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Archive for September 21st, 2011

Boat Blog: The Thames Festival Flotilla

Posted by indigodream on 21 September, 2011

Saturday 10th September

Leaving West India Dock en masse...

We slept well at West India Dock, despite the roaring of the aeroplanes taking off from City Airport – it was all part of the Docklands experience!

I think we were all rather chastened by yesterday’s experience, however we resolved to do better with the aid of some new instructions from Andrew to reflect the discussions during last night’s debrief and some informal agreements between the skippers in each row.

We were awake early, though we wouldn’t be locking out of the dock until 9am. We were expecting a different crew today – Sarah (aka Greygal) and Andy, though minus their hounds. It’s too long a time between landfalls and having seen Sarah and Andy struggling to clamber over the four boats between us and the shore I think we’d have definitely been fishing hounds out of the water if they’d brought their pack. They arrived early enough for coffee and bacon sarnies before we set off for the lock.

Seeing our raft of boats moving off along the dock ready for the turn into the lock was a thrilling sight – imagine how it will be at the jubilee with 200 narrowboats! We’d moored up in random order and entered the lock in similar fashion. The plan was to lock down to the river and then sort ourselves into numerical order as we cruised round the Isle of Dogs. There would be plenty of time – we entered the tideway soon after the tide had turned inwards and rather than moor up mid-river as we’d done yesterday we would, instead, cruise upstream at a snail’s pace to our muster point at Barn Elm Reach.

Well, it gave us time to look, make coffee, eat pastries and look some more – we might even rival the greyhound’s olympic looking team! But there’s always plenty to see on the Thames and a bit of banter to be exchanged with fellow boaters as we jostled into position. The conditions were good – overcast but with very little wind to trouble us. The waters were calm – as they often are in  the morning before the commercial traffic carves the surface up later.

Getting into order....

It seemed to take an age to crawl up to our muster point but we got there in good time – again, perfect for lunch before the main event. As we found out yesterday, just getting to Barn Elms is a cruise in itself, so no wonder that the crew felt as if they’d earned a little snooze. But there was work to be done. Today’s formation was part of the Mayor’s Thames Festival and we would be the tail end of a flotilla of a 140 boats of all different types – rowers at the front, cruisers, historic boats, dutch barges and the narrowboats bringing up the rear. Now, you might have thought this was an insult but we were rather relieved after yesterday’s attempt at co-ordinated cruising – can you imagine being in the middle with boats bunching up in front and others running into your rear!

Anyway, as part of the festival, we’d been encouraged to decorate out boats and, of course, we were obliged to fly our festival burgees – anyone not flying the flag would be escorted out of the parade. While other boats festooned their roofs and sides with bunting we put a Greyhoundhomer banner on the back. Because we were on the river all day, there wasn’t the opportunity to collect money for Greyhoundhomer, so I said I’d dress up in a greyhound costume and at least raise some awareness. This was my opportunity to try on my costume for size (I had sneakily hoped that it would be too big and that someone else would wear it). As it happened, no-one over 5′ 3″ could have worn it so I was back in the frame. The greyhound head was strangely addictive – everyone tried it on and the whole costume was surprisingly enjoyable to wear. As the only greyhound on board I found myself being lavished with care because Sarah and Andy were really missing their pack! By now the sun had come out (Hurrah!) so it was decided that I would leave the costume off until we got to the main bridges – wearing a (fake) fur coat is very hot!

At 2.45pm we peeled off from the wall and got into formation neatly and quickly – now our practice yesterday was paying off though there were still some minor issues at the back – it is a bit like moving off at traffic lights, those at the back suffer from the cummulative effect of all the little delays whilst those in front move off. That said the narrowboat flotilla looked really good and we allowed ourselves a little smugness when we heard some of the tupperware navy being told off for going the wrong way, then we caught up with the dutch barges and found them in a little disarray and complaining about having to cruise so fast. Ye gods, that was our convoy yesterday! But not today, we maintained our order and as the parade got underway in front of us we slotted smoothly into our places. OK, the change from 4-abreast to 2-abreast still caused some consternation but we were so much better today

The clippers had to weave through our line of narrowboats to get to their piers - Strictly Come Cruising 🙂

Our spirits soared and as we approached London proper – I put on my greyhound costume and Sarah joined me on the bow because everyone knows that greyhounds need hu-mums and aunties to look after them. Sarah did a brilliant job – she told me exactly when to put the greyhound head on, which direction to wave and when to hang on to the boat when the water got a bit choppy. She also told me when I could take the greyhound head off – it’s  a bit stuffy in there and it was nice to get some air below the bridges before putting it back on for my audience. Richard says that the crowds on the bridges seem to come alive when they saw my costume and waved enthusiastically. Of course, I couldn’t see any of this – the ‘window’ in the head gave me a great view of my feet but little else. There was nothing wrong with my hearing though so I was a bit indignant when someone shouted an enquiry – “Is that a womble?”.

I think that our only regret of the day was that we’d have liked to have seen the whole parade – I hope that someone has taken photos from the bridges so that we can get a feel for what rest of the parade looked like – we could see very little once the dutch barges had got themselves organised. One of Richard’s staff took some photos of us going under Lambeth Bridge – the photos are so good we wished we’d had people stationed at every bridge!

The rest of the river traffic was much more respectful today – maybe because the harbourmaster himself was supervising proceedings from his launch! At one time a little duck boat (old amphibian craft which runs road/river based trips) entered the waterway at its usual spot and found itself in the convoy – it quite innocently joined the parade until the PLA bundled it out – after all, it wasn’t flying a Festival burgee (and it didn’t have its radio on and apparently hadn’t read the instructions to mariners)!

Richard will have to give you the view from the helm – I was having the best time dressed as a greyhound and waving at people so I didn’t pay any attention to the navigation!

The view from the helm: I thought that Friday’s rehearsals looked dreadful and that collectively we were awful! [Ed: stop holding back Richard and tell us what you really think :-)]. But Saturday was so different. Yes we needed bit of a burn to get formed up, but no one complained about the speed today – though in all fairness we were travelling with the tide. The Dutch barges seemed to struggle at the start, which led to some interesting conversations on the VHF – radio confidentiality prevents me from saying more 😉 At two of the bridges we needed to make a transition from 4-abreast to 2-abreast – that needs r-o-o-m……at the first of the ‘narrows’,  the front of the convoy was slowed by the Dutch Barges so we ended up being bunched up just at the point where we needed more room so it became very tricky. It looked worrying from the helm, but I have to say that people did really well getting in and out of formation, remember this is not still water but water moving at perhaps 3 mph. We were meant to have 50′ between boats in a row and 100′ between rows – I doubt if we were spot-on all of the time; it is sometimes hard to find room to be 50′ apart. However we didn’t have any huge gaps between rows today and achieved a much tighter formation with reasonably straight rows. Moving together across the tideway to reach a particular bridge arch is tricky – hey it’s hard enough when you are by yourself. One boat seemed to need a bit of a push from a passing rib, and there were a few fairly large last minute corrections but yesterday’s practice and the lecture which Darren gave us last night about precisely which arches he wanted us to take really paid dividends. At Blackfriars the transition from 4-abreast to 2-abreast worked really well, though somehow the convoy wandered too far north as we re-arranged into 2-abreast formation. We did have a bit of lumpy water to go through, but actually it was easier then normal as the waves were so broken up that we could just ignore them. Even the wash from the Harbourmaster’s launches needed just a minor correction – nothing like a normal day on the Thames! Mind you there was a very short patch of water just below Tower Bridge which was well lumpy, we got to see the odd propellor out of the water.

Because today’s cruise was so much better, the call to disperse, just beyond Tower Bridge, seemed to come too soon – we were just getting the hang it now! It had been a real thrill going down the tideway in formation and waving to all the crowds. Most of the narrowboats were going back to West India Dock, but a few of us were heading for Limehouse. We were in the second locking and, interestingly, Jeremy the lock-keeper advised us to stem the tide and wait on the tideway rather than on the pontoons just outside the lock. We were happy with that – the pontoons are a bit unsteady! With no boats in the lock entrance, Jeremy could empty the lock quickly and we were soon back at our berth. The lock entry was easy but we did start from further off the wall then last time which seemed to be very helpful.

Will we ever get bored of this view.......NO!

It was only 5.30pm but it felt much later – it had been a busy day and a very early start for Sarah and Andy. We bid them a fond farewell – they were only a couple of DLR stops from their car. Our car was in Limehouse – we packed up quickly, said goodbye to Andrew Phasey, having thanked him for his organisation and cheerful confidence and set off for home. We wanted to pick the dogs up from Richard’s mum this evening and have a full day at home on Sunday. As  Richard said, it was an uneventful end to an eventful day – he was quite right, a gathering/celebration to mark the end of the event would have been great.

We learnt a lot from the rehearsals as, I suspect, did the organisers. I imagine there will be more practice runs as the jubilee approaches and we’d be very keen to take part – yes, it may improve our chances of being selected for the big event, but it’s also just a thrill to be on the Thames with other narrowboats.

We hope that our experiences on the rehearsals have convinced you to apply for next year’s pageant – if you’re tempted then don’t forget to get your application form in before the 31st October…..


We took fewer photos today (too busy waving at the crowds in my Homer costume :-)) but there are still hundreds on today’s facebook album….

Skipper Kathryn and crew Sue on nb Leo - the formation was a very sociable thing...

Getting into line...

The Shard - due to completed by 2012 -

I wonder what's in there?

The Harrods Furniture Depository, just upstream of the Barn Elms moorings...

The waiting time at Barn Elms gave everyone a chance to rest, relax and put up their bunting...

There was time for the crew to have a little snooze - Sarah was missing her hounds so she had a cuddle with my costume instead!

Now that's what I call a formation of narrowboats....

The formation was going so well until we caught up with the Dutch Barge contingent who were a bit behind schedule and slow to get moving...

The harbour master on his way to sort things out!

The moving from 4-abreast to 2-abreast was still a bit of a challenge...

See the little yellow duck boat behind us? Trying to join the parade without a special flag eh? A miscreant like that will need keelhauling at the very least!!

Ohh look, an honourary greyhound! Traits I will be adopting - eating and sleeping prodigiously! Sprinting around like a mad thing and sniffing bottoms - ah, I'll give them a miss thanks...

Homer at Westminster....

The formation was in good shape passing Westminster - we'd lost it a bit at the last bridge but we were getting more used to working as a team today...

The menfolk were taking their helming duties very seriously....

While Sarah and I had fun at the front...

Band leading the Leisure Boats

The Leisure Boat Convoy

Dutch Barge Convoy

Narrowboat convoy coming round the bend

Another long range view of the narrowboat convoy

Galatea and Madam


Frances Anne and Tamesis II

Frances Anne and Thamesis II

Panacea and Itsus

Quick, put your head back on

The journey continues ..

Journey continues ...

Moving further downstream

Duck Alert

Almost out of sight

Back of the Convoy

Passing under Lambeth Bridge...

A view of the 4-abreast to 2-abreast manoeuvre - tricky...

Moving from fours to pairs causes some congestion - it may be unavoidable - more practice needed I think...

Then all of a sudden the pairs start to come together....

A nice pair!

There were thousands lining the route - the landbound Mayor's Festival seems to have been a huge success..

Today's star photo - nb Panacea perched precariously on the waves...

And her we go under the centre arch again - what's that, Andrew, take the right hand arch, sorry, can't hear you.....

The end of the parade - the last few boats bringing up the rear...

Historic steam tug "Portwey" - she has her own website -

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