We have a variety of marina-view restaurants from which to choose. Italian, French, Indian-even medieval banquet fare-are available. A meal with a couple of glasses of wine runs about $60. Also on-site are several coffee shops, a café, bagel shop, dry cleaners, hair salon, drug store, and newsstand. A U.S. style supermarket with everything from goose fat (for locals) to peanut butter (for visiting yachties) is close by. If your yachting wardrobe is looking a little dated, you can check out the latest fashions from bespoke to casual hip. We share the docks with a fleet of traditional Thames sailing barges and a variety of yachts from different nations, so there are always interesting boats to inspect.
Best of all, this is a quiet area. The only traffic is on foot, as the office and apartment dwellers rush to and from the Tube station and other public transport at the beginning and end of their workdays. A security staff of retired Nepalese Gurkha troops, and a friendly marina crew headed by dockmaster Charlie Telfor, keep an eye on the slips. The marina docks, basins, and surrounding real estate are all beautifully maintained.
And there always seems to be something going on. Just this week Suhaili, the little ketch in which Robin (now Sir Robin) Knox-Johnston won the first single-handed round-the-world race is on display. There is a Clipper Round the World Race boat moored nearby, we have musical entertainment in front of one of the restaurants, and the London Marathon passed near St. Katharine Docks around the 22-mile mark.
For all the sights and sounds of modern life that surround cruising yachtsman at St. Kat's, there's historical ambiance galore. The floating docks are anchored to the same brick walls that sheltered 19th century clipper ships bringing tea from China and ivory from Africa. Quayside bollards and cobblestone walkways are original. The Dickens Inn, now a large eating and drinking establishment, is built within the confines of a 19th century warehouse. It is dark, lowceilinged, and very cool.
Prefer something a little older? Walk ten minutes east along the river to the Prospect of Whitby, a pub that opened its doors in 1520 and serves warm beer on the same premises where the diarist Samuel Pepys used to knock back a few. If you prefer it, more modern fare is available up the street at the upstart Town of Ramsgate, which has only been a public house since 1545.
It's the contrast between new and old that makes a stay here so extraordinary. London has some of the most avant-garde, high-rise real estate you will see anywhere in the world. Juxtaposed with the traditional buildings and detritus left by the Romans, it makes for an amazing visual experience.
We are not big-city fans. L.A. we can take for two days, New York maybe three. In cruising mode, we rarely spend more than a week in one location. But there is so much to do and see in London, and all so easily accessible by Tube, that it's hard to break away. Museums are for the most part free, and if you are early, not too crowded. Of course, if you want to watch the changing of the guard, see the royal jewel collection in the Tower, or check out Piccadilly Circus, there are a million other tourists you'll meet who had the same idea. You can also take in some of the many famous London theatres and shows. Better yet, how about a local folk music club in the room above a nearby pub? Musicians get up to perform across a range of styles-Scottish and English, Romanian, Hungarian, and even Mississippi Delta blues-and the audience joins in.
With just 170 slips, St. Katharine is small in terms of marina space. Each year six to ten foreign yachts spend the winter here. By our reckoning, a slip can be had for less than half of what a nice metropolitan marina would cost in the States (for our 83-footer, the charge was US$65.00 per day, including power).
Ah, the joys of cruising. If we had been returning each day to a hotel room, we'd have cast off in a week. But with Wind Horse quietly moored in St. Katharine, there's a peaceful haven awaiting our return each day. We've been here a month and there are still plenty of things left to do.
St. Katharine Docks, +44 020 7264 5312; www.skdocks.co.uk