To help prepare for venturing into the Thames Estuary and coastal waters I completed the RYA Day Skippers Course at Chatham, Kent. Before the practical I had to do the theory. This is available at various centres over a week or a group of weekends. Its also available as a home learning course. I chose this method from Elite Sailing who were also running the practical. The course covered tides, navigation, safety and all the stuff you’d need to take a boat out for a day trip. Chatham was ideal to give me experience of the Estuary and coincidentally turns out to be the location for the Dutch Barge Associations rally in May which I’ll be attending with my boating crewmates.
The practical was conducted aboard the motor cruiser Santo Cristo, smaller, lighter and with 2 x 350hp engines considerably faster than Angela Dawn with her one 100hp engine. It was good to experience the different handling characteristics but my main aim was to experience the water and the practicalities of navigating in such a huge area with many much larger vessels around including one sea plane!!
The tide in the Medway and Thames estuary rises and falls by 6 – 7 meters every 6 hours. That changes the water you have to play with and what you’re looking at significantly. Trying to compare the chart to the changing scenery was very useful to experience whilst under supervision. The speed of the water and the added effect of wind makes it very interesting and will certainly be a challenge for Angela Dawn.
Chatham marina is an incredibly historic place, unfortunately I didnt have time to visit the museum but certainly plan to do so next month. The lock is very wide and controlled by a keeper H24.
One night we went out to practice navigating by lit buoys. We were each given a sector to navigate. This requires plotting a route, providing headings to the helmsman and knowing the light characteristics of the buoy we were making for. Not an easy task when there’s so many other lights in the background.
There’s no shortage of wrecks and unusual sights in the Estuary. The well buoyed wreck of SS Montgomery was well worth avoiding. She broke her back whilst at anchor in WWII still today ladened with most of her cargo of explosives which are too unstable to remove! The Fort at Red Sands looks like something from War of the Worlds.
A sad sight but a sobering reminder of the necessity for safety as a single handed sailor was this Sunseeker yacht in Chatham Marina. Found unmanned near Brighton in 2014. Its owners body, an experienced sailor has never been found.
Overall the course was a most useful experience and I’d recommend it to any newbie sailor planning stray from non tidal waters.