Spider T - Thames Diamond Jubilee Voyage
On Saturday 26 May the Humber Sloop SPIDER T set sail on her voyage to take part in the Thames Diamond Jubilee River Pageant which took place on the afternoon of Sunday 03 June.
Your Webmaster and partner were part of the SPIDER T crew for the voyage and below is our diary of the journey with photographs. This is just a small part of the thousands of photos and hours of video recording the adventure, which will be put together in DVD format later in the year.
Crew: Mal Nicholson (owner/skipper); Bill Kirk (engineer); Ian Murray; John Barwell; Julian Pinder; Dave Everatt (HKSPS webmaster); Lesley Everatt (photographer/artist/chief cook); Hamish Murray (from Montrose, Scotland) and at the last minute Steve Plant (yachtmaster) managed to find the time to join us.
Entering Keadby Lock at 10.00 hrs we began the first leg of our voyage to the Thames with a journey down the River Trent and Humber to Grimsby. We entered the Trent into the fast incoming tide where the newly fitted steering chain decided to stretch suddenly and jam in the mechanism, a hairy moment, but soon rectified with crowbar and brute force from the trusty Bill Kirk. The rest of the day went to plan with a fair wind on the Humber we made good time to Grimsby to greet our friends at the Humber Cruising Association.
After refuelling we left Grimsby harbour to be met by the RNLI who came on board to wish us well on our voyage. We then commenced the long second leg down the North Sea, all through Sunday daytime, overnight using the 4-hour watch system, arriving at Harwich on Monday afternoon. The weather was clear, fine, sunny, with calm seas, a very tiring but enjoyable leg of 31 hours. During the daytime we took turns at the helm, fore-sail tacking, making drinks, etc., then at night we split into two teams with 4-hours on and 4-hours off for sleeping/resting.
During the night-shift a report on the VHF radio warning us of the possibility of timber floating around on our route after an earlier incident. The decision was made to re-plan our route to take us further out to sea and reduce the possiblity of coming into contact with the timber, however, we decided to maintain a watch throughout the night to make sure.
In the morning mist began to form near the coastline and we decided to maintain our wide course and omit our planned call at Lowestoft. Continuing on we radioed ahead to Harwich to book our mooring one day ahead of schedule, with this confirmed we re-plotted our route and arrived at Harwich at teatime. In Harwich we were greated by some old friends and had good evening out in the town.
After our epic jouney to Harwich this should have been an easy leg but, with delays in bunkering (taking on fuel) and quite thick fog (which had not been forecast) for the first part of our journey, it was not quite so straightforward. But, once the fog cleared, progress was quicker and we made good time to our overnight buoy stop at Queenborough in the River Medway just off the Thames.
After a meal and a short sleep we were up and on our way at 03.00 hrs, light soon began to break as we entered the River Thames and continued towards West India Dock. Weaving our way up river through the docks areas of Tilbury, Gravesend, etc. with huge container ships towering above us we reached the Millenium Dome, or O2 Arena as it is now called, at 09.20 hrs which is located opposite our destination of West India Dock. We made such good progress we had to stem the tide for 40 minutes until the lock was opened at 10.00 hrs for the gathering vessels.
As soon as we moored up we had to prepare for the scruntineers to check over Spider T, her equipment and documentation before being able to take part in the event, then we removed the foresail and stay sail and stored them away.
Steve Plant, who had not been security checked for the actual event, left us that afternoon to catch a train back to Lincolnshire.
Up at 05.30 hrs and on with the preparations. Mal was interviewed by Richard Gaisford of ITV's Daybreak as soon as he woke, then firstly the boom, gaff and mainsail had to be removed from the mast and after a prevoius practice run in Keadby lock, we knew this could be achieved in one unit with the aid of a central lifting strop on the boom.
Once removed and placed on the hatches the mast was lowered down onto a pre-made cupped stand set so the height of the lowered mast would easily clear all the bridges on the route. Next we removed the sections of the wheelhouse which were packed and placed in the aft welldeck.
Up at 06.00 hrs (again!!) and into the lock at 08.30 for 09.30 penning out, as the gates opened sixty or seventy vessels made their way out onto the Thames to travel upriver to our overnight mooring buoy at Barn Elms (Puntney). As we made our final approaches the Thames Harbourmaster kept watch over our vessel in particular our rounding up and slow speed control and gave us the thumbs up when located on our buoy.
On our port side the vessel STORK breasted up to us, she is an ex-customs vessel also built in 1926, the owners having strong Royal Navy connections. Mal went on board to have a tour of the vessel and assist with some engineering issues with the engine/prop shaft and we provided 240v power to her. On the starboard side Whitby Cobble GRATITUDE breasted up to us, we had met the owner Alan at the crew briefing on Friday evening and made the arrangement with him.
Sun 03 Jun - THAMES DIAMOND JUBILEE RIVER PAGEANT
Today was finally the day. Early in the morning a small camera boat came alongside and the BBC's Robert Hall interviewed Mal. After breakfast we attached the remaining bunting and awaited our VIP guests.
At 10.30 hrs the guests for GRATITUDE arrived, including the Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire, who boarded SPIDER T until Alan had prepared his vessel. At about 11.00 hrs our guests arrived by water taxi, the Lord Lieutenant of Lincolnshire, Tony Worth and wife Jenny, John and Fiona Clugston and Phil Cowing, Humber Harbour Master.
Then a long wait until it was time to take positions for the Pageant. This wait was broken on occasions by others passing to take up their positions, rowers and small vessels being the main ones.
At 14.35 hrs, twenty minutes later than expected, we were called to our mustering position ready to join the main event. Progress was rather start/stop in the earlier stages but, once the pace settled, it went very smoothly.
With crowds of people on the riverbanks, bridges, moored vessels, balconies and in buildings all the way along the route made for an electric atmosphere, cheering loudly as vessels horns and whistles blew. A group of girls on an adjacent riverbank shouted "Spider, Spider, Spider ... " and danced a spidery dance at the same time, a magical moment.
As we headed past Westminster the rain began to fall getting faster by the minute until, by the time Her Majesty the Queen waved and Prince Phillip doffed his hat, it was absolutely pooring down and we were soaked to the skin.
Unfortunately that was not the end of the event, we made our way up river back towards West India Dock, on arrival vessels were waiting in their hundreds to get into the lock, a rib came alongside with some of their passengers so cold hyperthermia was setting in, they breasted up to us while we made them cups of tea until they could let go and enter the lock.
When the lock gates open a mad dash was made for available spaces and SPIDER T was overtaken by all and sundry trying to book their spot. Finally we locked out only to find our place on the quayside had been taken by others, but they soon cleared out of the way when she made her way to the moorings!
Waiting at our mooring position was Gary Pearson, watchkeeper at Whitby Harbour, who will join the crew for the return voyage. Also on the quayside were many guests invited to join us for the evening to celebrate taking part in this once in a lifetime event.A very succesful day which will be remembered for a long, long time.
A leisurely start after our big day, except for Bill Kirk, who had an early train booked back home as he was due at work on Tuesday. Then it was off with the bunting and decorative flags, up with the mast, on with the boom, gaff and sails, wheelhouse, etc.
The afternoon saw Val leave for her train back home and by evening we were about ready for penning out tomorrow.
By evening we had reached the mouth of the river and continued up the coast towards Harwich, running with the tide and wind we were tramming along at constant 8.5 knots with that familar damped reaction to the sea-state.
With heavy rain and the wave heights increasing as the evening went on, just as we were enjoying a meal, the peak halliard rope snapped letting the gaff fall vertically leaving it hanging with the sail enveloped, which was now triangular in shape. The gaff guide rope was pulled in and the gaff end was lashed down to the shrouds.
The effect of this on the ship, apart from a reduction in speed, was a marked decease in stability, with the wave heights increasing further overnight up to 4 and 5 metres high this made the next 5-6 hours quite rough on board with severe rolling at times and waves breaking over the beam and stern of the vessel.
By about 04.00 hrs the sea-state calmed and the vessel stabilised, a call was made to the Coastguard about the gaff problem and, although we were capable of dealing with this ourselves, they insisted on sending the RNLI to assist in lowering and securing the gaff and sail. Once secure we continued under our own steam, arrived at Harwich at 06.30 hrs, moored up and headed for our beds, a long hard night for the crew and once again SPIDER T proved her worth in the rough stuff and got us safely in to port.
After a short sleep, our crew checked over the vessel and rigging, made some calls to locate a new rope for the peak halliard, topped up provisions and tidied up the galley.
We checked, double checked and triple checked the weather forecasts and finally concluded we could not risk continuing due to the predicted severe low pressure heading our way.
A rope was located and an eye spliced in by Julian, then Hamish was hoisted up the mast in the bosun's chair to run it through the pulley.
An evening in our favourite local hostelry, the Alma Inn, with good food and drink was had by all.
Thu 07 Jun - Harwich (day in port)
After a well-earned full nights sleep we checked the weather forecasts again only to realise we were going to be here for a few days. Bad weather is currently predicted until Saturday, but we will continue to monitor the situation.
Fri 08 Jun - Harwich (day in port)
Bad weather has kept us in port at Harwich again today. Looking at the forecast we may be able make a move tomorrow night or Sunday morning.
Sat 09 Jun - Harwich (day in port)
Due to business commitments Ian Murray had to leave us to return to North Lincolnshire today, his wife Lisa driving down to pick him up.
Strong winds have continued to blow keeping us in Harwich, however, as we moved over to the re-fuelling point this evening, the wind dropped and water calmed making it a lovely evening.
Preparations were made, testing the the new peak halliard, servicing engine, etc., ready for an early morning getaway at approx. 03.00 hrs.
Sun 10 Jun - Harwich (dep: 03.00 hrs) - Keadby (arr: Mon 11 Jun 13.00 hrs)
For our planned early getaway we were up at the crack of dawn, by the time we had hoisted the sails and removed fenders, it was probably nearer to 04.00 hrs as we left the wonderful Harwich old town and all our friends behind. We had a 24 hour weather-window to make a dash home and several crew members had managed to extend their holidays for one day to enable this to happen.
A beautiful sunrise, clear skies and a gradual warming day greated the crew as we left the estuary and entered the North Sea once again. We had timed our return leg from Harwich to coincide with high tide to give us the best possible start. The route was planned to be as short as possible using fast flowing channels when the tide was with us and slower flowing channels when against us. By 18.00 hrs, when we transferred the reserve fuel tanks into the main tanks, progress had been very quick.
The crew were split into two groups for the overnight stint and progress continued to be quick, in fact, by 03.00 hrs we were approaching the Humber reaches, a full three hours faster than our most optimistic estimate. We made our way up to the north channel in the River Humber then transferred over to the south channel, the tide was against us at the time so we slowed the engine down to tick-over and continued under sail only for an hour until the tide turned.
Continuing up-river past Grimsby, Immingham and Hull at eight knots we once again slowed to a tick over and manouvred under sail only for the TV cameras and friends who were waiting to greet us on the Humber Bridge. Then up to Trent Falls joining the River Trent to complete our journey up to Keadby, arriving at 13.00 hours. 33 hours non-stop to cover the 180 miles from Harwich.
Rounding up at Keadby Lock we stemmed the tide and dropped the sails in front of the waiting friends and relatives with live BBC Look North coverage, then it was into the lock and onto our moorings. Interviews were given and a champagne welcome by Ian Murray lifted our extreme tiredness and the celebrations went on for some time.