Posts Tagged ‘SS Richard Montgomery’

On Sunday Sue and I travelled down to Kent to meet our friends Keith and Elaine as we were all going on a boat trip around the Isle of Sheppey, which lies of the north coast of Kent.

The Island is separated from the mainland by a stretch of water known as The Swale. It is not a river since it has no source and no estuary, joining the River Thames near Whitstable and the River Medway near Queenborough. And it was at Queenborough that our journey commenced as we joined the Jacob Marley for our trip.

We set off down the Swale. Originally the island was only reached via ferries but when the railway arrived, a bridge was built to carry traffic and the trains across the Swale onto the island. The current bridge dates from 1960. The problem was that this had to be raised and lowered to let some boats into the Swale, particularly at high tide so in 2006 a high level road bridge was built next to the railway-road bridge so traffic could flow to and from the island to the mainland without any hinderance from ships on the Swale.

After passing under the bridge we proceeded past Ridham dock, the last working dock on the Swale.

Although there is still plenty of evidence of past commercial activities

Once past Ridham, there is open country on both sides of the Swale. On Sheppey, we pass the famous Elmley Nature Reserve, once managed by the RSPB, but now an independent company. A Hobby flies over the boat on its migration south and there are lots of wading birds returning from their Breeding grounds feeding or roosting on the mudflats. Some maybe going further south and some may remain here for the winter. Large numbers of Little Egrets, once a rare bird in the UK, are seen feeding along the mudbanks.

The previous day had seen the Medway barge race and so we encountered a number of different sailing barges making their way back to their moorings.

At the eastern end of the island we come to Horse Sands where there is a small seal colony with both Common and Grey seals present.

Reaching the eastern end of the Island we turn west along the north coast. Soon we see 2 Artic Skuas chasing gulls. These birds are like large gulls and they chase smaller seabirds hoping to make them drop the food they have caught rather than catch their own. A little way further we see another Skua closing on the boat from behind. It looks different as it flies low to the water, but it overtakes the boat and is lost from sight by us before we can confirm its identity. Our conclusion was that it was probably a juvenile Long-tailed Skua, which is quite rare for the Thames, but we couldn’t be absolutely sure. Unlike the adults, the juveniles do not have the Long tail streamers which give it it’s name. The following day up to 20 were seen in the Swale so it is likely that our unconfirmed identification was correct.

Out in the estuary we can see the old wartime defense forts and the more modern Thames wind-farm.

Looking to land we can see where the island is eroding.

We pass the wreck of the Richard Montgomery, a wartime munitions carrier, that ran aground and broke up off Sheerness. Much of its cargo is still aboard and it is estimated if it ever blew up then houses would be affected by the shockwave in Sheerness and in Southend on the opposite side of the Thames and a wave up to 5m high would hit both coasts. Soon there will be nothing to see as there are plans to remove the masts to relieve the weight on the superstructure which is breaking up.

Soon we are back at the western end of the Island passing the docks at Sheerness

And then onto Queenborough where we disembark. A great trip full of interest and some excellent birdwatching as well.

John H Amos on its pontoon

John H Amos

A steam paddle tug built on the Clyde for the Tees Conservancy. Its main function was towing barges but it also had a licence for 144 passengers. In 1959 the boat and its crew were arrested when it was found to be towing barges containing illicit alcohol as part of a smuggling ring. It was withdrawn in 1967 and presented to the local council. Between 1971 and 1976 it was docked at Stockton and was being restored as part of a youth experience programme funded by the UK government. However in 1976 funding was withdrawn and the project folded. The council decided to scrap the tug. It was purchased by the Medway Maritime Museum and eventually became berthed in a dry dock at Chatham Historic Dockyard, However, when the Dockyard came into possession of HMS Ocelot, a Chatham built Submarine, the John H Amos had to be moved to another berth where unfortunately it sunk. It was later raised using a crane and now sits on a pontoon awaiting funds for restoration.

Medway Queen

Medway Queen

Built in 1923, this paddle steamer carried passengers between Strood, Chatham, Southend and Herne Bay. In WWII she was used as a minesweeper in the Dover Flotilla and was credited with rescuing around 7000 men during the evacuations at Dunkirk. After the war, she returned to civilian ferry duties until 1963, when she was withdrawn from service. She moved to the Isle of Wight where she was used as a floating restaurant and night club.  After a number of years, she sank at her mooring on the River Medina and was raised and brought back to the Medway on a pontoon. Restoration work was completed in 2013 and she is now moored at Gillingham.

The masts of the SS Richard Montgomery

SS Richard Montgomery

The Richard Montgomery was an American Liberty boat wrecked on the Nore sands at the mouth of the Medway in 1944. Her cargo was 1400 tonnes of high explosives, which it was deemed too dangerous to try and salvage. Much debate has ensued and continues to rage, about the effect of any potential explosion on the surrounding area. These range from creating a tsunami which would drown the estuarine towns such as Sheerness and Southend to little or no noticeable effect. The official line is that after 70 plus years underwater it is unlikely that the explosives are still in a viable state and that the explosive risk is very low. Nether the less the area around the wreck remains a prohibited area.