Veterans' Cruise Weekend at Hampton Court - Andrew Wood

In July, I was asked by some members of the Endeavour Trust committee whether I was available to skipper Endeavour for the Veterans' Cruise. Last year I had joined the crew for the passage from Leigh to Hampton with Paul Gilson and other members of the Trust. It was my first trip on the Endeavour, although I have known her from my teenage years. The mast had to be lowered to go under the London bridges, en route to Hampton, so this year time was spent on sourcing materials and gear to make the lowering and lifting of the mast much easier and, at the same time, keeping the decks clear for the crew and passengers to move about safely.

Andy’s ingenious construction secures the lowered 
mast and allows for easier movement on board

Due to the times of the tides it was decided to make passage from Leigh to Hampton  over a two day period. We mustered on Thursday September 1st at 10am. The crew, Chris Bailey, Finlay Marshall, Colin Sains and Bob Pigram were eagerly anticipating the trip. Brum, our very helpful boat husband, ferried the five of us out from Billet Wharf to Endeavour on her creek mooring. We were on board before we were afloat which allowed time to store our gear away and appreciate the beautiful morning.

We were underway at 11.10am and enjoyed a fine trip inwards to Gravesend. At Gravesend it was high water and I had arranged to leave Endeavour on a mooring buoy just below Town Pier until the following day. The Tilbury/Gravesend ferry very kindly picked us up from the mooring, probably surprising their passengers with the detour, and took us to the Tilbury landing stage from where we took the train back to Leigh.

The following day we met at Leigh Station at 7.30am with a slightly smaller crew of Chris Bailey, Finlay and Chris Burls. We took the train and ferry to Gravesend where the ferry kindly put us back on board. It was another fine morning with light winds and at 9.45am we made our way inwards for Hampton on the first of the young flood tide. With time on our side we eased our speed and with the tide, made good progress, and passed under Tower Bridge at about1pm, passed Richmond Sluice and arrived at Teddington Lock at about 3.15pm.

Moored at Gravesend

Having cleared Teddington Lock we were now in fresh water and had time to take in our surroundings. At Hampton  we berthed alongside the Thames Motor Boat Club where we met fellow Dunkirk ‘little ships' owners and crew members. We spent a few hours ashore at the clubhouse for a BBQ and a few beers. Just before this Chris Bailey waved goodbye on his way back to Leigh.

Saturday was another fine start to the day and I attended a meeting regarding the events for the day after which there was a welcome address for the veterans and all the crews involved. At 1pm, with seventeen other ‘little ships' in convoy, we went down river through Teddington Lock to Richmond Barrier before returning back up to Teddington and Hampton. On board we had seven people, mostly ex-military personnel and their partners. Tea, coffee and nibbles were provided by Finlay and Chris.

With our guests ashore we needed to change our clothes for the evening's supper in the clubhouse. It is not easy for three men to change clothing in a cabin with only four feet of head room, as it was raining heavily changing on deck was out of the question.  Supper, provided by the local Women's Institute, was attended by veterans, club members, Royal Naval personnel and their band and A.D.L.S participants.

Waiting to depart on Saturday with Hampton Court Bridge
in the background

Sunday was an early 7.45 start for Finlay and me. Skippers were given a briefing for the day with the veterans arriving shortly after. A formal inspection of the veterans and a short commemorative service was followed by the veterans boarding their allocated craft. Once the veterans were on board the flotilla let go and proceeded in convoy for a short trip down river before turning and proceeding inwards for Weybridge, our destination, passing through the Moseley and Sunbury locks.

To me this was probably the most rewarding part of the weekend. To see so many people out on Sunday morning waving and cheering us on from the footpath, from their houses and gardens and seeing the veterans return their waves. At Sunbury Lock there was a party atmosphere with music playing and crowds singing and dancing to forties' songs and tunes. Truly wonderful!!

We had two veterans and their wives on board who came from Wickford and Benfleet. It was very interesting to hear their stories and history of their time in the services. The couple from Benfleet also had a strong connection with the Belton fishing family from Leigh.

After their lunch in Weybridge we assisted the veterans to the classic cars which had been arranged for their transportation back to Hampton and said our goodbyes.

Monday, after an early start, Finlay and I sailed back to Leigh, concluding a very eventful and enjoyable weekend.

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