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The journeys of the Narrowboat Indigo Dream

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Archive for January 9th, 2009

Boat Blog: Limehouse Basin to the Royal Docks

Posted by indigodream on 9 January, 2009

Thursday 8th January

We have a truly wonderful morning’s cruise today – words can hardly describe it but I expect I’ll find a few anyway!

When we woke up this morning we were surprised and relieved to see that it hadn’t frozen overnight and that temperatures were much milder than we expected. On the other hand, we may just have become used to the cold!

We were joined by our friend, Steve, proud owner, together with his wife, Margaret,  of nb North Star which is safely tucked away in her mooring on the Oxford so Steve decided to join our crew instead. Unfortunately Margaret couldn’t make it and Steve generously looked guilty for having such a good time throughout the cruise!

Bow Lock

Bow Lock

We set out from Limehouse Basin at around 7.30am for the short trip up Limehouse Cut to the Bow Locks. The sky was just lightening and Limehouse Basin looked quite magical. It’s even better at sunset! A BW tug had been through yesterday to break up the thick ice and had repeated the trip this morning, even though it hadn’t frozen overnight. This made for an easy but still slightly crunchy trip up the canal. A few early morning construction workers were amazed to see so many narrowboats travelling up this normally quiet stretch; they waved and

shouted encouragement (well I assume it was encouragement!) from their lofty perches of a half-built high rise.

The cruise was immaculately organised as always and we locked through Bow with three other narrowboats – our leader nb. Doris Katia, nb Barnaby and the ever faithful nb Panacea who we believe has supported this cruise for many years. The lock-keepers were very informative and helpful and we found another greyhound fan. A lady lockkeeper rescues greyhounds herself and is completely barmy for the breed – sound familiar? Blue and Lou were admired through the cabin windows – it was far too early for them to be showing any signs of activity!

Industrial Bow Creek

Industrial Bow Creek

The tidal Bow Creek is a wide and winding stretch of water offering alternative views of the distantly wealthy Canary Wharf and closely crummy scrap yards and other industrial remnants. As with all tidal stretches, it’s hard to imagine that this large waterway is down to a trickle in the mud at low tide. Today’s tide was quite high and we had plenty of water.

There were a few things of note here. Even though it’s so industrial, there’s a surprising amount of wildlife in the Bow Creek. The first you may be able to help me with. There are large flocks of birds here – they fly like swallows and are amazingly agile in the air despite the fact that they look like small ducks. When they land, they’re obviously waders. They have greyish plumage and red legs. I have so far failed to identify them – any ideas? But our wildlife highlight was the sight of the bobbing head of a seal (or maybe sea lion) not far from the creek mouth. We had to get our binoculars out as it had sensibly ducked under the water when we went past though it popped up just in time to give tug Major a fine show behind us.

Assembling the convoy at Bow Creek mouth

Assembling the convoy at Bow Creek mouth

Like the construction workers earlier, the seal seemed amazed to see the convoy of narrowboats!

We had a brief wait at Bow Creek mouth while the last of the convoy (8 boats in all) caught up, then we set out onto the enormous expanse of the Thames. This is only the second time that I’ve done this but the view you get as you cruise from Bow Creek to the other side of the Thames is my all time favourite. There’s the sheer immensity of a huge tidal river full of water, the surreal sight of the almost crystalline buildings of the Isle of Dogs, the looming bulk of the O2 Arena and the sudden change of scale as we noticed the gigantic craft moored and moving on the tideway.

The last time we did this trip we didn’t have a VHF radio. This time we did and it was extremely useful. Doris Katia, the lead boat, had taken responsibility for communicating with the Thames VTS on the convoy’s behalf but we listened in on channel 14. It was interesting to hear the ‘chatter’ on the airways but, more importantly, we were more aware of what

Crossing onto the tideway

Crossing onto the tideway

was going on around us. There was a substantial amount of water traffic, all much much bigger than us and it was tremendously reassuring to know what they were doing (so that we could take the appropriate evasive action!). I’ll tell you more about that later.

After the thrill of entering the tideway we settled down to cruising down a river that was as calm as a millpond. The air was still and there was a faint haze on the water which let us feel as if we were going back in time to when the river would have been busily smoky and full of industry. Although we were steering to the right of the navigation, the banks seemed a long way away. I can’t describe the sheer euphoria of it so I’ll borrow some words from a proper author – Kenneth Graham and the Wind in the Willows:  “Then suddenly the Mole felt a great awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror–indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy–but it was an awe that smote and held him”

Such an evocative riverscape....

Such an evocative riverscape....

Just as well I wasn’t on the helm. While I was looking around and going “wow”, the lads had picked up on the vhf that the convoy had  to stop while a huge ship turned into dock in front of us. In the meantime I happened to look back and saw a rather large barge heading straight for our stern! I was a bit concerned but they knew what they were doing and with a bit of jinking they overtook us on the right to get to their own mooring.

After all this big ship manoeuvering we got the all clear for the Thames Barrier and off we went. It’s a great piece of engineering and seeing a long line of narrowboats weaving between the piers was very impressive. Needless to say, we were utterly dwarfed by the barrier!

The next impressive sight was the huge Tate ‘n Lyle works on the left. There was a large ship moored there and we watched the loose cargo of something being scooped up into the air. I wondered if it was raw sugar – I always forget what an exotic product sugar is.

Approaching the Thames Barrier

Approaching the Thames Barrier

Passing the Woolwich Ferry was our next adventure. If you haven’t seen this before then you have two ferries that are easily capable of carrying a substantial number of cars and lorries. They tend to set off at the same time and cross each other in the middle of the channel on their way to the other side. It takes them minutes to cross then a lot longer to unload and load. As we approached both ferries had docked and were loading up – we thought we had plenty of time. But then the one ferry moved out. In theory we had right of way but who is going to argue with a craft that’s towering over 6 metres above us! This is where the VHF came into its own as we caught a transmission from the ferry saying that he was letting us past and would be crossing behind us. The ferry pilot opposite said the same so we knew we could keep going. Later on, we heard London VTS warning a big tug behind us that we were about to turn and then Tug Major saying that we would let them go past before turning so again we knew what was happening.

The waltz of the Woolwich Ferries

The waltz of the Woolwich Ferries

We turned into the lock slightly reluctantly; it was absolutely wonderful on the river, conditions couldn’t have been more perfect and there was a real temptation just to carry on until we got to the channel! They only used quarter of the lock today and we could still have fitted our convoy in many times over. Luckily we didn’t have to wait long for the lock and we slowly rose up to the level of the Royal Dock.

As the lock gates open there’s a remarkable vista. It may sound daft but there’s an overwhelming feeling of ‘flatness’ – the flat expanse of empty water and the flat length of City Airport’s runaway, barely 2 metres above the waterline. The aircraft were taking off and landing right next to us in a strange juxtaposition of old and new technologies. But there was a sweet irony as the instruction came over the VHF for us to pass down the dock as

Locking into the Royal Docks

Locking into the Royal Docks

far away from the runway as possible. Was this for our safety, no! It’s apparently because the sheer mass of steel packed into a convoy of narrowboats interferes with their navigation equipment 🙂

It’s hard to get a feel for the sheer scale of the docks but if I tell you that it takes around half an hour to cruise from the lock to the end of the dock then maybe that’ll give you an idea. We passed by the Excel exhibition centre with it’s displays of multi-million pound cruisers and, surprisingly, a range of shiny new narrowboats. We hastened by, Indigo Dream is looking a tad shabby by comparison, but if the owners of those new boats have as much fun as we’ve had then they’ll soon join us in the authentic shab brigade. Of course, we mustn’t forget the Royal Navy warship with its grim young crew glowering over the side.

City airport at the Royal Docks!

City airport at the Royal Docks!

It was with some regret that we moored up – what a magnificent morning we’d had. Steve was the perfect boat guest – his enthusiasm shone from every pore and it was thoroughly infectious. He was also a very competent helm and general crewman. He can come again!

The convoy ended with everyone crowded around Doris Katia and their generous crew who were handing out mugs of scotch and irish whiskeys. A tad too early for me but an evocative way to end the morning before we wended our way back home

Dog Blog

Blue and Lou treated the tideway with utter disdain. Our first challenge was to get them to stand up for long enough for us to get their life jackets on. With that task accomplished they both went back to bed and totally failed to be impressed.

Tideway? Bothered?

Tideway? Bothered?

They did take a quick peek at the tideway but once they established that there weren’t any cats, squirrels or rabbits on the water, yes, you’ve guessed it, they went back to bed.

But they’ve had a very stimulating two days. They’ve been on the train, underground and boat. They were exceptionally well behaved considering what an alien environment this is for them. After all these experiences, Lou was a bit out of sorts today. Blue, on the other hand, took it all in his stride and accepted all the attention with aplomb.

They were both relived to be at home. Lou couldn’t wait to get into the house and snuggle onto her favourite and familiar duvet. She seems in much better spirits now – there’s no place like home.

Photo Blog

We took around 200 photos during our trip and, unfortunately, this post format doesn’t lend itself to displaying that many photos.

We’ll work on that over the next few days and let you know when/where they’re available.

In the meantime, here are some of us and the dogs have a good time.

Blue enjoying the view

Blue enjoying the view

Steve the temporary skipper

Steve the temporary skipper

Blue at the O2

Blue at the O2

At the Thames Barrier

At the Thames Barrier

Tug Major

Tug Major

r_royal_docks_8jan09_033a

Get's a bit crowded at times ...

Get's a bit crowded at times ...

Fair Fa'

Fair Fa

Fulbourne

Fulbourne

Waiting for one of the big boys to cross

Waiting for one of the big boys to cross

Exhibit boat Young Adam

Exhibit boat Young Adam

Royal Docks Paddle Gear

Royal Docks Paddle Gear

View back down the docks

View back down the docks

The group celebrating a successful trip

The group celebrating a successful trip

Spar Shop Delivery

Spar Shop Delivery

Bow Creek at 2pm

Bow Creek at 2pm

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