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Chertsey to Limehouse in "Amberel" - by Andy Lawrie

Middle of September, not a lot of good boating weather left. But the forecast for the weekend wasn't at all bad, so I decided to go to Cliveden (just north of Maidenhead). As I left the marina at 09:30 on Saturday morning I suddenly realised that I hadn't been to London at all this year. A quick check of the tide tables revealed it was feasible, so instead of turning upstream I headed the other way.

Traffic was very heavy, and it transpired there was a boat rally at Kingston. It slowed things down a bit because the locks were all full, but I didn't actually miss any so it wasn't too bad. After Kingston it remained busy, but there were several cruisers towing large numbers of rowing boats, some empty, most filled with people. It was sufficiently busy that at Teddington they were using the big barge lock as well as the launch lock! Then, once in the lock, I saw a notice about a "Great River Race". It appears this was starting at Ham, near Richmond, and they were going to close the river to normal traffic in about an hour!

The Great River Race is a race for traditional rowing boats. Everything from Chinese Dragon boats, Celtic long boats, Galleys, Thames Skiffs and Watermen 's Cutters. Upward of 300 boats! As we belong to the Viking Owner's Club, the photo I chose was a Viking long boat.

I saw "Jubilant" yet again. "Jubilant" is a modern reproduction of a ceremonial barge. I saw her near Staines a week or two back, and I saw her picture in the local paper. This very days Daily Telegraph had a large photo showing her taking part in the Trafalgar celebrations as Nelson's coffin bearer the day before, and now I saw her again at Ham.

I got through Richmond just in time before the closure, but the rest of the way I was less than an hour ahead of the competitors. They were to follow me right through London and finish at Greenwich.

To start with, I was punching against the tide. I had to do this, or risk not getting to a London mooring in time. I had hoped to get to St. Katherine Docks, but they are only open for 1.5 hours after high water and I simply couldn't make it by then. So it was to be Limehouse Basin, where I've been several times before.

The tide had turned by Fulham, where a football match was taking place. The stadium backs onto the river, and great waves of sound were echoing to and fro - roars, chants, shouts, collective sigh's and groans.

Normally it doesn't start to get choppy until after Vauxhall Bridge, but the fresh breeze against the tide kicked up the water a bit before then. On a strong tide there can be standing waves under some of the bridges, but this wasn't so bad today. But the main cause of turbulence are the ferries and trip boats. These are large, fast boats and some create a substantial wash, and today it was more noticeable than usual. I wondered how the rowing boats would get on. For much of the way they would be able to keep to the south ofthe river, where the many obstructions moored in the middle of the river would segregate them from the worst of the trip boat's wash, but between London Bridge and Tower Bridge I think they would have had to join the main
channel as I don't think they could get behind HMS Belfast. It was, as is often the case, fairly rough at this point - 3 foot waves, and plenty of them. Hopefully the trip boats were asked to moderate their speed while the rowing boats came through.

Lots of bands and ethnic dancing going on by City Hall, probably in conjunction with the race.

I arrived at Limehouse at 17:00, when the tide was pretty much in full ebb. The entrance needs a bit of care because the tide is going at about 3.5 knots while the water in the lock entrance is not moving at all - I go past so I can approach against the tide, gradually close on the entrance while holding more or less stationary against the tide and then quickly turn to starboard and in.

When I left in the morning the keeper warned us to watch out for a small speedboat that was tied to the pontoon - apparently it arrived about half an hour after me, but got it wrong and capsized. They got it to the pontoon and tied it up, but it didn't look like it was going anywhere very quickly. The photo was taken on the way out in the morning.
I called the lock keeper by 'phone, and then by VHF, but when I got no reply I tied up to the pontoon just outside the lock gates. Even here, well out of the main stream, the water was quite active. I shimmied up the long ladder and walked over to the lock office.
I met the keeper, who immediately started to prepare the lock. These gates differ from those on the non-tidal Thames, they have no paddles, the circular hydraulic gates are just opened and the water pours out from between them. While the lock was emptying, I went back to "Amberel".

While I was untying the bow warp I noticed some damage on the bows. Whenever I go through London I make the anchor ready by placing it on the foredeck, and stop it falling off by wrapping the chain round the cleat. Unfortunately, the turbulence had made the anchor move about a lot, and it had taken a chunk out of the gel coat. Another job for the winter.

Into the lock, up 12 feet to the level in the Basin, and round to my allocated mooring.

I was ready for a cup of coffee and something to eat. The problem with single handing is that you can't stop to make a hot drink, and there is no-one to do it for you, so you just have to go without. But you do enjoy itall the more when you finally get one.

Before it got dark I also had to make an adjustment to my "Ruddersafe replica". You may recall I made up a device similar to a Ruddersafe but using a friction hinge instead of a spring loaded one. The disadvantage of this arrangement became clear on this trip. There was a huge amount of flotsam more or less all the way down the tideway, and it included some substantial pieces of wood. If these struck the rudder it partially hinged up, as it was designed to do, but of course, it doesn't automatically go back. I have to do that manually with a boathook, but it was happening so often as to become a nuisance. So before the return journey I nipped up the friction adjustment to make it a bit stiffer.

In the morning I went to see the lock keeper to book my passage out. When I got back I found a cat had made itself at home in the boat!

It was very friendly, but was looking for food. I didn't give it any because it didn't look like a stray. I though I might have trouble getting rid of it when I came to leave, but when I put it off the boat it just trotted off, probably to find someone else, I guess.

Out into the tideway past the sunken boat I mentioned before, straight into the wake of a fast moving ferry. Every single bit of kit that wasn't nailed down immediately flew in all directions. I really must remember to stow things properly before I leave next time.

Just before Vauxhall Bridge I caught up with an amphibious tourist bus. The photo shows it just leaving the water next to the M.I.6 building. I would not want to go in this thing myself, there is only a foot or so of freeboard.

Uneventful until I got to Kew. Just after the bridge I spotted a large yellow object in the water, and it proved to be the overturned hull of a skiff. I got out my PDA and googled for the Richmond Lock keeper's phone number. He said they had been looking for the boat - the race organisers had towed many of the race boats back upriver at 3 o-clock in the morning, and one of them had struck a bridge and been lost. He asked me to get a line on it if I could, as it was a hazard to navigation, but when I got close to it I saw that was going to be easier said than done because there was only half an inch of the hull above water. Fortunately at that point a couple of guys came down from Kew Marine in a boat that was a lot closer to the water than mine; they were able to get it turned over and started to bail it out, then took it back to their yard.

Back through Teddington Lock, then Kingston. Just as the boats in the rally started to leave! So the river was packed solid with boats all the way home. This time I did have to wait for the locks, even though the keeper was using both locks at Sunbury. Going up the river at the rear of a convoy of about 15 boats, it looked a bit like the fleet steaming along the Solent. Due to the delays it was dark before I got back, very tired, but having enjoyed the trip.

(Many thanks to Andy for his kind permssion to include his © photos and text on this site)