Our friends Tuovi and Teemu from S/Y Saraste joined Suwena’s crew on the autumn sailing trip. As guest bloggers here is their story about our voyage to London.
We were invited by Eve and Andrus to the autumn sailing trip along the Thames to London. We immediately accepted the invitation as we have not been onboard Suwena before and also the route was tempting – arrive to London by the famous Thames.
Ipswich, Haven Marina – Levington, Suffolk Yacht Harbour
The marinas in Ipswich are well protected and behind the lock. We casted off the lines in the shadows of the evening sunshine. In the lock the people aboard the traditional sailing ship expressed surprise about the Suwena’s Finnish flag and wished a good journey “it seems you’ll not make home today?”
As the night fell we were sailing along the river Orwell. On a way we wondered boats on the mooring balls that were made fast from both the bow and the stern. This way the boats were staying moored parallelly to the river despite of the tidal current direction. We also saw boats leaning to the river bottom with keels sunk into the mud. We were pondering that they should refloat with the raising tide – and this apparently happens!
There were boats on mooring balls, marinas and mud along the whole six miles of the river. The boating seemed to be a popular hobby. In pitch black we used flashlights for searching the buoys marking the entrance to the Levington marina. The harbour was full and it was challenging to search for a berth by using only flashlights. We rejected a couple of berths because they were either too narrow or too shallow. Andrus spun Suwena really confidently in confined marina! Finally we rafted up alongside another big boat and we even managed to enjoy a pint before the pub at the lighthouse ship was closed.
Levington – Queenborough, Swale
The early wake-up and departure was already at 7am. Our departure was timed to the tide; one hour before a low water guaranteed as a favourable current for the whole leg. Playful seal and mute swans were escorting us out from the marina; we arrived the last and departed the first.
The sand was swirled up by a tide and it made the sea looking muddy. Local sailors had their routes near the coast but we did not dear to cross the unknown sandbanks and set course for more open water instead. The squalls were evading us and inside the pilothouse it was cosy to drink coffee and sail well protected from the wind and bleak weather. Outside the wind reach up to 14 m/s in gusts but Suwena was progressing smoothly.
The attractions of this sea voyage were the London Array windfarm and a micronation of Sealand. London Array is the world’s largest windfarm which is built on a sea. It is located about 10 kilometres from a shore. Currently there are 175 windmills and there is an option to grow the windfarm up to 341 turbines. It is peculiar that the turbines are located 650 to 1200 metres from each other in beautiful lines. It took quite a while to pass the windfarm. After the construction will be ready it is possible to sail between the turbines because the blades are at the height of 22 metres at their lowest position. The Principality of Sealand is a micronation that is located on the top of the old anti-aircraft tower. It is founded in 1967 and it claims to be an independent country. It sounds very special.
The shipping traffic at the mouth of the Thames was busy. Ships have the dedicated fairways where the boat traffic is not allowed. All vessels had a plenty of space and despite of the traffic, passing the shipping lane was not a problem at all.
There are mooring balls in the Swale marina in Queenborough. We also found out what means the ‘concrete lighter’ that was marked on a chart. It is a rusty barge where boats can be rafted alongside. Mooring ball was definitely a better option and the night was peaceful and relaxing. It is important to leave the bowline short enough so the boat can freely swing around the buoy in the current.
The harbour and its surrounding area are not something to see by itself but the location of the marina is perfect for anybody going or coming to London. The bouys are a good location to wait for the tide to turn. In the evening we saw a low water, the sea was withdrawing and the wet mud invited seagulls and waders for a dinner. The mooring balls were however located in a deep water.
There are two pubs in Queenborough, according to the locals the Old House at Home is for drinking and Flying Dutchman is for eating. We sampled the offerings of both the facilities. The pint of Guinness was excellent with the tunes of the local band and for the dinner we selected a local speciality: fish and chips.
Queenborough – London, St Katharine Docks (St Katharine’s Haven)
The morning was misty and the water in the river looked like a pea soup. The voyage along the river Thames started in the typical London weather, it was bleak and wet. In advance we thought to see the change of English countryside to the metropolis. Instead we only saw commercial ports and power plants for the first 35 miles. At best we had the cocurrent of 4 knots and we were almost having overspeed towards the centre of London.
In Margaretness we entered the Thames Barrier control zone and we made a report to the London VTS. The permission to pass the barrier was quickly received together with the passageway number. The Thames Barrier is the world’s second biggest moving flood barrier. It protects London from flooding during the storm surges on the North Sea. The engine rooms are shaped like clams and their’s motors are rotating the barrier gate upright from the bottom of the river. The barrier buildings were beautiful despite of the grey weather, the Sun glinted from their metallic skin and the surface looked pearly.
Near London the ships and tugs changed into high speed passenger catamarans running at 30 knots. This was quite a traffic! In addition there were also touristic Thames RIB Experience boats that travelled even faster. Their stern waves were reflecting from vertical sea walls of the Thames and that created sizeable cross-waves.
The O2 arena (Millenium Dome) and the cable car over the Thames were the first landmarks that we recognized from London. Here the city really started and cargo ships disappeared. The river twisted and when the Tower Bridge became visible. We had arrived into the centre of London. The bridge was magnificent and beautifully reconditioned. Behind it we could see old London with glass skyscrapers creating a townscape. Great arrival to London.
Our selected marina, the St Katharine Docks is accessible only during the HW +- 3 hours. Unbelievable that the marina is just next to the Tower Bridge. In earlier times St Katharine’s Haven was a destination for valuable cargo like spices and ivory. Today the heritage is presented by old sailing ships and warehouses that are transformed into the apartments. The harbour together with traditional ships is even mentioned in London sightseeing guidebook. In the harbour we also sighted the royal rowing barge Gloriana which was used to transfer the Olympic torch in the opening ceremony of 2012 Olympics.
There are three different basins which are surrounded by many restaurants. We enjoyed dinner in a few of them and the food was great. The Shard, the London’s second tallest building (308 m), is visible from the marina and in the evening illumination it looked as elegant as the Tower Bridge.
On Tuesday and Wednesday we enjoyed the atmosphere of London. In the morning the businessmen and -women, all dressed up suits with briefcases and laptops in hands, were hurrying up to workplaces in the City. At the same time we went in our morninggowns with toiletry bags in our hands to have a shower in the service building likewise as many liveaboards in this harbour.
The underground stop was conveniently next to the Tower. Also many of the sights of London like the City Hall, HMS Belfast and Design museum are within walking distance from the marina. We also walked around the City that is the commercial centre of London. We can especially recommend to have a lunch at the Leadenhall Market together with businessmen and businesswomen.
Our sailing trip ended in London while Suwena continues exploring the UK waters. Our joint sailing voyage together with Eve and Andrus stays in our minds for a long time for sure – Thank You.