Archive by Author | RiverWatch returns

Estuary watch


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Being an Essex lad, the junction of rivers into the sea have always fascinated.  Maldon in Essex, like Faversham in Kent, has been the been the birthplace of Thames Sailing Barges.  These spritsail barges are more than suitable for carrying goods up creeks and then under bridges to upstream mills and wharves.

Living alongside a Greenwich wharf makes barge spotting on their way to and from the capital almost a daily custom.  My home town at Colchester had the Hythe – a busy Roman sea port – which had always fascinated me (a short cycle ride from my town centre home).  Likewise Anne Christopherson was able to pedal through Greenwich down to the Thames wharves which she adored, and I have just been given a depiction of Pipers Wharf which I will treasure.

A weekend stay with ex-neighbour Sara Thorling and family friend down at Seasalter gave us a splendid viewing of the Swale and Sheppey with the Thames running up towards the capital, Southend and the Essex coast and the ever-expanding container port of London beyond – just where Mayor Boris was intent on building the airport of his dreams. (No man is an island!!)
A further visit this week to Maldon with a coach party from Greenwich may well give me a firstsighting of a newly-completed sprit sail barge built there for youth training.

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High Summer on the Thames

As I write, the cruise ship ‘Silver Wind’ slips past Greenwich on her way up to HMS Belfast in the Pool of London – a regular port of call for ships in the Summer.

Likewise, the ‘World’ came to Greenwich Ship Tier, a residential ship for the super-rich. Cutty Sark Gardens became a cosmopolitan eating house for visitors to Maritime Greenwich – stalls for those who prefer not to eat in our town centre eating houses!
Across the river, the Isle of Dogs is sprouting skyscrapers as investors flock to London prior to Brexit. Canary Wharf and the Square Mile compete with each other for punters with cash to spare.
When we first came to Greenwich some 50 years ago, our view across the marshes were full of empty docklands as containerisation was not welcome here. By chance my sketch of the Greenwich Peninsula was the site of the first container wharf – although there wasn’t adequate space to store the land-hungry boxes.IOD skyline001

Part of the site contains Deverells Shipyard, its floating dock serving the ever-growing demand for maintenance of the ever-increasing fleets of tourist boats that now throng central London. Victoria Deep Water Wharf became an aggregate hub for all the massive development sites and, as I write, a new hub is under construction to advance this facility.

Beyond lies the great whale washed ashore, serving as a music hub: the O2 deserves a second look as a retail hub on a mezzanine floor wraps around the hole in the dome which lets out the foul air of the Blackwall Tunnel!

I spotted the steam tug Portwey undergoing work on her historic hull. She can still be seen under steam on her brief outings on the tideway – she sits on a pontoon in the Royal Docks awaiting a permanent home.

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I must thank Rob Powell for his colour photos extracted from the splendid calendar which he publishes every year. He must have been very vigilant to see Portwey at Tower Bridge and there’s a grand shot from the Wolfe statue in Greenwich Park of the ‘Silversea’ cruise ship showing the Canary Wharf and developments in construction beyond.

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A brief message to those on board the Yacht ‘Nova’, half way around the UK – BRAVO!! It seems a long way from Oxford and St. Katharine’s

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Still time to catch a workshop or two…


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Westward Ho! Going with the flow!!

It’s good to take a break by the seaside – especially in Roseland – a remote peninsula in South Cornwall.  Fortunately we are staying in a charming cottage overlooking a creek, part of Carrick Roads – Falmouth’s ‘extensive’ harbour which is reached by a 3-mile ferry ride from St Mawes..


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It’s always fascinating to see so much marine activity around this once-famous deep water port – the furthest west, also the first and last of many a voyage where all-important mails were exchanged.  The extensive shipbuilding and repair yards are still very active.  We explored the River Fal up towards Truro on another small, historic ferry up the Carrick Roads, passing anchorages for large ships and the departure point for the D-Day American landing craft, with its narrow lanes and peaceful creeks.  The iconic King Harry Ferry, one of the few chain ferries in England, provides a short cut of 27 miles for visitors and locals alike (cars and vans too).

Our 4-hour train journey from Paddington raced through lush river valleys at an amazing pace.  I should have brought a map with me to explain some of the landmarks, among which were the extraordinary Brunel bridges over the Thames and at Saltash overlooking Plymouth Naval Base and the River Tamar (the Devon/Cornwall county boundary) as we charged through undulating landscape and past beautiful water ways, following gradual gradients with only the occasional tunnel.

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Our speedy Great Western train, with brand new rolling stock, lapped up the miles in great comfort.  We were met at Truro and driven to the King Harry chain-driven ferry on to Roseland – a remarkable rural peninsula with beautiful creeks and harbours.  Our week-long break hadn’t the best of weather, being early in the season; but we were fortunate to see the traditional start-of-season sail past by a variety of sailing craft from the numerous harbours and marinas just before the rain storms returned.  One is struck by the full moorings and the variety of craft in this delightful part of the world.

Back to the realities of life with a day at Lewisham Hospital for a clinic involving long waiting in the delightful new riverside reception with views of the River Ravensbourne and park beyond.  Ducks, moorhens and even an egret flutter about as the fast-flowing stream heads for Lewisham, Deptford and the Thames beyond – all aboard!!



Marathon excitement, and Yacht Nova’s progress


This year’s Marathon was another spectator event for us Greenwich folk, as the 49,000 runners stormed down the hill from the heights of Blackheath starting points towards the riverside flatter grounds, where the oncoming streams of starters blended into one constant flow of competitors.  This time, I remained glued to the TV coverage as helicopter cameramen twisted and turned to gain maximum coverage, zooming into the complexity of streets, avenues, promenades et al, revealing surprising new viewpoints to our familiar, local neighbourhoods as runners and spectators gave their all.

Before you could say Jack Robinson, the barriers and signage were whipped away into the waiting trucks as the last, exhausted runner passed by.  All the rubbish and abandoned clothing were whipped away to reveal the glory of the fresh green that Spring has so generously provided, just in time.


The next day being a Monday, the Thames was back at work with fleets of tug-drawn lighters removing the capital’s contaminated garbage and extra large barges conveying the spoil from the many tunneling working wharves of the super sewer, as well as the constant supplies of engineering items being delivered just in time.


It was a sudden shock to view the glamorous outgoing French cruise ship ‘Le Champlain’ passing by.  Her most unusual profile was almost identical to the O2 dome – perhaps containing many an exhausted marathon runner?  Also a pair of yankee yachts slipping down the tideway with stars and stripes stretched out in the chilly breeze.

Reports from Ramsgate on Jonathan Winter’s progress on his circumnavigation of the UK – he expects to be passing by my studio this week – that is if Storm Hannah has blown herself out!


Yacht Nova arrived in London and, after her lengthy passage up the Thames, moored in historic St. Katharine’s Dock which was full of posh motor cruisers and similar craft, as well as four majestic Thames Sailing Barges (which are available for charter).

The harbour Master allocated her a prime position in the crowded haven – a complete contrast to the isolated anchorages where she will seek shelter on her planned circumnavigation of the UK.

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We welcomed them to our riverside house in Greenwich where we shared some local info about commercial and leisure activities on our busy tideway which ‘Riverwatch’ usually features.

The second section of her voyage will be up the East Coast calling at Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey (a favourite mooring for incoming and outgoing yachts) then up the coast, passing Harwich and Felixstowe, both gateways to UK trade, then up the River Orwell to Ipswich where she was built.  On her voyage north she will overnight at Hull where a suitable marina will provide creature comforts.  Then on to Whitby, a complete contrast and one of my favourites.  This will set the tone for her future endeavours as per Captain Cook.

A right Royal Easter treat for visitors



It was a joy to see such an unusual ship moored at Greenwich Ship Tier – a large, bright yellow merchant ship registered in Hull, once renowned for its whaling fleet and also where the well-known Greenwich fleet was re-established at Grimsby with its rapid rail connections with the capital.

The Princess Royal was ferried in by helicopter to perform the naming ceremony.  ‘Kirkella’ is a maritime community close to the Humber Bridge.  Princess Anne has many maritime connections and honours, including being Master of Trinity House.  This was an unusual occasion, a large deep-sea trawler introduced to the trade, and tourists visiting maritime Greenwich were treated to a free portion of fish and chips where the famous riverside once stood, on the site of the Cutty Sark’s dock and pier.

The Nova is out!


Jonathan Winter’s Spring Cruise in his brand new ‘Nova’ – a new type of British-designed ocean cruising yacht – sound intriguing, as his intended voyage circumnavigating the British island.  Setting off from Buckler’s Hard in Hampshire, he proposes to visit 12 key ports around the UK, covering some 2,500 miles.  He is trawling around for essays, articles, blogs and podcasts.

Enthused by this endeavour, I drew up 12 sketch maps to show his intended passage which would help his followers keep tabs on his dozen ports of call. He sets out on 20th April from Buckler’s Hard, close to Southampton and the Solent.  Yacht ‘Nova’ will head up channel through the crowded shipping lanes into the Thames and through into London on May Day – tides and wind permitting.


I found preparing these simple, coloured sketch maps most stimulating.  I handed them over and hope they will be useful for anyone wishing to follow his enterprise.

Spring tide activity up and down Father Thames

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Visiting craft from overseas have suddenly created much more activity along Father Thames last weekend.  A tall ship from Poland, a Dutch beflagged mine sweeper, a trim new tug dressed overall added even more colour to the ever-increasing fleet of working barges.  Activity of engineering craft doubles, engaged on the workings of the super sewer, which are being sound-proofed for the 24-hour working with new roofs and walls.  These are enclosing the ever-increasing activity as the bore holes extend into the massive tunnelling as the extraordinary extends into a warren of lateral workings following beneath the tidal river.  The capital explodes in construction of both residential and commercial projects in spite of challenging weather conditions.

Even more brightly painted plant and cranes provide a jolly spectacle for us riverside residents. They ply with the essential power of the tides along the 30-mile long, underground construction site, popping up like moles distributing the spoil along the proposed route down stream.  Each major operator is defined in strong, corporate colour schemes.

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Meanwhile in cultural Greenwich, revised corporate identities proclaim the Painted Hall’s more subtle rebranding which also hosted a dinner for the Polish tall ship crews.


More tunnelling under tidal Thames between Tilbury and Gravesend to create a new super port in Essex.

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Farewell Peter Warwick (far right)

An upright gentleman of the river traditions slipped away after a long illness.  One of the organisers of the ‘Great River Race’, ‘Thames Alive’ and ‘The New Trafalgar Dispatch’ which was a re-enactment of the drama of Nelson’s final departure from the  Royal Steps at the Royal Naval College by river to St. Paul’s.  Peter Warwick organised similar historical enactments to celebrate Wellington and Waterloo – another of Peter’s heroes.  He was chairman of the 1865 Club.  His great enthusiasm will be much missed.