At seven o’clock on a Saturday morning in June the M11 and the M25 were plagued with weekend drivers, but it took Opal, on her trailer, less than 90 minutes to reach Upnor and the Medway Yacht Club. The seeds of the cruise had been sown in March, when John Basley, from the MYC, invited the Eastern Region to launch from their slipway on the North bank of the Medway, and had germinated into conversations with Steve the Bo’s’n and Catherine the Sailing Secretary. The cruise had blossomed with a conversation between John, of the DCA, and Norman, of Lower Halstow Yacht Club which would make the Eastern Region members welcome on Saturday evening.
Medway Yacht Club,
looking South, upriver
Opal was off her trailer and waiting on her launching trolley when Dave arrived with his Roamer. A few minutes later Mark arrived, expecting to sail with Gerald. Opal and the Roamer were afloat and waiting when Gerald trailed Susie to the slipway. As she launched John and Opal were a mile or so downriver, running before the Westerly wind against the new flood. He ate lunch in the cockpit, under way, keeping clear of the two coasters carrying the flood upriver, counting the buoys as he passed them and watching the thick, black thunderclouds gathering overhead.
The first few drops were big and heavy, dimpling the river and killing the wind. As the shower strengthened the drops became hailstones, turning the water into a seething, bubbling froth. The ice accumulated in the little boat and on the skipper’s drysuit until he was sitting in an ice bath. As the hail and then the rain abated the black clouds lowered, flickering with lightning and deafening with thunder.
As the storm moved away to the East the wind returned gently and he was able again to count off the buoys. The PHM ‘No 16’ was mistaken for ‘No 14’ and he crossed to the South bank looking for the two cardinals. The flood, now at its strongest, carried him into Half Acre Creek and he spent an anxious hour struggling out again. And there, around the corner, was the real ‘No14’ and beyond it, the cardinals at the mouth of Stangate Creek.
During the storm the wind had backed toward the South West so that, in Stangate Creek Opal tacked with long boards to the S’E and short boards, back against the flood, to the West. At the mouth of Halstow Creek the wind was exactly contrary; the creek itself was a maelstrom of breaking water. With Opal deep-reefed the boards were equal, but even with the fair tide flooding up the creek each one gained no more than a hundred metres or so to windward. When, occasionally, Opal refused to tack and had to be gybed around there was no gain at all and even a loss.
Dave later estimated this wind “at the top end of F5”; he and his Roamer wisely anchored in Stagnate Creek during the worst of it. At the same time Susie was safe somewhere in the maze of channels East of Stagnate Creek; neither Mark nor Gerald was able to say quite where!
Halstow Bay, with Lower Halstow Yacht Club in the background
As Opal finally rounded the corner into Halstow bay the wind died away and a weak sun came out. Under full sail she glided across the flat water toward the LHYC clubhouse, passing smoothly between the moored yachts and whispering into the grass an hour before HW.
Ken, a member of the LHYC, had prepared his sailing yacht and was waiting for the DCA members at the landing stage. John secured Opal to a post and Ken showed him the clubhouse, how to operate the door lock, the location of the kettle, the microwave and the shower. Was ever a soaking sailor made more welcome?!
And there, coming round the corner, were the Roamer and then Susie. Before they were halfway across the bay both dinghies were under oars and being rowed the last half mile to the jetty.
Four o’clock on a Sunday morning.
The last quarter of moon was high in the South and the air was clear and dry and calm. The tide, following the moon, had covered the mud in the bay and would reach HW at about 5.15. Opal was afloat by a quarter to five, moving gently through the moorings on the slack water. The light Westerly wind and the new ebb carried her East down Halstow Creek and North down Stangate Creek. At the cardinals both wind and ebb were dead against her. For a futile hour she made no progress upriver at all, and eventually anchored on the ledge between the East Cardinal and the Isolated Danger for a second breakfast.
To the East Dave’s Roamer, and then Susie, crept out of Stangate Creek and turned right toward Queensborough. They intended to wait for a few hours, perhaps over lunch, and then catch the new flood up to Upnor, but, within the hour, the Roamer appeared, tacking upriver. For a boomless standing lug she sails remarkably close to the wind!
By eleven o’clock John had also tired of waiting for the tide and weighed his anchor - which refused to leave the bottom! Eventually, he cut the rode, losing the anchor and committing himself to the wind and tide.
The long beat upriver was concentrated sailing, both tiring and relaxing, stimulating and exciting. Keeping the boat as close to the wind as she would lie while keeping the speed up to cover the tide. Judging the moment to tack before running into the muddy bank yet using as much of each board as possible. Estimating by eye the potential collision courses with other boats, their tack and angle to the wind, and then deciding which of the blighters had even seen him and which would ignore him. A cheery wave to those who clearly knew the Rules!
The new flood helped to carry the three boats the last mile or so; and then the back eddy at the slipway took them each in turn by surprise.
The electric winch was a blessing, the club restaurant and bar was welcoming and the club officials were very friendly.
The boats were loaded and secured and the motorways were relatively clear. The delay at the Dartford Crossing was normal.