I have to turn back the clock quite some years to take me back to the time I lived on a house boat right by tower bridge. With hindsight, it was probably my best time in London and I made some wonderful friendships that last until today.
Paul is one of these friends and without a doubt the biggest character of all as my other friends will happily attest. He lived next door on a steel hulled dutch barge called ‘De lachende Moor’. He skippered his steel monster the way from Holland across the channel. No experience? No problem! A true, full-blood english explorer.
Fast forward to today Paul asked me for help to get his boat into dry dock downriver at Chatham. Sure! It turned out that he picked a beautiful evening to start the trip. The sunset was amazing with vivid colours and lovely, open views of the London skyline courtesy of the river.
He came alone from Barking dock and picked me up at the Thames Clipper pier in Woolwich / Royal Arsenal. Without Paul actually stopping i jumped on the boat to the surprise of folks waiting for the official ‘public’ transport. Off we went into the night…
It was already late and visibility increasingly poor. However, we wanted to make some way in order to make the next days journey quicker. After i while paul left me to steer and disappeared into the boat. It was really dark by now and hard to tell what is river and what is mud as we approached low tide.
I saw lots of seagulls resting in the shallow waters to my right (starboard) and made sure to keep a distance. Still i misjudged the situation for the birds didn’t sit in shallow water, but in the mud itself. By the time i realised that we had already hit a mudbank. Stop.
There was no getting away and so we prepared dinner waiting cor high tide to lift us off. Eventually a boat from the London Port authority joined us and, once the water levels allowed, pulled us off the mudbank and led us to this nights resting place.
Off to Chatham
We left bright and early (partly to avoid paying a mooring overnight fee) and headed down the river. Paul was up even earlier than i was and prepared a fry-up … the smell tingling my nose and forcing me out of bed despite the bitter morning cold.
Soon after we set off we passed under Dartfort crossing. The weather was miserable at best – rainy, cold, foggy … and no wheel house to hide in. Coffee and snacks kept us going as we headed towards the North Sea.
Late morning another incident, as we tried to cut short the path off the Thames and on the River Medway. We got stuck on mud again. Really hard to see that though this time we managed to free ourselves (as the tide was coming in) and continued our journey.
Conditions got rougher now by the minute and waves became a real challenge forcing the boat to move in corkscrew like patterns. One moment the forces was so strong as to catapult Paul’s tender boat and bicycle off the barge and into the river … bye, bye.
We ended up calling the coast guard for support and while we only requested moral support really, they dispatched one of their boats to guide us into the next harbour. We were well relieved, prepared lunch and headed down to Chatham in much calmer waters where we checked the barge into dry dock. Fingers crossed the survey doesn’t turn out too bad!
Anyway, what a fun two days out. Thanks captain Widdecombe! It was a real adventure.