A Cargo of Timber to Kent

Ed Gransden asked if we would like to take some wood belonging to Ardwina from Kevin Finch’s yard at Fullbridge to Lower Halstow where it will be used on her. We said yes and asked to make it the first job of the season before embarking on the screening tour for Wind, Tide & Oar. This meant a tow from Hythe Quay to Fullbridge courtesy of Nigel Cardy in a particularly immaculate tug named Sonny, presumably after his father. This was accomplished stern first on a windy Saturday 6th April, making all that complicated swinging unnecessary.

The wood turned out to be various sizes, some 39 feet long and four feet wide and being 3 inch iroko weighing in at half a ton. Now Kevin’s crane can deal easily with that, but we have a safe working load of 300kg on the gear and would be discharging using that at the other end. So he kindly cut the big boards in half lengthways and then took a couple of hours to load it. Overall there were fourteen pieces weighing four tons and about two and a half British standards of timber which at 17 shillings a standard in the 1931 Blue Book meant Ed is searching his loft for two pounds two and sixpence. Plus of course any incidental costs.

Tuesday brought our crew of five young people from the Sea-Change Youth Sailing Scheme with our regular mates Hilary and Oli (now with a master’s ticket somewhere in the admin stream on its way) mentor Anna and trainee Cherry. It also brought an LSA inspection by the MCA for the cargo loadline before Sonny took us down river at high water. It was blowing a gale from the southwest so, despite having miles to cover, the prudent thing was to anchor at Mundon Spit and wait for a better morrow. And it blew. For the first time we pulled almost all four shackles of the main anchor chain on deck to stop her dragging, and were considering deploying the second anchor and the remaining two shackles when she finally stopped. Dropping the bowsprit reduced windage and an early night was had.

Wednesday was indeed a better day. It took a while to recover all that chain so it was five o’clock before we broke out the anchor. By Bradwell there were two jibs on the bowsprit and six knots on the plotter with a steady southwesterly. We made low water at the Spitway and stowed the jib topsail in the slowly increasing breeze for the long plug to windward. The sun shone and the barge rarely did less than five knots over the ground, peaking at 8.8 after the Blacktail. The jib topsail was put below.

The sky to windward was clouding over and sure enough the topsail had to be rucked along the Cant. Taking advantage of the brief lee under Sheerness, the jib was stowed ready to steeve up the bowsprit for the creek.

Once in Stangate Creek the threatened showers arrived to accompany the longs and shorts to Slaughterhouse Point. The saltings were covering and it was easy to see how you could lose your way and come a cropper in this vast expanse of water. Two wrecked yachts in Stangate were the result of recent gales and presumably going adrift.

Still with a rucked topsail and strong gusts the barge made easy work of beating up the first part of Lower Halstow Creek with the last half hour of flood tide. The wind was straight out of the wharf by the Church and held its strength until we were up to the yacht moorings. Eastwoods brick barges did not have to contend with these and would have been able to get to the end of the quay except on neaps, as it extended further out than now. There is a photo in Robert Simper’s “River Medway and Swale” of nine barges alongside.

Now the quay is shorter and moorings spread across the full width below it for some distance out with the merest gap following the deepest water and certainly not a fairway wide enough to tack in. There was no tug but Ed explained on the phone how there were less boats on the eastern moorings and that he would scull off and help con us in. This he did, jumping nimbly aboard as we made the last few tacks picking a way between vacant and occupied moorings. No owners were aboard to watch and the few people from a Tiller and Wheel working party were small dots a way off. But with a big tide there was plenty of depth and miraculously gaps opened in the moored boats just enough to thread through. The topsail was set smartly for the last three boards and with the foresail dropped and reset four times we got to within dolly line distance of the quay before the anchor held us while Ed sculled it ashore. A second temporary line to a post on the eastern side warded off the likelihood of squashing any of the vulnerable dinghies tied to the opposite posts. And we were alongside after some stalwart winding by the young trainees, bang on high water and nine and a half hours from Osea, nestling in tranquil surroundings with Tollesbury ahead of us and Edith May fitting out beside her.

In the early evening showers the lifting gear was set up ready for unloading next day. By using the Burton and a five part purchase with tested blocks and reeved with strong modern rope attached to it and the topsail sheet, it is possible to pick up the centre of a 39 feet long baulk extending into the forehold and shift it aft and out of the much shorter main hatch, and then swing it ashore using a rolling vang. This was done fourteen times by the team, resulting in a neat pile of timber ashore. It took rather longer to unload this way than load at Maldon, more like five than two hours, but no emissions resulted and there was a real sense of achievement to be celebrated with a meal in the Three Tuns that evening. By the time the last few boards were sent over, we were getting a lot quicker. Even so, loading a full cargo this way would take some days, but then what is so worthwhile about how people use all the time they save?

Friday came bright and breezy again but giving a fair wind down the Swin. Leaving an hour before high water with the topsail in gaskets, we carried a port gybe to the Shoebury beacon before gybing and following the Essex shore. Progress was swift and the wind eased a little as we went north enabling the topsail to be carried from the Blacktail. It was dusk as we came on the wind by the Knoll in a glorious sunset and pushed against the ebb to anchor at Bradwell 5.75 hours after leaving, at an average 6.8 knots. The fast fetch into the river from the Knoll was among the best memories of a “barge’s breeze” with the weather chine just surfacing and was also memorable for how the sweet smell of the fields of the Dengie suddenly wafted across the waves.

Saturday was yet another breezy day. After a clean-up and visit from the police rib which gave the trainees a trip round the barge, the topsail was left in its gaskets for the turn upriver to the mooring. For the first time over the trip there were a few yachts about but even so not many given the time of year. Up until then we had seen less than a handful. As sometimes happens the pickup rope on the mooring buoy was wrapped around it so we ended up anchoring and using the dolly to pull up to it against the strong wind.

The team had worked hard and everyone said they had enjoyed the delivery despite the effort involved.