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Boat Blog: Back to Limehouse…

Posted by indigodream on 13 January, 2011

Monday 10th January

Mild peril? Of course, look there's a jet-pack - it must be James Bond!

If today’s post was a movie it would probably come with a warning of ‘scenes of mild peril’ but with a PG rating, so you know it’s going to be all right in the end 🙂

One of Andrew Phasey’s favourite phrases is “Flexible is too rigid a concept” and so it’s proven today.

We’d heard yesterday that City Mill Lock was closed because of an electrical problem so the convoy’s plan was to go back through Bow Locks, while we aspired to got round the Isle of Dogs direct to the marina via Limehouse Lock. However on Monday morning we heard that City Mills Lock was operational so we’ve decided to join the convoy – we can get through Limehouse Lock any time, but we can’t miss an opportunity to use the new ‘Olympic’ locks. But then, while we were waiting to lock out of the Royal Docks, word came back that the Waterworks river was still in flood so we would be going through Bow Locks after all. We still decided to stay with the convoy – it can get a bit choppy round the Isle of Dogs at the best of times and today’s wind was a thing to be reckoned with!

We were expecting to leave our moorings at noon but that was pushed back to 1pm with a view to locking onto the river at 3pm-ish. The only downside of the delayed start was that the weather steadily worsened during the morning (especially the wind) and we’d arrive back at our berth well after dark.

Our first bit of mild peril was trying to get away from the dock wall. At 1pm there was a STRONG southerly wind pinning us to the wall – I was on the helm and Richard was the grunt at the front, giving us a big push to get us away. Sadly, as I pulled out, nb Doris Katia was being pushed backwards into our path – I put Indigo Dream into neutral and the wind immediately slammed us back against the quay wall. I’d cleared loose objects from all but the kitchen (I’d planned to do that while waiting at the lock) so mugs and bottles (plastic fortunately) and my coffee (tragic!) went flying around inside; in the meantime the dogs came flying out onto the deck leaving me with three wishes…

a) I wish I’d closed the deck doors

b) I wish I’d closed the cabin doors

c) I wish I had 10 hands- two for each of the dogs, two for the mooring rope, one for the tiller and one to spare (maybe for biting my nails!)

Low flying aircraft - no wonder Ty was disturbed...

Any of the above might have stopped Lou and Ty from leaping off the boat onto the quay – I managed to get hold of Lynx and threw him back indoors but then had to quickly secure the boat before leaping off to chase the others. Lou was running around the quayside but scaredy Ty, in a panic, had reached the road. Fortunately there was very little traffic but I had horrible visions of Ty being run over by the few cars that passed. But I couldn’t indulge my dread – I had to catch Lou while Richard set off in pursuit of Ty. It probably didn’t take that long to round them up but it felt like an eternity and I was so relieved to get them back on board, unhurt. Lou and Ty, of course, didn’t know they’d been rescued, from their perspective they’d been cruelly bundled back into a dangerous greyhound torture chamber being driven by a mad woman – they sulked for the next several hours!

So, back to the wind, with a gargantuan effort, Richard managed to get us off the quay wall and I gunned the engine to get away. Keeping away from the dock wall proved to be a challenge, especially past the airport where we’d been asked to cruise near the quay wall as far away from the runway as possible. Ahead of us we could see the convoy being gradually pushed towards the quay wall –  we scraped along some dockside mooring pontoons and nb Tastoma got pinned against the quay wall a bit further on. It was a strange sight seeing all the boats moving parallel to the dock wall whilst pointing well away from it, then every so often the wind would change and so would the angle of the boats. We were a bit relieved to reach the relative shelter of the lock. We rafted up and settled down to drinking coffee, eating lunch and chatting to our neighbours – we needed to wait and hour or so for the tide to rise. Richard was very jealous as the crew of Tastoma lived in the Gower.

We did notice that there weren’t any planes landing or taking off when we cruised along the dock – I assume that our convoy was timed for this lull so that we didn’t inconvenience the airport’s operation.

The convoy working hard not be blown against the quay wall..

At 3.15pm-ish the vast curved lock gates opened and there was the tideway. For the first time ever, I didn’t worry too much about a lookout – we were closely following the convoy leaders and we were turning upstream and didn’t need to cross the tideway, so it seemed unlikely that we’d run into any traffic. Imagine my surprise, then, when I looked around and saw a Thames barge pulling a HUGE container butty approaching upstream at speed; the barge was itself overtaking an enormous (120 METRE long) sand dredger, Sand Falcon, that was inward bound to Angerstein Wharf just beyond the Thames Barrier.

We weren’t in any danger (honest!) but it was a bit thrilling. I have to say that Sand Falcon made a dignified passage up the tideway – she maintained a slow, steady course and she didn’t create a ripple, let alone a bow wave. In contrast, the Thames barge overtook the convoy at speed creating a 2 foot-ish wash – it looked spectacular but Richard turned the stern into it and Indigo Dream barely noticed the wave. Then there was the Woolwich Ferry – hovering mid-stream to let the first part of the convoy past – we’d thought to go behind the ferry but that would have meant cutting in front of Sand Falcon. Fortunately the ferry waved us forward so Richard gunned the engine (again) and scuttled past quickly before the garganutan vessel changed its mind! Fortunately there was only one ferry operating today so we didn’t have to do the usual waltz with the two ferries!

We had a strange role reversal today – I’m normally the more cautious, but today I thought the tideway wasn’t as bad as I’d expected (I have a VIVID imagination when it comes to potential disasters) but Richard looked concerned, commented that he found it hard work (the tiller is heavier on the tideway than on the canals and the wind was interesting) and he expressed relief when we turned into Bow Creek. Maybe I should have taken the tiller earlier – I thought he’d enjoy the thrill of navigating past the big boys!

"What's that coming over the hill, is it a monster?" - yes, monster ships!

We actually enjoyed our trip up Bow Creek for – we were coming in on a rising tide for a change, so weren’t worrying about stuck on the mud outside Bow Locks. There was a bit of an awkward wait at Bow Locks – with the tide running in and the wind still blowing strongly, hovering wasn’t such an easy task. Nb Flora Dora had a cunning plan – she moved a little way upstream and turned her nose into the tide. This meant that she had good control against the flow, though she had a more awkward angle for the turn into the lock. Nonetheless I thought it was a nifty bit of boat handling. We just pushed our nose into the lock jaws and waited there (having snagged a bow line onto a handy lock bollard) while poor old nb Arthur Dent behind us seemed to be entirely at the mercy of the wind. At least with the tide running in there was plenty of water and the river’s wide so there was no chance that they would get grounded or wedged!

It was pretty dark by the time we got back onto Limehouse cut. With Ty’s health in mind, Richard got the boat back to Limehouse in no time at all, though the wind was to have a last game with us. He needed to reverse into our berth – tricky at the best of times, but with an adverse wind he had to reset the boat three times before deftly sliding into our space. We missed cruiser White Lady by an arm’s length- my arm’s length – outstretched to gently fend us off and hold us steady while Richard wiggled the stern into position.

Richard immediately took the hounds for a walk in the park by Limehouse Marina (Ty wee’d – hurrah – he likes this park!) while I packed the boat up. We drove home rather wearily – it had been an exciting day. But our fatigue was as nothing to the dogs’ – they got home and collapsed onto their duvets. I had to do some proper work on Tuesday and we had debated whether to leave the hounds with Richard’s mum (she has a garden full of foxes and the smell of foxes, which usually keeps the dogs on the go all day). But they looked so weary we took pity on them and left them at home to snooze and so they did…..

I’ll finish with a BIG ‘thank you’ to Andrew Phasey and the St Pancras Cruising Club – it’s a monumental task to organise these convoys, especially to the Royal Docks, which required lengthy and persistent negotiation. The cruises are really friendly and great fun. Do keep checking their site and see what is happening – click here. If you have never been on the tideway then make a point of joining one of their tideway cruises, you will be in excellent company which makes it very safe – their next tideway cruise is on 22nd April when they are doing the entire ring and a pub festival! Talking of excellent company,  I’d also like to thank our cruising guests – they were a real tonic – let’s hope they come again sometime.

A note on wind….

Now  both in my professional capacity as a pharmacist and as an owner of three guffing greyhounds I could write a very long post on the subject of wind! But I’ll focus instead on some of the factors that we think about when considering whether to venture onto the tideway…….

Anyway, sticking a wet finger in the air, we reckon that Indigo Dream is generally good for a wind speed of up to 16 mph BUT the direction is critical. If the wind is blowing against the tide then it can make the water quite choppy, hence the 16 mph speed ‘limit’; but if the wind is blowing with the tide then we can contemplate cruising up to perhaps 20 mph. If the wind’s blowing across the river then you have to take extra care as the wind takes you in addition to the tide, but despite the 20 mph winds on Monday the water was quite calm.

I reckoned that windiest cruise was on the Manchester Ship Canal, where squally force 5 wind (19 – 25mph) blew up as we came to Weston Lock – I’d say that was the most wind that we’d want to deal with on Indigo Dream. However, when you’re planning a trip you’ll want to take into account your draft and freeboard as well as confidence/skill on the helm! Wind is an important factor when planning a trip on the tideway, the other big factor is visibility – I don’t think we’d ever miss dredger Sand Falcon in the mist but I reckon we’d be invisible to them…..


The boatshow 'marina' - plenty of flash cruisers for sale but not a single narrowboat - shame!

The convoy turning past the end of the runaway on the approach to the lock..

The other Royal Dock - to the south of the runway - I wonder if we are allowed to explore down there? 🙂 Obviously the TNC will have been down there!

The yacht marina at the Royal Docks - they have their own lock onto the river but their access to the docks themselves is impeded by the bridge and a fearsome underwater ledge which will snag any craft with a draft of over 2.5 METRES. Wouldn't bother a narrowboat then!

Plane spotting - the inevitable hobby when moored in a lock next to an airport!

The blue thing is a flood defence barrier - it was actually tested that morning at the same time as they tested the main Thames Barrier

A 'raft' of narrowboats....

Big barriers need big mechanisms...

Here we go - a view onto the deceptively deserted tideway - I thought the curved lock gates were so graceful - despite their bulk...

This tug must have been on a schedule - it was making good speed up the tideway and soon left us (and Sand Falcon) behind....

Lou and Lynx helping Richard to keep an eye on the bow wave from the container barge...

The ferry and the falcon.....

nb Flora Dora and nb Arthur Dent sharing the water with Sand Falcon...

"It's behind you...."

The queue for the Woolwich Ferry...

Working on the 'Ernest Bevin' - we were glad because this meant we only had to dodge ferry 'James Newman'; all river traffic had been warned to slow down here so as not to endanger these workers - they weren't troubled by our convoy 🙂

The container barge leaving us all behind at the Thames Barrier...

Form an orderly queue....

The photo's a bit dark but this is just the front of Sand Falcon about to go through the barrier - gives you an idea of her size....

Indigo Dream at the Barrier - we were able to fit through the smallest upstream span with room to spare!

The tail end of the convoy approaching the barrier...

That's a familiar view - we can't be far from Bow Creek now....

I'll never tire of seeing a fine line of narrowboats on the river....

Another tug on a schedule.... They look such powerful boats

Another aggregate ship at the wharf just east of Bow Creek mouth...

Sand Falcon turned around behind and slipped gently on to her wharf - still an impressive sight....

The front of the convoy approaching Bow Creek mouth...

Jinking around the working barge to get into Bow Creek mouth...

Tug "Assassin" - the James Bond theme continues!

4 Responses to “Boat Blog: Back to Limehouse…”

  1. maurice whiting said

    How nice to see Tastoma again, we had her built 1993 ish and spent ten years doing the canals. Never ventured futher than Limehouse.

    Kath & Maurice Whiting

  2. indigodream said

    Ok I’m impressed, I don’t think any of our photos show the name so that is excellent spotting! I have had a quick look for more photos here: and Mark, the current owner published some photos here: but I don’t think that there are any good shots of Tastoma?


  3. indigodream said

    Hi Kath and Maurice

    Richard hadn’t spotted the photo of Tastoma on the previous post!

    It’s great to hear from you – I presume that you named her – it’s a lovely story.

  4. maurice whiting said

    Yes, we named her. It was our second boat with that name, but when we sold the first one we insisted that the new owner changed the name, knowing that we were planning another boat.

    We assume you know, therefore, how the name came about?

    Kath’s Mum left us some money, and we decided to put it towards a narrowboat (we had a 22ft cruiser at the time). Thus:

    Tas (Thank yous)

    We are so pleased to know that she is still being looked after and is also continuing (and bettering) our extensive travels on her.

    Maurice and Kath Whiting

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