When restaurateur and club (Quo Vadis) owner Eddy Hart decided to buy a RIB (rigid inflatable boat) to explore the river Thames from his Chelsea houseboat home, he was faced with some questions. When he purchased a RIB in Poole in Dorset, the questions multiplied. How to get it back to London? Questions from his friends proliferated; never mind 'quo vadis?' ("where are you going?"), "why?" and "how?" came soon after.
A spirit of adventure decided those. He would pilot it back to London and so approached an experienced skipper, Scott Beadle, based on Cadogan Pier, and the planning began. Poring over charts it became clear that good navigation and boat skills were essential, not to mention kind weather over a period of several days. It was no gentle river trip. The distance between the two points was plotted as 240 nautical miles (a nautical mile is bigger than one of our land ones, being 1852 yards - a minute of arc of the circumference of the earth). This meant a three day event. The Skipper, Eddy and his girlfriend assembled at Poole and took delivery of the boat. After encountering various equipment problems and incredulity from the locals, they set out. Finally, tired and with meeting some rough water after the Solent they reached Brighton, where I joined them.
The next day we launched ourselves to Ramsgate, passing the seaside towns of Newhaven and Eastbourne and the once thriving ports of Hastings, Winchelsea and Rye. Whilst gazing at the huge chalk cliffs of Beachy Head and Dover we marvelled that such mighty natural structures were built from the microscopic skeletons of sea creatures falling to the bottom of ancient oceans over many millions of years. A wonder, too, that we avoided the ferries coming in and out of Dover with such frequency and speed.
Turning almost due north past Deal, (where I heard later a cleric had blessed the sea the day before. Could he make it calmer next time please?), we passed Sandwich, (England’s fast food legacy to the world). We entered Ramsgate harbour under the cliffs, topped with impressive architecture. Having stowed the boat we trudged up the stairs to the cliff top to visit the Royal Temple Yacht Club for a restorative. A sailing club started at Temple steps in London, the increasing use of the commercial river pushed their regattas downstream, until in 1896 they finally selected Ramsgate as a headquarters and were duly awarded a Royal Warrant. The contrast between the chain hotel of Brighton and the friendly charm-laden atmosphere of the RTYC perched over the harbour were marked (as was the rate for a room!). We dined in one of the splendid restaurants in the arcade beneath the Club and returned the easy 15 metres to the club for a nightcap and a game of (bad, alcohol affected) snooker in their Victorian billiard room. Recommended to visiting yachtsman!
With a stiff breeze we took our leave of Ramsgate and rounding the North Foreland into the estuary we encountered a head on wind against an ingoing tide. A short chop and the discomfort rose. Our 20 knots speed was soon cut down to avoid the crash of falling off one wave and hitting the next. As we butted through the seas in the estuary, we were very quickly intercepted by the men in black (two fast RIBS belonging to the Kent police). What was a small, fast boat doing coming up the Thames from the sea at some speed in weather not usually welcomed by tourists? Having been picked up on the radar, officialdom wished to enquire. After a boarding by a large, well equipped man in black and giving our particulars, we passed the smugglers’ test and were allowed to proceed without the full body search, phew!
At last the weather improved and we were able to pick up speed and experience the strange riverside architecture running into the city and then the wonderful variety of London as we sped through it. Passing the Houses of Parliament we knew we were nearly home. Shortly afterwards we tied up at Cadogan Pier and took a welcome snack and a well-earned glass of wine, feeling a delicious tiredness that I remember as a child after a day on the beach.
Yes, Eddy could have put the boat on a trailer up the M3 and saved both time and money, but what an adventure he would have missed. He knew where he was going and how best to experience the journey.