Tall Ships amongst the skyscrapers

A quick glimpse of a tall ship in the West India Dock from a DLR train aroused my curiosity as I had visited a similar training ship at the same berth which hailed from South America some 20 years ago. I tracked news of her from the Isle of Dogs Life – a similar site to this – which stirred my memories even more. I had been invited to a lunch reception on board by a naval attaché – in fact fellow invitees were all naval attachés from various countries. I recall an array of smart naval caps collected on a desk in iconic style by the smartest of lieutenants. The gathered company were welcomed with a series of schnapps-like toasts. The only other civy there was a delegate from Chatham House who knew much more of the naval customs.

Visiting tall ships from maritime nations pay respects to host countries in similar manner – a habit much enjoyed by the Royal Navy over the years, who still realise the importance of this courtesy visit where ships are often open to the public. It’s not often that ‘capital’ ships are able to go alongside at the very hub of international business, and this is no doubt much appreciated by all.

This Peruvian training ship ‘BAP Union’ is only two years old, but built in a traditional style and very smart too. Traditions are very much the name of the game in many seafaring nations. This ‘A’ class barque is the second largest sailing vessel in the world and has a crew of 250 officers and trainees who certainly add colour to wharfers as they mingle in the delights of Canary Wharf.

The pace of high-rise development in and around South Dock is amazing. I remember miles of empty docks, devoid of shipping. A flying visit on the DLR will amaze as it’s almost continuous from Lewisham to Stratford where Olympic sites are being gobbled up for smart residential developments either side of the massive retail centre.

At least five major development schemes are in progress on the perimeter of the Canary Wharf Estate. DLR travellers passing between South Quay and Canary Wharf will surely be seeing significant changes from the carriage window on all sides of West India Dock as dormant sites spring into new life. Towering cranes denote the start of contractors’ works. Canary Wharf is itself extending east and west. A new tranche of residential developments along Wood Wharf will confirm its energies being focussed on top residential schemes bordering the north bank of West Quay and extending towards the Blue Bridge and the locks which provide access to the Thames. To the West, sites overlooking Canary Wharf pier will indeed obscure the once iconic river view across West Ferry and the No. 1 Canada Square itself. To the North, yet another high rise of 67 storeys will create 861 new homes on the Hertsmere House site (which was one of the first office buildings in new Docklands) located at the western end of West India Quay. If approved, this building will be Western Europe’s tallest residential buildings at 240 metres. The adjacent Cross Rail Station provides a real mix of restaurant and bars near to the DLR station – worth a visit even before the official opening of the Elizabeth Line with its new, speedy links to the East and across Central London towards the West.

About RiverWatch returns

Peter Kent shares his Thames riverside studio viewpoint

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