Thames Tideway 1 (report)

Report by John Cheesbrough

July 21st  –  August  5th  2013

Our Thames Cruise was planned as a follow-on to the IWA National Festival at Watford, with crews given the choice of joining the Thames at Brentford for the short run up to Teddington and above, or at Limehouse for a journey up the Tideway through central London.   Venturing further downstream is restricted nowadays by the requirement for all boats over 45ft. to carry marine band VHF radio.

However, at a late hour negotiations with St.Pancras Cruising Club produced the offer of an escorted convoy downstream from Limehouse through the Thames Tidal Barrier and return upstream to Teddington. SPCC has established a concession with the Port of London Authority to carry out these escorted runs where not all boats are necessarily carrying VHF.  Not surprisingly this offer was gratefully accepted.

All seven of the Four C’s boats at the National left Watford on Sunday 21st July, two heading down the Hanwell Flight to Brentford whilst the remainder ran the gauntlet through the London Canals to Limehouse.   Cruising through London is no longer the pleasure it used to be, with practically every inch of bankside now sub-let to continuous moorers; nevertheless despite the overnight difficulties and certain engine overheating problems all five boats were into Limehouse Basin by Tuesday evening.  Two other club boats met us here in time for a safety briefing and an enjoyable supper in the Cruising Association club house alongside the lock.  The briefing was given by Andrew Phasey, Commodore of SPCC, in his usual humorous but thorough manner, supported by the Limehouse Lock Keeper, Jeremy Batch, and the PLA Chief Harbour Master himself, David Phillips.

The cruise took place in perfect weather, with flat calm water, brilliant sunshine and a slight breeze.    The seven club boats left Limehouse Lock soon after 7.00am. on the Wednesday morning, and with three SPCC boats keeping us clear of shallow waters and the occasional obstruction, crews were free to enjoy the ride, taking in the views of Canary Wharf, West India Docks, the ‘O2′ building, Greenwich Maritime buildings, the Observatory, and much more.

An hour of easy running on the end of the ebb tide and soon the radio calls of “barrier in sight” were being heard, with clearance and guidance information coming back from the VTS control room.

Approaching the barrier

The barrier

Passing through the assigned “span” close to the heavy rotating gear of the barrier gates will be a lasting memory for many of the crews.

VTS Control

London VTS Control

The cruise plan, already familiar to those involved in last year’s Jubilee Pageant practices, was to continue following the right bank down to Barking Reach, then turn clear across the river at Margaretness to a holding position close to the opposite bank, stemming the last minutes of the ebb tide.   This worked well for the leading boats and although the convoy was somewhat dissected by a heavy vessel coming through, the remaining boats had turned in reasonable time and were soon back in close convoy.  Some even remembered the sound signal for “turning right round to the left”, though there was precious little traffic to hear it.

As the first of the flood tide was felt the convoy began the return run.  Almost immediately came our first encounter with the Woolwich Ferries!   On the run down the two ferry boats had remained peacefully on their respective piers, but were clearly not prepared to sit there for ever.  Those with radio heard the departing ferries being warned of the convoy of monkey boats approaching, and were comfortably aware that the ferry captains were planning to pass behind us; but those without radio felt less secure.   In the event, both ferries carried out their well practised semi-circular scissor movement close, …..


The Woolwich ferry 

Very close…to some narrowboats in our convoy.

Speed increased steadily as we passed the Royal Docks, marked nowadays by the glide path to City Airport, back through the Barrier and on past now familiar landmarks; then Limehouse Lock just reopening on the rising tide, The Pool,

Prospect of Whitby



The Prospect of Whitby


and eventually a magnificent view of Tower Bridge, ….with that new great big sharp glass building that sticks above everything else.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge



Traffic had started to build a little by this time as the high speed clippers began to swing unexpectedly away from piers and large craft appeared rapidly from astern.  Dodging the huge mooring buoys awakened some of the steerers to the speed of the river, but with experts at the head of the convoy there was none of the usual worries of choosing the right bridge arch or when to swing across the river.  After the flurry of the East London bridges there was time to study the passing sights: the National Theatre and Festival Hall, Lambeth Palace,


 The Houses of Parliament

The Wheel






County Hall (as was) and the Wheel

and the bridges themselves, now clean and colourful, lending themselves to good photos, particularly from boats running west in morning sunshine.

One of the colourful bridges of London

One of the colourful bridges of London