Created: 15 Oct 2013 13:00
Updated: 15 Oct 2013 13:00

After a good sailing season it seems that the October Indian Summer vanished within 24 hrs to be replaced by Winter - missing out Autumn on the way!


As part of the Mayors Thames Festival, St Katharine Docks for the 5th year staged a Classic Boat Rally and for the 5th year 'Sheemaun' was among the forty or so many splendid historic and classic vessels invited, varying from little Thames cruisers such as the 26 feet Dunkirk Little Ship 'Chumley' once owned by the late Tommy Trinder, up to large coasting barges and the Steam Tug 'Portwey' of the order 90 feet or more and weighing hundreds of tons. The weather this year was reasonably kind and the Rally was splendidly and imaginatively organised by CEO William Bowman along with his able staff including Chief Dockmaster John Newham and Office Manager Margaret Kelly.  For 'Sheemaun' and crew it was like coming home.  As we entered the lock John waved and shouted a welcome from the control room window while Margaret took photographs.  We took our berth in the Central Basin next to Nick and Jo Gray's  'Wendy Woo' also from Ramsgate and Mike Emmett's 'Black Rose'.  We had enjoyed some good partying on 'Black Rose' when she along with other Old Gaffers had visited Ramsgate a month earlier as part of the OGA 50th Celebrations.  All forty vessels and crews were made personally welcome by CEO William Bowman and his teams and given Rally Packs.


As ever St Katharine Docks exuded that heady, atmospheric  mix of London maritime history, the City and excitement. Sightseers thronged the walkways and many boats including 'Sheemaun' were opened to visitors - 'Sheemaun' was delighted to be re-discovered by some smart city gents who had in the 1980s when they were cadets at Pangbourne Nautical College had their first real seagoing experiences, 'Sheemaun' then being the College Flagship.


There was much bustle and hustle with this year's actions and attractions including some excellent conducted walks and talks, the mouth-watering St Katharine Docks Food Market, Craft Stalls, The Sea Cadets Band played and marched, the Metroplitan Police Marine Division put in an appearance and Steam Tug  'Portwey' periodically and without warning blasting our eardrums as visitors in her wheelhouse pulled the steam whistle cord!  The engineless Thames Barge 'Cambria' which had been brought in by tug - Barrier regulations etc) was ever popular and of course the Queen's Barge 'Gloriana' was a great attraction - especially it seemed to visitors from the USA as was the 'Havengore'. There was an astounding concert played in the Upper Pool on the foghorns and sirens of an assemblage of vessels and barges - truly the likes of which can never have been previously heard and made all the more resonant by echoes from the surrounding high buildings. Perhaps best described as a Harrumphing of Horns!  Impressive. 


The many Little Dunkirk Ships, splendid and cared for as they now are, were a poignant reminder that all the vessels present had an amazing history, had in their times shouldered through heaving seas and taken their crews through frightening situations.  There is not space here to mention all of the vessels present at the Rally but details and many pictures are available on the St Katharine Docks website and Facebook.


One world girdling sailor was surprised to find his tiny 25 feet yacht a special attraction.  Having spent the past 9 years single-handedly circumnavigating the world following Darwin's exploits along the track of HMS Beagle, Julian Roscoe had put into St Katharine Docks for a rest only to find himself in the middle of a Classic Boat Festive Rally.  His yellow hulled 'Harrier' quickly became the attention of many incredulous spectators.


When 'under way' at sea or on the Thames ... 'if it can happen ... it does happen...' and unfortunately the historic Steam Tug 'Challenge' managed to crash into the outer lift bridge while attempting to enter the Docks - yes, it's on Youtube.  That put the bridge out of action and the SS 'Challenge' was unable to take further part in the Rally.   Today's skippers, who have the benefit of Morse engine controls and instant power response might before pursing their lips and tut-tutting, reflect that down in that hot engine room there was an engineer following as best he could the clanging telegraph messages being sent down from the bridge in a heavy and powerful vessel that was built before marina's and little pontoons were even thought of!  My Grandson Bobby having toured the ST 'Portwey' came away with a very real impression as to how difficult it must be, while labouring in a furnace - hot engine room, to control a huge steam tug engine in accordance to message bells clanging in one's singing  ears!  This one mishap apart, the September 2013 St Katharine Docks Classic Boat Rally was again an outstanding success.


Oh, as to success - while I was in 'Sheemaun's engine room explaining things to Grandson Bobby, I had a mobile call requiring me to go to the Dock Office where I found CEO William Bowman still in his blue overalls thanking a gathered throng of skippers for having brought their vessels and awarding prizes.  There were some excellent runners-up (of course every vessel in the Rally was special and excellent) and then to my amazement and pride 1st Prize was awarded to 'Sheemaun' for seaworthiness, for being in Ship Shape order and best dressed overall!  The prize, a beautifully cleaned and painted, historic, cast iron St Katharine Docks mooring bollard on an oak mount.  This not only required a stout trolley and helping muscle power to get aboard 'Sheemaun' but then when placed well low down in the shower tray added some not insignificant ballast for the return voyage. Hardly suitable for a Little Ship Club glass display cabinet!


We look forward enthusiastically to the 2014 St Katharine Docks Classic Boat Rally.