Ships that pass and nocturnal memories

Yesteryear memories came flooding back as I mused during my usual pm nap, and I woke to my riverwatch duties with pleasure.

Passing downstream, a most unusual pleasure craft sped past.  With a bright blue hull and a low white superstructure, ‘Biggles’ – registered somewhere in Nice – flew a light blue standard which I recognised as an RAF sailing association.   Ah! methinks she hails from the Canal du Midi or perhaps close to the Rhone – waters that we have navigated in years gone by.  Beautifully timed as last night’s arrival of two large tall ships to the Greenwich Tier buoys had brought back memories of an arrival on board the troopship Empire Fowey in far off Aden – also in the deepest dark with navigation lights clearly seen as the pilots manoeuvred to their designated anchorage.

hong kong001

Full of anticipation, this private soldier sniffed the warm, savoury heat with the heights of surrounding mountains adding to the mystery.  I was amazed to see the clock face of mini Big Ben illuminated for the world to see in the dense darkness.  As the ship’s engines ceased, a halo of lights broke out as the pilot handed control back to the captain and his crew.  Before you could say Jack Robinson, the vessel was surrounded by craft of every sort.  So it was last night as ‘Dar Mlodziezy’ from Gdynia in Poland snuggled alongside ‘Santa Maria Manuela’ from Portugal, both now ablaze with lights again – having been at the core of a magical celebratory firework display just an hour or two before, followed by a sail-by as participating vessels returned to their Woolwich base, their superb elegance as their sails reflected the glory of shimmering tideway that threads through our capital city as downstream developments twinkle with aerial navigation lights from dusk to dawn, as cranes reach even further towards the heavens.  As all early risers, both vessels were dressed overall just as the welcoming Cutty Sark greeted her seagoing kin!!


Thames Tall ship001



photo by Stephen Tempest


As a footnote:  I ended up doing my National Service back in 1953 at RAF Seletar on the northern coast of Singapore, where lumbering Sunderland flying boats took off from the Straits of Johor – a base also for Meteor and Pembroke aircraft which flew over troubled Malaya.  Upon their return it was my job to study the numerous black and white aerial prints for signs of bandit camps and unusual Russian or Chinese naval units on patrol !!   Yours Truly S/23179244 Pte Kent.

About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

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