A Summer Snoop

At long last I promised myself an afternoon of snooping on the tideway.  Just before lunch, I was taken by surprise by the arrival of a Norwegian ‘pocket liner’ fresh from the fjords – a rather stubby, workmanlike vessel not dissimilar in concept to the famous mail ships which ply up and down the fjords and even to the North Cape.  She bore a banner pronouncing that she was celebrating 150 years of her owners’ operations – thus was showing the flag up in the Pool of London.

Having lunched, I decided to take up my lookout station on the top floor which has wonderful panoramic views; armed with my binoculars mounted on a new steadying pole, I could snoop away at ease.

My fascinating task of monitoring the construction of two new tower blocks – one overlooking West India and Millwall Docks, the other a new hotel site alongside the O2 – while observing the lofty cranes serving the rapid growth with steel and cement; each floor is numbered and a collar on the apartment block spells out the growth of Baltimore Tower and also how it is squeezed in between similar Canary Wharf high risers.  Walkers climbing up and over the O2’s great white envelope (must be mad in this heat!) will have a spectacular viewpoint, especially of the Greenwich Peninsula as it tries to catch up with its neighbouring giant river and dockside schemes – just as the Emirates cable car does (do go!!).

sunmmer snoop001


click on image to enlarge

The working wharves of the Greenwich Peninsula import and export building aggregates – giant barges with attending tugs – can reach many of the capital’s up-river wharves, while sea-dredged aggregates try to keep pace.  Loading and unloading is done by mobile cranes and work with the tides’ span if possible.  Walkers and cyclists on the Thames have to be respected, so clean-up procedures are essential.  As I write, ‘Zephyr’ – a classic ‘30s upper Thames launch – battles against the ebb tide, as does a trim tan-sailed Drascombe ‘lugger’ as she tries to catch the odd breeze too.  But the two chaps seem to know their river – I wondered if they had stopped for a pint at the Cutty Sark pub at Ballast Quay or perhaps at the Gun on the Isle of Dogs – favourite watering holes of old!

Amongst other leisure craft, the fast ferries weave in and out of the regular tripper boats as they trundle to and from the Barrier and back, some bearing a new livery to keep me guessing.  I have noticed some additional smaller tugs – trim chaps designed for safety work – looking after the numerous construction sites up-stream.  Some bridge repair work always needs such speedy and stable vessels to be at hand (see the photo exhibition at the Museum of Docklands at West India Quay).  My cousin Ben from Braintree sent me details of an enterprising tug builder at Brentford who once specialised in small mini tugs for use in canals, docks and other restricted waters too.  Just now ‘Jack D’, a useful craned work boat from just down-stream, chugs past with a small garden gateway and bridge on board which has got me thinking – coincidence amazes me!

About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

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