffolding from the pier before the gangways could be put ashore.  With 2 gangways in use, passenger transfer was swift, however we had to wait a short time as the last (pier) trainload of passengers made their way to the ship – a number of passengers having missed that train, didn’t make it to the ship.

Back at Tilbury our afternoon cruise passengers departed and others boarded for the one way trip to Tower Pier.  The vintage cycling club members reboarded, and we headed off into the setting sun towards the lights of London. 

Through the floodlit Thames Barrier, past the lit O2 arena, then Greenwich and it blue lazer light beam (indicating the greenwich meridian) which we passed under several times as the Thames meanders through the meridian. Then past the Isle of Dogs – the city financial area – with its many lit skyscrapers before rounding the final bend bringing into view the floodlit Tower Bridge.  The people on the bridge, held up by its opening, applauded and cheered as we passed through.

The O2 arena at night

Tying up at Tower Pier a little late, I made sure I was near the gangways for a quick getaway.  Once ashore, it was dash to Tower Hill tube station where a train was just about to depart – not having to wait, gave me a fifteen minute breather at Paddington, before boarding the last train home for Cardiff.

It had been a very long day (up at 5am, home at 1am) but worth it, with no sailings to look forward to until next June.

Peter Havard