A high mark in the Kents’ summer
Being an Essex lad and very keen on ‘tidal’ delights – that is the traditional craft which once plied their trade in and about the Thames Estuary, from the tiniest of creeks in and about the small ‘hythes’ transporting materials and goods into the heart of the capital and, of course, the once busy and extensive docks. As trade diminished, enthusiasts converted their purpose-designed commercial craft into leisure craft, many fully rigged as sailormen, many converted into residential ‘units’ which found their way – together with Dutch, Belgian and French imports – to delightful moorings for weekend and full-time residential use.
Every August enthusiasts find their way to the Swale for a sailing match and get-together. For years we have taken a minor part as keen supporters and even as crew members in our more agile days (and nights). This family enthusiasm has encouraged us to sail mostly dinghies around the Thames Estuary and abroad on holidays. Having used our Faversham cottage as a base for some 50 years, we have tried to be around to witness the arrival and departure of the graceful and extensive fleets. Even camping along the sea wall or sailing amongst the fleet and on numerous occasions being on board competing sprit sail barges and joining in on the prize-giving events held in and around the Shipwrights Pub and boat shed which is splendidly be-flagged for the fun occasion.
Visiting and competing craft gather well before the Saturday match. It’s a delight to see early arrivals sail in from every quarter and even riverine craft pass by our Greenwich waterside eyrie in good time to utilise the tide and wind, as did the sailormen of yesteryear. Many a Thames Barge was built here at Greenwich, just yards from where I write!!
This Friday we joined the Thorlings at Seasalter, having lunched with them at Faversham’s quayside Italian restaurant and having had a ‘march round’ of this Creekside port which has, for years, attracted traditional craft with its extensive quay-side yards and local craftsmen.
By coincidence I bumped into one of the Guide Magazine’s staff also lunching at ‘Posillipo’ who published ‘Riverwatch’ for many a year. Sarah Thorling’s skill in reading my writing and editing it during those balmy days.; since then, Helen Othen has nobly stepped in and encouraged me to follow this self-indulgence – I thank them all.
We struck lucky as retired to the Thorlings with their fantastic home which overlooks miles of estuary from North Essex, upriver t wards Southend, the tail end of Sheppey and the Swale channel for a good miles.
Armed with sun hat and binoculars, I surveyed the beautiful summer afternoon as one by one cross-estuary sails appeared at the ports’ approaches through the maze of channels which are for ever changing, as shipping demands. The sloping, grass-covered cliff side running down to the extensive mud flats and oyster beds shimmered in the sun and all was well with the world, as anxious skippers made their landfall with the blessing of a light breeze and a rising tide. I could almost hear the hearty greetings between the crews in anticipation of a pint at the Shipwrights’ briefing!
One year we stayed on board to savour the magic of the gathered fleet swinging in the tide. Believe it or not as I write ‘Lord Roberts’, a famous sprit sail barge, motors past with jolly punters on board for a trip on Greenwich Reach on the ebb tide – ah me again!!