Festive Season on the tideway
Sister ships unite at Victoria Deep Wharf during the festive season, when the construction business grinds to a halt and their North Sea aggregate dredgers take a well-earned break from their daily routine servicing Hansons deep water wharves.
The offshore dredging can be easily spotted from incoming aircraft as the tideway exposes the trail and twirl of dredged material which is excavated from the complex of sand banks and channels. Most of this material has to be washed to remove corrosive salts prior to cement manufacture. Chubbs Wharf at Denton just downstream from Gravesend has a lengthy pier head where imported aggregates are offloaded and washed prior to their transportation into Central London piers. A pair of Dutch type coasters is the result of family enterprises working to meet the ever-changing marketing demands. A fleet of ageing motorised coasters, however, are still seen on the tideway even though their Essex facilities at Fingringhoe have been finally exhausted and their wharf closed.
The friendly Prior boats are diminutive in size, enabling them to navigate the smallest of creeks alongside their customers’ plant way upstream, just as their forerunners did – the Thames sprit-sailed barges renowned for their red tanned sails. The two-man crew, often with a dog, were familiar to Thames side and nearby continental ports and were much admired as they sailed in the tortuous creeks on a rising tide. I have been most fortunate in taking passage as their iconic barge marches through many a happy occasion at the command of an aged old salt, and successfully with a very confident sister from Black Notely Hospital.