Thursday, 5th October 2006:
Having spent over a month in and around London exploring the delights of Paddington Basin, The Regents Canal, Limehouse (and Canary Wharf!) and the Lee & Stort Navigations, we are now making our way back up towards our home base at Fenny Compton.
The first leg of our homeward journey, up the tidal River Thames from Limehouse Basin to the Thames Lock at Brentford was completed this morning but not without a few scary moments! In the first instance, after a spell of excellent weather, conditions quickly deteriorated as we got underway to produce gusting winds and squally showers - as a result, there was a significant swell between Limehouse and Tower Bridge.
The pitching and rolling of the boat caused 'GC' to be sea-sick for the first time ever and we have to admit that the rest of the crew were somewhat nervous - we held on very tightly while watching the wash from other vessels and larger than expected waves breaking over our bows. Nevertheless, by making full use of the incoming tide, we were able to maintain just over nine miles an hour (or eight knots) with the engine speed regulator set at about half way. Fortunately, there was very little other traffic in the fairway - just a few passenger ferries and several slow moving tugs hauling barges stacked high with yellow rubbish containers - so we soon acclimatised to the motion of the boat and as we passed under Tower Bridge the rain stopped and we were beginning to enjoy the experience.
As we approached Blackfriars Bridge, one of the powerful 'Targa 31' fast response boats operated by the Metropolitan Police Marine Support Unit (MSU), based at Wapping, swung round behind us and then came alongside. The water was still quite choppy as one of the officers attempted to board us - he managed to get on to the roof of our back cabin and introduce himself before he fell over the side and into the water! We were still moving through the water very quickly and, before we could do anything, he was left far astern of us with his life jacket inflated - the police launch which had, by this time, already dropped astern, circled round and stopped to pick him up and then sped off back towards Wapping. The whole incident happened very quickly and by the time we reached Waterloo Bridge, the police launch had disappeared away into the distance. Certainly we would not have been able to manouver 'Alnwick' anywhere nearly as quickly and, under the circumstances (with other boats criss-crossing to the passenger piers in the vicinity), it was safest for us to maintain our course. A subsequent telephone call to the MSU at Wapping confirmed that the officer had been recovered safely and was already taking a hot shower - nevertheless we can imagine the shock that he must have suffered and, from our own experiences, we know that he will most certainly have some nasty bumps and bruises from falling into the water. The incident and the speed at which it all happened left us feeling quite shocked and continues to serve as a poignant reminder of just how quickly accidents can happen on the water.
The photograph above shows Tower Bridge with HMS Belfast and the old Courage Brewhouse (behind and to the right) - all as seen from the steering position as we passed - the scale of the photograph does not really show just how rough the water was at this point! The photographs below show, respectively: Jane steering as we pass the old passenger steamer 'Queen Mary' moored against the Victoria Embankment just up river from Waterloo Bridge; heading towards 'Big Ben' and the Palace of Westminster; and the relief on Jane's face as we reach calmer waters after passing through Hammersmith Bridge!
During the next two weeks, we shall be making our way steadily along the
Grand Union Canal towards Braunston - with a possible excursion to Aylesbury.
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© Graham & Jane Oliver 2006