Rewind to Saturday 18th June
Queenborough (River Swale) to Limehouse Basin
Lining up the convoy…
Here’s another cruise that merits its own post, despite the fact that I posted a few photos from my phone along the way…
I mentioned in the last post that we had a cruel early start, and so it was: At 4.30am the alarm clock went off and by 5am the convoy was on the move, showing some precision narrowboating as we ferry glided away from our moorings in a perfect sequence and got ourselves arranged for the convoy up the Thames.
It was only a few days from midsummer, so it was already light when we set out; the water was flat calm and the weather was dry – we kept all digits crossed that we wouldn’t have the torrential rain that beset our journey yesterday. We also hoped that the wind would stay at the bottom end of the forecast – we obviously survived a bit of lumpy bumpy water on the way down, but it is so much more fun on the river when it’s flat calm!
Rounding Nore Swatch buoy with the masts of the stricken SS Montgomery in the background….
During last night’s briefing, our leader, Andy Spring, had warned us all against the dangers of complacency. It was a salutary warning because I think we all felt confident and invincible having cruised to the Medway successfully.
But he needn’t have worried, there’s nothing like the sight of a 5-mile wide estuary to knock any cockiness from our cruising. We started buoy spotting almost immediately and from then on we had to concentrate – the buoys are so far apart in places (about a mile) that you spot them a long way back, set your course, then by the time you get to them you start doubting whether that was the one you’d spotted from afar anyway! Being part of a convoy was reassuring as we could always look at what the boat in front was doing. However, with a safe distance between each boat, it was important that we could also follow our own course and take account of the tide and wind for ourselves.
What a view…
It was a fascinating trip – the weather stayed dry so we had great views of the big traffic on the river. We were well out of the way and in touch with VTS all the way so we weren’t in any danger, but it was awesome to share the river with ships whose holds were big enough to swallow 333 narrowboats. We could see this blob coming up behind us, getting bigger the whole time. Now the Astrid Shulte was not really behind us, we were in the secondary channel whilst they were in the main channel but still when you have a boat 304m long by 40m wide coming up the Estuary behind you at 17 knots you keep a good look out!
The trip back had a bit of added excitement – on the way down, we crossed to the right hand side of the river at Bow and there we stayed until the turn onto the Medway. On the way back, the convoy turned from the Medway into a small boat channel to the left of the river. However, just upstream of the London Gateway near the East Tilbury Marshes we had to cross to the right had side of the river, where the river suddenly narrows to being a mere mile wide. To save having a long line of narrowboats crossing over (which would probably take about an hour!), we all formed a line and turned smartly across the river at the same time. It was a grand sight, in the brief glance I gave it while concentrating on the helm!
Even the big ships are dwarfed by the estuary…
From then on we listened to the VHS and marveled at the ships, the tide, the shoals – everything! There is so much going on that it’s easy to get fatigued – Richard and I took turns on the helm as, unusually, we didn’t have any cruising guests on board.
Now, Andrew Phasey is always telling us that the buoys are NOT magnetic and are not attracting the steel narrowboats towards them. But I’m not sure whether I believe him🙂
I was on the helm when we were aiming for a green buoy some distance away; it seemed to take ages to get to it, but suddenly there it was; and I had a grandstand view of a powerful optical illusion.
Indigo Dream now has an AIS transceiver which allows other ships to see us on their chart plotters – this is a proximity chart with us in the middle, surrounded by big ships🙂
As we approached the buoy, the water was apparently rushing past us from left to right, with the buoy being swept along with it at great speed; but of course, it wasn’t. Indigo Dream was actually being swept from right to left, into the buoy! As I put pedal to the metal to pass it on the correct side, we did an advanced diploma in buoy studies as we swept past it by a hair’s breadth. I was interested in its vivid green colour, I was fascinated by its height, towering over the boat, and it had a bell, who knew! Luckily, you can learn all you need to know about buoys from one close contact, so I didn’t pursue my doctorate on the ones following!
It is an epic cruise, so when we reached Gravesend, it felt as if we were home. But that had seemed like an epic destination in 2013 – I guess it’s all relative.
All sorts of craft use the tideway – sailing vessels of all kinds, big ships and narrowboats – the perspective is dramatic but the ship was nowhere near us!
As we passed Tilbury Docks we heard that there was a big ship in the lock waiting to come onto the tideway – we put a few more revs on – what if they decided to try and fit into a gap between narrowboats?! I was very impressed when the captain correctly identified us as narrowboats and let us know that he would wait until after we’d all gone past before moving out of the lock – VTS had informed him that there were 10 narrowboats and he very carefully counted us past and moved out of the lock shortly afterwards. We are often tail-end charlie on convoys, but this time we were happy to let nb Doris Katia experience the shadow fall as the gargantuan ship made its way onto the river🙂
After Gravesend, the river narrows considerably and, at last, we were able to spot shoreline landmarks. Not for the first time I regretted that there isn’t a walkway across the QE2 bridge – I would have loved to have a photo of the convoy from the bridge. Every time I drive over it I have a little glance down to the river – even the big ships look small from up there; the narrowboats would be mere specks!
A co-ordinated turn across the river….
We were soon on very familiar water as the Royal Dock entrance lock then the Woolwich Ferry hove into view. Although there was only one ferry operational, it was pulling out from its moorings as we approached. The beauty of the VHS is being able to speak to the commercial traffic sharing the waterways and check their course. In this case, the ferry confirmed that he would pass our stern so we put pedal to the metal again to get out of the way.
All too soon, we were at Bow Creek Mouth and the convoy passed smoothly, two by two, through Bow Locks. Limehouse Cut seemed tiny after our river adventures, but nonetheless, the convoy made good time back to Limehouse basin. By 2.30pm we were all rafted up – I’m not sure about the other boats, but we thought it was time for a snooze!
Norsky just moving out of Tilbury Lock once the convoy had passed…
Richard got up, refreshed, in time to join the crews for a celebratory pint at the Grapes then a merry “survivor’s supper at the Cruising Association. The CA has been a good friend to our convoys, providing a welcome haven for our briefings and suppers. I stayed in bed, I still had laryngitis and now a sore throat, as it was inevitable that I would have to use what little voice I had to communicate during our mooring manoeuvres.
Judging by the passing voices, no-one stayed up late – it had been a big day’s cruise and a very successful end to a fine adventure.
Approaching the QE2 Bridge – it’s a grand sight🙂
A new meaning to “bow thruster” – Scot Stuttgart being nudged into her moorings🙂
Familiar waters – Barking Creek Mouth…
There’s still a thrill to helming these waters – even if we have passed the Thames Barrier many times🙂
New signage on Bow Creek – it’s because of the new bridge with its restricted headroom at high tide…
Ooops! Wonder what caused that knock?