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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.

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