Waiting for the Weather by Joe and Anne Chester
It’s raining, and blowing a force 8 gale as well. But,
of course it is – it’s August, in London, coming up to a Bank Holiday weekend.
Typical Summer weather, in fact! Since we got to London 5 weeks ago, there
hasn’t been a reasonable period of calm weather; and today’s forecast is giving
strong gales up to Force 10 in the Channel. We only need a couple of days of
calmer weather to continue our journey down the Thames and across the Channel.
But the weather gods seem determined to keep us here.
EssDeeAy, Simon Piper’s
latest 55’ Dutch barge, was launched at Reading on June 24th. It was built in
just 15 weeks from the first steel weld, and was delivered to us 2 weeks ahead
of schedule. Launch day was a scorcher, an omen, we all hoped, as friends old
and new came to wish us well.
The next few weeks were a mad panic, as we moved on board, at the same time as
commissioning all the equipment. “The marina wants an address?”, I was asked.
“Here” I answered – for EssDeeAy is now our home. Friends came to visit
regularly; actually they came every weekend, wanting to experience our guest
bedroom, a novelty for us all. We also moved the boat around the marina a few
times, just to see how it handled. Then one day, we awoke to bright sunshine and
realised it was time to go.
The plan was to have a short easy run, just to get used to handling the boat. We
decided to head down to Sonning Lock, buy a Thames licence, go through the lock
and tie up on the moorings shown on the map on the other side. We are used to
boating on the Continent, so were a little surprised to discover that the marked
‘moorings’ was a riverbank, without even a tree to wrap a line around. We moved
on, doing some more locks and eventually tying up to the rings alongside the
park at Henley.
In Continental locks, we would typically use a single line, tied amidships, or
we would spring onto the lock side with the help of the engine. One of the
things we quickly discovered on the Thames was that lock keepers insist on using
a two-rope system, bow and stern. They also insist on the engine being turned
off as soon as the boat arrives in the lock. This makes a hectic amount of work
for the line handler, especially so if the lock keeper then insists on moving
the boat forward a few feet to squeeze another boat in with us. So we quickly
became quite exhausted!
The following day, we took the roof down. We had been warned that the bridge at
Henley had a wicked twist, which had caught many boat roofs. So we spent the
first part of the morning taking down the roof panels. This worked so well, that
we were moving towards the dreaded bridge by 10am. When it finally appeared, we
could see the paint scratches, and some deep scoring, under the centre arch. We
were glad we had the roof down.
At Hurley Lock, there was a long queue. We were told the lock was broken, so we
moored at the end of the line of waiting boats. We noticed some people all
dressed up and working their way through buckets of champagne bottles.
We couldn’t see any
obvious new boat out on a maiden voyage, except ourselves, but there was great
toasting and bonhomie all round. When the lock opened, the first out was a skiff
being rowed briskly by guys in red jackets, while a similarly attired gentleman
acted as coxswain. Then we noticed that all the flags had swans embroidered on
them – they were the Royal Swan Uppers, off on their annual duty, accompanied by
a huge fleet of well wishers. We wondered how the swan tasted at dinner that
Our journey continued in search of a substantial mooring. We decided to ring
ahead and see if we could get a marina berth. At Windsor we were given the
outside wall; we tied up and immediately set to work to reassemble the
wheelhouse. This was harder than we expected, possibly because we were tired,
but we gently declined the offers of help, so that we would understand how it
all worked. We then decided that we owed ourselves a treat, so we booked a table
in the adjacent Oakley Court Hotel for our ‘commissioning dinner’!
On our journey towards the sea, we passed DB Elessina, tied at her new moorings
behind Bell Lock. We had a visit from DB Josephine in Reading, and tied
alongside DB Etholle at Cookham for a chat. We also had visits aboard from the
crew of DB Hilda May, and from DB KatheII. These are all Piper boats. We thank
you all for your friendship, and for all your help as we built EssDeeAy, and got
We reached Teddington a few days later. The long pontoon is positively
Continental in construction, so we decided to lie alongside for a few days in
order to work out the timing for the onward passage. This is complicated by the
need to ensure sufficient depth of water through Syon Reach, an adequate air
draft for Hammersmith Bridge (low water!), and an arrival at South Dock Marina
within 2 hours of high water there. We were, at this time, also unsure of our
maximum speed, and the power of the engine/gearbox/propeller combination (the
Thames has a strictly enforced speed limit!), so we didn’t really want to push
against the full force of spring tide. We were told by various people, including
the Port of London Authority, that the spring flood in Central London can reach
When we finally got to Syon Reach, we found rowers standing knee deep in the
river to launch their boats just a couple of meters from the side of the boat!
Slightly scary, but we were soon through, and doing a creditable 5 knots at 1100
RPM with the last of the ebb tide. Passing into Central London, with both banks
lined with well-known landmarks, was all we imagined it to be. [Note: That’s
Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin and now London!! – only 21 more to go!]
The scenery is stunning, the fast clipper ferries thunder past, and the trip
boats churn up the water indiscriminately. As we reached Westminster Bridge, I
looked at the GPS and saw the speed drop as if we had hit a wall – from 5 knots
down to 1 knot in seconds! The tide had turned against us, so I pushed on more
power, back to 5 knots again. We were being tossed about as we slid along beside
the dark grey hull of HMS Belfast, pursued by trip boats and dodging ferries,
when we finally spotted Tower Bridge. It really is a case of being too busy to
enjoy the scenery. The speed dropped again as we approached the centre of the
I heard a slightly worried voice beside me say, “Oh look, it’s just like the
Rhine at Nijmegan”; this was a reference to a Sunday a year ago when we pushed
our previous boat up the Rhine through the torrent flowing under those historic
bridges. We added yet more power; it almost felt like we were surfing through
the confused and breaking water. For the record, when I looked at the
instruments, we were doing 4 knots (SOG) at 1800 RPM in a 30-ton barge against
the full strength of a spring tidal flow under Tower Bridge. Magic!
The rest of the trip was almost an anticlimax. We arrived an hour later outside
South Dock Marina, and after a quick phone call, we entered the open lock. There
is a great community spirit among the people here; the supermarket is 5 minutes
away, as is the Tube to the Central London or to Canary Wharf. We’ve spent our
time finalising the storage of all our stuff, and getting to better understand
the boat and its equipment. We also went shopping in Canary Wharf, and in Regent
Street, we went to a wedding, and a garden party, and had more friends to stay
It almost feels like we have settled here; we appear to be waiting in vain for
the weather to change in our favour. However, when we looked at the long range
forecast this morning, we saw the possible arrival of a ridge of high pressure
sometime this coming weekend, and a shiver of anticipation ran between us. So,
if this news is maintained over the next few days, our great Cross Channel
adventure in our new home may be just about to begin.
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