I think they told us it was fifty eight miles we had to do in the one day, which is pretty good going at any time, but even more so allowing for wind and tide, for we were in tidal waters for the whole trip and in big big waters for more than half of it. Eleven hours it took.
Here's where we went. You can zoom in and out of the map and I'll explain the symbols as we go along.
Here's the diary of the day.
4.15 am- Limehouse Basin, crawl out of bed aboard Nb Indigo Dream. By the time we were washed and dressed and compus mentis we peered out of the window to find that our accompanying boat Nb Doris Katia, helmed by the redoubtable Andrew Phasey, had already set off. Soon we were in full chase up Limehouse cut as the sun rose.
When we arrived at Bow Locks, Andrew was already making his way into the tide lock.
Timing was important, because the plan was to go down towards the sea on a falling tide, then as we turned back into the Medway estuary, we wanted the tide to be coming in, to help us to push inland.
5. 48am- we're off! (starting pistol on the map). Down Bow Creek and out onto the Thames just by the O2 arena. I remember the first time we did that, the river seemed massively wide. Believe me that was nothing compared with what was to come. Sue and Richard on Indigo dream are previous Herbie Award holders in recognition of their bounteous hospitality and today was to be no exception. Warm Danish pastries appeared on deck.
As you can see, the river was very calm and flat, and we were very relieved. It can get very lumpy out there. The Thames tidal barrier soon came into sight. maybe you can just make out the green light on one of the pods which tell you which gap to aim for.
The Phaseys led the way on Doris Katia. You'll see a lot more pictures of their boat than ours for the simple reason that it's hard to photograph a boat when you're on it. Five minutes later as we passed through the barrier the heavens opened and we got a good soaking to start off the day.
Out we went, past the Royal Docks with jets from the City Airport taking off over our heads. Then on, dodging the criss -crossing Woolwich Ferry and to the Barking Creek tidal barrier and the river was already a third of a mile wide and growing. Visibility was pretty poor really and by the time we reached the QEII bridge at Dartford the big ships were appearing out of the murk.
At one time we would have been terrified at going this far down river with just two little narrowboats but we'd done this bit before, so we were relaxed. Mr Phasey knows these waters so well he could drive with his eyes shut.
By now we were probably on our third cup of coffee and enjoying bacon rolls. Keep it up Sue.
The rain had stopped but it was very misty in the distance and it was clearly going to be hard to make out the marker buoys we were supposed to follow. Richard was looking pensive.
Out in front it wasn't easy to make out anything from the various dim dots in the distance.
Then we approach Canvey Island a noticeable swell started to affect us. Not choppy waves but a significant roll.
Our own boat was pitching noticeably but our eyes were fixed on Doris Katia as her bows dipped beneath the waves alarmingly.
then at the other side of the waves, her bows lifted well clear of the water revealing her base plate
It's at times like this you learn how resilient narrowboats are, even though they're definitely not designed for this sort of stuff.
If you have the band width, watch this short video of Doris Katia rocking and rolling along side us. It's a good 'un - you may well gasp at about 18 seconds in!
I just noticed that the video wouldn't work on our ipads although it does on our PC. If you have that problem, you can see it direct on Youtube by following this link. I just tested it and it works.
I've put a wave symbol on the map to indicate where we were. The river here was about 2 miles wide and about to get much wider. Not the sort of place to lose anyone overboard.
The waves subsided a bit and then we saw our next worry, in the distance a cruise liner heading towards us. These big boats can make a helluva wash.
In the event it didn't bother us much and she passed safely at a good distance.
We could now make out Southend pier in the distance, which told us it was time to do some serious buoy spotting, but making them out was really hard, even with binoculars. Go between the red ones and the green ones they said. Well it was hard enough to make out buoys at all, let alone see what colour they were.
That foamy line across the water marked out the shallows around the Isle of Grain, not a place to get stranded so we kept well clear. The estuary (I'll stop calling it a river now) was 3 miles wide. By the time we turned into the Medway Estuary it was even wider. By now we had travelled something like 36 miles at a fair old pace, two or sometimes three times a good canal speed. Richard and Andrew's calculations had worked out near enough spot on and we had arrived at our turning point just as the tide was about to turn.
That seems a good point at which to finish this episode. I'll do part two tomorrow. It has speeding lifeboats, ship wrecks, yacht races, twists and turns galore, and finishes at a pub. Stay tuned.