I couldn’t believe my eyes as the familiar shape of Gipsy Moth IV sailed upstream to St. Katherine’s. The last time I saw her under sail was back in July 1967 when Queen Elizabeth II knighted Francis Chichester at the Royal Naval College having only just completed his historic circumnavigation. I vividly remember the occasion with son Ben riding piggyback as I thought he should witness such a Royal event.
I also recall seeing this amazing craft being craned into a low loader bound for the Solent and new owners. That was on 17th November ’04 at 4:30 precisely – a small gathering toasted her with a glass of bubbly after so many years being stuck in her dock alongside Cutty Sark.
In my usual hearty fashion I greeted her with a boisterous ‘Ahoy’ which brought the crew to attention to this solo greeting from her old Home!! I am much relieved that she didn’t pause to see the scruffy gardens replacing this once iconic Greenwich landmark.
The Royal Navy’s aircraft carriers have been regular visitors to our Greenwich Reach, squeezing through the Thames Barrier with great panache! But no longer, as the new, giant HMS Queen Elizabeth sails outward bound for her sea trials. She can forget the Thames – I doubt whether she would fit under Her Majesty’s bridge at Dartford!! Let alone squeeze through the Barrier.
I note in this ‘Times’ photo that she flies the blue ensign prior to her commissioning the same as our visitor. The RFA ‘Argus’ is still at her Greenwich moorings, the Admiralty Police launch ‘Excalibur’ is on constant patrol by day and by night. I wonder if she will be given a piggy back on her return to Portsmouth?
A rumour told me to expect Vikings in our neck of the woods, just by the entrance to Deptford Creek.
The anticipation of a big ship arriving at dawn kept me awake, but fatigue took over and only upon awakening at the usual time did I realised that I missed Viking Star’s much-anticipated arrival at her Deptford mooring. She certainly was the biggest vessel to arrive for many a year and the PLA had prepared their mooring buoys well in time. Each cruise ship demands special facilities as they lie in the deep water moorings.
For years I have thrilled to a similar scene, be it in the Far East or on New York’s iconic piers – silly me, I went and missed it!! However, her departure was amazingly dramatic as tugs stood by to extract her from her three-day stay. Local boatmen from Barrie Pier released the network of cables from each of the large buoys in a predetermined order as the waiting pair of Maltese tugs took control. Gently she glided free again to take the remaining incoming tide in order to navigate the tortuous twist and turns around Greenwich Peninsula. Only a few of the 500 passengers were on deck to witness the elevated views of the architectural treasure house that is the Old Royal Naval College and, later, brave new view over Canary Wharf and the ever-changing scene clustered around the Dome as she was gingerly escorted around the tight turns, slipping under the still dormant Emirates cable car cabins and then squeezing through the Thames Barrier.
It would have been interesting how many sleeping flat owners of New Capital Wharf noticed her departure, likewise her arrival. Her height and density must have been a shock for them to suddenly view so many new neighbours en masse at once! Their daily comings and goings must have intrigued as they were ferried ashore or whisked up to London in the speedy clippers. The shocking attacks at London Bridge echoed the planned Viking raids on London Bridge so many centuries ago – also temporarily based on Deptford’s muddy shores.
As I write, the tidy up of buoys and pontoons are being adjusted for the next arrival – the ‘London Titan’ tender ship based down at Denton needed local help from a crane-mounted barge. The simplicity of a proposed quayside terminal is obvious and is now planned at Enderby Wharf, which should have been addressed years ago as conceived. Perhaps Deptford’s vast, prime, empty Convoys Wharf – once the Navy’s prime victualing yard – could be revitalised.
Rob, my Gravesend ‘look out’, reported that a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship was passing by up stream. First sighting of a familiar Admiralty Police launch preceded ‘Argus’ (A135), a 28,000 tonne ship on her way to Greenwich Ship Tier – a battle-worn lady which has seen remarkable service backing up Royal Naval ships in diverse actions throughout the world. Twin tugs guided her into the buoyed moorings with well-practised ease. A multi-purpose ship used in global rescue actions, she is capable as a hospital ship as shown in Gulf dramas. Here in Greenwich to celebrate Forces Day couldn’t be more relevant as many of all our forces would have served on board over many years, including a family friend Tim Taylor – a ‘brown job’ – who defended her in the Gulf with his anti-aircraft expertise as a Colonel in the Royal Artillery. Tim was born and raised here in Greenwich as has served his country throughout the world – even with the United Nations in the Congo. Bravo!!
Pulling out of Paddington on a Great Western train bound for Truro is indeed still a romantic way to travel. The train pounded down Brunel’s iron horse way over the Thames with its handsome twin archway bridge at Reading, then charged along the tracks to Exeter, then down along the coastal rail which was destroyed in the gales of yesteryear having taken on board four matelots at Reading bound for further training at HMS Raleigh, no doubt to man the fleet’s two new aircraft carriers!
A quick glimpse of Devonport’s dockyard from Brunel’s great bridge, and into Cornwall proper when the gales hit us fair and square, and on to Truro where we were driven to St. Just in Roseland, just by Betjeman’s idyllic church overlooking a Creekside ship yard. Here we battened down the hatches for our summer’s week-long holiday!
In good company we lit the wood fire and settled into a good book or two. Dodging the breaking seas crashing into St. Mawes’ tiny harbour, we took succour in a fine fish lunch in a sea-sprayed restaurant without a ‘sole’ to be seen! Later in the week we paid another visit to a four-star restaurant at the Nar Hotel – an annual treat where the ocean in fine fettle provided us with dramatic ocean scape to be remembered. Here, inside the restaurant, the splendid ‘Beken’ photographic enlargement of ‘J’ class yachts racing at Cowes reminded us of the yachties in mid Atlantic being rescued by a Cornard en route to where our Easter Tall Ships were bound. The younger Kents blew in from Bristol to take part in dinghy training which was, not surprisingly, cancelled.
This gave us a chance to view Pasco’s traditional Cornish boatyard at the bottom of the garden in picturesque St. Just Creek (thanks Pasco’s for their photos).
The Bar – a firm ground for slipway. Note Pool adjacent to Church
Just down the Creek, Simon’s yacht lay at anchor in the startling winds, safe in the care of Pasco’s, where new craft were being built on ancient slipways and launched into Church Pool in the shadow of their headland house just off Carrick Roads Falmouth deep water port.
Nar Head at top
St Just Village
Boat yard in centre
Pasco’s had built a comfy hide-away for sailors, fitted out with comfort stations, overlooking the yard and creek – just the job for grandparents hiding from the storm as June slipped away!
Many fine luxury classic launches sail down the Thames to gather at Ramsgate for a ‘sail over’ in company to Dunkirk and back. I was lucky to spot some of these up- river craft from Cadogan Pier in Chelsea motor gracefully past the installation here at Greenwich. I don’t suppose they could spot this impressive display which mystified us – an array of ensigns would have helped – but it’s typical of the NMM to catch the punter’s eye.
However, I decided to search my photo files and – success! – I found some old snaps recording the event many years ago with the Friends of the NMM at the Royal Temple Yacht Club high over Ramsgate harbour – a contrast to Bob Crouch’s article from his ‘A Tour through Liquid Time’, which show watermen rescuing troops on Dunkirk’s beaches.
Also snapped is a motor cruiser from somewhere on the Thames which typifies a typical gentleman’s craft of that time – salute!
We returned back to Greenwich’s Crane Street after a few days up in Norfolk with good old friends to avoid the decorators – or should I say sanders after reinstating the ground floor’s wooden surface of old pine after 20 years’ heavy traffic between kitchen and dining area. Living straight on to the pedestrianised street is an art in itself! With cyclists, rowers and families alike, it certainly has character. The sanding boys moved in and completed the job on time and very pleased we are too as its light colour reflects even more light. The snag was removing the furniture elsewhere – mostly on the deck under a tarpaulin – reinstating our clutter in spite of help was indeed an exercise which we don’t wish to repeat too often! We can, however, survive while the painters finish the job.
Having completed the first phase, we took a well-earned rest with a light lunch on our top deck with its spectacular river panorama. To add to the sense of peace, we watched an unusual sight of a string of narrow boats which must have completed a circular tour of the capital via creeks, canals and dockland basins. One by one they chugged along with the forward deck area well protected from fast clipper traffic whose wash can cause quite a bow wave and give the crew sudden unusual excitement, tea pots and all, their arrival back to calmer waters much appreciated by one and all.
Amongst all this Sunday excitement, a very familiar ‘stern wheeler’ passed by on its way to the O2. Empty of passengers, it suddenly reminded us of a luncheon party to be held that very day. A thoughtful and reassuring phone call told us that a pickup could be arranged at the Cutty Sark pier in a half hour or so to pick up these negligent and humble guests.
Panic in wardrobe to get into suitable glad rags as requested on the invite from Bob Crouch who was celebrating his 80th with his watermen friends and their families. Covered in remorse, we were helped on board the ‘Elizabethan’ with care and attention from most of the crew and Pier Master – much humiliation – to find fellow guests tucking into their starters. Our ‘table’ had restrained themselves before they tucked into their delicious roast beef – how gallant!
I should explain that we had a family wedding reception on board for our Ben and his bride Venetia some years ago, and what a happy occasion that was too. The ‘Elizabethan’ was built at a Greenwich yard for Richard Branson and later sold, much improved by the Livett family who happened to be at the same jolly table. There’s nothing quite like a Waterman’s Family party, and renewed friendship and happy memories abounded accompanied by a singalong with a jolly band as we sailed up to Westminster and back.
As reported, both Bob Crouch and his daughter Belinda had rowed past last Sunday in the first Waterman Thames Cutter race which I am glad was a resounding success and bodes well for a similar event on the tideway next year.
Unexpected sail pasts always amuse: Hugo Boss, the purpose-built international racing America’s Cup ‘machine’ usually based on the Solent, sailed past the Intercontinental Hotel at the O2, the lofty mast competing in height with the recent Tall Ship event. I wish I had seen her in comparison with a Thames sailing barge.
Two super yachts are also up here, moored alongside HMS Belfast – a tideway of contrasts!
After all the excitement of Easter’s Tall Ship Regatta the town centre suddenly realised that the Marathon was upon us, with excited crowds returning once more. Reports of the professional handling of the Tall Ships event reassured me that cruise passengers were ferried to Woolwich before boarding the Dutch flotilla. Orderly embarkation and excellent hospitality provided guests with an entrancing passage up to Tower Bridge under sail with a following wind and back with a spectacular fireworks display to round off this unique event.
Likewise the marathon runners and their supporters thrilled at the Royal Borough’s historic landmarks, the brave new world of Canary Wharf and the massive riverside spectacle from the Tower up the Embankment and down the Mall. Here again the clean-up operations and removal of barricades and signage need to be complimented.
No need for the proposed Garden Bridge – let’s put more funds and expertise into our proud and unique waterway which, in itself, provides an essential lung and joy for citizens and visitors alike. The new Thames tunnel, enhancing Bazzelgette’s sewer engineering enterprise, is reliant on barge transport with extra purposeful tugs and plant manned by established watermen and their new apprentices.
A traditional Waterman’s event is being resuscitated bang next door at theGlobe Rowing Club: The ancient Greenwich Challenge for Thames rowers is being revived by enthusiasts.
A 2.5-mile course will bring watermen’s cutters back to the tideway. We luckily live in a riverside house which was once a hub of rowing sportsmanship, with rafts of craft for hire used by the watermen of yesteryear.
Part sponsorship by my neighbour Frank Dowling is, indeed a renewed sign of confidence. Do go and see the unique collection of riverside art now on display in the historic Trafalgar Tavern – it’s amazing!! To add to his collection of river events, I have sketched an image to be presented to the winners at the finishing line at Greenwich Yacht Club.
The Thames Waterman’s Cutter is a six-oared, fixed seat traditional boat – one of a class originally designed by Mark Edwards who has a boat-building unit at Richmond Bridge. It was designed for use on the Thames especially for competitive rowing such as the Great River Race encouraged by Stuart Wolfe and other worthies. There are now over thirty cutters, many owned by livery companies and sporting organisations such as the Ahoy Centre at Deptford and Greenwich Yacht Club. The fibreglass hull can be fitted out by enthusiasts.
As far as I am aware, this is the first all-Greenwich event on the tideway for these craft. My friend Bob Couch – once the Queen’s Waterman – asked me to do a sketch for the traditional award to the winning crews.
I asked Stuart what the prognosis is for this year’s great River Race. He reassures me that at least 300 crews and boats will compete – some even from Barbados. He also told me that the Royal Row Barge Gloriana is still looking for an operational base. Why not here in Greenwich as I once suggested? The ‘Cut’ alongside Waitrose will indeed be a historic reminder of Deptford’s historic maritime past. Baron Greenwich – in spite of his retirement plans – could indeed be a patron.