Saturday 26th August
I will be eternally grateful to George and Ann of nb So Comfeable, who got in touch via the blog a week or so ago, asking if we knew of anyone who’d like to take a trip down to the Thames Barrier with them. When they got in touch, I realised that I hadn’t been cruising since the Jubilee! Richard was a bit better off, he’d stayed on board during the Olympics and had joined the St Pancras Cruising Club convoy to Barking Creek at the beginning of August (we are behind with the blog!).
I’d actually forgotten how good it felt to be on the water – there’s no doubt that we would have spent the weekend cutting the lawn and ironing without George and Ann’s gentle nudging!
We were game for a cruise to the Thames Barrier (Lou’s health permitting) so we got in touch and made arrangements. One thing we’ve learnt from the St Pancras Cruising Club is that’s it’s always useful to know a little bit about your cruising companions and to have a plan for who’s doing what in the convoy. There followed some careful emailing to find our more about George and Ann, including their tideway experience and the river-worthiness of their boat! We also had time for a little briefing when we arrived at the boat on Saturday morning.
It transpired that George and Ann were charming cruising companions – they are tideway novices, but with a calm and careful attitude – this meant that they were well-prepared and able for the trip. We gave them altogether too many tideway tips and suggested that it was a great opportunity for them to practice their skill on the VHF (they are licensed). They were a little hesitant – I confess to being a bit daunted the first time I had to use the radio – but London VTS is very relaxed about it’s radio protocols so there’s no need to be scared of having a bollocking for using the radio badly (you can expect a bollocking for misusing the river!!!!). The plan went a little awry when their hand-held VHF didn’t quite have enough power to reach London VTS from the depths of Limehouse lock. This sorted, at long last, our internal debate about whether it’s better to have a hand-held or fixed radio – for the sheer amount of tideway cruising that we do, a fixed set is infinitely better.
The tide couldn’t have been more perfect – for the Barrier you leave Limehouse Lock around 2 hours before low tide then return four hours later as the tide is rising.We locked out of Limehouse at around 12 noon, giving us time for a great trip all the way down to Barking Creek mouth and back. There is plenty of interest along the way and no need to rush because coming back early means that there is not enough water to get over the cill at Limehouse, leading to an uncomfortable wait on the pontoons outside the lock. The lock was very busy with boats rushing to get into Limehouse before low tide – including old cruising pals nb Flora Dora, who gave us a cheery greeting.
We had an absolutely brilliant afternoon – the weather was much better than forecast (initially!) and the river was unusually calm – the most dramatic moments came as we left Limehouse lock – there was a sudden rush of commercial traffic – more boats than we were to see for the rest of the afternoon. It was a real ‘baptism of water’ for George and Ann, but they coped admirably and nb So Comfeable was notably stable in the water.
There was plenty to see – as you can gather from the photos!
We passed the beached narrowboat that had so dramatically sunk the day before. We had heard about it, but we were not deterred – it is much more the norm for narrowboats NOT to sink on the tideway, but it did highlight the importance of preparation and basic safety precautions, like life-jackets for all on board. In some ways, if you’re going to sink anywhere, the tideway is the place to do it because, although the river is very dangerous, there are lots of passing craft who can help out in an emergency. We were shadowed by various police ribs all the way down to the Barrier – they did not talk to us but they did have a long chat with nb So Comfeable and possibly worrying told them that they knew who we were ….
Our plan had been to cruise as far as the Barrier then review the plan; it was such a fine day we decided to do the ‘dance of the Woolwich Ferries’ and go as far as the entrance to the Royal Docks – we’re glad we did – there was a slab of a cruise ship moored in the lock – it looked completely out of place!
We were going to turn there, but we had a hasty conference with nb So Comfeable and decided to press on to Barking Creek Mouth – just by Margaret Ness. Our decision was based on the fine weather, calm conditions and the fact that the tide was still ebbing. Obviously at low tide, the flood barrier at Barking Creek is surrounded by mud and the Thames is a lot narrower than the half-mile we’ve encountered there at high tide, but it is still an impressive sight.
The Thames is so very seductive here – it was such a fine day and cruising conditions so perfect, that we (the Indigo Dreamers that is!) were very tempted just to go on a little further. Maybe as far as the next bend – to check whether that was really Dagenham we could see; we wondered how far down would we need to go in order to catch a glimpse of the QE2 bridge carrying the M25 over the river! We forced ourselves to turn – just as well we had nb So Comfeable to keep us in check!
We had fine trip back, though we had a few prophetic showers as we rounded the Isle of Dogs. We had warned George and Ann to expect lumpy water round the Isle of Dogs, but it was flat calm – even during the showers. However it was obvious that there was bad weather on the way – lightning was stalking the city’s tall buildings and the daylight disappeared.
I was on the helm for the approach to Limehouse Lock – I had wondered whether to delegate it to Richard, who has the most experience of the lock entry and would be a superlative role model for nb So Comfeable, following on behind. But then I decided not be such a wimp and brought Indigo Dream into the lock myself – provided you take into the account the vectors involved (tide, wind, back eddies) then it should be straightforward and so it was! I surprised myself! Sadly there was no-one to admire my helming – nb So Comfeable did an exemplary lock entry behind me, and the lockkeepers were hiding in the lee of the buildings surrounding the lock. The storm had caught up with us as we approached the lock – there was a ridiculous amount of rain – the most apocalyptic I’ve ever experienced (while standing on the helm in my waterproofs); the lightning flashed all around, and the truly monumental thunder cracking overhead was amplified by the deep lock chamber (we were locking in at low tide). It was a sensory assault as overwhelming as the Olympic ceremonies, but provided by nature, and, like the ceremonies, went on for an hour longer than necessary 🙂
We got back to our berth with the expectation that the storm would soon end, but it went on and on – much to poor Ty’s despair.
The rain finally stopped by around 5pm – George and Ann wandered across to thank us and give us a celebratory bottle of champagne – thanks! We managed to find Ann a bit of the sofa with Lou and Ollie – to our surprise, Ollie draped his head over Ann’s lap and lay there for the duration of their visit – what a tart! The rest of us found deckchairs and spent a happy hour re-living the trip. George and Ann seemed elated – I think they’d had an amazing time – I know that we did! Ollie stole the show a bit, and after we’d acquainted our visitors with the proper care of greyhounds, it was time to go….
George and Ann were due to travel from Limehouse to Teddington on Sunday morning (at 5.30am!) – they are on their way back to their home mooring in Aldermaston after an extended stay in London for the Olympics. We hope to stay in touch – it would be lovely to see them again, no least because we were rubbish hosts and failed to find out any important information – like why their boat is called “So Comfeable” and what make of toilet they have…..
I put in a new 50-unit shore power card on 8th July, Richard put in another during the Olympics.
Lou is finally (and slowly) recovering from the effects of the intensive cancer treatment; however she has had a strange skin eruption on her shoulder which has immediately become infected with MRSA – fortunately a strain which is sensitive to a cheap antibiotic! She still has no stamina and has her ups and down, but is cheerful enough in herself and is able to eat and sleep comfortably. The vet has suggested that we have a biopsy of her shoulder lesion and she needs to have her throat scoped to see if the giant ulcer has improved, but it’s looking marginally more positive at the moment – phew!