Our original booking had to be cancelled due to expected bad weather. For a replacement X-Pilot offerred us an alternative Grand Forts Tour on Bank Holiday Monday the 31st May 2021. On this tour we would be accompanied by Margaret (Flo) McEwan of the Maunsell Forts Appreciation Group.
X-Pilot promotional film by Margaret Flo McEwan
Queensborough on the Isle of Sheppey
The X-Pilot tour started at 8 am with a request to be at the All Tide Landing by 7.45 am. This meant an early start and the good news was hardly any traffic on the motorways. We easily found the recommended car park from the joining instructions sent to us by X-Pilot. And there was more good news – it was a free car park. We had our breakfast of sitting in the car and enjoyed relaxing watching the world walk past past us as we waited.
The All Tide Landing (ATL) was a short walk away past high walls and a large gate that act as sea defences. We waited by the landing as the other travellers arrived including Flo. Our Captain arrived and then she dashed off to pick up some extra milk for the day.
The boat docked at the ATL and we all walked down to be greeted by the owner and the crew. After our safety briefing we went onboard and settled down for the tour.
For the first part of the tour the boat was going against the tide and it was a little bouncy. While I was in the cabin changing my lens I did manage to drop my new 100-500 big lens after a particularly large wave. I left it in my bag for the rest of the tour as a precaution!
SS Richard Montgomery
At around 8.30 am our first point of interest was the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery. This was a WW2 Liberty ship full of ammunition that paused here on its journey to Cherbourg, dragged her anchor, became stuck and then sank. The earlier link explains that the wreck still has 1,400 tons of explosives and has an exclusion zone around it for everyone’s safety.
The yellow buoys clearly mark the exclusion zone.
The water is shallow of the sunken ship and we could clearly see the ship’s masts.
Knock John Fort
The SS Richard Montgomery was the ‘taster’ for the rest of the day. We could see the Army forts and the wind farm as we chugged our way further out into the Thames Estuary, heading for Knock John Fort. By now it was 10.20 am and a lot calmer.
This Maunsell fort was one of the Naval Forts. This fort protected the Estuary from mine laying fast boats as well as protecting London from the Luftwaffe.
The X-Pilot circled the fort and went up close enough to touch and as a special treat we went through the arch underneath the fort.
Flo was walking the month of May in RNLI wellies to raise money for the Sheerness lifeboat. Here’s my picture of her on her phone celebrating nearly reaching £1,500 and being up close and personal with the fort.
Image from Flo’s Facebook Timeline
We looked at the fort from every angle.
Shivering Sands Towers
After our time at Knock John it was after 11.30 am that we approached the Shivering Sands Maunsell Fort.
This fort was manned by the Army and it helped to protect London from the Luftwaffe and later V1 flying bombs.
It is close to shipping lanes and in the fog a ship (the Ribersborg) came out of the shipping lane and collided with one of the seven towers. The stump of that tower can be seen just sticking out of the water.
While X-Pilot circled the fort a rather large container boat past by in the channel.
The X-Pilot crew then warned us all to get hold of the railings and the boat was turned into the heavy wash of the ship. Just before noon we turned away from the fort and headed towards the Kentish Flats windfarm.
Kentish Flats Windfarm
This was our first time being so close to an offshore windfarm. The windmills are truly enormous. At the base of one was a support vessel.
As we past one of the windmills we looked and there was a man right on top of the windmill and Flo managed to grab an image of him waving at the X-Pilot (I wasn’t fast enough with my camera!).
Image from Flo’s Facebook Timeline