Sunday, 9 January 2011

Royal Docks trip

As is often the case when they're planning a special trip, Sue and Richard from Indigo Dream put out an ivitation for others to join them.  And so it was that on Friday I joined the crew for another expedition onto the tidal Thames.  Also taking up the invitation were Kath and Neil from Herbie, and Alison, who'd posted a comment on the Indigo Dream blog.

At first, the day didn't look promising, weatherwise, with a poor forecast, and plenty of rain falling from the sky.  But hardy boaters aren't put off by a bit of rain, and we all had our waterproofs with us.

After tea, coffee, and doughnuts, we set off along the Limehouse Cut, new territory for me. 

The original plan had been to get onto Bow Creek via City Mills and Three Mills locks, but there was a problem with the amount of water coming down one of the rivers, so we were to go through Bow Locks.  But we first took a quick side trip past the famous Three Mills and up to Old Ford Lock, with the new Olympic Stadium looming overhead.  We were to be part of a convoy organised by the St Pancras Cruising Club, and a couple of the other boats were just coming down the lock.

Back at Bow Locks, we moored up, had more tea and coffee, went to the safety briefing, and watched the first boats being locked down onto Bow Creek.

We were in the last locking, so there was also time for one of Sue's signature lunches before it was our turn in the lock.  The level of Bow Creek had risen remarkably quickly, so we didn't have so far to drop.

Bow Creek is very twisty, has plenty of bridges, and often has the DLR running alongside or over the top.

The good thing was that the weather was showing signs of brightening up considerably; the bad thing was that my camera decided it didn't like its battery anymore, and having delivered this message, kept turning off.  I suspect some water had got in, as it worked fine a bit later, and has seemed OK every since.

What it means is that I have no photos of the spectacular turn out onto the Thames, opposite the O2, or of us going through the Thames Barrier, or dodging the Woolwich Ferry.  However, there are plenty of photos in Sue's blog post and in Neil's.  Also, as we approached the barrier, I was allowed to take the helm, so wouldn't have been taking photos anyway.  Here's one of Richard's photos, to prove it.

As we neared the Woolwich Ferries, which cross the Thames every few minutes and look enormous, Sue asked if I was happy to negotiate a way through.  "I'm happy," I said, "but are you?"  Fortunately, I was trusted to keep out of the way of these large ships; we managed to get past while they were unloading and loading.

Next came the turn into the lock, and I was a bit worried about how the tidal flow would affect our line.  But in fact the Thames was like a mill pond (it had been all the way down, certainly a lot less bouncy than on our previous Indigo Dream tidal adventure back in August), and while there was a slight feeling of going sideways at one point, crossing the tideway was very easy.

At the lock, we went alongside one of the other convoy boats and tied up.  They were using just a quarter of the lock, and we could have fitted at least twice the number of narrow boats in the space.  The last couple of boats came in, and the vast lockgates closed behind us.  Fortunately, the camera started working again.

Entering the Royal Docks, it seemed to be a bit of a free for all, with everyone eager to get going.  We had to turn right past the end of the runway of London City Airport, then cruise down the northern side of the runway.  There was loads of activity with planes coming and going, while on the ground was the little BA Airbus, which goes to JFK in New York.

As we cruised past the offices of Newham Council, we tried to get as many staff as possible to wave to us; to their credit, most of them did.  Then it was past the Excel Centre, were there were some enormous gin palaces moored for the boat show.  In many ways, and much to my own surprise, the cruise through the docks was my favourite part of the whole trip.

We moored at the end of the docks, and joined the other crews for a drink, standing in the rain as the dark decended.  The views back towards the city were spectacular.

Alison had already left, but the rest of us (who were all cold and wet) returned to Indigo Dream for more drinks and chat, before starting our journeys home.  Sue and Richard are always great company, and very generous with their invites to such trips, and it was also really nice to meet Kath and Neil.  I'd never met them before, but (perhaps thanks to the blog) felt as though I'd known them for years.  The return trip is on Monday, but unfortunately work will get in the way.

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