(Published in "The Boater" December 1998)

Portsmouth International Festival of the Sea '98:
A Vintage Sea Voyage

Grant Kinnaird went to the festival the hard way by sailing down the river Thames and around the South coast of England with Peter Towerzey in Peter's twin-diesel motor yacht, "Fantasy II", built by Toughs of Teddington in 1959.

When the Festival of the Sea was announced, I immediately thought of taking my wife Lynda's boat "Melany" to Portsmouth by trailer. In the event that was not to be, but I still made it to the festival.

Peter Towerzey suggested that we go in Fantasy II, and that put all thought of driving down with a trailer, out of my head. Because it was to be held fairly late in the season, Peter's wife Jean and Lynda decided that they would meet us down at Portsmouth and spend the weekend with us, rather than spend two weeks away from home. Peter was to be skipper and I would be navigator, and cook. All of this was decided early in the year, and as the time got nearer we got more and more excited at the prospect. Neither of us had been able to do any sea trips for over a year, and the prospect of almost two weeks at sea was enticing. Peter and Jean sent in the application forms and took care of all the arrangements.

Following the TTBR Traditional Boat Festival; Lynda and I had spent two weeks up river and during this time I did all my passage planning. I bought a set of up to date charts for the Dover Straits and Solent areas, and entered a string of way points into my Yeoman plotter. What a superb tool the Yeoman is, it makes the mechanics of navigation so simple. Unlike fully computerised chart plotters , where you work on a small LCD screen, the Yeoman uses normal paper . charts. Using a chinagraph pencil, tidal sets, courses and position fixes can be plotted directly on to the waterproof covering over the chart. When the plotter is linked to a GPS ones position can be found instantaneously.

During the two weeks leading up to our departure, Peter scraped and varnished, touching up the ravages of our "summer" until Fantasy looked magnificent. Jean stocked the boat with enough food and drink to lower the water line by about two inches. I had lost weight on my summer holiday, but it looked extremely unlikely that I'd lose weight on this trip.

Sunday 23rd August
The big day finally arrived and at 1000 hrs on Sunday 23rd August we set off from Staines on the upper Thames. Our plan was to stop overnight at the Cruising Association at Limehouse basin, in the lower Thames. We would then depart at 0300 and catch the tide most of the way to Ramsgate. At 1400 we telephoned the Cruising Association to request a berth for the night, only to be told that we would need to be locked in by 1700, otherwise we'd be too late and the lock keeper would be off duty. I queried this, as we'd thought that Lime house lock was manned 24 hrs per day. It is, but only if you give 24 hrs notice. Ah well, at least we know now.

In the event we arrived outside Limehouse at 1705. Peter suggested that we give it a try, so I called them up on VHF and we were told that the last lock was a 1730, and that they'd open up for us. Whilst standing off and waiting for the lock, a thought came to me, If they closed at 1730, what time did they plan to operate the lock in the morning? Back on the VHF to check, "0800" was the answer given. Not a lot of good when high tide at London Bridge was at 0247 BST. O800 would have been no good for going up, or down river, with the tide. How very strange.

We thanked the lock keeper and said that we'd continue down river on the tide. We saw the Millennium Dome for the first time from the river. It is not as imposing as we'd thought it would be. At least not till we passed close to one of the openings and were able to see inside. It is absolutely vast, we were later to see it again when the sun was shining on the fabric, and it looked pretty imposing then. We moored outside Erith yacht club on one of their buoys. We were tired but too excited to sleep, so, we spend a couple of hours betting on which way Fantasy would swing when the tide turned, neither of us won the bet. The wind was so strong that she eventually settled down broadside to the current. It was blowing so hard we were unsure if we'd be able to get to Ramsgate in the morning.

Monday 24th August
It was 0520 BST when we cast off from Erith en route to Ramsgate. The wind had dropped considerably and we'd decided to go for it. The wind was NW 2-3. The trip down the Thames was uneventful and we had an easy passage until the estuary began to open out. When we arrived at the Nore Swatch buoy we decided that we could continue on to Ramsgate. I'd plotted a course, which took us through the six-fathom channel, the theory being that we'd get some shelter from the Margate sands. By the time (0845 British Standard Time) we arrived at the Spile the wind had increased to NW force 3-4 and it was getting decidedly lumpy. We did get shelter from the Margate sands, as planned, but we did have a very heavy swell to contend with. This continued until we rounded the North Foreland at 1140 BST, but once we turned the corner we were sheltered by the land and the sea state was much more comfortable.

We entered Ramsgate harbour at 1210, and found ourselves a berth in the outer harbour . There were a number of boats flying the Portsmouth 98 pennant and we soon found ourselves chatting with their crews. One of these was from the Thames, Fiorinna, a 36ft centre wheelhouse cruiser built by Smith Brothers of Goole (she used to be known as "Griff") The new owner, George had done quite a bit of work in the time he'd owned her, but she was constantly taking water and his bilge pumps were working continually. After lengthy investigation he found that the shaft log was detached from the dead wood and water was coming in at an alarming rate. Later that day, he was to tell us that he'd cured the problem, and that she was no longer taking water.

Fantasy had no such problems and had performed faultlessly. We paid our mooring dues, (don't complain about a fiver a night mooring fees on the Thames). Ramsgate cost us £18 pounds that first night, later we were to learn how to cut our losses. Paul, son of the original owner of Fantasy, author Edgar Newgass, came over to speak to Peter. He now has a magnificent Silver Brown Owl, but I think he'd buy Fantasy given half a chance. .We finished the evening off with the best fish and chips I've had for a long time.

Tuesday 25th August

We left harbour at 0550 BST en-route for Newhaven, this would be a trip of about 66 miles. The weather forecast was favourable and as we set course for the South Foreland, there was a heavy swell, but nothing that Fantasy and her crew could not cope with. Well, we believed the weather forecast!

As the day progressed the winds increased to NE force 4-5. It was a very tiring passage with quite choppy seas. We passed the entrance to Dover harbour at 0750 BST and were off Dungeness Nuclear power station by 1000 BST. The other boats in Ramsgate were preparing to leave as we departed and I called them up a couple of times to warn them that the seas were getting rougher. I was thinking mainly of Fiorinna and her "cured" leak, but we were unable to contact any of the boats.

By the time we were passing Hastings the weather had improved considerably although the sea state continued to be very choppy. We decided that we would go into Eastbourne rather than continue for another couple of hours to Newhaven. About three miles out from Eastbourne Peter and I were at the outside steering position, I was at the wheel and we were enjoying the blustery, but bright and sunny weather. It was difficult to hear much over the wind, but suddenly I detected a change in the exhaust note. "I think an engine has stopped", "Never" said Peter, but it was true, the unthinkable had happened., the starboard engine had failed. Peter dived into the engine room and shortly afterwards the engine roared back into life. Peter was puzzled, all filters had been changed prior to setting out and the engines were in perfect condition, but somehow she'd got air in the fuel line.

We called Sovereign harbour control and asked permission to enter harbour, as we did so the engine cut out again. Now it was getting really worrying. There was quite a strong blow and Eastbourne harbour does not have the best of entrances. I called up and explained that we were on one engine and said that we might have a problem getting into the lock. Harbour control was very helpful and said that if necessary their work boat would stand by to tow us into the marina.As we entered the buoyed channel, at 1420 BST, Peter finished bleeding the engine and the engine once again re-started. We had a shock here as the skipper of a large GRP power boat , which had come up the coast from Beachy Head, decided that now was the time to overtake us. He left it a little late and almost put himself up on the rocks when he hit our wash.

We entered the marina safely under our own power. The lock into Sovereign harbour is very easy to use, there is a floating pontoon to which one can tie as the lock fills or empties. The marina is still not finished, but what has been done, has been done very well. The shower block is bright and clean, and there are shops and a chandlers on site. We found our allocated berth and moored just behind a group of Dunkirk Little Ships, amongst whom were TVBC members: Ken and Jean on Tantallus, Ian and Karina Gilbert, and Alex Ramsey on Papillon. The TVBC were putting up a good show.

Peter changed into overalls and got back into the engine room where he proceed to strip down first the fuel filters, then the fuel pump, and eventually the fuel lines to the starboard engine. I provided nourishment and supervision whilst enjoying the beautiful summer sunshine. It was warm within the shelter of the marina walls, but must have been much warmer in the engine room following a nine hour run. Peter eventually traced the most likely cause of the problem to a blocked bleed off pipe. He blew through this and succeeded in dislodging a large piece of foreign matter. Having reassembled and bled the engine it started and ran perfectly. What a relief, I could now enjoy my glass of wine and relax. Peter really enjoys messing around with engines so he got little sympathy from me.

I had studied the tidal atlas and had decided that the optimum time to leave was one hour before high water Dover. I had also spoken to some local boat owners who confirmed my thinking. This would give us the best tides on the next leg. Unfortunately this meant a 0130 BST departure, so it was early to bed for us. The others decided to leave in daylight.

Wednesday 26th August

We overslept by half an hour so we did not lock out until 0210 BST. Leaving Sovereign harbour we found that the channel buoys were not lit, making it difficult to see the way out through the twisting channel. With me standing at the bow we made it safely and headed out a black and into a choppy sea. I had planned our course to take us well away from Beachy Head and the dangers it presented. We headed out to sea until I estimated that we'd covered 4 miles before I changed our course to take us past the headland , the GPS and Yeoman did sterling service on this part of the trip. I was able to take regular fixes to confirm our position.

We could see the black mass of Beachy Head for what seemed hours, before we finally saw the lighthouse beam sweeping along the cliffs behind it. It took almost two hours before the light was behind us and we knew that we were safely round the head. It was still completely dark and we could see car headlights passing along the cliff top road in the distance We were using Radar, and we could see the traces of two boats, following our course. We had no idea who they were and when day finally broke they were lost in the mist, so we never did find out.

By the time dawn broke we were off Brighton. It was a grey and miserable morning with a horizon of less than two miles. We kept close to the coast line, passing Brighton harbour , but were unable to pick out the entrance in the poor visibility. The sea was choppy and confused with a wind state of about force 4. By the time (0712 BST) we were off Littlehampton, , the weather had brightened.. We were tired but were also enjoying the trip. At one stage we actually the sun shining on a hill behind the coastline. From then on the visibility improved at about 0800 we saw Selsey Bill faintly on the horizon.

The Eastern Solent.
Our arrival in the Solent was a revelation. As we breasted Selsey Bill the weather remained bright and clear, and the wind did not seem to increase, but the waves certainly did. We were soon climbing what seemed to be eight or nine foot waves. The problem was that if we had turned, the waves would have been on the beam, and would have made life very uncomfortable. I was forced to continue on the same course, knowing that we'd get some shelter from the Isle of Wight as we closed the island. This proved to be correct and about two miles off we were able to turn and head for the rendezvous with the IFOS Guard ship. We made our way towards Portsmouth with the Australian replica of the Endeavour making a picturesque sight on our port side. If it had not been for the modern cruisers and yachts we could have been in a time warp, having gone back 250 years in time.

Portsmouth Festival of the Sea 1998
We arrived in Portsmouth mid-morning on Wednesday. We were directed by the IFOS guard ship to make our way into Portsmouth via the small ship channel. There were marshals boats who were supposed to guide visitors to the moorings , but no one approached us and calls to the mooring control went unanswered. We decided to tack on to a string of boats that were being guided by a Royal Marine RIB. We followed them into basin no 2 and found that we were amongst the first boats to arrive. We found a mooring in a corner, and settled down to refresh our water supplies hose the boat off and clean the green salt corrosion off the acres of brass on Fantasy. A small GRP boat moored behind us. "Splinters" seemed far too small to have made the passage from the Thames (she is normally kept at Henley) but it transpired that she had made the journey by trailer. We settled down early that night, completely worn out by the trip from Eastbourne.

Next morning we heard rumours circulating that we were in the wrong place, and that we might have to move. I took the bull by the horns and called Mooring Control. After some thirty minutes I was answered and we were asked to move into Basin 1. It was still very early and it seemed logical to do so at once, rather than wait until it got too busy to move. We were glad that we did as we managed to get a prime mooring in the other basin. Once again, it was almost empty when we arrived but it soon began to fill. By mid-afternoon there was a melee as boats arrived and negotiations commenced regarding who would moor where and with whom. Peter and I sat back with smug grins on our faces and watched the fun. Being early gave us a chance to spy the lie of the land and we soon realised just how immense the event was going to be. That is, if the weather had improved sufficiently to allow boats to get to Portsmouth from some of the more distant points of departure. There was a Scottish fishing boat in our area which had come round from Cardiff , over three hundred miles away. We knew that boats were even crossing the Atlantic to take part. The Mathew came from Nova Scotia, three thousand miles!

By Friday evening Basin 2 was a sea of sailing boats of all types. Hundred year old fishing boat conversions, catamarans, M.F.V's, modern GRP racing cruisers, Thames barges, Dutch barges. They were too numerous to count. Some of these craft were rafted up 10 deep. Most of the craft dressed overall, and it made a magnificent sight. A veritable forest of rigging bedecked in glorious colour. It was almost impossible to see across to the other side of the basin. At one stage we saw one of the Russian Tall ships coming slowly up river. Her crew were manning the yards, some of which were one hundred and fifty feet above deck level. What a sight!

Our moorings in Basin 1 were comfortable, but less impressive and unfortunately access was restricted to boat crews and this made it difficult for us to be found. The ADLS boats were tucked away in a corner and I'm sure that the majority of the public never got a chance to see them up close. We were moored directly underneath the magnificent gilded stern of HMS Victory. I had never realised just how large she was. The thought of a line of these warships sailing in stately procession past Spithead is mind boggling.

The Festival
It is almost impossible to describe fully just what an enormous event this turned out to be. The naval dockyard is immense, almost a large town in its own right, and most of the time it was heaving with visitors. By Thursday evening there were literally thousands of craft moored in the two basins allocated for our use. The outside wall of the jetties were lined with magnificent tall ships; Barques; Clippers; Schooners; Baltic traders; replicas of 15th century Merchantmen, and 16th century Warships, you name it, and it was probably there. In addition, on the other side of the seaway were the naval warships: Aircraft Carriers; Fast Patrol Boats; Frigates; Destroyers; Minesweepers, they were all there and most were open to the public.

The event was on for four days, and at the end of that time there were still things to see and do. I'm sure that I missed quite a lot. Anyone who went for one day would have found it almost, if not completely impossible, to see everything. There were theatres where sea shanties were sung, large arenas where rock bands or the Royal Marines played. Strolling street bands, playing New Orleans type music. There were static displays of many kinds, Naval Helicopters and Electronic Warfare Simulators, etc. Model ship battles, where the ships fired cannon, amidst clouds of smoke, and thunderous roars of gunfire. Ships broke up when hit by gunfire, with the two halves sinking, and miraculously re-surfacing after the display was over. The children, including Peter and myself, loved it.

There was a street market where the traders were dressed in 18th century costume. We stood and listened, spellbound, as the Battle of the Nile was narrated, with the aid of a canvas board and some model ships of the line. We then heard the poem, The boy stood on the burning deck recited, no not one of the ribald versions we all know, but a very moving account of how it must have been. Press gangs roamed the market offering the King's shilling to those intrepid souls willing to sign up for the King, or a knock on the head for those who were less than willing to go to sea. Strumpets offered their wares, so I bought some toffee. Small groups stood around chatting or acting out vignettes. It really was a trip back in time. I managed to visit an Aircraft Carrier, (I think it was the Intrepid) thanks to Guy, who ferried us over to her in Arthur, before the gates opened to the public, thus avoiding the massive queues, which later formed.

Peter and Jean Lynda and myself also managed to visit "Victory" Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar. What an incredible sight she must have been in her heyday. To make ones way about her cramped decks, seeing the enclosed space her crew ate, drank, slept, and sometimes fought in brought home the hardships a seaman in Her Majesty's navy must have endured. No wonder we are thought to be a hardy race.

TVBC boats that attended included  FantasyII, Tantalus, Pappilon, Arthur and Karen. The Traditional Boat Rally was displaying the Shallop "Royal Thamesis". I'm sure there were others, but forgive me if I didn't see you or your boat. I'm sure that some of you were there although I missed seeing you.

The whole weekend was a wonderful experience, the weather held good throughout the event, and one that I would not have missed for the world. There is talk of the event being held in conjunction with the Navy Days every two years. If so roll on the year 2000. I'll be there; will you?

Grant Kinnaird
(Thames Vintage Boat Club)

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