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  • Steve's 40th birthday treat: Jan 22, 2012


« Reply #1 on: Jan 22, 2012, 1:21 pm »
As I previously mentioned on the forum, I was planning to take a former work colleague out for a cruise as a treat for his 40th Birthday.
I would have liked a second craft to come along but no-one was available so I was happy to do it alone.
Unlike last weekend when the UK was sitting under a high pressure weather system and we had millpond like conditions, the forecast for today was for high winds.
I had monitored the forecast all week and it seemed to get worse with predicted wind around 18-20mph and gusts up to 41mph!
Originally I had planned to pick Steve up near the 2009 treasure hunt treasure chest burial site but decided to move it to the Western side of Hoo where it would be more sheltered.
This morning Steve and I exchanged texts to confirm that we would go ahead with the cruise if conditions looked good enough when I got to the launch slip. When I arrived, it was clear blue sky and sunny and although windy, not rough on the river.
I was wearing my flotation suit and automatic lifejacket, GPS and VHF in pockets, mobile phone in waterproof case. Baler and flares under the seat. Fully prepared.

I texted Steve to say I was on my way and set off across the mile or so of river to Hoo beach. It was a bit choppy with some whitecaps but not too bad.
Steve arrived a short while after I landed on the beach and I gave him a short briefing about how he should sit in the craft and about our planned trip. I lent him a lifejacket and ear defenders and he had his own waterproofs.
As we say in scuba diving “plan your dive, dive your plan”. In our case we would “plan our hover and hover our plan” which was to cruise upriver to Rochester with a deviation into Whitewall Creek.
The wind remained acceptable as we cruised close to the North shore past Upnor. We cruised close by the army launches then turned into Whitewall Creek.
With a fairly high tide the creek was navigable but still with enough mudflats to give Steve that “amphibious experience”.
We noticed a solitary swan at the head of the creek so kept well away from it. Apart from being concerned about the bird, I'm well aware that they can chase and attack hovercraft. So much for us scaring the birds!
We turned round on a mudbank on the right and cruised back out of the creek crossing the large mudbank at the mouth of the creek and joining the main channel.
Then we crossed to the dockyard side and followed the wall along, passing under Thunderbolt Pier and past the minesweeper and other vessels moored at the end.
Keeping tight to the left bank we passed Chatham town centre and passed under Sun Pier. After that we carried on hugging the bank to gain shelter from the South-Westerley wind.
I knew when we reached the bend at Rochester we would feel the full force of the wind coming up Rochester Reach and though the bridge, but I planned to show Steve the Russian submarine.
I applied full power and crossed the open water towards the sub and as we passed it, heading straight into the 20mph wind, I was aware that we were losing speed and thought it best to turn back. We looped around the sub and headed back towards Chatham.
This time we kept to the bank on the Rochester side before crossing mid channel towards Chatham Reach. I noticed a group of fisherman on the North Bank and kept well clear of their lines.
Passing the dockyard and the marina, I then followed the South bank around St Mary's Island and then past the dockyard locks, Gillingham Pier and Marina.
We then pulled up high on the beach at Gillingham Strand for a brief rest and to decide what to do next.

As conditions here nearer the estuary didn't look too choppy, we continued on East until we were level with Hoo Fort. Then we crossed the whole width of the river side on to the wind running up and down the rolling waves. It was great fun.
We rounded the end of the fort then hugged the North shore of Hoo island passing the abandoned lighters and shipwrecks that litter this area.
Heading West again, the chop and headwind increased so I kept close to all the inlets and coves of the island to gain shelter. At the end of the island it was a full power dash past Hoo Marina and the row of old lightships across open water to where I'd picked Steve up from.
The beach here was slowly disappearing under the rising tide but as the wind then dropped a little, we decided to take another run down to Upnor.
It was still a strong breeze and took quite a bit of power to fight against it but we made good speed back down past Upnor Castle again.
Keeping close to shore we went through the seagrass sticking out of the water. The craft didn't even notice it but Steve must have enjoyed the experience.
Reaching the army pier again we did a U turn and came back along the St Mary's island bank. Every now and then I would run the craft up the sloping stone bank, doing a sort of “wall of death” then sliding effortlessly back into the river.
When we were opposite Hoo beach again, we headed straight across the choppy main channel and I dropped Steve on the small amount of remaining shingle.

As I was preparing for my run back to Gillingham, the wind strength had increased and the parked craft was pointing straight into the wind with a very short run of beach before hitting the water. I wondered if I was going to be able to gain enough speed to stay over hump as the craft hit the water. Should I go for it or wait to see if the wind dropped?
I decided to go for it and the craft behaved beautifully, making good headway with the wind now on the starboard beam.
Now I was heading South East with the wind behind me and a long rolling swell. At times the wind was full on my beam and I could imagine how some craft could be made to roll in such conditions.
Cutting across at an angle to the waves and with the wind trying to turn the craft to the right, I had to apply bursts of full power and hard left rudder to keep the craft on course. At no time did this crossing seem risky, just extremely thrilling.
I was heading straight into the sun which cast a long reflection across the waves. This made it quite difficult to see and read the shape of the waves but the craft was making light work of crossing them so I just kept the throttle open and enjoyed the ride.
With a strong tailwind, at no time did the craft plough-in, it just behaved perfectly and was a joy to drive. Yes the conditions were marginal when facing directly into wind, but with careful anticipation and choosing sheltered lines, it was a nice cruise.
Yes, I'd much rather have taken Steve out last Saturday in millpond conditions but at least he had something of a thrill ride and I've agreed to take him out again in the summer for a longer cruise and a pub lunch.
Unfortunately I couldn't get any good pictures during the cruise due to the conditions. Steve shot a lot of video so if any of it is usable, I'll try to post it.
« Last Edit: Jan 23, 2012, 10:45 pm by gavin parson »