Long ago a chap from New Zealand contacted with words of support and admiration for my writing – something I always find difficult to handle! During the intervening years this fine fellow has fed me with snippets of information and sometimes whole ‘e’ books found on the web.
Some years ago I took the chap sailing while he was in England visiting family, who, strangely, resided just a few roads away from my own home in Hadleigh, Essex. On being told about a return visit of some duration, I booked my friend aboard Whimbrel for a sail of more than a gander on the tide.
My friend: made in England and now domiciled in New Zealand…
Last week he made it aboard … our plans were for a tour of the Medway, perhaps dropping into the Swale before hi-tailing it up the coast to Bradwell via Pyefleet and West Mersea. All was achieved.
What might you ask was the chap’s ‘lost love’. No, not his dear wife left home alone back down under. No this was something he fell in love with as a boy. It, or we should say, she, was probably the greatest of the Thames barge fleet: the Veronica. She with her Everard sisters, the Sara and Dreadnought used to chase and harry the Sirdar, then operated by London & Rochester – the Medway based barge owners.
My friend’s lost love, the Veronica in full flow… (Original owned by K. Patten)
Well, I heard on the wires that my friend had held a long desire to reacquaint himself with his lost love. I promised to oblige.
After a night in Queenborough, we left at the bottom of the tide and made our way to Stangate and sailed as far as we could into Funton Creek, finally grounding a little out f sight of the barge’s resting place amongst a cluster of various types. As the tide rose, we set off in the dinghy, poking and punting over the mud flats…
‘Look…’ he said, ‘she’s over there…’
A look of wonder crept across my friend’s face as he spied what looked like a barge in the distance, buried in a mire of other craft. I grinned!
Creeping closer the beam turned a little sour as he saw what I knew was there to see: a pile of rotting timbers with a passing resemblance to a graceful sailing machine.
A disbelieving ‘My goodness…’ or something similar emanated from my friend’s vocal chords in a strangled and cracked cry. Closing, my friend reached out and with an oh so gentle caress he took a hold of her. Alas, a little of her degraded and unloved timber came away in his hand. He tried to push it back into place, as I thought I saw a tear well… Wow, a man after my own heart!
With a gentle caress…
We began to row away, not wanting to start the noisy outboard and disturb the sad serenity of this sorrowful graveyard.
A view of the Veronica’s port side, her stem still standing proud…
Before pulling the cord which would break the magic of the place, I said, ‘Would you like to see the Sirdar?’ She sat in view along the Funton shore beneath the mound of Raspberry Hill.
‘No,’ he said, ‘Let’s leave her in peace…’
Yes, I felt too that we should leave this lady to the quiet contemplation of all her wonderful deeds, honouring our own memories of her peak years, which we too would carry to our graves.
Leaving, I doubted if I would be likely to return again: the Veronica’s deterioration has been rather rapid over the last few years and soon there will be little to see…