Thursday, 12 July 2012


OK, some technical stuff/history - some learned from Steve Norris (owner/skipper) and some from the Greta's website.

Greta is a Thames Sailing Barge and was built in 1892 at Brightlingsea, Essex.  She is 80ft long and 20ft wide.

Early in World War II Greta was chartered by the Ministry of Supply to carry ammunition from the army depot at Upnor, Kent to Royal Navy vessels anchored in the Thames Estuary.   As mentioned in yesterday's post, she took part in the evacuation of soldiers from Dunkirk in 1940.   Her War service ended in 1946 when she was overhauled, had a new engine fitted and returned to normal work carrying grain, timber and animal feed.   In the 1960s when work dropped off Greta was laid up and later acquired for parts to rebuild another barge.   She was found to be in better condition than the other barge so it was Greta that was restored and re-rigged in the 80s.

She is now owned and maintained by Steve Norris and his team of volunteers (one of whom, Tommo, helped onboard our trip).

So this is what Greta looks like in full sail - this isn't one of my pictures as, unfortunately, from the deck it wasn't possible to take a photo showing all the sails.   She leaves and returns to the harbour powered by engine and her sails aren't raised till we're out at sea.

I was discussing Barge sails with Steve (as you do) and he told me that when he reproofed the sails last time he used a well know timber fence paint which works better than the 'real product' apparently.    Apparently the sails on Thames Barges are always this brown colour and I recently read that historically they are dressed with a mixture of oil (traditionally fish oil), seawater (and/or horse urine if available) and red ochre (which is purely a colouring agent.   My horse, Roxy, can pee for England but I decided not to offer her services to Steve :-)

This is the ladder from the harbour wall that we climbed down to board Greta ...

'God protect Greta' .... Amen to that!    The 'steering wheel' is the traditional shape for a Thames Sailing Barge and is called a chaffcutter apparently.

Our Skipper, Steve, and volunteer, Tommo, sorting out the sails.  You will notice that the sides of the barge aren't very high and we were very conscious of that fact when moving around the deck - luckily although it was very windy and cold the sea wasn't too rough  :-)

The little flag at the top  is called a Bob (or Bob Fly) and carries the owner's colours and/or ID (in this case the N stands for Norris - the skipper's surname)

Windfarm on the horizon ... you can see how horrible the weather was.    We are very close to Margate where Turner painted so many dramatic sea and skyscapes ... he believed that the skies over Margate were the loveliest in Europe!      They weren't exactly lovely on Tuesday, but they were quite spectacular if you like grey and black :-)

this strange vessel has been laying cables/working on the local windfarms I believe - they were friendly and gave us a nice wave as they passed ...

But the main purpose of our trip was to get a closer look at the Redsands Towers (also known as the Maunsell army forts) which we can just about see from the coast - they are approx 8½ miles away from Whitstable. Guy Maunsell designed these forts for anti-aircraft defence. They comprise seven interconnected steel platforms on concrete legs, five carried guns arranged in a semicircle around the control centre and accommodation while the seventh, set further out than the gun towers, was the searchlight tower.

 Three forts were placed in the Mersey and three in the Thames Estuary. They carried four QF 3.75 inch guns and two Bofors 40 mm guns. During the war there were around 120 men stationed at each fort - they shot down 22 aircraft and about 30 flying bombs. The forts were decommissioned by the MoD in the late 1950s.  

In the 60s Redsands Towers were used by various Pirate Radio Stations, Radio Invicta July 64 to Feb 65, King Radio Feb 65 to September 65 and Radio 390 from September 65 to July 67,  but they had a chequered history.  Invicta Radio was run by Tom Pepper (actually a tug skipper from Folkestone - Harry Featherbee). The station was notorious for the number of times it called out the emergency services due to injured staff or running out of drinking water etc. On December 17th 1964 Tom Pepper was drowned,
together with 21 year-old DJ Simon Ashley and 18 year-old engineer Martin Shaw (neither of whom could swim) when their boat "David" sank en route to Faversham from Red Sands Fort.

Being in open sea and constructed largely of metal the Red Sands Towers are natural lightning conductors.   Pirate radio DJ Paul Beresford was struck by lightning but managed to broadcast his usual programme.  Even on good days there are stories of station staff being thrown some distance after grabbing metal door handles. 

Today, Redsand Fort as the only complete structure as built in wartime is the focus of attention by Project Redsand, a group of enthusiasts who aim to reinstate the Fort to its original built condition.  Work has progressed to installing a new access system to the main control tower. Built at a cost of approximately £40,000, the access system enables project members to board the tower to commence restoration.

They are really quite eerie close up - like maritime Daleks!!

and finally after our 6 hour round trip we were back in safe harbour ... just as the heavens opened and it started to thrash down with rain - so pleased it didn't rain that hard whilst we were at sea!


Jo said...

Well I'm damned, haven't read all your blog here yet, just got back from the dentist, but I lived on a Thames Barge for many years, her name was Iota, and she had been converted so that her hold was living space. We sailed her across the north sea and the channel. I understand she is broken up now sadly.

sue said...

That's pretty amazing isn't it? The Greta has been converted and has quite a luxurious hold now.

I did a quick 'Google' search for Iota but didn't come up with anything but this is a link to a group who seem to have a lot of info about current and past Barges/owners. Might be worth asking if they have any info about Iota

Jennifer Rose Phillip said...

i lose old abandoned buildings so seeing photos of those forts is great :D

Jo said...

It was somebody in a group such as that who told me about the Iota today. It was a while back, but I seem to remember he sent me a photo of her lying abandoned.

Shepherd Neame brings back memories too - for a while we used to live in Oare Creek just outside Faversham.

We used to call them the Nore Forts, never heard the names you used before. We mainly lived at Hoo on the River Medway although we did spend a few years in Lincolnshire. Eventually father sold her for an MFV.

By the way, most bloggers over here, have removed the Captcha from our comments (the bit where you prove you're not a robot).

sue said...

Hi Jo.
I hate those Captchas and didn't know they were on my Blog - can't tell from this end. I'll see if I can find how to remove them.

sue said...

I think I've now disabled the Captcha thinggy from my Blog.

I'd appreciate you letting me know if you can now leave comments without having to go through that irritating rigmarole of trying to read fuzzy numbers/letters???????

If I've done it correctly .... I'll write a post letting my Blogger friends know how to do the same thing. I didn't know my followers had to go through the Captcha process to comment ... amazing how these things sneak in isn't it

sue said...

me again ... the Nore Forts was one of the 3 sites built on the Thames but its no longer there ... I think it was the first to be demolished. Thats why the Redsands site is so important as it is the last surviving example - it would be horrible to have them all just disappear wouldn't it.

Jo said...

OK the Captcha has gone, thanks.

Its interesting to read so much about places I remember from so many years ago. I was at boarding school in Herne Bay for a year or two as well.

Bev said...

Goody Captcha gone! I have been leaving you posts but they never appear, not sure why, but here goes again. I love those old war time forts, they have a really eerie feel, reminds me of the Mars invaders from 'War of the Worlds' (the book not the film...I imagined my own and they looked like these boys), I am happy to hear that they are going to be restored, would be sad to loose this little bit of history.

sue said...

Hi Bev
As you'll have read, I didn't know I had Captcha on my Blog - Blog authors can't tell so I'm grateful to Jo for letting me know. Sorry your posts haven't appeared? Hopefully problem resolved now. I've just put a note on today's blogpost about how to remove Captcha if anyone is unsure.

Mars Invaders is a good description. They are pretty amazing but I wouldn't like to have been stationed at one of these forts .. apparently the suicide rate was pretty amongst soldiers posted here. Thats when knitting was introduced to occupy soldiers :-)

Jo said...

I finally got round to reading your two Thames Barge blogs. I am staggered that the forts are still there. Don't remember ever getting that close to them, too busy going somewhere or other I expect. Pity it was so cold.