“Sea Breezes” up The Creek?

A letter to the Editor suddenly opens up the possibility of introducing a fascinating, unique opportunity to introduce a 26-year-old British-built merchant ship into the umbrellas of maritime Greenwich. 

RMS St Helena is looking for a UK base and, surely, our maritime borough is indeed a contender.  Roy Martin’s letter explains the reason why.


A suitable location at Greenwich Ship Tier is indeed a possibility when and if the Cruise Ship Terminal is opened at Enderby Wharf. 


A living museum which could tour the UK and be a fascinating addition to the Cutty Sark, even providing accommodation for young and old, serviced by a ship-to-shore tripper boat in the off season.  During the summer, she could tour the British Isles like any other cruise ship.  Her containerised exhibition could be placed alongside and could tell the world of her working life in the southern oceans.  The cost of such an enterprise is extensive, but what a superb memorial for our Merchant Navy and Royal Navy too!

st-helenaShe could be moored just off the newly-opened superb promenade which leads into Central London via the new bridge which will take promenaders into historic Deptford Creek and Dockyard with its massive Convoys wharf redevelopment on stream.  Opportunities are of Olympic proportions – only for the brave.

Flying the flag – by sea

A golden opportunity for Maritime Greenwich to add a remarkable vessel to the Royal Borough’s waterfront could occur if the Royal Mail ship ‘St. Helena’ hasn’t found a new base from her South Atlantic duties of some 26 years.   As an historic working member of the UK’s merchant navy’s fast-disappearing fleet, she has recently been the victim of the inevitable takeover by aircraft to link the islands of Ascension, St. Helena and the far distant Tristan da Cunha to the continents of South Africa and South America.  The newly-built airport on St. Helena has run into runway problems, however, and the regular essential cargo and passenger link might have to be sourced to others.  If the sterling services of RMS St. Helena since 1990 are not now required, perhaps this pride of the merchant fleet could remain in the UK at a suitable port or ports as a cruise and exhibition ship which tours our European waters, and winters in Greenwich as a living museum and travel experience.



The proposed cruise ship pier at Enderby Wharf, adjacent to the home of global sub sea telegraph cables which also linked the four corners of the world, could also prove to be a technical innovation.  Her cargo of containers could provide an almost instant visitor attraction at global ports – being off-loaded by her own pair of cranes, the contents of each container designed to tell the virtual reality of 164 years of cable laying and ships manufacture, and feature the skill of the men ashore and afloat.  The facilities of the new pier and its backup could be utilised not only in the off winter cruise season, but also at further suitable wharf side piers, e.g. at Greenwich Ship Tier, Convoys at Deptford, Trinity Buoy Wharf, the Boat Show venue at Excel and at the expanding marine facilities alongside Woolwich Arsenal.  Her capacity of 156 passengers and some 20 containers containing exhibits could be easily offloaded onto shore sides or quaysides at home or abroad, at small ports or city centres.




High Summer on the tideway

I woke to the swish of the wash as the first commuter Clipper sped past to serve the Putney run into town.  Also at 6am I spied the trans-Atlantic incoming flights swing round the Dome on their descent to Heathrow; likewise early morning flights out of City to the continent climb sharply to clear the Dome.  As London awakes the ebbing tide reveals our small beach soon taken up by a family of Canada geese which are swiftly joined by a trio of swans, just in time to share their breakfast of freshly exposed green weed.

Our local pigeons based at the ageing Trident Hall launch out into crazy circuits around our house, soon to be joined by our pair of roofers inbound in their half truck.  It will be soon time for a tea break between laying the brand new slates high above Crane Street, with its morning runners and cyclists heading for their work places.  By the way, Tony Othen completed an enforced 77 out of the 100 miles race a few weekends ago with ease, just one of 26,000 competitors taking part in this great charity event.


While Judy was away in deepest Wiltshire I explored the new night spots gathering around the O2 – a light supper at the Greenwich Kitchen (1), then up to the third floor cocktail bar with its fantastic views.  There I spotted a pair of lofty cranes with a 600-yard cable stretched between them – alas, an increasing wind prevented a brave tightrope walker performing his lofty act from happening.  I grasped my lemonade balanced on a lofty bar stool.  While there I grabbed a menu headed CRAFT London which is on the second floor, very West End – exclusive dining Quail, Crab, Raw Beef, Clay-baked Duck;  two floors below, a bakery, snack bar et al – then back home for a cheese sarnie.

Summer High Jinks

Last weekend, just by the Intercontinental Hotel, I spied a sun burst at a pop-up venue ‘Corona Sun Sets’ (2) which echoed around Greenwich Reach – an ancient tradition of sun worship: an audio-visual presentation for party goers.  By Monday it had gone!  Never mind.  The Clipper Bar and Eighteen Sky Bar at the Intercontinental (3), which is bang next to the O2, boasts a spectacular overview from its lofty 18-storey high elegance with commanding views over the prime meridian, Canary Wharf, the O2 and Excel, beyond to the Barrier towards the sea and back south to dear old Greenwich.  Get there by cab or a ten-minute stroll from the North Greenwich Interchange – wowee!!  The Thames Walk’s latest attraction for the energetic!

To get a taste of Greenwich Peninsula, on Saturday 10th September ‘Feelings Summer Fete’ will present a dance music festival on ‘the spectacular tip of Greenwich Peninsula’.  Visit http://www.musicfestivalnews.net/feelings-summer-fete-2016.

The Peninsula also boasts an upgraded jetty (4).  Once a coaling pier for a long gone power station, now Farmopolis is blossoming into a verdant riverside garden.  Don’t forget to wander down to the now well-established ecology nature reserve close to Greenwich Yacht Club.  Be surprised or shocked by the dense housing developments hereabouts (5) built adjacent to a busy aggregate handling plant.

Other Greenwich summer events include the opening of a new community garden on the site of a deceased steam railway cutting in Royal Hill.  See if you can spot where the track once ran.  Unofficially opened by our MP Matt Pennycook who was much impressed by the generosity and enterprise of neighbouring gardeners.

Down on the new Greenwich waterfront at New Capital Quay, a community fete will be held next to Costa Coffee this Saturday when old and new residents will get together.  I once had the privilege of explaining to members the unique geographical and historical location of their new homes when once a cruise ship terminal was proposed.  (I wonder if the Enderby House project will ever get off the ground?)  I sense a decrease of cruises overnighting at Greenwich Tier just by the smart new residential developments and their key location with the grand promenade leading directly to the Cutty Sark.

A high mark in the Kents’ summer

Being an Essex lad and very keen on ‘tidal’ delights – that is the traditional craft which once plied their trade in and about the Thames Estuary, from the tiniest of creeks in and about the small ‘hythes’ transporting materials and goods into the heart of the capital and, of course, the once busy and extensive docks.    As trade diminished, enthusiasts converted their purpose-designed commercial craft into leisure craft, many fully rigged as sailormen, many converted into residential ‘units’ which found their way – together with Dutch, Belgian and French imports – to delightful moorings for weekend and full-time residential use.


Every August enthusiasts find their way to the Swale for a sailing match and get-together.  For years we have taken a minor part as keen supporters and even as crew members in our more agile days (and nights).  This family enthusiasm has encouraged us to sail mostly dinghies around the Thames Estuary and abroad on holidays.  Having used our Faversham cottage as a base for some 50 years, we have tried to be around to witness the arrival and departure of the graceful and extensive fleets.  Even camping along the sea wall or sailing amongst the fleet and on numerous occasions being on board competing sprit sail barges and joining in on the prize-giving events held in and around the Shipwrights Pub and boat shed which is splendidly be-flagged for the fun occasion.

Visiting and competing craft gather well before the Saturday match.  It’s a delight to see early arrivals sail in from every quarter and even riverine craft pass by our Greenwich waterside eyrie in good time to utilise the tide and wind, as did the sailormen of yesteryear.  Many a Thames Barge was built here at Greenwich, just yards from where I write!!



This Friday we joined the Thorlings at Seasalter, having lunched with them at Faversham’s quayside Italian restaurant and having had a ‘march round’ of this Creekside port which has, for years, attracted traditional craft with its extensive quay-side yards and local craftsmen.

By coincidence I bumped into one of the Guide Magazine’s staff also lunching at ‘Posillipo’ who published ‘Riverwatch’ for many a year.  Sarah Thorling’s skill in reading my writing and editing it during those balmy days.; since then, Helen Othen has nobly stepped in and encouraged me to follow this self-indulgence – I thank them all.

We struck lucky as retired to the Thorlings with their fantastic home which overlooks miles of estuary from North Essex, upriver t wards Southend, the tail end of Sheppey and the Swale channel for a good miles.

Armed with sun hat and binoculars, I surveyed the beautiful summer afternoon as one by one cross-estuary sails appeared at the ports’ approaches through the maze of channels which are for ever changing, as shipping demands.  The sloping, grass-covered cliff side running down to the extensive mud flats and oyster beds shimmered in the sun and all was well with the world, as anxious skippers made their landfall with the blessing of a light breeze and a rising tide.  I could almost hear the hearty greetings between the crews in anticipation of a pint at the Shipwrights’ briefing!


One year we stayed on board to savour the magic of the gathered fleet swinging in the tide.  Believe it or not as I write ‘Lord Roberts’, a famous sprit sail barge, motors past with jolly punters on board for a trip on Greenwich Reach on the ebb tide – ah me again!!

Welcome Home, sailor!

Returning home after a dramatic round-the-world voyage for the crews on board the 12 clippers was indeed a triumph for both professional and amateur crews; albeit tinged with grief as two of their shipmates had perished in unrelated accidents on separate occasions – mid-ocean committal to the deeps must have been so traumatic.round the world001

Sir Robin Knox Johnstone’s clipper fleet have sailed round the world over the years and accidents are fortunately rare as both amateurs and professionals participate in such a grand venture.  Each craft is reliant on sponsorship and is often associated with UK ports and institutions and welcomed warmly in all the ports of call.  An escorting fleet of passenger craft loaded with supporters joined them off Greenwich for the last leg of their journey.  Tower Bridge raised her bascules in triumph as they approached St. Katharine’s haven for a well-earned homecoming reception.  As a National Serviceman, I experienced a similar remarkable reception at Southampton Docks as the troopship arrived from Singapore to a welcoming military band playing ‘When the Saints come marching in’ – never to be forgotten by those who disembarked after years away from home!  Ah me!

Sir Robin, after years of maritime adventures, has taken to land-based ventures for many a year.  While serving on the Council of the Friends of the NMM, I enjoyed his wise and considerate chairmanship and realise the weight of responsibility of organising such a venture must have been.  I salute one and all.


Penny Matheson presents a PK drawing to RKJ on his retirementfrom the Friends of NMM



An unusual Naval training ship from Japan is visiting the capital.  Her crew of cadets lined the taff rails in a traditional manner as she steamed up river to lie alongside historic HMS Belfast.  London is a much-favoured port of call for cadets – no doubt much recorded for the folks at home!

jap boat001

High Summer

Early mornings are a delight as the light breeze cools the foreshore after hectic party nights all along the narrow pathway.  Our recently erected scaffolding hasn’t helped, owing to the roofing works on our Crane street house.

Sunday morning was a relief – the ebb, laden with the recent high tide ‘flush-out’ of creeks and locks, brought flotsam and jetsam in the swirling eddies – a hazard for the early morning rowers too!

Our resident cormorants and visiting geese and a pair of swans, however, seem completely disinterested.  The intrusion of UK shipping surprised us all as a flotilla of work boats from the Firth of Forth and a tug from Cork chug up the Thames with a pontoon-mounted crane, aided by a brand new pusher tug bearing the SWS Walsh logo (based on Denton and Thurrock) which have become much more noticeable as outside help is much required on the Thames Tunnel engineering.  The vast new tunnel under Central London’s transport infrastructure is requiring work sites up and down the Thames shoreline, as can be seen from the DLR Lewisham line as it snakes over Deptford Creek.  There the Baselgette’s original sewage pumping station is also steeped in scaffolding, just like us!  This week our roofers have stripped the slate and are now installing much-needed insulation into our dust-ridden hidden cavities – no wonder we felt the winters’ cold!

Puffy clouds skit across the capital skyline obscuring the pattern of aircraft vapour trails as they carry vacationers around the world.

Our Friday visitors from Sydney and a young family of New Zealanders – one of my godsons, a master yachtsman, came to view after an excellent Zizi lunch on Greenwich Pier.  Staying in Central London, they just loved the tripper boat journey from Westminster Pier down to Greenwich through the heart of the capital – a complete contrast to their NZ home on a North Island Creek.

As the morning tideway narrows with the falling tide, an old Dutch houseboat chugs by outward bound.  Perhaps for a family holiday to the Medway and to see the treasures of Chatham Dockyard or perhaps the peace and quiet of an isolated creek!


The reality of uncertain weather was forecasted by lumpy, black clouds over the City.  A sudden breeze through the open window sent my model J class yacht flying; an elegant craft more suitable for the Solent, she had to be sailed down Romney Road from the Nauticalia sale – too big for the car and not welcome on buses either.  So I tacked along the pavements down into Crane Street, past the Yacht pub where previously a fine collection of Beken photos were once on display.  She now graces our top deck with dignity and elegance once again!



Just handing this piece to belle Helen Othen, who transcribes my scrawl into more literate form, I received a blog from Mike Ellis who had spotted a piece in the press re the forthcoming America’s Cup which states that the first recorded yacht race was from Greenwich to Gravesend.



However this Sunday Tony Othen, after months of early morning sprints around SE London, takes part in the Prudential Ride London 100 mile cycle event. The Kents wish him well. He tells me that he whistles down an empty Crane Street at the crack of dawn on his 20 mile daily practice run well before we are awake.

City to Countryside and back by rail and boat


thames map001

Most summers we try and take a ‘tripper boat’ from Westminster upstream to Richmond and even as far as Hampton Court. It’s the only way to keep up with the ever-changing landscape. This wet summer has benefitted general greenery and especially tree growth, never mind the extraordinary impact of riverside construction. We also witnessed the chaos of suburban railways, especially at Waterloo as timetabling was re-jigged to the whims of rail unions. A slow departure gave us a chance to view the spate of high rise developments between Lambeth and Clapham Junction, many to compliment the relocation of the US Embassy and, of course, the massive works around the Battersea Power Station redevelopment.

Happily, Richmond certainly addresses the Thames with a new but traditional river frontage with elevated terraces and tree-lined riverside walks which have been so lovingly retained and maintained – a delight to return to. Alas, our short visit was over as we gathered at the humble pier to board the packed double-decked launch for our 90-minute journey downstream to Westminster. The launch paused to pass under the elevated tidal barrier and fortunately our voyage was enhanced by the high tide providing us with semi-elevated views across the adjacent park land and into the riverside communities.


One short pause at bucolic Kew Pier to collect keen but tired ‘gardeners’ on their return to the capital and astonishing change of landscape at Putney, Wandsworth, Battersea and Nine Elms, with Vauxhall too!

Under surveillance

Living by the river is indeed a privilege but essential upkeep occasionally requires a network of scaffolding to get up to the roof to effect basic maintenance, which we thought we ought to do while we are still able to cope with builders and roofers. Our exposed location recently came under surveillance when ‘Maplin’, the PLA’s survey catamaran, cruised up and down inspecting the foreshore. As recently described on Riverwatch, increased river traffic maintaining the capital’s infrastructure is always scouring the tideway’s shorelines as mud and silt is disturbed by the wash and undertow created by everyday river traffic.

In our 20 years here in Crane Street we have had to rebuild the deck – ‘not fit for purpose’ according to the PLA – which protrudes out into the river by some 6 meters was an expensive exercise involving barges and floating cranes and the expertise of engineers who are used to building along the Thames in exposed situations.

Our next door rowing club has to deal with the installation of a heavy, steel portal to get to and fro from their boat house, and a recent slipway constructed to aid their activity has disappeared from sight, buried under sand and gravel. Likewise, maintenance of the river wall also needs constant attention. The ancient Watergate steps leading up to Trinity Hospital and river wall is yet again under siege, and ‘Maplin’ has been in attendance. Our recently erected scaffolding would have been noted and no doubt monitored along with our lunch time sandwiches – (I jest!). However, historic reflections of the craft which have moored here through the centuries provoke romantic dreams of Venetian galleys which the Doge wouldn’t permit to enter London’s piratical upper reaches. Thames sailing barges and traditional lighters are two a penny as well as colliers and Dutch coasters.

The purpose-built cast iron wharf serving the iconic twin-halled power station attracted sail- and steam-driven ships which came up river to feed Greenwich Power Station as well as many similar at Blackwall, Battersea and Lotts Road Chelsea, to name a few. The gracious four chimneys still dominate our local river scene, and I wonder if the fancy new all-steel-latticed chimneys which have slipped in beside Tunnel Avenue to power the giant Peninsula developments will do as well.


Battersea Power001

By the way, on our recent up-river trip we only spotted one of the Battersea iconic four still standing, new being dominated by high rise apartment blocks!! As at nearby Deptford too, where Mr. Ferranti managed to send his power to light up the West End too – bravo! – what wonders running along the rail arches to Charing Cross and beyond.


Christening a boat or two

It’s always an uplifting occasion to welcome new build vessels as they go through the time-honoured custom. Down at Maldon up in Essex – a port with historic and modern connections with Thames Sailing Barges, the ‘work horses’ that plied in shallow waters transferring goods from ship to up-river wharves.

Maldon District001

The sun shone at the gathered company assembled on the Hythe quayside to welcome a brand new sprit sail barge to the fleet. A guard of honour mounted by sea cadets and Royal Marine lads set the tone as this purpose-built barge especially for young people to learn the ropes was christened ‘Blue Mermaid’.


The Sea Change Sailing Trust already charter similar craft to provide action-centered learning and seamanship training to disadvantaged and socially excluded young people based here at Maldon. The hull was built down in Cornwall and towed up to this Essex port to be filled out and fully rigged by traditional local craftsmen.

sea Change001

For years I have enjoyed the sight of their magnificent tan sails navigating the estuarial waters, and when they pass by our Greenwich house everything stops to observe these gracious craft sail past. Well, this is exactly what ‘Blue Mermaid’ will do as she will be engineless, which surprises one and all. The idea is that she will work the tides and wind just as her forebears which thronged the Thames Estuary and London river.


The gathered company that witness the christening ceremony will hopefully help to raise the necessary funds ready for next year’s season when young folk will be able to participate together in a unique bonding experience as they man this challenging new craft. I wish I was their age again!!

Earlier this year, the brand new ‘cruise ship’ came to Greenwich to be christened and launched into an extensive marketing exercise.

A new ro-ro Cobelfret ship in the Essex-Belgium run that sails from Purfleet also was ‘launched’ to international shipping folk gathered on board at Greenwich Tier. Memories of previous celebrations include both naval and merchant Navy new builds which just love Royal Greenwich’s maritime background for marketing purposes. Who can blame them?

Memories of similar naming ceremonies of new waterman’s cutters at Trinity House on Tower Hill and at Mark Edward’s Richmond boat yard – more private but as emotional as the Grand Reaper takes his toll.