Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Ducketts Cut, Limehouse Cut, But Mainly The River Thames

(Posted by Cath )

Victoria Park and Duckett's Cut
Our mild apprehensions about spending the night next to Victoria Park along Duckett's Cut proved to be unfounded. We spent a quiet night although at around 11:30 when I took Charlie for his last walk a couple of cyclists sped past with LEDs flashing, shortly followed by a young woman hurrying home. It didn't give the feeling of a place to avoid, so we have no idea why no-one else seems to moor at this location, whereas they are all packed in, double berthed, just a short distance around the corner at overflowing moorings on the Regents.

Charlie had a short walk in the park in the morning, and seemed to really like the walks he had there. Then we set off down Duckett's, only to find that the top gate of the first lock wouldn't seal. Alan and David spent some time trying to rake out the cill with the long shaft, but didn't manage to move anything significant. Then, an elderly woman on the bridge below the lock told us that she had informed British Waterways that the gate wouldn't shut properly, but that they hadn't fixed it yet. Eventually we managed to shut it enough to start to empty the lock, albeit with very excessive leakage still from the top gate, but the next issue was that the pound below the Top Lock was exceedingly low. It was the pound that was completely empty on our last trip through the Cut. The elderly lady said that it was regularly impassable, usually low every morning, and we would not get through without letting down water.

We started to try to run some water through the lock, only to be stopped by the lady. She said she had worked for BW for many years, and that the only way that we could run water down was to refill the lock, then empty it again. Since we needed to press on, and she was absolutely adamant how it must be tackled, we did it her way, which involved closing the bottom gates again, (even though another boat was by now approaching from the other direction), and taking Chalice back up the lock it has just descended, and back down again.

To Limehouse
Fortunately, there were no more delays and we passed down the Limehouse cut, (which appears virtually deserted), and arrived at Limehouse before 12 mid-day. We moored up and tried to get our bearings.

Limehouse Basin, the former Regents Canal Dock, is still fairly large

I was feeling very apprehensive about a Thames Trip, so allayed my fears by cleaning up, and washing the boat. Charlie was taken for another short walk, prior to going out onto the Thames, and put into his life jacket.

Alan and I walked up to talk to the lock keeper to find out what would happen, and if there were any things we needed to do. He told us that we would go out with the other two narrowboats that were booked for a trip to Brentford at 2:30. I was quite reassured by this, it meant that if we did get into any difficulties on our first tideway trip, then there would be other narrowboats around to lend a hand.

I decided to take a shower, only to hear the boat start up long before I expected, and begin to move. We had been given the go ahead to move up to the lock. Somehow it was all happening faster than we expected.

We didn't get into the lock, a large cruiser shot in before us, and rather than argue the lock keeper left him there. We were turned back, to go in afterwards - on our own. So much for thinking we would be in company!

Inside the tidal lock at Limehouse

Onto the Thames
The Limehouse lock fills and empties by slightly opening the massive hydraulic gates. There are no sluices or paddles. You see a gap in the gates, and the water rushing out.

Leaving Limehouse Lock into Limehouse Reach

We set off, alone, onto Limehouse Reach, which seemed incredibly wide, and incredibly choppy. In fact it wasn't too bad, and Charlie was happy sitting on the front, watching the world, and the boats go by. I was too busy looking at things and taking photos to feel any of the apprehension that had dogged me for days.

It's fairly wide up this stretch

On the way towards Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge
David had set up his camera on one of the brass steps on the side of the boat (strapped on with electrical tape!) to take photos every three seconds, with the plan of making a time lapse of our journey, and that was clicking methodically, but by the time we got to Tower Bridge we were in the territory of the massive Thames Clippers and the trip boats, who take no prisoners. Chalice was pitching back and forth, and waves were breaking at the bow. Charlie decided that while he was happy to watch boats, or even be pitched up and down, water was too much, and he tried to hide under the gunwale.

People were waving to us from boats and bridges, but it was all whipping past very fast. Chalice was moving forwards through water at around 4mph, but so was the tide, so we were moving at up to 8 mph relative to land - not fast on a road, but quite fast in a 50 ft narrowboat, when you have to avoid bridges and other craft.

We were not bold enough to go under the centre span of Tower Bridge!

As there were far too many things like this around!

Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast

The London Eye

We seemed to speed past so many of the landmarks - Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, HMS Belfast, the Globe, Millennium Bridge, the South Bank complex, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament (keeping well outside the 'exclusion zone').

Passing Parliament David realised that the batteries in his camera had run down, and went to change them - a pity as his time lapse video is otherwise good. Never mind, it's an excuse to make another Thames trip in the future.

There is an exclusion zone around the Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament and The London Eye

When the pitching died down a bit we took Charlie inside the boat for a while. It was a toss up between letting him be afraid of the water breaking over the bow, or being sick inside the boat. He found somewhere quiet to lie down in the dark.

Charlie enjoys the view on one of the calmer stretches

When the water stopped sploshing over the front of the boat we got Charlie out again, but quickly learned to spot the boats that made a big wash, and took him inside the boat for the few seconds that water was breaking over the bows. He was a bit bemused, not quite sure why we were suddenly taking him inside then letting him out again almost immediately, but we really didn't want him to become neurotic about being on the boat.

Then on, under more bridges, trying to keep track of which one you were going under, past Battersea Power Station. After the excitement of everything passing us we began to settle down, David and I sat down in the front well deck. Charlie with his head resting on the gunwale, watching the boats going past.

Alan checks he really was supposed to go under that London Under- ground line

My Dad wants to watch us go past
Approaching Chiswick David got a call on his mobile phone, it was my father, who lives in Mortlake, and who had been trying to contact me for some time (my phone was in my bag, in a cupboard). Where were we? Would they be able to run down the road to see us passing?

I called back to Alan "slow down, my Dad wants to watch us going past". "What? *&£%$, we can't, the tide is taking us along" - however, he slowed the engine, and we pottered past Mortlake, with David and I scanning the banks of the Thames looking for my Dad and his wife. We couldn't see them, so Alan turned Chalice after Chiswick Bridge, and headed back against the tide to see if we could see them. Chalice battled against the oncoming water to see if we could see my family waving.

We didn't see them, so we turned again and continued upstream. In fact, shortly afterwards my Dad rang me again to say that he had seen us heading downstream and turning back again, he had been waving, but from the boat it had been hard to pick out the people on the bank.

We passed from the Thames and first through the tide lock at Brentford, (which a man works for you) then through the semi-tidal "gauging locks", (which you work yourself). We used the excellent visitor moorings just above the latter locks - luxury berths with both water and power available right alongside. Although we are self-sufficient on power, being able to top up the water tank when it is not eating into boating time is a real bonus.

In the evening we met with my Dad and his wife, Dot, for a meal at a restaurant just next to the Brentford basin. A great end to a really memorable day.

Oh, and this is the time-lapse video of our trip.

Ducketts Cut, Limehouse Cut and River Thames Limehouse to Brentford
Miles: 22.0, Locks: 7

Total Miles: 78.3 , Total Locks: 69

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