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Archive for June 1st, 2012

Boat Blog: Jubilee Rehearsal (2)

Posted by indigodream on 1 June, 2012

Sunday 27th May

Dawn at Brentford – aren’t those boats a grand sight?!

Note: Amy has also done a great post of yesterday’s adventures πŸ™‚

This time last year (well almost) we were getting up at 4am to cruise the second day of the BCN Marathon Challenge (which Amy will be doing next weekend); today we were woken at 3.50am by the sound of diesel engines grunting into life – aah, it’s the best alarm clock πŸ™‚

Neil, Kath, Sarah and Andy had generously stayed over – enduring cramped conditions, noisy snoring and a total lack of privacy in order to experience the magic of a dawn start on Sunday. To be fair, it wasn’t just the dawn joy – they’d been kind enough to commit to crewing for us in case I had a sudden call home to look after Lou….

Five of us were up and dressed by 4am and on the move shortly afterwards. I had thought that we’d struggle to turn round but it was fine, even though the basin above the gauging locks at Brentford was filled end-to-end with boats – it was a magnificent sight.

Andy, the sixth crewmember, managed to sleep right through the commotion of locking – we woke him up at Thames Lock, having debated whether to let him sleep until we got to Limehouse…. I’m glad that we didn’t let him sleep through – he was quite bemused by the fact that he was woken up in a different place to where he’d fallen asleep!

Mustering above Thames lock – that’s Carrie (nb Blackbird) and Simon (nb Tortoise) on the footbridge…

The convoy set off in good spirits – there was the usual bit of waiting around while the convoy assembled – although BW were working both of the gauging locks at Brentford it still took a long time to lock 26 boats onto the semi-tidal ‘lock cut’ leading to Thames Lock. When we got into Thames Lock cut we found an ‘independent’ narrowboat waiting for the tide – he must have thought he was dreaming as his boat was engulfed by our flotilla – I bet he was relieved that he was turning upriver towards Teddington!

While we were waiting for Thames Lock, we heard some cheery voices from the towpath – it was Simon from nb Tortoise and Carrie from nb Blackbird. It really was a supreme effort on their part – it was barely 5am and they’d come to wave us off! We offered them a cruise but they sadly declined – Carrie had a commitment later in the morning and we couldn’t guarantee that we’d be back on dry land in time.

We got onto the Thames by 5.30am and set off downstream under the direction of a team of marshalls from the Port of London Authority (PLA). This was to be a ‘proper’ rehearsal , testing our abilities as formation narrowboaters and also the communications with the PLA.

We formed into rows, five abreast, and spread across the river. The river was open to navigation, but we were hoping that the early hour would meant that we wouldn’t meet too many other boats. The PLA quickly shoo’ed away those that we did meet – including some very surprised scullers and a big cruiser who suddenly found that they needed to overtake the convoy – as he wove between our boats he shouted “I follow you on Twitter” – it’s a small virtual world!

And now we’re mustering below Thames lock with the Thames looking so invitingbefore us….

I thought that our formation narrowboating was very impressive – Richard was on the helm, which is where he’ll be on the big day, and I was at the front, which is where I’ll be on the day, though I wasn’t wearing my greyhound costume on this occasion! He and Kath perfected a new technique – Richard concentrated on maintaining his line at the tiller, while Kath took the throttle and concentrate on maintaining the appropriate speed. It would be so simple if the river was straight, but the bends are a real challenge as the boats, and the water, move at different speeds so maintaining the line is quite a challenge.

We were able to maintain our formation right down to Vauxhall Bridge, where the PLA instructed us to get into single file for the final run back to Limehouse. It was a strange day – it felt like late afternoon, it must be, we’d been up for hours, but we got to Limehouse just past 9am!

Our flotilla cruised downstream of Limehouse before turning around (using a PLA boat as our marker) and stemming the tide while waiting for the Lock. It was a testing time -the tide would only be high enough for the convoy to lock into Limehouse until 11.30am so there was a certain urgency to the manoeuvres. There was a contingency plan for any boats that missed the lock to moor onto the pontoons below the lock – it’s perfectly safe there but a bit uncomfortable in the swell from the main tideway.

Luckily we were in the second locking, so we had plenty of time to get to our berth, wave goodbye to our loyal crew, and return to watch the last boats locking in. It was an education – the entry to Limehouse can be tricky because of a back-eddy on the upstream wall which tends to pull you out of your expected line. Most boats managed splendidly – however there was bit of drama as a nameless boat (with a very experienced crew) missed the run and banged straight into the quay wall; they turned around and tried again, this time they succeeded in getting into the lock cut, but not before taking an impressive chip out of the quay wall!

It was very entertaining to watch the boats locking in, but our shore-based obligations were calling – we needed to pick the hounds up from Richard’s mum and we had various domestic plans. In a bit of minor misfortune that has so characterised our year, the car got a puncture within minutes of leaving Limehouse – cue putting on the spare and a trip into Greenwich to find a replacement. However, the silver lining on this occasion was finding and eating a very good lunchtime burger at a local pub – the service, and the pub itself, were indifferent but the food was just what we fancied!

This kerfufle took some time, but we eventually got the dogs, and decided, when we got home, that the most important job was to have an extended siesta – surely one of the finest traditions to come out of Spain!


We took hundreds of photos – and that’s just the rehearsal! There are some more on Facebook – click through them quickly to see ‘action’ sequences of some immaculate lock entries at Limehouse….

No doubt we’ll do a catch-up blog after the main event….

Getting organised – on the tideway at Brentford…

The peaceful and deserted river – until we arrived!!!

Moving out of Brentford – it took a while to get everyone onto the river…

We formed into pairs initially….

Then we formed into our jubilee formation – rows of 5 boats though we may have different companions in our row on Sunday…

Hang on – you’re not a narrowboat!
The river will be closed to non-jubilee traffic on Sunday – just as well!

What a magnificent sight – this photo brought a lump to my throat – it was, and will be, such an incredible experience…

Keeping formation at the bridges can be tricky – some of the bridge support are so deep that you lose sight of the boats going through the outer arches – you just have to hope that they’re there when you come out the other side!


View from the side-hatch…

Now imagine it with bunting, flags, and the ranks of boats behind us…

As good as it gets…..

Mooring buoys as far as the eye can see – Barn Elms Reach – here will be hundreds of boats moored here on Sunday morning

HMS President – where the queen will moor up and take the salute from the passing flotilla…

Waiting downstream for Limehouse Lock

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