Sunday, May 29, 2016

Extreme narrowboating Part 1 - how we didn't drown - pictures and a video

This is the story of how we went further and for longer and at greater risk than we have ever gone before on a narrowboat in one day. Obviously I'm alive to tell the tale, so you can relax a bit, but there's plenty to raise your eyebrows if you read on.

I think they told us it was fifty eight miles we had to do in the one day, which is pretty good going at any time, but even more so allowing for wind and tide, for we were in tidal waters for the whole trip and in big big waters for more than half of it.  Eleven hours it took.

Here's where we went. You can zoom in and out of the map and I'll explain the symbols as we go along.

Here's the diary of the day.

4.15 am- Limehouse Basin, crawl out of bed aboard Nb Indigo Dream.  By the time we were washed and dressed and compus mentis we peered out of the window to find that our accompanying boat Nb Doris Katia, helmed by the redoubtable Andrew Phasey, had already set off.  Soon we were in full chase up Limehouse cut as the sun rose.

When we arrived at Bow Locks, Andrew was already making his way into the tide lock.

Timing was important, because the plan was to go down towards the sea on a falling tide, then as we turned back into the Medway estuary, we wanted the tide to be coming in, to help us to push inland.

5. 48am- we're off! (starting pistol on the map).  Down Bow Creek and out onto the Thames just by the O2 arena.  I remember the first time we did that, the river seemed massively wide.  Believe me that was nothing compared with what was to come.  Sue and Richard on Indigo dream are previous Herbie Award holders in recognition of their bounteous hospitality and today was to be no exception.  Warm Danish pastries appeared on deck.

As you can see, the river was very calm and flat, and we were very relieved.  It can get very lumpy out there.  The Thames tidal barrier soon came into sight. maybe you can just make out the green light on one of the pods which tell you which gap to aim for.

The Phaseys led the way on Doris Katia.  You'll see a lot more pictures of their boat than ours for the simple reason that it's hard to photograph a boat when you're on it.  Five minutes later as we passed through the barrier the heavens opened and we got a good soaking to start off the day.

Out we went, past the Royal Docks with jets from the City Airport taking off over our heads. Then on, dodging the criss -crossing Woolwich Ferry and  to the  Barking Creek tidal barrier and the river was already a third of a mile wide and growing. Visibility was pretty poor really and by the time we reached the QEII bridge at Dartford  the big ships were appearing out of the murk.

At one time we would have been terrified at going this far down river with just two little narrowboats but we'd done this bit before, so we were relaxed.  Mr Phasey knows these waters so well  he could drive with his eyes shut.

It didn't seem long before we got to Gravesend (see the anchor symbol on the map) which was the furthest down river we'd ever been in the past.  More big ships at Tilbury Docks, but they were mercifully stationary.  From here on the river really started to widen out.  By the time we got to the big bend at Thurrock the river was a mile and a half wide.  It certainly seemed a long way to the edge.

By now we were probably on our third cup of coffee and  enjoying bacon rolls.  Keep it up Sue.

The rain had stopped but it was very misty in the distance and it was clearly going to be hard to make out the marker buoys we were supposed to follow.  Richard was looking pensive.

Out in front it wasn't easy to make out anything from the various dim dots in the distance.

Then we approach Canvey Island a noticeable swell started to affect us.  Not choppy waves but a significant roll.

Our own boat was pitching noticeably but our eyes were fixed on Doris Katia  as her bows dipped beneath the waves alarmingly.

then at the other side of the waves, her bows lifted well clear of the water revealing her base plate

It's at times like this you learn how resilient narrowboats are, even though they're definitely not designed for this sort of stuff.

If you have the band width, watch this short video of Doris Katia rocking and rolling along side us.  It's a good 'un - you may well gasp at about 18 seconds in!

I just noticed that the video wouldn't work on our ipads although it does on our PC.  If you have that problem, you can see it direct on Youtube by following this link.  I just tested it and it works.

I've put a wave symbol on the map to indicate where we were. The river here was about 2 miles wide and about to get much wider.  Not the sort of place to lose anyone overboard.

The waves subsided a bit and then we saw our next worry, in the distance a cruise liner heading towards us.  These big boats can make a helluva wash.

In the event it didn't bother us much and she passed safely at a good distance.

We could now make out Southend pier in the distance, which told us it was time to do some serious buoy spotting, but making them out was really hard, even with binoculars.  Go between the red ones and the green ones they said.  Well it was hard enough to make out buoys at all, let alone see what colour they were.

That foamy line across the water marked out the shallows around the Isle of Grain, not a place to get stranded so we kept well clear.  The estuary (I'll stop calling it a river now) was 3 miles wide.  By the time we turned into the Medway Estuary it was even wider.  By now we had travelled something like 36 miles at a fair old pace, two or sometimes three times a good canal speed.  Richard and Andrew's calculations had worked out near enough spot on and we had arrived at our turning point just as the tide was about to turn.

That seems a good point at which to finish this episode.  I'll do part two tomorrow.  It has speeding lifeboats, ship wrecks, yacht races, twists and turns galore, and finishes at a pub.  Stay tuned.


KevinTOO said...

Oh Neil, you might have avoided the spoiler '...and finishes at a pub.' LOL

Anonymous said...

A masterly summary I have to say!

We bimbled up the Medway today and it is beuatiful - well worth the rockin' and rollin' :-)

Thank you so much for being ssuch great crew members - it was a pleasure to welcome you on board...

Sue,nb Indigo Dream

Carol said...

Bl***y ‘ell!!!!!!
Glad we weren’t there! What an amazing trip! and that video .. it made my stomach drop to my knees just watching it!

Glad you stopped the blog when you did, I need my heart to stop racing!

A brilliant blog. Looking forward to the next episode. I’ll read it slowly so that I don’t get too het up!

What a brave lot you are!


Adrian said...

Oh my! Part 1 of the journey has left me breathless... goodness only knows how I'll feel after Part 2! Fantastic adventure!

We've missed you both at Crick this year.


Marilyn McDonald said...

Now I would have considered doing that trip in a jet boat, but not a narrowboat!

What intrepid people you all are!

Vallypee said...

Wonderful photos. I am immensely impressed! What a journey and how exhilarating!

Lisa said...

Holy Cow! This puts our Wash Crossing firmly in the shade. Talk about out of my comfort zone, amazing feat well done. I would have caught the bus.

Oakie said...

Blimey o'Riley shipmates, that video is scary stuff.Recently did Barrier Cruise with Andrew, but this looks awesome.

Oakie said...

Blimey o'Riley shipmates, that video is scary stuff.Recently did Barrier Cruise with Andrew, but this looks awesome.

Anonymous said...

Excellent blog. By the way if people want to see exactly the route taken a fortnight earlier, see here (large 4MB file).

Other info on the trip here