Rochester Sweeps Festival, Mayday Bank Holiday weekend 2023
After weeks of the river being red boarded, the boating gods finally smiled on us in the last days of April and the cruise to Chatham for the Rochester Sweeps Festival was on!
Three boats made the trip. Enterprise, Ginista and Laird Tommy. David and Linda arrived by car and stayed at the Travel Lodge in Chatham. Chris and Lin aboard Enterprise opted to depart on Wed 26th, a day ahead of Tony and Sharon on Ginista and John and Geraldine aboard Laird Tommy. John was particularly keen to make the trip as he was booked onto a 5 day, RYA Day Skipper course aboard the training ship Maaike Maria in Chatham Marina. The crews of Ginista and Laird Tommy met up at Teddington on Thursday 27th April and enjoyed a meal at the Tide End Cottage before an early start on the Friday to get the benefit of the ebb tide and free flow through Richmond Lock. The weather was kind, with no rain forecast and light to moderate winds. Progress was uneventful through London and after Margaret Ness we were able to open the throttles (until Ginista was abruptly reminded by Thames VTS on VHF that there was a speed restriction in force!) Once clear of the restricted area we again pushed the speed up to a comfortable 16-18 knots. John, on Laird Tommy, could not resist the temptation to really open his throttles, and shot past Ginista as if we were standing still. Possibly mindful of how fast he burns through petrol when at full speed, he performed an elegant power turn and resumed station behind Ginista.
All had gone really well, and we were approaching the 6 knot speed limit on the Medway when Genista’s starboard engine coughed and died. She was able to maintain 9 knots on one engine and so made it to Chatham Marina safely. Maneuvering in the lock and later to her berth was a little challenging, but luckily the wind was light and all was accomplished successfully. The journey from Teddington had taken a little over six hours. A quick change of the primary fuel filter didn’t help and the engine refused to start. Somewhat deflated, Chris and Lin invited everyone aboard Enterprise to drown our sorrows. David and Linda had already arrived and were several drinks ahead of us It was, of course, the start of a Bank Holiday weekend, so the chances of getting an engineer were slim. Luckily, Chris had a contact he had used previously (Kevin from Kent Marine Services) and a quick phone call got through to him. He would come out to us on the Tuesday after the Bank Holiday! Much gin was then consumed aboard Enterprise in celebration! Chris and Lin, David and Linda and John and Geraldine had booked in advance to see Sur Le Dock in Rochester and duly set off in an Uber to the event, leaving Tony & Sharon to sleep it off aboard Ginista. The Sur Le Dock party ate at Pizza Express and returned to the boats in a very cramped Uber taxi.
All except John (starting his RYA course) made our way into Rochester on Saturday to take in the festival acts (a mixed bag, some better than others). It has become tradition to have pie and mash for lunch on the Saturday. Chris had fallen off his diet wagon and had double pie, which was served inverted (to make it easier to add vinegar) It looked awful, but obviously tasted good as it disappeared in short order. Lin made up for Chris’ excess by going “dry pie”. Stories were exchanged of our various experiences of pie and mash shops in our youth. More acts and several beers followed during the afternoon before we made our own way back to the Marina and pre dinner drinks. Sadly, David and Linda then had to return home The intention had been to eat that evening in the Ship and Trades, but they were fully booked so we made our own arrangements to eat aboard. Tony & Sharon and John and Geraldine got fish and chips and ate them aboard Laird Tommy while watching (and photographing) a spectacular sunset. A great day all round!
We assume Chris and Lin’s departure went OK next morning, but it was far too early for any of us to notice (or care!) They sent us a picture as they passed the Thames barrier sometime before 11 am! They were early enough to push on after Teddington to make it back to PH that day.
Sunday morning was a leisurely affair followed by a late trip into Rochester for more Morris dancers and music groups. We had been able to book the Ship and Trades for supper that evening, and six of us enjoyed a very convivial meal. On returning to Ginista, Tony put the Eberspacher heater on. It started and ran for a few minutes before spluttering and dying. This was a lightbulb moment! The diesel heater draws its fuel from the same tank as the starboard engine. Could the tank have run dry? Both fuel gauges still showed almost full. This should have raised concern as neither had gone down since leaving Teddington. The decision was taken to put some fuel in the next day and try to start the engine.
On the Bank holiday Monday, Chris and Lin went into Rochester early. John went off to his course, Tony, Sharon and Geraldine went into the Festival for a few hours in the afternoon to watch the closing parade (which was a bit of a let down after last year as many of the dance troupes had left early) Tony took Ginista to the fuel dock and put a hundred litres of diesel in each tank, but still the starboard engine refused to start, probably due to air in the fuel system. Much scratching of head and poring over the manual followed to see how to bleed the engine. Tony finally decided to leave it to the expert who was booked for the Tuesday. Chris and Lin were leaving for home at silly o’clock the following morning but hosted us all aboard Enterprise for drinks before kicking us off early to get some sleep.
Kevin, the engineer, duly arrived at Ginista on Tuesday morning, and as expected, the problem was air in the fuel line. He had the engine running inside twenty minutes. Lesson learned: Just because the fuel gauge says there is fuel in the tank, it doesn’t mean there actually is! Now the only problem is getting replacement sender units as those fitted are obsolete.
Tuesday evening was spent with John and Geraldine aboard Ginista, where Sharon cooked spaghetti Bolognese and Geraldine provided the sweet. Much red wine was consumed. John was to take the course exam the next day and so benefitted from some Dutch Courage.
Wednesday was a quiet day as Geraldine had returned home by train for a day’s babysitting duties and John was busy with the Day Skipper exam. We gathered on Ginista in the late afternoon to welcome John back. Although parts of the test had still to be marked, he had been told he had a good pass! Congratulations to him! Ginista had fully refueled earlier in the day, and Tony & Sharon then assisted John and Geraldine to refuel ready for the trip home next day. Neither of us got away with less than a £1,000 fuel bill! Despite the shock of the fuel costs, we celebrated John’s exam success that evening with an excellent meal out at the newly opened Babasheesh restaurant on Quay 5.
We made an early start next morning, locking out at 6 am (though not as early as Chris and Lin on Tuesday) and got a good run up to the Isle of Grain where we encountered wind at force 4 and a 1 metre wave height. Luckily this quickly abated (as we had predicted from the various forecasts) and after a bumpy half hour we then had wind over tide and a comfortable run back to London. So good was the effect of a flood tide and a following wind that we reached Richmond more than an hour ahead of schedule and before the barrier was raised. The decision was taken to use the lock, which saved us an hour wait, but cost us £11.00!!! Like Chris two days before us, we decided to push on beyond Teddington and made it back to Penton Hook by 5pm. The whole journey took Eleven hours including a 45minute stop at Teddington to stretch our legs and give the dog a walk. Not bad going!
The weather had been very kind to us throughout and the Festival was generally good (and well worth a visit for anyone not having been before)
Thank you to all who attended for making it a memorable week and congratulations, once again, to John for his success on the Day Skipper course.