Other PicoMicroYacht

Monday, 8 December 2014

Did I see the Fighting Temeraire?

Post-note for the previous blog: It was up these reaches that the Fighting Temeraire had been towed to be scrapped at Rotherhithe, captured in the famous oil painting by Joseph Mallord William Turner, now in the London National Gallery.

As the tug strained, the sun was setting below a salmon red sky. Turner was there in his rowing boat just in time to witness the last voyage of the old ship, sketching frenetically in watercolors to capture the moment . The Literary Gazette wrote at the time of Mr Turner's subsequent oil painting "the sun of the glorious vessel... setting in a flood of light... typifying the departing glories of the old Temeraire."

In the film 'Mr Turner' there is a scene that recreates this event with historical accuracy using CGI.

Well not quite. Turner wasn't there. The voyage was up the Thames Estuary coming from the east and the sun would have been setting in the west. The masts and rigging had been removed before it had set off and it was towed by two tugs.

But in his mind's eye Mr Turner saw the scene that he depicted and that's good enough for me.

'As I rowed down the Thames, I  turned my head and for a moment I am sure I saw that old ship making it's way upstream towards me, the paddle wheels of the tug clanking softly. I adjusted PicoMicroYacht's course to avoid it, making a mental note to keep looking round every so often until it was clear.'

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Through the Thames Barrier

Through the Thames Barrier 06/12/2014

This is what London would look like without the Thames Barrier, according to the disaster novel 'Flood' by Richard Doyle.

I set off without a nautical map - just an old ordinance survey one, from before the O2 was built.  The next stage was through the Thames Barrier, past the Woolwich ferry and on until Erith Yacht Club.

The Greenwich Yacht Club was packed with sailing boats stored for the winter and Chris was there to help me launch and park my trailer, sending me off with a friendly wave. The club originated from the nautical interests of the Thames watermen and river workers and  their families.

A cold calm day in December, dominated by the new buildings and with a winter blue sky.

Dinghies were trying to sail but there was no wind.

The Thames Barrier was now in view, the control tower on the right.

The protocol is that you have to call up the barrier officer on Channel 14 and let them know you are arriving. The reply was "PicoMicoYacht, your signal is breaking up, it's breaking up  (yes ... they really do say as in the movies - 'you are breaking up'). Please call back when you are close to the barrier."

But I was right in front of the barrier, so I called again: "I am right in front of the barrier." "You are cleared to go through now" "Roger that, thank you and out." Calm voices throughout.

The extraordinary shapes of the barrier are best seen on a clear winter day.

Low down in a dinghy, each section is dramatic.

It competes with the best of 20th century art, but is there to save London.

As the tide pushed me down stream away from the barrier, the officer called me up again and warned of a tug boat towing barges coming down stream in my direction. I had clocked it already, as it labored along, slowly getting nearer, the lens of my camera foreshortening the perspective to include all the background buildings.

I had to maintain my concentration because the tug boat was keeping my attention whilst the danger could be behind me, further down stream.

I was now nearing the Woolwich ferry, which was just about to cross to my side. But the tug had caught up with me and provided a shield from the ferry. I passed through as the ferry held station and then I saw it nip round the back of the tug.

Soon I had reached the Crossness pumping station. This Victorian engineering wonder took the effluent from the City of London and pumped it in to the Thames at high tide, the idea that it would then flow out into the north sea. It worked. The problem was that my great great grandfather lived just a few miles downstream. After a campaign by his influential industrialist brother, whose workers were being made ill on his wharves and vessels,  the government were persuaded to treat the sewage. This was made easier by the loss of the passenger ship Princess Alice, which collided and sunk near the sewer outfall, the passengers all drowning in the sewage - see http://vimeo.com/115142470

Further down the wharves, cranes and industry dominated.

I was now closing in on Erith and the low temperatures were now freezing my camera, so I had to give up the photography for the moment. In my last photograph I could see the yachts moored off Erith Yacht Club and the QE2 bridge in the distance.

In the twilight PicoMicroYacht was beached.

Mick and his wife from the club was generous with their time, waiting to close up the club until PicoMicroYacht was ready to leave and giving me a cup of tea as we chatted.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Why the red flag with the Union Jack on it?

The Red Ensign flag is used by British registered craft to declare their nationality. There is etiquette about how to fly it. According to the British  Royal Yachting Association the flag etiquette 'is a combination of the law (what you must do) and maritime tradition (expectations of behaviour within the sea faring community).' In terms of a law, a British registered merchant or private vessel should fly the ensign, but there is no requirement for a vessel to be registered in order to do so. PicoMicroYacht is registered (I did this to be 'legal' for the cross-channel row). There is no limit to the smallest size of craft that can fly the ensign. In terms of expectations of behaviour, it should be flown near the stern of a craft, and the size should be proportional to the craft (rule of thumb: one inch per foot of boat). Mine is far too large on this basis, but breaking etiquette means it fulfils the double purpose of being a safety feature, even though it might appear rather eccentric. I flew the Red Ensign through London so as to be seen. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Reflections on rowing a small boat through London

I had thought about this particular journey for weeks. I kept thinking, how come you never see small self propelled boats out on the Thames in central London? There must be reasons (stylistic understatement here...).

I read all the guidelines and rules and found nothing about needing permission or a license for this part of the river. I was encouraged by reading about kayaking trips down through London and took the view that PicoMicoYacht is safer than a sea kayak - less likely to capsize, more easily rightable and easier to spot.

I figured out the risks were as follows: being run down by a boat and being swept under one of the piers. For small boats, there is the added risk of overfalls below the main bridges when the tide is ebbing. These can get quite substantial and I have often observed breaking water that could overwhelm an inexperienced small boat.

Studying the Thames from the shore I realised the biggest danger to me would be the large craft that provide the river bus services. Imagine your average local frenetic bus who is trying to keep up to schedule and having to drive aggressively. Imagine a few of those on the river charging up and down, not just keeping to their side of the river but darting across to quickly reach their 'bus stop' pier. Imagine  if the ship captain wasn't keeping a good look out, got  momentarily distracted and didn't see the little boat ......

So my strategy was to go at a near neap tide, keep to my side of the river, stay clear of the river buses, go slowly and keep a good lookout. In the event, the river police, who had been monitoring my progress, complimented me on my seamanship and told me that I looked like I knew what I was doing.

Would I do it again? This was my best city touristic experience, but I would only recommend it as a 'one off' event, because of the possible risks.

Monday, 9 June 2014

PicoMicroYacht as a London tourist

7th June 2014

I left behind a busy Saturday morning at Putney, with the different clubs launching their boats, and headed off down river with my Red Ensign to make me more visible.

I was soon through the beautiful Albert Bridge, incidentally, painted in an unusual colour scheme in 1992 to make it more visible and avoid damage from ships.

Less beautiful but no less iconic was the Battersea power station although perhaps you have to know London to love this landmark

I was now passing the Secret Intelligence Services building - no sign of life there and I did wonder whether anyone in there was looking out at me.

The Houses of Parliament came into view and the water started to get more disturbed as the river traffic increased. I read that craft should not approach within 70 yards of the buildings.

A police launch had passed me further up and now it was coming down stream, eventually coming between me and the Parliament building, taking a good look at me. I smiled and waved and they turned back upstream. I wish I could have taken a photograph of them more closely but thought better of it.

I passed under the Hungerford bridge and then shortly afterwards the police launch came up again. This time they asked me what were my 'intentions.' They were pleasant and helpful, giving me some advice about avoiding the river buses and  then told me that I looked like I knew what I was doing, complimenting me on my seamanship. I felt relieved because I had been worried that they might object to me being there.

One hazard about there were large mooring buoys, which could catch you out quite easily. 

I passed St Paul's Cathedral, with the 'bendy' bridge that joins it to the Tate Modern, the river flowing rapidly. Then I had an interesting view of HMS Belfast.

And then on to Tower Bridge

Finally, having passed Canary Wharf I reached the O2 and Greenwich Yacht Club, my finishing point. 

The club kindly let PicoMicroYacht stay on their pontoon whilst I took the tube back to Putney to get the car and trailer. My next trip to the O2 is on the 17th June to see the Eagles.

Take it to the limit one more time - The Eagles

'You know I've always been a dreamer 
(spent my life running 'round) 
And it's so hard to change 
(Can't seem to settle down) 
But the dreams I've seen lately 
Keep on turning out and burning out 
And turning out the same 
So put me on a highway 
And show me a sign 
And take it to the limit one more time' 

(it's just a song!)

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Richmond to Putney and rowing the Oxford Cambridge boat race course (well backwards)

1st June 2014

It was an evening row and I was in a rush to get the boat in the water before the Richmond barrage went up and I would have to go through the adjacent lock. The barrage is removed towards high tide to let water flow up stream but comes into play after high tide to stop it all flowing out.

The barrage down on another day

Due to inattention and navigational blunder I managed to go under the bridge and not realise I had just passed the barrage in the up position - above my head.

The tide was taking me downstream at quite a pace and soon I was at the boat race course. Of course I was facing backwards, so had the view that the TV cameras give you going forwards (if that is not too confusing). 

I passed under Barnes bridge, lining the boat up in reverse in the trajectories that I thought were used by the coxes.

In fact I went over the exact spot that Cambridge sank in 1978 and as I rowed down stream I could image the path it took as it got more and more swamped. Cue the commentary:

‘It could be a sinking … yes it is … they’ve gone into the dolphin effect …and now it’s panic … unbelievable how they could go down so quickly … they’re all still alive … what a tragic finish …’ 

(editor: how the commentator came up with the 'dophin effect,' I don't know, but it was mightily impressive - never heard it since). 

By the way, PicoMicroYacht has the advantage that it won't swamp and so sink - water just runs out the stern end.

The various riverside pubs you see on the boat race day appeared, including the Blue Anchor. But I was covering the course quickly as the tide pushed me on.

Soon I was under Hammersmith Bridge and with the river clear was able to take full advantage of the stream, passing Fulham Football club on the Middlesex shore.

Finally, I was at Putney, my finish. It was getting darker and the twilight look with reflections reminded me of the nocturne river paintings by the English/ American artist James Whistler.

PicoMicroYacht Photograph

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Nocturne: Blue and Gold  circa 1872-5
Oil on canvas

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Rowing with the CASPA runners and meeting the man who built the Queen's barge

3rd May 2014

I had now joined the CASPA runners and we had set up a base camp of three motor cruisers at the beautiful Harleyford Estate near Marlow.

Our thanks to Mark who runs the marina  and  who was so helpful making us at feel at home and for Philip who made sure everything ran smoothly.

I would now be trying to keep up with the CASPA runners for two days as I rowed the forty miles to Richmond, my orange flag advertising the charity event. A quick wave and I was off.

I  passed Bisham Abbey near where the English football team used to train before world cup events.

 And then through Marlow Town.

Through Cookham, Maidenhead and then past Windsor Castle, rowing hard to keep with the runners

Finally I reached Dachett. Some of the runners, including one of our group, a 400 metre Olympic medalist, were completely exhausted as we sat reminiscing in the pub. 

4th May 2014

The next day another send off, this time the CASPA runners psyching themselves up for their marathon whilst they watched me go. We photographed each other.

Paul from Kris Cruiser (see front person top) had helped us with one of the motor cruisers and also kindly stored PicoMicroYacht for the night.

To start with I tried not to row too fast, realising I had to last the 23 miles to Richmond. At one point I was rowing in tandem with a skiff for many miles; they were first to go through the lock. Two middle aged sons double sculled with their father coxing and occasionally rowing. One of the sons had ran/rowed/cycled from London to Paris and was enjoying the day out.

Different craft passed us on the way

Along the river bank I could see groups of runner through the trees as I was able to keep pace with them

The runners stopped for a break and would wave if they had the energy

A highlight was going through the huge Teddington lock and rowing down the lock to exit - runners were jogging along the lock on the right

Eventually I arrived in Richmond my destination,  which seemed packed with people. This is where PicoMicroYacht had been built (well the wooden bit) by Bill Colley. I reflected on the fact that PicoMicroYacht was visiting it's birth place.

Mark Edwards MBE from Richmond Bridge Boat Houses very kindly let me leave the boat on his pontoon for the night. Mark is boat builder, having built the Gloriana, a 94 foot rowing barge that was the lead ship in the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pagent in 2012. Mark said 'my wife saw you out there and remarked isn't that the funny boat that Bill Colley worked on a few years ago?' When I told him that the 'funny boat' had crossed the English Channel he said in his drole voice 'If you do it once I forgive you, but not if you do it again.' 

The Queen on Gloriana