RiverWatch has never been more exciting or exacting
We’re celebrating our 100th posting on this blog – thank you for reading and do let others who are interested in this sort of thing know about it ….
The Thames celebrated the arrival and departure of a great armada of sailing ships which hasn’t been seen for ages. The final departure of the gathered fleet was extraordinary as the five mile shore line of Royal Greenwich was filled with tall ship sails – not unlike the paintings of the Spanish Armada or the Battle of Trafalgar as vessels, having left their moorings, assembled in Deptford Reach to parade all together in a defined order of some 16 flotillas of 48 vessels so as to pass down the Thames by the great river frontages of Royal Greenwich on their way to the sea and dispersal to their home ports.
The majority went back to Holland, teaching us a lesson or two in ship handling and creating a lasting and exciting experience which none of us could ever imagine. Led by the Polish square rigger – a training ship manned by students from two universities who performed a ‘Mexican Wave’ which endeared them to all – Dar Mlodziezy lay at her moorings within a mile of my studio where the great cable ships once lay. Only a small local tug was required to swing her mid river after her short journey up on the flood tide prior to her departure point at Convoys Wharf opposite Mastmakers Pier – how ironic as this is where Brunel’s great steamer was built !
Amidst the fleet a historic replica from St Petersburg – Shtandart – saluted Peter the Great’s Deptford Dockyard at Convoys Wharf where there are plans to build another replica of the Lenox – a seventeenth century warship at the site of King Henry VIII’s Royal Dockyard (www.buildthelenox.org). The cannon fire echoed around the cheering crowds which bade farewell as the river empied of so many fine craft.
However I must also report of the four nights’ drama played out just in front of our house as fireworks punctured the sky in magical formation, illuminating Wren’s Royal Naval College in a maagnificent manner and flooding in colour the gathered flotilla of Dutch ships as they hovered mid stream so as to provide their passengers with maximum spectacle. The very same tall ships had paraded up and down the river from their Woolwich Arsenal pier base, providing thousands with a unique experience of life under sail. A bevvy of elegant craft moored just off the Trafalgar Tavern provided much interest to the thousands who attended the amazing celebrations held in the College and Cutty Sark grounds. Greenwich Pier and town centre, decked out with welcoming banners and stalls, attracted thousands and thousands of tourists searching for entertainment – alas my friends in the town’s art galleries were disappointed in trade as other goings-on drew the crowds. My favourite ship was the ‘Eye of the Wind’, which I had followed in my imagination from Falmouth to her moorings at Victoria Deep Water Wharf – alas two friends in her crew were shattered by the welders and earth movers upon their arrival, covering the spick and span tall ship in brine – not happy bunnies as they could not even get access to the shore on their arrival for a pint !
Down in Crane Street we welcomed hundreds to our ‘pop-up gallery’ where we were well-pleased with the sale of the specially-produced prints conceived for the occasion depicting the fleet’s voyage from Falmouth up-channel and then up-Thames (see my web site).
The Regatta row boats hosted by Trinity House on the Sunday morning were also memorable as they escorted the royal row barge Gloriana into Greenwich Reach, where the Watermen’s Cutter held their own race and regatta just in front of ‘Greyhound’ from Cornwall, moored just outside our deck – a replica of a handsome Cornish lugger, never to be forgotten.