September 18, 2010

Captain’s Log day 16: Victoria Park to Limehouse, up the tidal Thames to Teddington, and back to Hampton Court

Filed under: Canal,misc — Duchess @ 1:00 pm

Apologies for leaving my readers stranded by Victoria Park just above Mile End Lock 9 for so long…

I woke feeling both anxious and excited, and for the first time I was eager to set off before the crew were ready; they took a leisurely morning walk while I paced and fretted. Though we had only just over a mile to go, there were three locks to negotiate in quick succession before we reached the end of the Regent’s Canal at Limehouse Basin. We had been warned to be there on time to catch low tide; if we missed it we would have to wait until the next morning to rejoin the river.

I needn’t have worried – even with a delay while we lost steering just after the second lock and had to stop to open the weed hatch and remove half a dozen or more plastic bags wrapped around the propeller, we still arrived an hour or so before low tide, moored temporarily in the marina, and reported to the Limehouse lock keepers.

They casually asked if we were carrying a radio (though they didn’t ask to see it) and disappointed me further by taking no interest in whether I had a license to operate it. I comforted myself by being quite sure that if I hadn’t bothered getting the required certificate, they would have surely demanded to inspect all my paperwork.

It was then almost low tide, but the lock keepers explained we still had several more hours to wait: the water in the lock would need to rise again before any boat, even mine with only a 22 inch draft, could get over the cill.

You’ll go out a little before 4, they said. Watch for the light to turn green just before the lock doors open.

I took a short walk to examine the lock from above, but I spent most of the intervening time studying the navigational notes provided by the London Port Authority, with instructions for negotiating each bridge. There were 29 bridges to pass under before Pangolin would be back on the non tidal river.

I tried to memorize the most important instructions: we would enter the river on a blind bend and I should beware of boats suddenly coming upon us from behind; a flashing white light at Tower Bridge would mean “large vessels in the vicinity” and then I mustn’t go under the central arch. I must steer clear of sloping sides in the arches of Westminster Bridge, and at the Houses of Parliament I should keep to the centre of the river to be outside the exclusion zone on the right, while at Vauxhall Bridge I must on no account stray to the left, near the MI6 (spy) headquarters. Islands should be passed on the left and I must sound my horn again at Kew Bridge. Sixteen pages of instructions.

I studied especially the key to “Signs Displayed at Bridges” and “Sound Signals Specified in Collision Regulations”. Five short blasts on the horn seemed useful to master: “I DO NOT UNDERSTAND YOUR INTENTIONS. Keep clear! I doubt whether you are taking sufficient action to avoid a collision.” That would tell them.

At quarter to four, the light turned green, the wide lock doors opened and we followed one other narrowboat in. Just then, the wind began to gust and rain threatened. The crew and I quickly threw on rain jackets under life jackets as we held our ropes and waited for the lock to empty.

I let the other boat leave the lock first, and then, sounding one long blast of my horn (“I AM ABOUT TO ENTER THE FAIRWAY”), I looked left behind me and turned right onto the river. The instructions had warned me to be ready for the strong up-stream current as soon as we left the shelter of the lock cut. We were immediately rocked by waves washing over the bow, and, in another moment the wake of large ships tossed us even higher. It was immediately clear that I had wasted my time learning the horn signal for: “I AGREE TO BE OVERTAKEN.”

I was glad of Mr Crew at the stern next to me as I drove, and Mrs Crew keeping watch up front.

Double click for larger versions of any image (opens in new window).

Limehouse Lock from above

Limehouse Lock from above

 

Entering Limehouse Lock

Entering Limehouse Lock

 

I drove out of the lock while Mr Crew listened for hazards on the VHF radio

I drove out of the lock while Mr Crew listened for hazards on the VHF radio

 

On the river again.

On the river again.

 

Almost immediately Tower Bridge was in sight.

Almost immediately Tower Bridge was in sight.

 

Tower Bridge is very close now.

Tower Bridge is very close now.

 

Pangolin going under Southwark Bridge*

Pangolin going under Southwark Bridge*

 

Little boat, big river.* That&#39s Pangolin in the circle.

Little boat, big river.* That's Pangolin inside the circle.

 

The Millenium Wheel (London Eye) is just ahead, past Hungerford Bridge

The Millenium Wheel (London Eye) is just ahead, past Hungerford Bridge

 

I loved seeing familiar sights from an unfamiliar place.

I loved seeing familiar sights from an unfamiliar place.

 

The traffic thinned dramatically after Westminster Bridge.  Mr and Mrs Crew both took pictures, while I remained focussed on driving.

The traffic thinned dramatically after Westminster Bridge. Mr and Mrs Crew both took pictures, while I remained focussed on driving.

 

Vauxhall Bridge

Vauxhall Bridge

 

When we passed Battersea Power Station on the south bank we had almost left central London behind.

When we passed Battersea Power Station on the south bank we had almost left central London behind.

 

It stopped raining and I took off my hat.  Behind us is Battersea Bridge.

It stopped raining and I took off my hat. Behind us is Battersea Bridge.

 

The bridges are fewer and farther between, but they still mark our progress upstream.  Ahead is Hammersmith Bridge, in west London.

The bridges are fewer and farther between, but they still mark our progress upstream. Ahead is Hammersmith Bridge, in west London.

 

Just past Kew Bridge is Brentford, where we had left the Thames exactly a week earlier.  We were on our return journey at last.

Just past Kew Bridge is Brentford, where we had left the Thames exactly a week earlier. We were on our return journey at last.

Day 16 statistics: 26.74 miles and 6 locks, made up of 1.13 miles of broad canals, 4 broad locks, 21.11 miles of tidal rivers, 4.5 miles of large rivers and 1 large lock.

(The two photos marked * were taken from the bank.  A couple of days after we made our trip up the tidal Thames we met in Cookham Lock the crew of narrowboat Cassy, who had been doing some sightseeing in London the previous weekend.  If you were the boat going under Tower Bridge last Saturday, they said, we’ve got some pictures for you.)

9 Comments »

  1. I’m loving this, D. Very exciting. Brave of you, indeed, to take a flat-hulled craft that draws about a foot into the centre of the Thames in London! Exciting too to see a trio of Thames spritsail barges in picture 5. They don’t draw a great deal more than a narrowboat, but at least they have a pair of leeboards either side that they can drop if things get a little turbulent.

    Comment by Dick — September 18, 2010 @ 1:44 pm

  2. My boyfriend and I had a flat on Lower Sloane Street in 1969 and my favourite view in all the world was Battersea Power Station. I would walk up to the bridge every evening and just stand there for hours, gazing at the chimneys of the station. Magical. It was a functioning power station then, but your picture #13 brings back so many lovely memories.

    Comment by Tessa — September 18, 2010 @ 6:46 pm

  3. Dick, Aren’t they beautiful? I didn’t know what they were called, but Mrs Crew took a great picture (and she knows sail boats)

    Tessa, Does that make you a Sloane Ranger? I love the look of Battersea Power Station too. Eventually, I suppose, they will find something for it. The Tate Modern is a great example of what can be done with such a space.

    Comment by DuchessOmnium — September 18, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

  4. I’ve enjoyed this journey!

    Comment by Midlife Slices — September 19, 2010 @ 6:51 am

  5. It’s not over??

    Comment by M.E. — September 19, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

  6. Greetings from France, Duchess. Have loved reading about your life on the cut + revisiting some of (my) old haunts (ex-Londoner among many other locations). Nearly took up life aboard a narrow boat myself a few years ago; but didn’t (long story; v boring). Must be great to have a multi-fuel stove: I longed for one when dealing with coal-fired system in my cottage in Wales! Used to have a great time fossicking for kindling in the wooded hills all around, though. There’s always an upside … I hope!
    Brave lady: wish you ‘bon courage’ and ‘bonne route’.

    Comment by Minnie — September 20, 2010 @ 12:54 am

  7. Amazing, simply amazing. I can’t imagine making a trip like that. Love that you share it with your readers.

    Comment by Walker — September 25, 2010 @ 4:08 am

  8. I’m glad you know what you’re doing, because I’d be so confused. I’d crash the boat right into those bridges – I’m sure of it!

    Comment by Twenty Four At Heart — September 25, 2010 @ 9:06 pm

  9. We’re all stemmed up again! Where are you?

    Comment by Dick Jones — October 23, 2010 @ 12:53 am

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