Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympic Weekend - Saturday - We must be Barking....

The alarm clock shrilled at 4:30 am. On a few hours of fitful sleep, Amy and I pulled ourselves out of bed, and had a very welcome cup of tea with Richard.

We were joined by Wendy, Dave, and Ian, other boaters and blog readers, who would also be crewing for the trip.

Richard started the engine at 5am, and we headed across the basin towards the lock.

There were altogether 7 narrowboats in the convoy towards Barking. 4 went out in the first locking at 5am, and, facing into the incoming tide, stemmed the flow for a bit to wait for us and the other two narrowboats in the second locking at 5:15am.

Entering Limehouse lock. You have to tie up well fore and aft to the steel cable risers, because there's no paddles or sluices - the radial gates are just opened and the water pours through the gap, creating strong flows. We were the last to leave the lock, and so were tail end charlie of the 7 boat convoy.

Leaving the lock and turning into the tidal flow. Unusually, this trip was done against the tide, because we needed it to be high tide at Barking to get into Barking Pool through the tidal barrier. Normally when cruising the Tideway, the time to leave is chosen so as to allow travel with the flow. 

Sign at the entrance to the lock

The convoy heads towards the City in the dawn light. This part was fairly smooth - the passenger clippers hadn't started running yet, and there were very few other boats about.

We were constantly listening to the VHF channel 14, listening to London VTS - Vessel Traffic Services - who act like an air traffic control tower to co-ordinate the movements of all craft on this heavily congested piece of river.

HMS Ocean is moored on the ship buoys near the Cutty Sark at Greenwich, to provide helicopters for air cover over the Olympics. It is quite impressive!

That's a foreend you wouldn't want to meet around a blind bridgehole....

At about 6am, over the VHF, we heard the first clipper of the day - Meteor Clipper - registering with London VTS and moving off of Trinity Pier. We'd already experienced a bit of wash from a passing Police launch- which passed at high speed - but now the water started to get choppier.

I took over the tiller, and found that there is a great deal of things to think about when steering in this choppy water. You have to be constantly aware of the water, and any floating objects or debris - you don't want to get anything wrapped around the prop when you're punching the tide - as well as other, overtaking fast boats, and their wash. You have to meet the wash at right angles to the boat, either bow-on if the other boat is coming towards you, or on the stern if it's overtaking. And, to do that, you have to make sure you have the room to change course and head off at an angle. All the while, the tiller is pushing and fighting you as the boat moves, and the prop occasionally makes a grinding noise as the back of the narrowboat is lifted into the air and the prop can suck in air and ventilate.

It's certainly very different to the North Oxford!

Approaching the Thames Barrier, we heard our convoy leader - Andrew Phasey of the St Pancras Cruising Club - contacting London VTS. Because the barrier is a pinch point, you have to be allocated a span to pass through by the control. Each span is allocated a phonetic alphabet name, from Alpha to Golf. We went through Charlie Span.

Approaching Woolwich reach, we saw the first ferry - which was loading up, ready to cross the river.... and we were all in its way!

The whole convoy sped up, and we put the power on to punch forwards alongside the narrowboat in front of us and to get out of the ferry's way; they looped elegantly around our stern, and all was well.

Once past the ferry, I saw a very large ship ahead - City of Westminster, a dredger working on the new container port - and prudently got as far out of the way as possible! It kicked up quite a formidable wash, and the whole situation got exciting as we were surrounded by this ship, fuel barge Conquestor which was heading towards the sea, and a small tug. Although the boat started pitching a fair bit, it handled the wash well.

We were then near the entrance to Barking Creek. Being downstream of the Thames Barrier, this is equipped with a huge Stalinist-style guillotine flood gate, to close off the creek if the Thames has a particularly large tide.

The gate itself weighs 300 tons - passing under it was quite an experience!

Once into the creek itself, we passed Calypso, a bulk carrier, and were soon moored on the pontoon waiting for the tidal barrage gates at Barking Pool to be opened and let us in.

Once moored in the pool alongside the various large liveaboard boats, Amy and I headed off. Although it was only 11am, we had had a full day already!

Thanks must go to Richard for allowing us to crew, and I had a great time steering in new, challenging conditions!

Amy and I then took the Tube from Barking, right at the end of the Hammersmith and City line, back into the centre of London. We sat around on the South Bank for a bit, before taking the train to Bracknell to visit my grandparents. Unsurprisingly, we both fell asleep on the train!

We stayed overnight with my granddad, who had kindly recorded the day's rowing at Dorney Lake.

Although we tried to get to bed early, we had to set the alarm for 5:30 am - another early start, because on Sunday we were heading to Dorney Lake to watch some Olympic rowing!

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