Category Archives: Gravesend

Gravesend again – having a whale of a time!

Benny the whale at Gravesend

It’s clearly a Gravesend week.   Two days ago we highlighted the coming auction of West Street Pier in the town.   Some barge people have since suggested it would make a good base for Thames Sailing Barges  –  lot of money, lot of work needed, as ever with barges.

Now today there is an article in The Times about that whale which came for an autumn holiday in the Thames at Lower Hope Reach, and liked it so much it stayed around the area for several months, even being seen off Gravesend Promenade.   Although nobody knows whether it is male or female, it was christened Benny by local people and seems to have contributed considerably to the town’s economy.   Postcards, mugs, fridge magnets and cuddly toy whales appeared in the shops, and there was even “Bennie’s Ale” at one of the pubs.

When we went over on the ferry for the SSBR Committee meeting at the marvellous Three Daws last autumn we all had our eyes peeled but didn’t have the luck to see Benny.

The last sighting was January 6th and even that is just a maybe.   Has Benny gone?   Did it decide the Thames in December was not the place to be?   Gravesend businesses hope not.   They hope Benny may be in the outer estuary, or if it has gone that it will come back again.   They say Benny had adapted well to life in the river and was happy.

For the sake of all those Benny fridge magnets, they hope to see the whale again.

Read the story here.

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Going, going …… River Thames pier up for auction.

Many thanks to Gravesend resident and SSBR Vice Chairman, Roger Newlyn, for bringing to my attention an advertisement for the sale of West Street Pier.

The pier has been the Kent terminal of the Tilbury – Gravesend Ferry for as long as I can remember.   In my young days the foot ferry was surpassed by the vehicle ferry used by Essex people on their way to the south coast holiday resorts.   This involved many hours queued on the Tilbury side to drive downPier-West-Street-300x198 on to the pontoon and then on to the boat, or on the return journey lined up along West Street which seemed in those long lost days much narrower, much darker, and, dare I say, rather seedy.   Somehow though it all added to the excitement of the holiday.

When the car ferry was no more  –  after the opening of the first Purfleet – Dartford tunnel  –  the passenger ferry had the use of the pier with just a narrow exit on to West Street.   But it was shared with the Princess Pocahontas as the base for her pleasure trips up and down the river.   Then the construction of the pontoon at the Town Pier meant the ferry transferred to that, and the West Street Pier stood empty and deteriorating.

The advertisement is from Network Auctions and is headlined “Rare River Thames pier to be sold at auction”.   It appears the sale is on behalf of the receivers and is to take place in London on 28th February.    Stuart Elliott, the auctioneer, says it is a rare and unusual opportunity for buyers, “How often can you purchase a pier on the Thames!”   The guide price is £55,000 plus.   The freehold pier is being sold with a separate adjacent vacant office building.   According to the auctioneer the pier offers redevelopment opportunities ,subject to planning.

There is an historical plaque at the site recording it as one of the South East’s oldest transport routes.   Originally there were two routes, the “Long Ferry” between Gravesend and London, and the “Cross Ferry” over to Essex.

In 1401 King Henry IV granted the Gravesend townspeople sole rights to operate the Long Ferry.   At first sailing “Tilt” boats were used, with paddle steamers being introduced in 1815, but the growth of the railways meant the Long Ferry went into decline around the middle of the nineteenth century.

The Cross Ferry is even older, being recorded in the Domesday Book of 1083.   Wherry rowing boats were used until they were replaced by a small steam tug in the 1840s, and by paddle steamers in 1856.

Roger feels West Street Pier is not the bargain that it seems as there have been expensive problems with the structure in the last few years.

Here’s the link to the advertisement.

Cambria and Waverley at Gravesend

Photos of the paddle steamer Waverley, when she was doing trips on the Thames with Waverley at Gravesend 2012last year, have just been published on the vessel’s Facebook page.   Amongst them is this terrific one showing Waverley and sb Cambria on either side of the new pontoon at Gravesend.  

When Waverley came into the pontoon for the first time, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a brass band playing on the pier, I was on board Cambria with Dave Brooks and Rob Bassi.   We had been expecting quite a few Waverley passengers to visit Cambria and were all ready to show them round.   In the end only two were given permission to disembark from the paddle steamer and come on board, and they were only allowed five minutes.   A high speed tour took place!  

Still it was great to see these two ladies of the sea side by side, and a stirring sight when those huge paddles turned and Waverley continued up river.  

Photo of the day – Good Night Thames

Dave Brooks took this striking picture on 28th July, after the 2012 Thames Match.   It shows some of the barges lying off Gravesend late at night.   They are at peace after their sail out into the estuary;  then being becalmed;  and the eventual  abandonment of the Match.

Sails sparkle as the Tall Ships go up river

Heard quite by chance that a flotilla of 14 tall ships was going up river from Tilbury.    They are to provide short sails on the Thames in London during the Olympics under the banner Sail Royal Greenwich, and gourmet catering is promised plus a view of all the London sights.

Normally when I go to Tilbury Landing Stage for such an event, there are only a few hardened watchers there, but this morning, driven no doubt by the school holidays and the excellent weather, it was packed.   People everywhere;  the ferry passengers had a great view;  and over there at the new Gravesend Town Pier pontoon was a lady I thought I knew  –  a grey and black lady with fresh paint.   Cambria back ready for the Thames Match on Saturday.

The tall ships were moored at Tilbury Landing Stage overnight, and took passengers on board this morning, who, we were told, had been brought down river by Thames Clipper.   They left the landing stage under motor, but soon the sails began to unfurl.  

Then, on a sparkling sunny morning, they formed up  into a wonderful stately parade of sail for the journey up to Greenwich.    Standing on the landing stage, unfortunately I was facing straight into the sun so the pictures I took are darker than the beautiful day would have suggested.

Once the sails had disappeared  behind Tilbury docks, I raced by car back to Grays and down to the riverside by the old Wouldham works.   I missed the frontrunner, but was in time to see all the rest as they came past.   It was low water, so they had to be right in the middle to pick up the channel.   And luckily the huge Cobelfret ships stayed well back until the parade had passed.

Then they were gone.   The Sail Royal Greenwich website here tells you all about what the ships will be doing, and also mentions that today’s sail had to be curtailed.   They were not allowed to go right to Greenwich for security reasons, presumably Olympics security.   A friend tells me it was disappointing earlier as the river front at Greenwich was packed with people who had come to watch, but the ships had to turn back.   Tonight though they eventually made it to Greenwich. 

(Words and pictures – Tricia Gurnett)

Cambria and friends on way to the Pageant

I went down to Tilbury Landing Stage on Thursday evening because Cambria, lying at the new Town Pontoon at Gravesend, was to start her journey up river ready to join the Avenue of Sail for the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant on Sunday.

It was a dull evening with slight rain, but, with the car on the landing stage, I was able to stay in the dry and just get out when Cambria was ready to sail.   She slipped her moorings at 18.05 and began the first tack across the river.   She looked tremendous.   Two tacks later, and she was near the Tilbury Landing Stage.   I could see everyone on deck, and identified Julie.   I had said I would wave a Union flag, which I did madly, and Julie says she could see me.

And then they were gone, hidden by the massive cargo ship moored at the far end of the Landing Stage because she’s too big to get into the Docks.

Tenacious approaches the Landing Stage

Meanwhile, more treats appeared.   First, the magnificent Tenacious, owned and operated by the Hampshire-based Jubilee Sailing Trust, a charity that promotes the integration of able-bodied and physically disabled people via the challenges of crewing a square rigged tall ship at sea.   As she approached Tilbury, a rib left the ship with six young people in yellow waterproofs who climbed on to the Landing Stage.   They found the deputy harbour master  –  that was lucky, usually there’s never anyone there when you want them  –  and he said Tenacious could tie up at the far end.

Shortly afterwards a little grey motor boat appeared, followed by three sailing vessels.   

MTB 102

The grey job was MTB 102, now in private ownership but built in 1937 as a motor torpedo boat able to mount a quick response to threats from both warships and submarines.   She saw active service mainly in the English Channel.   During ‘Operation Dynamo’, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, she crossed the Channel no less than seven times.   In 1944 she carried Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower to review the ships assembled on the South Coast for the D-Day landings.   So she saw both the end of the desperate evacuation of the British Forces from Europe and the start of their determined return.

Jolly Brise

The next sailing vessel was the Jolly Brise, a 1913 Pilot Cutter.   She is the only traditional vessel in the UK owned, maintained and sailed by school students.   She won the first ever Fastnet Race and then two more after that.    In recent years she was the overall winner of Tallships Races 2000 and 2004, being raced and sailed by Dauntsey’s School Students.

She was followed by Provident, a gaff-rigged ketch built in 1924 at Galmpton on the River

Provident

Dart, and at 90ft long is one of the medium-sized ‘mule’ class of sailing trawlers.   The Brixham sailing trawlers were legendary deep sea fishing vessels, their design combining strength and stability with manoeuvrability and speed.   Provident is one of only a handful of these famous vessels still in use and is now operated by the Trinity Sailing Foundation for sail training and sailing holidays from their base in Brixham.

Lastly, there was the stately Queen Galadriel, a gaff-rigged ketch Baltic trader built in 1937 in Svenborg, Denmark, and

Queen Galadriel

originally named Else, after the Captain’s daughter.   She traded as a cargo vessel around the coasts of Denmark and Norway, initially as a motor sailor, but after 1956 under motor alone.   By the 1970s she was no longer needed, but in 1983 she was bought by The Cirdan Sailing Trust and went into service renamed Queen Galadriel.   Now the Trust’s flagship, she provides disadvantaged young people with learning opportunities and self development through the challenge of life at sea.

So well worth the scramble back round the M25, actually completed in record time, to see not just Cambria but other vessels taking part in the Jubilee Pageant.   The MTB will be in the flotilla accompanying the Queen.   The others will be in the Avenue of Sail:  Queen Galadriel and Jolly Brise in St Katherine’s Dock, and Tenacious and Provident moored below Tower Bridge on the south side of the river.   Cambria will be moored between Tower Bridge and London Bridge, also on the south side, amongst a good number of her fellow sailing barges.

(Tricia Gurnett)

Cambria’s winter work ready for first sails of 2012

The Barge Blog has been so busy that there was no time to publish Dave Brooks’s winter report from Cambria earlier, but here it is.

“It has been a busy close season for the Cambria.  Many of our objectives have been achieved, though some will have to carried forward to next year.

“The main focus of this close season was to have the Rotary Club Logo painted into the tops’l, (Rotary International is a sponsor of Cambria), which has been completed, and to replace our old ‘whippy’ bowsprit, which has been fitted.

“Sailing plans started with Cambria leaving Faversham on Friday 20th April, under Richard Titchener, and arriving in Gravesend on the 22nd to sit on the new pontoon at Gravesend Town Pier as part of its opening event.  We had the barge open to the public as much as possible, although the weather didn’t do much to encourage visitors. She left Gravesend on the 4th May to return to Faversham where her re-dedication ceremony took place on Standard Quay on the 9th May.

“We expect to be racing in the Medway Match on the 26th May, the Thames Match on the 28th July and the Colne Match on the 8th September.

“The sailing season is back.”

Photo by Dave Brooks shows Cambria lying at the Gravesend Town Pier Pontoon, and yes, Matt C and Jeremy T, that is the power station!  

Watch the sailmaker at work in Simon’s video

We posted here on Saturday about sailmaker Steve Hall’s visit to Cambria at Gravesend to repair the topsail.

Film maker, Simon North, was there and has now published this great video of Steve at work.   Not only does it show his great skill, but he talks about his life as a sailmaker.   He tells us that it took a bit over three months to make the sails for Cambria, and that he has been sailmaking ever since leaving school.

It even has my own dulcet tones asking a couple of questions.

(Tricia)

A craftsman at work – the sailmaker

It was a really cold, wet day, and as we sat aboard Cambria waiting for the Gravesend crowds to come and view her, we were not that surprised that they didn’t flock down on to the new pontoon.   Some came, a few brave souls with children wanting to see what it was all about.

And then, about 4 o’clock my day was made really worthwhile.

Cambria had a tear in her topsail that needed to be repaired before she goes back to Faversham at the end of the week, and she was expecting the sailmaker.   A dripping wet figure in wellies and waterproofs descended the ladder, and it was Steve Hall the sailmaker from North Sea Sails of Tollesbury.   He is one of the very few traditional sailmakers left.

He set to work, expertly measuring the size of the piece of canvas he needed, cutting it, and then sewing it neatly into place with small, regular stitches.    This all done on the splendid topsail that he himself had made not that long ago.   He made it look easy, but it’s only easy if you know how and have years of experience.   And all the while he talked in the wonderful real Essex tones, (not that rubbish you hear on TOWIE and similar programmes, which is actually part London and part transatlantic TV speak).

We had a long discussion as fellow enthusiasts of Jeeves and Wooster, but Steve’s much better at it than I am, and can quote reams of it.

And I felt then as I watched him, and I still feel now, that I have been truly privileged to spend the afternoon in the company of a master craftsman and watch him at his work.  

(Tricia)                                                                                       (photo – Dave Brooks)

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