A trip to Faversham

John Langrick

Towards the end of summer I had promised I would sail to Faversham. The tide was at 1000 and I took the ebb out of the Crouch, heading for the Whittaker. From there to turn SW down the Swin and across the Thames between the two sets of towers. Tony Hudson and Len Lewin were to meet me in PENDRAGON at Whitstable after sailing from Thorpe Bay. I had an excellent wind from the NE, not helpful on the leg out to the Whittaker, but once around the Maplins, I had a fair wind right to Whitstable. However, as usual, my timing was way out. I did not appreciate the considerable distance around the sands. This led to my rendezvous time of lunch to be teatime! PENDRAGON was at anchor at the bottom of Faversham Creek in the Swale. I came along-side and joined Tony and Len for a brew.

 Our plan was to take the young flood up to Faversham. That way we could see the channel. PENDRAGON draws about 3’6 and hence I was to go first and test the water. When at Faversham, I had been invited to moor SWANTI in Alan Staley’s boat-yard and he kindly gave me the combination to his excellent toilet facilities in the yard. PENDRAGON was to tie up near the Iron Wharf. With high tide at 2120 and darkness at 2030, I hoped that I could get as near as possible to my destination before night fell. The tides were neaps and so, with a little trepidation, we set off ‘up the creek’. The channel is well buoyed with both port and starboard markers, but as we started, the buoy anchors (lumps of concrete) were visible high and dry on the mud bank.

It is surprising the amount of junk that litters the sides of the creek. Good advice would be to follow the buoys and where there are no buoys, stick to the centre of the channel. We passed the Shipwrights Arms at the mouth of Oare Creek which boldly flew it’s Union Jack. All around as we sailed the creek was evidence of our sailing heritage, from sunken barge yachts to the most delightful smacks. Shortly after passing the Shipwrights Arms, the buoys stopped. Further up the creek I could see a small gaffer and eventually caught up with what appeared to be a Chesapeake Bay sloop. It was about 15 feet long with massive beam had very little freeboard and a most beautiful sheer. Upon hailing the skipper I heard that he too was heading for Faversham and indeed the deepest water was to the centre of the channel. By this time light was failing and I could see that occasionally PENDRAGON was grounding at the bottom of the channel. But we were in sight of Faversham by now. 

At the start of the jetty at Faversham is a steel barge. Unfortunately this evening there was a small tug tied along-side and a fin keel yacht on the outside of the tug. The yacht had dried out with the mast laying over the channel at a crazy angle. We would certainly have to wait awhile until the tide lifted it free. But the tide was pushing me down on the small gaffer which by now was stopped by this obstruction. I threw out my kedge anchor which immediately disappeared into the very soft mud. At least it held until at last the small gaffer was able to make it’s way. I followed, but even with my 15inches of draft was scraping the bottom of the channel. Eventually I ‘pushed the mud’ in front of Alan Staley’s yard and a helpful hand from shore took my line. Although there was still not enough water to go along-side, I still had an hour of tide left. Hence, as darkness fell, with my bow pulled well onto the mud and stern out in the channel, I awaited the last of the flood. Looking back down the channel I could see that PENDRAGON was now along-side other yachts further down the creek and had a safe berth for the evening.

 Further past PENDRAGON, I could see the steaming lights of a huge craft, but surely, with not enough draft for a Dauntless, nothing could get up the creek? I was wrong.. pushing a large bow wave, a sailing barge was heading towards me at full throttle. I have since learnt that these craft sail up the creek on what must be a cushion of water and mud. Now I was in the way! With inches to spare (and the help of some rubber tyres), the bow wave of the barge pushed me high onto the bank at one side while it hissed past me with inches to spare. Looking down into the bottom of the creek, it was almost dry! Shortly after a wave of water lifted me off the mud and I was able to make fast at my destination. A pint was welcome that night. 

Alan Staley’s yard is a good old-fashioned Boat Building business. Full of traditional yachts receiving good old fashioned style TLC. The whole yard is a fascination to me as it is surrounded with classic yachts. Inside the shed, Alan not only showers TLC on traditional craft but also builds new wooden yachts. I would recommend a visit should you ever be in this area. Also a walk along Iron Wharf will bring you to ‘Lena’s Nauti Bits’, where a vast array of second hand chandlery is served up (with good strong coffee) by the owner Leena Reekie (who is also the secretary of N Kent OGA, and owns a Dauntless). 

The following day broke with still a strong NE wind and promised the excitement of having to motor, wind over tide, across Whitstable sands. A very uncomfortable trip. PENDRAGON was away first, and before long was on the horizon. Eventually, upon my reaching the Spaniard buoy, I was able to set a course and cut the engine to sail across the Thames again, pick up the SW Swin and to retrace my steps from the day before. I also caught PENDRAGON, who by this time was beating against the wind again up the Swin. I kept as close to the Maplins as possible and motor-sailed this particular leg. After rounding the Whitaker at low water, the sail back down the Crouch was gently relaxing. Quite a contrast to the morning.