Look – there’s the Gherkin…
“Any advice?” the Tentatrice First Mate asked the lock keeper on Thursday afternoon.
“Well, wear life jackets, have your VHF radio set up, have your anchor tied to your boat, put your kettle in the sink – and…” (with a sideways look at Monty, the Tentatrice Boat Dog) “your dog in the washing machine…”
Friday dawned, dry, calm, sea state 1-2, wind 6 – 8mph.
Into the Limehouse Ship Lock. On the other side of the gates, beyond the road bridge, tall masts rocked. Two yachts were waiting outside to enter the Limehouse Dock. The two narrow boats dropped fast to sea level. The gates opened and Tentatrice had to go first, to avoid the yachts.
“Zip up the cratch! Zip up the cratch!” Those were Boatwif’s orders.
Once the bow rope used to secure the boat to a vertical wire inside the lock chamber had been retrieved the front canvas (“cratch”) could be zipped closed. The boat’s defences against water incursion complete, a retreat could be made to the back deck.
Tentatrice was out mid-stream.
Head the bow into the wash – that had been the advice.
On the stern hatch lay the GPS. “What’s the speed?” called the Captain.
Gulp. “6.8mph,” was the reply.
The tug had caught up, overtaken the narrow boat flotilla, its barge high in the water.
Then into view came the Big One.
Instinct took over: feet were dug into the deck, legs stiffened and fingers gripped the hatch slide rails. Hearts were in mouths as the boat pitched and dug, pitched and dug.
The wash subsided, thankfully.
Keep looking: the Millennium Footbridge spans the river gracefully, a glimpse of St Paul’s Cathedral on the north bank, the Globe Theatre on the south bank.
Still the catamarans ploughed by – and then came the first sighting of the London Eye. Cleopatra’s Needle sits on the Embankment. Next was the unmistakable profile of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
River traffic must adhere to a 70 metre exclusion zone away from the Palace of Westminster and marker buoys indicate the length of the exclusion zone. Going upstream boats must use the third arch at Westminster Bridge. Again navigation was made difficult here: a tourist catamaran turned round, stopped and blocked Cleddau’s access to the third arch. (“Honest guv, we didn’t mean to break the rules…”)
The skyline, still dramatic, was no longer shaped by the familiar and the famous. Flats at Vauxhall Bridge, a pagoda near Chelsea, sleek and shiny apartments near Albert Bridge. And what beautiful decoration there is on Battersea Bridge.
The old complement the new. The vast Battersea power station is undergoing a makeover; there’s an exercise in geometry nearby – and more geometry further up at Wandsworth. A river view is much prized of course, for apartment residents and perhaps for customers at this pretty pub .
The river is a workplace. The tug that had come up from Greenwich had unhitched its load. A crane rolled along the dockside to move containers onto barges. Another barge train headed downstream. At anchor mid-stream sat Thames Vitality , a vessel dedicated to counteracting pollution by pumping oxygen into the river water.
Gradually the riverside buildings assumed a more human scale. Here was Putney, start place of the annual Oxford and Cambridge Varsity Boat Race. Boat clubs line the Putney (Surrey) bank while opposite is Fulham Football Club.
Wow! Here was Harrods, in Barnes. Under Hammersmith Bridge now, passing pretty houses and rowers.
Thames Lock hove into view. “You know what’s going to happen next – and what the answer is…” breathed the Captain.
Bang on cue a lock keeper appeared. “Have you got a Canal and River Trust licence?” he hollered.
“Yes we have,” both Cleddau crew members replied in chorus. “And so have the boat behind,” the Captain added.
It had been done – London had been ringed and the boats had returned to the very place where they had arrived from Teddington five days earlier. Jubilation, triumph, survival relief, emotional fatigue. It had been an unforgettable cruise on serious and busy waters, past iconic structures and breathtaking modern constructions.
The achievement – and the relief – did not go unmarked… 4 locks and 2 miles further on the boats were moored and a double celebration held aboard nb Cleddau; it had, after all, been a rather special birthday trip for the Tentatrice First Mate!
Stats since last post: 18¾ miles, 5 locks
Monkton Moments* to date: 19
(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)