Autumn on the water

It’s over a year since I started my life afloat, it’s gone by amazingly quickly and my enthusiasm for a nautical life has only grown. The river is always full of life, activity and friendly faces.

For the back end of the summer I stayed fairly close to Windsor. The river was busy and finding a mooring at times challenging as were the queues at locks . My Windsor mooring is in a superb location so no real reason to move during the summer peak. During September and October I’ve been moving up and down between Henley, Marlow and Windsor. I’ll keep doing this through the winter for as long as river conditions allow. The lock maintenance schedule starts at the end of October so movement will be restricted at times.

Coming downstream yesterday the colours are beautiful.

My daughter Kirsty and her puppy Lottie have joined me for a few months over the winter. Lovely to have their company.

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In Spring 2018 I plan is to move to Central France. I’ll cruise across the Channel with an experienced skipper to Calais. From there into Paris and then Central northern France. A very basic plan at the moment which may take shape over the winter or I may just wing it!!

 

Windsor to Chatham, Kent

To celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Dutch Barge Association (DBA) a flotilla of barges was organised to rendezvous at Chatham Marina in Kent. This coincided with the Chatham maritime food and drink festival. A plus on many points but mainly giving me the opportunity to experience how Angela Dawn handles in the tidal river and estuary whilst in the company of experienced boaters.

I transited solo down to Limehouse, London on the 17th May covered in my previous post. It was interesting staying in Limehouse for a week and meeting some of the residential boaters. Finding walks for Nutty was difficult but she got used to going on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and visiting the Grapes pub.

I was joined by my crew, Geoff, Mick and John. We’d done narrowboating before and I knew them all capable sailors and very experienced drinkers.

We left Limehouse on the 24th with 2 other barges and cruised the 3 miles round the other side of Canary Wharf to West India Dock. Staying here for the night we met up with the rest of the DBA floatilla. It seemed bizarre mooring up beneath the financial power houses of London. West India Dock is controlled by the Canal and River Trust. The lock is huge and requires the bridge over a busy road to be raised. The lock was extremely gentle which cannot be said of the river.

The following day 13 boats re-entered the lock for the transit to Chatham. We could probably have got another 13 boats in it was that large. It must have been amazing in its heyday.

In the narrower reached of the Thames and with several small faster boats around us the water was quite choppy from side to side. Passing through the Thames Barrier was exciting and the river widened significantly with less side to side chop. The scenery became very industrialised.

We remained close to the back enjoying the view of the barges ahead. As the estuary widened the head on chop and swell increased significantly. With the tide now pushing us downstream  we maintained a steady 8 – 9 knots it was quite exhilarating bashing of  the swell.

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It took around 6 hours to clear the Thames and turn into the river Medway. Tide now pushing us up stream this was a far more gentle journey.

Half way up we came across a barge who’d had engine trouble and was drifting. We turned around and took her in tow. It turned out to be a engine cooling pipe that had split and under pressure was putting a lot of water into the engine room. A sober reminder of being a single engined boat. On arriving at Chatham we deposited our tow at the mooring pontoon in the river and joined the queue to enter the lock. This was a slow process as the lock only took 2 -3 boats at any one time and has to lift a road each time.

In addition to us were a flotilla of Little Ships that took part in the WWII Dunkirk rescue. The weekend was fabulous, making new friends, drinking too much and exploring the historic dockyard. The boats were all dressed in flags and bunting. We managed to get some real class plastic bunting with flashing lights!

On Monday evening we and 4 other boats left for Queensborough for a night stop. This is 2 hours down the Medway and meant it would be quicker for the remainder to leave the lock the following day.

On Tuesday morning 10 boats reassembled in the estuary and turned back up the Thames. This was a much smoother passage but it’s amazing how long the Thames is from London to the sea. Most stopped at West India while we and Dea Latis carried on round to Limehouse.

The following morning we set of alone back to Teddington. Leaving 3 hours before high water we were quickly driven upstream. This time the river was very busy with the tourist boats, water taxis and working craft.

The sights flew by, after Kew it was clear we were going to arrive early for the Richmond barrier which holds water in the upper Thames so slowed down. By the time we reached Teddington another 5 of the barges had joined us and we all went through the longest lock at Teddington together.

An amazing experience that has given me huge knowledge of the water and confidence in my magnificent boat. Many thanks to my crew, Geoff, John and Mick. Also to Caroline and Andy Soper for organising the event and all the other bargees.

Teddington to Limehouse Basin

 

The Thames from Teddington downstream is tidal. Although from Teddington to Richmond it’s known as the half tide. At Richmond there’s a barrier which is raised roughly 2 hours either side of High water. Outside of this you have to use the lock but there may not be much water in the river once you leave. The barrier is to keep sufficient water for boats up to Teddington regardless of the tidal state.

It was chucking down with rain but thankfully no wind. Cruising time to Limehouse (Canary Wharf) expected to be around 3 1/2 hours. I’d pre booked to enter the lock at Limehouse for 2040. I was keen to get going and called the lock keeper at Richmond at 1640 to check the water and barrier state, he assured me the barrier would be up by the time I arrived.

Teddington to Richmond was straight forward, as forewarned a little shallow around the bend to Eel Pie Island, showing less than a meter below my hull so move out. As promised the Richmond barriers were up. It seemed quiet, perhaps either the time of day or rain. As usual there were plenty of rowers, most following the guidelines and the odd one not looking behind or crossing in front of you at an inopportune moment.

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For half the journey I was punching into an incoming (flood) tide. At 1800 rpm I held a reasonable speed of 5 – 6 knots. My chart plotter was giving me my location but I also marked the bridges on the good old fashioned paper chart which I’d already made note on.

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Numerous bridges to pass made it easy to know where I was. The only bridge of concern was Hammersmith, the clearance at Highest Astronomical Tide (HAT) is 3.1 meters. Angela Dawn has an air draught of 2.85 meters with the mast half down and 4 meters up. The mast was half down. As I approached Hammersmith it was almost High tide, not as high as HAT. To be safe I slowed and made sure I was going under the highest point. I guess there was 2 feet of clearance above the wheelhouse, I’d have certainly lost my mast aerials had they been up.

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From Hammersmith the river widened and there’s more commercial traffic about. Mostly the passenger carrying cruisers. As the tide turned my speed increased gradually until I was cruising easily at 8 knots and 1200 rpm.

Bridges and famous landmarks came up fast, my radio is equipped with AIS an automatic identification system mandatory for large vessels. This sends an alarm whenever a vessel is in close proximity. As I passed the Houses of Parliament there were 8 warnings which also displayed on the chart plotter. I’d been looking all around but this showed a clipper coming up behind me at around 20 knots. As I went under Blackfriars bridge I had to slow for a dining clipper in front as the one behind sped past on my left side. I then overtook the dining clipper, what fun.

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It’s a requirement of boats over 13 meters to carry and monitor VHF radio and notify London Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) of your passage. As I left Teddington I called them by mobile phone as I knew the radio coverage would be poor this far upstream. I made radio contact at Kew Bridge. Monitoring the frequency helps build up a picture of where the bigger boats are. They also broadcast regular river updates. As I passed Limehouse basin which is on the opposite bank (North) going down stream (keep right on rivers) I called to ask if anything was coming round the corner, with the all clear I crossed the stream and called the Lock keeper at Limehouse. I was now into the tide again which slowed me down significantly.

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The turn into the lock entrance was fairly straight forward but because of the entrance design it was quite turbulent with the ebbing (Outgoing) tide swirling round, holding for the lock to open was a little tricky. Once safely in the lock it was a simple operation of holding on with one rope around a plastic covered chain. I received a very warm welcome and instructions from the lock keeper Gary on my mooring position. I took it very slowly onto the mooring, conscious that I was quite tired. Once tied up, Nutty walked and both dry it was time for a large whisky and beer. Yes both, because I can.

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A most exhilarating venture, I think being later in the day helped with less small traffic. The tides worked fine and Angela Dawn kept up a reasonable speed. I may consider a very early start another time to try and avoid the rowers but otherwise the tried and tested plan by others worked for me. Next week it’s a cruise to Chatham, even bigger water with a flotilla.

I forgot to add my crew mate remained relaxed throughout!!

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Day Skipper Course

To help prepare for venturing into the Thames Estuary and coastal waters I completed the RYA Day Skippers Course at Chatham, Kent. Before the practical I had to do the theory. This is available at various centres over a week or a group of weekends. Its also available as a home learning course. I chose this method from Elite Sailing who were also running the practical. The course covered tides, navigation, safety and all the stuff you’d need to take a boat out for a day trip. Chatham was ideal to give me experience of the Estuary and coincidentally turns out to be the location for the Dutch Barge Associations rally in May which I’ll be attending with my boating crewmates.

The practical was conducted aboard the motor cruiser Santo Cristo, smaller, lighter and with 2 x 350hp engines considerably faster than Angela Dawn with her one 100hp engine. It was good to experience the different handling characteristics but my main aim was to experience the water and the practicalities of navigating in such a huge area with many much larger vessels around including one sea plane!!

The tide in the Medway and Thames estuary rises and falls by 6 – 7 meters every 6 hours. That changes the water you have to play with and what you’re looking at significantly. Trying to compare the chart to the changing scenery was very useful to experience whilst under supervision. The speed of the water and the added effect of wind makes it very interesting and will certainly be a challenge for Angela Dawn.

Chatham marina is an incredibly historic place, unfortunately I didnt have time to visit the museum but certainly plan to do so next month. The lock is very wide and controlled by a keeper H24.

One night we went out to practice navigating by lit buoys. We were each given a sector to navigate. This requires plotting a route, providing headings to the helmsman and knowing the light characteristics of the buoy we were making for. Not an easy task when there’s so many other lights in the background.

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There’s no shortage of wrecks and unusual sights in the Estuary. The well buoyed wreck of SS Montgomery was well worth avoiding. She broke her back whilst at anchor in WWII still today ladened with most of her cargo of explosives which are too unstable to remove! The Fort at Red Sands looks like something from War of the Worlds.

 

A sad sight but a sobering reminder of the necessity for safety as a single handed sailor was this Sunseeker yacht in Chatham Marina. Found unmanned near Brighton in 2014. Its owners body, an experienced sailor has never been found.

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Overall the course was a most useful experience and I’d recommend it to any newbie sailor planning stray from non tidal waters.

Spring Clean

Reluctantly I’ve put down the glass of beer, got up out of the deck chair and started to scrub off the winter grime. It’s a bit like washing your car but 10 times larger!

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But then once the lights gone there’s nothing left to do but walk Nutty to the pub. She’s had a tough day!!

6 Months Afloat, a view through the round window.

img_14136 months since the launch of Angela Dawn and the time has flown. My luck with the weather continues, I’m sat on the back deck in glorious sunshine beer in hand (Fleece on!). As the forecast remains good I’ve moved downstream to Hampton Court for the weekend moving to Teddington Lock Monday and a maybe little look on the tidal Thames.

I love moving about meeting boaters, listening to their stories and advice. There’s some amazing characters on the water! I find it interesting how the boats and homes on the Thames changes along its length. Windsor upstream to the west has pretty, quaint, expensive villages and towns. Boats are mostly white sea going cruisers and elegant highly varnished day motor boats. The majority in marinas for the winter. The only boats moving through the winter seem to be narrowboats and Dutch barges. East and downstream of Windsor the towns become much more urbanised, the river widens, locks are significantly larger taking an age to transit on self service. Permanently moored houseboats are common, the dominance of boats is now Dutch barges many 3 times the size of Angela Dawn and narrowboats. Many more liveaboard boaters. Wherever you go there’s never any shortage of rowers which is probably why Great Britain leads the sport at the Olympics.

Sunday and I’m having breakfast in the wheelhouse whilst runners in the Hampton Court Half Marathon go past. It’s exhausting to watch I just wish I was fit enough!!

For those interested in statistics and the cost of boating on the Thames here’s the figures since launch 6 months ago;

Cruised 430 miles back and forth between Abingdon and Hampton Court.

Through the locks 142 times.

Used 2 x 13kg Propane Gas bottles for cooking costing around £28 each.

The Engine has run for 118 hours and the generator for 295 hours. This has cost £935 in diesel fuel some of which has also been used for the diesel stove.

 

Is it Spring yet?

January was not particularly exciting which is good and bad. Good that the weather hasn’t been so dreadful as to flood the Thames and bad in that it’s just been wet enough to restrict me moving around. So I was delighted to see just over a week ago that the forecast was for a long period of fairly dry weather and the Environment Agency boards were slowly changing from red (you’d have to be mad to go out) to yellow ( stream decreasing but be careful). I decided on a simple trip to Marlow and back over a week.

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Do you know what you’re doing? Shall I drive?

The boards were all yellow and I felt it worth gaining the experience, I was going upstream so knew I’d have more control. Leaving my mooring at Windsor is not easy going upstream as I’m so close to the low bridge. This needs to be negotiated smack in the centre as the arches are pretty close to my roof. I do an S type departure but this time the current had me drifting so I threw away the first attempt to give myself more room. The second attempt worked a treat. The river was not at all scary but the current took me in some odd directions. I enjoyed trying to evaluate what was happening to the water and the boat. Angela Dawn handled beautifully, to cruise at 4 knots I needed 16 – 1800 RPM, compared to normally 11 – 1200 RPM. Where the river was compressed such as round islands or narrows the speed would quickly bleed off to 2 – 3 knots. Maidenhead road bridge was particularly interesting. It’s a large brick bridge with wide pillars compressing the water between them. After negotiating the rowers from the local club I lined up very carefully and advanced slowly. Once under the bridge the boat almost stopped and took a boot of power to pop out like a cork on the other side.

I spent several days at Marlow enjoying the river walks and pubs and waiting for the water stream to decrease. I would not have gone downstream on the first day, certainly it would have been dangerous to negotiate the bridges as I’d have struggled to get the speed down. When I did return to Windsor the yellow warning were being removed yet I still cruised at 5 knots with the engine mostly in tick over at 900 RPM. I stopped at Cookham Lock for the night to fill up with water and give the batteries a charge. This meant turning 180 degrees in the cut so the power cable would reach and squeezing into a snug space between some maintenance barges. In the morning I had to turn around again to enter the lock.

Back now at Windsor and planning to head to Teddington and maybe stick my toes in the tidal river for a few hours.

 

Winter living

Happy New Year to all our readers, the weather in 2016 has been kind and hopefully will continue into 2017. Some frosty nights but thankfully little rain which can be frustrating not only for river conditions but also a very muddy dog! I continue to move between Windsor and Marlow at times the only power boat moving on the river. Even on the very coldest of days though there’s still hardy rowers about.

Christmas was lovely with my family, I moved the boat 10 feet forward of my Windsor mooring to some steps belonging to one of the river cruise companies. They’re not using them at the moment and it meant Mum and Dad could board easily. Ashley and Kirsty stayed aboard whilst Mum and Dad stayed in town. Cooking Christmas dinner on Angela Dawn was easy with my full size oven although the washing up had to be done in stages. The beer and wine cellar’s been seriously depleted and thanks to Mark for running me up to the Marlow brewery to stock up, priorities!

On the 30th I wanted to move up to Marlow for a New Year’s Eve party. Friends Mark and Christina joined me for the trip.  The fog was far from ideal, after an hours wait it lifted slightly so I decided to give it a go. Navigation and steaming lights on Angela Dawn looked like a Christmas Tree glowing in the fog. I put the radar on at 50 -75 meter range which gave me a clear picture of the river banks and slightly ahead. Keeping the speed low we gradually made our way. The radar was excellent on occasion the banks were obscured but clear as a bell on the radar. Apart from a few canoeists the only other boats we met were at Bourne End, 4 unlit black narrowboats rafted as 2 pairs crept out of the mist. When they spotted me they flashed their only front light as a warning, which I acknowledged. They painted well on radar. Crewed by a group of young people who liveaboard they’re now moored at Windsor trying to get to London unaware of the lock closure at Old Windsor. Only 2 of the 4 boats have working engines. Quite an adventure for them.

I’m looking forward to the spring, exploring further east towards London and the tidal Thames. Lots more to learn and experience yet.