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To Gravesend?

The best estimate at how long it would take to row from Margate to Gravesend in something a third of a tonne is five days. So if I can make it to Gravesend today I will have achieved this in just three days (unlikely but worth trying).

The Thames outside Sheerness that yesterday had looked like a river today looked again like the sea. The mist was in and I couldn't see the other side so had to aim for buoys and keep altering my course each time I got to the one I'd been aiming at. This is a less than ideal way of navigating but in this situation; the best option.

My new support boat skipper is a Thames Waterman - this means he's a Freeman of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames - I'm a Thames Waterman too so it felt good that we were setting off together on this day the motto of the Waterman is "at commandment of our superiors" which is a good thing to remember when you have to deal with tide, wind and waves.

I skirted over sandbanks, got marooned on sandbanks and cursed the weather which was not being kind. Around the Isle of Grain (sounds pretty but does not look it) the sea state became really choppy and rough and many times I thought I would capsize I kept having to cling on to the side of the bath and steady it. This was a very tough couple of hours. Finally around the other side of the Isle of Grain the seals returned to escort me again, the wind changed direction and the water flattened out. Rowing up the river tanker ships from Tilbury hooted their horns (not in a "get out of the way" sense but to say hello as my position was being given out on radio every half hour) and other than the adverse winds, which weren't too strong and the sandbanks to which I kept being drawn things were not going too badly.

Turning the corner however into a headwind (a wind hitting the front of the bath square on) things became a little less easy. The speed I can row the bath can be up to 6 or 7 knots but in a headwind this drops to 1 or 1.5 that's a huge difference and it becomes very tiring. It's also slightly painful on the wrists as the sheer weight they are pulling transfers into them.

The headwind hampered me all the way and just as I reached a wreck called Higham the clouds opened to let out a downpour. I thought to myself that there was more than one wreck called Higham on the Thames today but just had to keep going. The rain stopped for a moment as a boat called the Princess Pocahontas passed me, tooted and the passengers waved and cheered - the man who owns her is a Thames Waterman too.

The rain kicked back in but the wind dropped very slightly and I thought that was my chance so used all my available reserves and took the stroke rate (number of strokes per minute) up. My lungs burned and my thighs ached but I finally was able to make some headway. The wind and rain battered the sides of the bath but I was able to turn round the corner. The burst of effort I had put in to take the stroke rate up had hit me hard and the rain was dampening my spirits I turned my head as I was taking a stroke and saw Gravesend. I'm not sure anyone has ever been more glad to see Gravesend than I was that night. As I turned back the rain stopped and a rainbow appeared. This may sound like poetic licence but unbelievably it really happened.

It's my third day of rowing in a row and I am exhausted. My legs were all wobbly when I got of the bath and I could do very little but breath. However I've made it to Gravesend, a journey that was said to take five days I have done in three. I am very relieved to be here and happy to now feel like Tower Bridge is truly within my sights. On Sunday the weather is good again and I'm off to try and make it to Erith.

Thanks for reading this. If you're around the river on Sunday do come down as it would be lovely to see you. I should leave Gravesend mid afternoon and arrive at Erith Yacht Club (Kent - south bank of the river) for supper.