The current lockdown and restrictions on boat movements on the Thames has given us time to reflect on Daybreak’s future. The project for this year was going to be sorting out the engine room, but the more I reflected on how to refurbish and reorganise, the more I realised that this would be a good time to make a major change. Built in 1934 without an engine, Daybreak had a Lister JP2 installed in 1939. This was replaced in 1961 with the Gardner 5LW that has driven her ever since and which is still running perfectly well.
However an old diesel engine, however reliable, emits polluting gases and runs on a fossil fuel that we should all be weaning ourselves off. I was already interested in the potential of hydrogen as a renewable fuel and have been looking at fuel cells as a replacement for our mains generator. The idea of replacing both the main engine and the generator with a system that is virtually silent and has no emissions seems like a very attractive option.
The system will consist of an electric motor to drive the propeller, which hopefully I will not have to change. The motor will be connected to a set of batteries and the hydrogen fuel cell through a power management system linked to a control at the helm. The compressed hydrogen to supply the fuel cell will be stored in a large tank in the engine room that can be filled from a roadside tanker. The fuel cell will also charge the domestic batteries when we are not on shore power.
Lots of details still to be worked out of course, but I hope that we will be in a position to remove the old engine, generator and fuel tanks at the end of this season and then prepare the engine room for the installation of the new equipment next spring.
After renewing our acquaintance with Corrie, the miller at Mapledurham, we set off for the final leg of our trip up to Wallingford. We reached Cleve lock around one o’clock and decided to moor up for lunch, using an isolated pile just above the lock, with the mud weight to hold the stern in place.
Unlike Sally, who his happy to swim in the river at any opportunity, I am not so keen. However it was so warm that after lunch even I decided to go for a swim.
After a cooling swim we hauled up the mud weight, untied from the pile and continued up river.
As we approached Wallingford, we were delighted to see our friend Robert and some of his family calling and waving from the river bank. It was around mid-afternoon when we passed under Wallingford bridge and it became apparent that we were going to struggle to find anywhere to moor. All the town moorings on both sides of the river were full and it was unlikely that anyone would be moving on at that time of day. We carried on slowly, hoping to find a space amongst the trees that now line the banks above the town. All the convenient spots were already taken, so having turned around we went back to a place where we thought we might fit if we cleared some of the over-hanging willows.
We managed to get the bow close enough to tie to a tree and then started clearing branches so we could bring in the stern. At one stage it must have looked as if we were trying to camouflage Daybreak, so covered was she in willow branches and leaves. We eventually managed to get the stern in close enough to tie up to another tree and were then able to get the gangplank down. Local walkers on the towpath, passing us as we cleared branches, had been both very interested in the history of Daybreak, and happy that they could again have at least a glimpse of the river as they walked alongside it! After Sally and Ali had enjoyed more canoeing and swimming, and Mike had returned to Marlow to pick up the car, we all walked into town. Saying goodbye to our cruising friends who were heading back home, Sally and I enjoyed reacquainting ourselves with lovely Wallingford.
The next morning we awoke to discover that the river had dropped overnight and we were aground. After a bit of a struggle we managed to get off the mud and into deeper water.
When we reached Reading we stopped off to do some shopping at the supermarket located conveniently close to the river. Reading was full of young people making their way to the Reading Festival. We also met up with Mark, the artist who has a studio aboard the old wooden Humber keel, Laurel.
We said hello to Mark, who was busy using his small boat to provide a hair braiding service to people attending the festival.
Continuing up through Reading we came to another keel, Hope, which is owned by our friend Matt. He had been working very hard since our last visit and she was looking very smart. He had also done a lot of work below decks.
After stopping to catch up with Matt we continued up river as far as Mapledurham where we planned to moor up for the night. After we arrived Sally and Ali decided they would like to collect some blackberries, but they also wanted to have a swim in the river. They somehow managed to combine both activities.
Whilst moored at Marlow we were able to get the mainsail raised to ensure it was dry before we stowed it and put the sail covers on. We then lowered the mast ready for the next leg of our trip up river. We were able to leave one side of the well deck clear to accommodate the family and friends who were joining us for the trip up to Henley. We had glorious sunny weather for the trip.
At Medmenham we came across Evangeline, the keel that we had last seen on our trip up to Yorkshire in 2015. We had heard that she had been sold and had come down to the Thames. Whilst we were moored in Marlow, the uncle of Nick, the new owner, had seen us and suggested that we stop alongside to say hello.
We tied up alongside and introduced ourselves to Nick and his father and heard the story of the trip down from the Humber, which was very eventful from the sound of it. Having survived the voyage down the east coast and reached the upper Thames, they then had the misfortune to hit something that punched a hole in the bottom causing her to sink. She was raised with the help of cranes and is now in the process of being refitted.
We then continued on to Henley where we found a mooring on the meadows some way out of the town. Most of our guests disembarked here to visit Henley before returning home.
,Having moored at the islands at Cliveden we were then joined by family and friends for my birthday weekend. This included making full use of the canoes that we had collected along the way. Our grand daughter enjoyed having her own paddle and very quickly picked up how to use it.
After a wonderful weekend and when friends, family and two canoes had been ferried back to the ‘mainland’, it was time to head off again. We cruised up through Cookham lock and onto the long Bourne End reach. Our next planned stop was Marlow, where we were going to pick up friends Ali and Mike who were to spend a few days cruising with us. When we arrived in Marlow there was no room on the town moorings, so we had to carry on up river until we found a place to stop. It was a long walk back to Marlow, so we launched the inflatable and used this to travel into town. We decided to raise the mast in order that I could raise the sail to do a proper stow and put the sail covers on.
While in Marlow, Sally and Ali spotted a suitable space on the town moorings and while they made sure no one else moored there, I brought Daybreak down. Having the mast up made it easier to fit into the tight space available.
After a few days to re stock our stores, fill the water tanks and empty other tanks, we were ready to set off on the up river part of our summer cruise. On Thursday morning we were joined by friend Val for the trip up as far as Windsor, where she would be close to the station to get the train back to Staines. We had a very pleasant cruise up through Runnymede, although the river was busy and we had to wait for most of the locks. This often used to be the case but in more recent years the river has seemed very quiet, even in the summer months.
After dropping Val off we continued through Windsor as far as Boveney lock, where we were picking up yet another canoe, and as it turned out a bicycle for James. It was great to meet up again with Phil, the lock keeper at Boveney and catch up with what he was up to. We loaded the canoe and the bicycle. This meant we now had 3 canoes on board, as Sally always likes to have ours with us on up river trips. The plan was to met up with all the family, together with friends Katherine and Misha, at Cliveden for my birthday weekend and that we would have canoes for everyone. James and Misha would then take their canoes back to Cheltenham.
We continued up to Cliveden Reach and although the islands were busy we managed to find a mooring, just upstream of where we really wanted to be. The following morning the boat moored in our favourite spot moved off, so while Sally stood by to repel any other boats, I reversed out and dropped back down to the new mooring.
We sat out the stormy weather on the Saturday tied up at Teddington. We entertained John, Paul and relatives from Maxime to coffee and a tour of Daybreak. Steve took us out for a delicious dinner on the Saturday evening. The next day we set off for a short cruise to Sunbury where we moored alongside Pamela and Edward’s houseboat for lunch. We had arranged for our neighbour Annabel to join us for the cruise back to Church Island. We had also arranged to collect a canoe that James and Kate were buying. Pamela and Edward had been working hard on their garden, restoring the area where the houseboat had been built.
After a convivial lunch on Pamela and Edward’s newly constructed patio, we loaded the canoe on board and set of to complete the trip back to Staines. We had a lovely afternoon cruise and arrived back in the early evening. It did not take us long to get everything hooked up and then we were able to see how the garden had been doing in our absence. Apart from a few fallen branches from the winds the previous day, all seemed well.
We had lowered the mast and secured everything after we arrived at Gravesend so we were all set to head back up river. Sally helped Steve raise the anchor and we set of a couple of hours before low water to get the maximum benefit of the tide that would take us all the way up to Teddington. We crossed to the correct side of the river and we motored up past Tilbury, keeping outside the main shipping channel. Even though it was close to low water there were still ships moving around and we had to pay close attention to the radio. We pulled out towards the centre of the river to make room for a coaster that was just pulling away from his berth, and received a cheery wave from the captain up in his wheelhouse.
The weather was changing and we no longer had the blue skies that we had enjoyed earlier in the voyage. By the time we reached the Woolwich Barrier the sky was looking ominous and the wind was increasing all the time.
We had a very windy passage up through London, with a couple of very heavy downpours, which Sally managed to avoid as they occurred while she was resting below. At one point the driving rain was so hard I could only see by putting my hand over my face to protect my eyes. As the wind was on the nose for much of the time and the tide was behind us it was also quite choppy with spray often breaking over the bows.
Although it was still breezy the weather calmed down as we passed through central London and we had a pleasant cruise up to Teddington.
Just like when we set out we had to wait for the tidal barrier at Richmond to open. By this time there was very little tide running and we were able to hold station just upstream of the moorings at Thisleworth. After passing through the still dripping barrier we carried on to Teddington and moored up just above the lock. We were pleasantly surprised to see Maxime, an historic Dutch motor barge that is usually moored at Hermitage just below Tower Bridge. Steve cooked a tasty dish and we had a drink to celebrate a successful trip, and the fact the we were safely tucked up on the non tidal river.
We had been monitoring the weather forecasts and it looked as if there were going to be strong winds over the weekend. Tom received an email from the Kentish Sail Association, firstly warning of the possibility that the Swale Barge Match could be cancelled and then another confirming that there would be no match this year. We decided the safest thing was for us to head back upriver, to make sure that we were well inland before the really strong winds arrived. We were able to sail out from our anchorage at Harty Ferry to the end of Sheppey.
We then turned north, but decided we had better motor into the wind to make sure we made use of the tide to get us back to Gravesend, where we planned to anchor for the night. Tom managed to sail a bit further, but then chose to motor around the Montgomery and across the Medway shipping channel.
We had an uneventful trip to Gravesend, but had a bit of trouble finding the right spot to anchor. By the time Steve had lowered the anchor for the third time I felt we had better stay where we were rather than risk a mutiny. In contrast to the trip down we had a restless night and both Tom and I were up in the night checking that we weren’t dragging. In spite of this Tom still had to be up early and left before us to make sure that he made it back to South Dock at a time that he was able to lock in.
We raised the anchor at the much more civilised time of 0930 and prepared to sail in company with Tom to the Swale. We motored out of the Medway and raised the sail for the voyage round the top of the Isle of Sheppey, over an area known as the Cant. Once clear of the shipping lane and the Montgomery, the wreck of the WWII ship full of explosives, we raised sail again.
The wind continued to blow south westerly so we were able to sail all the way to the end of Columbine spit, with Tom and Monica in sight ahead of us.
As the day wore on the wind grew in strength and we made good progress, arriving at the mouth of the Swale at low water ready to take the flood tide in to the anchorage at Harty Ferry.
As we approached the end of Sheppey we passed the Thames sailing barge Greta with a charter party on board. They won’t have been expecting to see a Humber Keel under sail, but I am sure Greta’s skipper Steve explained who we were. Greta is based in Whitstable and seemed to be motor sailing out, no doubt looking forward to a good sail back.
As we only had Steve with us, who was new to sailing keels, and the wind was getting stronger all the time, we decided not to try tacking in. As we lowered the sail one of the tack chains came loose from the roller and we had a few exciting moments getting the mainsail under control. Eventually we got it made up to the yard and were able to finish motoring in. Heading in to the wind, we were getting spray over the bows that reached as far as the aft deck.
We dropped the hook closer to the Sheppey bank of the Swale, where the holding is better and within a short distance from the causeway that leads to the Ferry Inn. After making sure the anchor was holding and everything was made secure we launched the inflatable and we all went ashore to eat. I was pleased to be able to find a seat where I could keep an eye on Daybreak whilst we ate. After the meal we introduced Steve to the pleasures of east coast mud as we carried the inflatables down to the water for the trip back to our anchored vessels.