Taking on the French canals in a trawler yacht: Part one

In our latest series Howard Walker sets off from the Netherlands, heading to the Mediterranean via the French canals, but first he has a London stop-off in mind

Dodging the shipping containers

The Channel crossing turns out to be a real nailbiter. Thick fog has enveloped La Manche with Dover Coastguard warning of two cable length visibility.

Not knowing exactly what a cable might be I had to look it up; it’s 606 feet, so 1,212 feet in total. Roughly the length of three and a half football pitches.

The smart thing would be to leave it for another day. But the forecast is wretched, with wind, waves and weather on the way. Today it’s flat calm. Time to crank up the radar and away we go.

Misty Channel crossingRadar and AIS are god-given pieces of kit. We spot the P&O ferry out of Dunkirk, and the towering, 1,000 foot long MSC Yokohama container ship barrelling along at 20 knots across our bow.

But what the heck? Out of nowhere, not a couple of miles away, 15 huge ships blip on to the radar, seemingly parked right in front of us.

Gradually through the murk their gargantuan outlines appear. Only through the binos can I see the tell-tale anchor chains angled down from their bows.

Expand the chart on the plotter and it becomes clear they’re on the hook in the Channel Traffic Separation System central reservation, waiting patiently for the tide to change. Phew.

We glide in to Ramsgate, get directed to a nice side-on berth and pop the champagne. Our first Channel crossing. Piece of cake.

Nomade on the Chatham EstuaryWe spend the next couple of days riding the tide into the Thames Estuary, nipping down the Medway for a look at Chatham, then into the Thames proper for a magical cruise into the very heart of London.

My heart soars as the good ship Nomade sweeps through the Thames Barrier, Greenwich on the port beam, Canary Wharf to starboard. Then, in all its awesomeness, Tower Bridge ahead.

Group-5---Approaching-Tower-Bridge_100pcSt. Katherine Yacht Haven is worth every penny of its lofty day rate. For me, this is the stuff of dreams. My dad brought me here as a kid and I’d wander around in awe, gazing at the mish-mash of craft.

When I worked in London back in the 1980s, fish ‘n’ chips at The Dickens Inn, a mooch around Nauticalia and, naturally, a look at what was tied up on the pontoons, was a weekend ritual. It was always a dream to come here on my own boat.

In the end we stay for three weeks, moored right next door to the MV Havengore that carried Sir Winston Churchill’s coffin after his funeral at St. Pauls.

Nomade at St. Katherine DocksAs for the birthday party, 20 mates quaff bubbly on the boat before adjourning to the excellent River Lounge Italian overlooking the lock. It is a splendid night.

Tomorrow we have an 8am rendezvous with the lock, and the start of a five-month adventure, through the heart of France, hopefully under that bridge at Thaon les Vosges, and on to the Med. Better start chilling the rosé now.

Part two: Along the River Seine and into Paris.

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