Thursday 26th May 2016
We are still berthed beside BELFAST in the River Thames in London. I knew we were to leave at 04.30 today, Thursday, but had no intention of going on deck. I woke up when I heard the sound of engines, and contented myself with turning on the television and watching the View from the Bridge. I saw the bascules rising on Tower Bridge as we approached them stern first, then them closing as we glided through. Twenty minutes later we were turning with the help of a local tug at Wapping and then we were off down river, heading for arrival in Portsmouth tomorrow morning. It was fun to think of us passing Greenwich when we will be on the Meridian and going neither west nor east for a few seconds!
Today we have a sea day, which is lovely, as we will be able to enjoy the English coast from the sea side and the weather forecast sounds good for us. After watching our departure from London I went back to sleep and eventually got to breakfast. I intended to go to an 11.30 a.m. lecture by Rosalind Whyte about 'Art of the garden', and it proved to be entertaining and enjoyable. She invited me to join her and her assistant, plus a few other guests, for lunch, so that proved to be an interesting time too.
I went to the Watercolour Exhibition during the afternoon, which showed how talented some people are, and then to the Classical Elegant Afternoon Tea - which was to photograph and eat whatever guests wanted. I liked the large King Neptune and Mermaid on display, all constructed by the talented people in the Catering Department.
Then it was time to get to the Darwin Lounge again, this time for a 'Glorious Gardens and the Chelsea Flower Show - Cruise in Retrospect', with short talks from each of our lecturers.
I think I missed the final early evening quiz but it was soon time to prepare for drinks and dinner on our final evening with several of my new friends.
During the day I had enjoyed being out on deck between the social events and seeing the occasional ferry, the seals basking on the Margate Sandbanks, a dredger who seemed to want us to move out of his way by getting very close as he overtook us, the lovely sunshine in the English Channel and then the 'golden hour' when the light is fading at dusk and creates some beautiful effects for photographs.
Tomorrow we arrive back in Portsmouth and I have to go home but my time on board MINERVA has been very enjoyable.
Ships seen: Belfast, River Thames tug thought to be Bear, dredger Reimerswaal, a DFDS ferry, Baltic Merchant
Friday 27th May 2016
It seemed a short night but here we are back in Portsmouth.
Ships seen: Commodore Clipper, Etretat, Mont St. Michel
After breakfast and goodbyes, it was time to disembark. I had planned to see some of my new friends in the terminal ashore, so left the ship by myself. There at the top of the gangway in Reception was Captain Neil Broomhall; he shook hands and started talking with me about various things, so that was nice. I teased him about the 16.3 knots speed showing on the TV this morning as we went down river after leaving BELFAST. I was surprised and very impressed with the speed of MINERVA, I told him. Luckily he laughed and said it was because the tide was with us and going out, but we still thought it was an amazing and unusual speed for this little ship. I said how much I had enjoyed my first trip on his ship and thanked him.
I set off for the local train station, met my friends there for a final goodbye and headed home. I'd really enjoyed my time on board and think MINERVA is a little treasure. After I got home Rosalind Whyte sent me a couple of pictures of MINERVA sailing through Tower Bridge, taken by a friend of hers, which was very kind and an excellent way to end the trip, so here they are:
Wednesday 25th May 2016
I see my alarm was set for 6.30 this morning, ready for an early breakfast; soon after, those of us going to the Chelsea Flower Show were called for disembarkation to the tender and to collect our lunch boxes as we left MINERVA. I have been so looking forward to this day and excursion and now it is starting. The lightweight cardboard lunch boxes soon collapsed with the weight of all their contents, but I was prepared for that with my little lightweight rucksack, and the box went for recycling.
We went onto BELFAST before descending the steps to the pontoon alongside, and then onto SARAH KATHLEEN, for our very short trip across the River Thames to the Millennium Pier opposite. We had good views back to MINERVA, as we went ashore. The tide was going out and some of the riverside shore was visible; this reminded me of stories about the 'mudlarks' of old, scavenging on the muddy sand beside the water of the Thames.
Soon we boarded numbered coaches and were taken to Chelsea for the Flower Show. We passed The Cenotaph in Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament on our route. On arrival I was handed my ticket and advised about the departure time and rendezvous point, and I was then free to wander at will around this wonderful show.
With so many people wanting to attend the annual Chelsea Flower Show, the Royal Horticultural Society decided to increase the covered areas in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea and this satisfied all the visitors, plus the legal requirements of the safety and fire regulations.
I spent a happy day looking at many exhibits under cover and outside in the grounds, and especially enjoyed the outdoor David Harber Ltd. stand which had won a five gold star award; my other favourite was in the Great Pavilion and this was provided by Interflora, the flower experts, and entitled The Floral Church. The colours and details of both these exhibits were exquisite, in my opinion.
One memorable sight was provided by five thousand small knitted poppies with the backdrop of the Royal Hospital. This was originally a tribute by two Australian women to their fathers who both fought in World War II, and has grown to 'become a worldwide outpouring of respect and remembrance to those who have served their countries in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations'.
A picnic area with seating was provided for visitors, near the covered dais with a band playing most of the time, so that was a natural stop for those of us with the ubiquitous picnic. Jugs of Pimms from the Bars were going past constantly, I noticed. It wasn't quite raining but it was cool and damp and my lavender-coloured lightweight waterproof jacket came in useful.
Back on the coach, our route home to the ship took us alongside the River Thames of course, and I noticed TATTERSHALL CASTLE (built in Grimsby) and a pleasant place for lunch or a drink, and HQS WELLINGTON, the home of The Honourable Company of Master Mariners in London.
We left the coach near the Tower of London and I made my way to All Hallows by the Tower, the nearby Anglican Church in Byward Street. A few years ago I attended a service there in memory of Mr Peter Neville Buckley, Chairman of Caledonia Investments PLC. , whose group of companies included the Clan Line Steamers, the Union-Castle Line Mail Steamship Company Limited, and British & Commonwealth Shipping Company (motto Tendimus). A window was dedicated in his memory and now I wanted to take some new photographs.
All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in the City of London, founded in 675 AD, and built upon Roman remains. The Visitor Information leaflet told me it was damaged in 1650 by an explosion with barrels of gunpowder stored in the churchyard; repairs were carried out but in 1666 it was surrounded by the Great Fire of London and managed to survive. It owes its survival to Admiral William Penn, father of William Penn of Pennsylvania fame (who was baptised in the church), who had his men from a nearby naval yard demolish the surrounding buildings to create firebreaks. Samuel Pepys, the famous Diarist, climbed the spire with the Admiral during the Great Fire to survey the surrounding damage.
It was damaged in the Blitz of London, but was repaired and is in constant use today. I met the Assistant Priest and she made me welcome, as I explained my particular visit today. Photographs taken, I made my way to the Merchant Navy Memorial across the road,
and then back to the riverside and the little SARAH KATHLEEN, to return to MINERVA berthed beside BELFAST. What contrasts, I thought to myself.
The captain checked that I had come from one of the excursion coaches, and I explained that I had, but had been to visit All Hallows by the Tower because of the shipping line windows. He told me that it was the local church and he had been there for a Christening a couple of weeks ago. I mentioned my Union-Castle Line connections and he smiled and said he had a friend who had worked on the EDINBURGH CASTLE in 1966 or 1967, so I had to tell him that so did I!
Other passengers came on board, and we sailed across the River Thames back to MINERVA. I thanked the captain of SARAH KATHLEEN and his mate, we shook hands and that was yet another unexpected Union-Castle connection in my life.
Back on board there was time to prepare for drinks, dinner and this evening's concert; tonight's little contribution from the scratch passenger choir was to be part of "An Evening in London". This included singing 'Feed the Birds' from 'My Fair Lady', and we ended with a noisy rendition of 'Rule Britannia' by Opera del Mare, us in the choir and all the audience on board.
Ships seen: Minerva, Belfast, Sarah Kathleen (built in 1963), Tattershall Castle, HQS Wellington
To be concluded...