Made it to the big smoke – whoo hoo but it wasn’t without a little excitement, not everything went to plan. We had to motor all day against with the wind dead against us and half a day also pushing the tide and just to top it off a couple of rain showers.
However despite all this it was a good and exciting day, starting with the shipping operations – lots of ships (a lot bigger than us), then the industrial areas every now and then spotting a brand, label or name we knew of, then eagerly watching the suburbs grow bigger and denser along the Thames the further up we went.
We arrived at South Dock Marina (Surrey Quays) around 5ish but had to wait until after 7:30pm to enter when the tide was high enough for the lock to open, no problem we were told to raft up to the barges in the river outside … turns out this is not so easy, not so easy at all, no!
Allow me to attempt to set the scene – London, River Thames, darkness falling (yes at 5pm – it’s winter time), tide coming in at full current (at least a couple of knots), high speed river cat ferry’s flying around taking city workers home throwing up large wake making the river chopping and rocking us, slow long barges moving rubbish down the river out of the city, two small unlit barges which are floating (secured by a buoy) so moving around wildly from the wake of the ferry cats, with high steep skinny sides covered in bird shit (slippery) for us to tie onto AND….. us, one yacht with a small engine working hard in the current, with our identifying lights at the top of the mast (great in the ocean, not so much in this environment).
OK got that clear, this isn’t going to be easy. . . Well the next scene involves Maree scrambling off Red Roo as we approach the barge at top revs (against the current) – giving her only seconds to perform the next move of scrambling with a line onto the said barge with the super skinny, super slippery, super shitty, slanty sides which is rocking wildly….relief as she made it onto the barge (without swimming in the Thames), however it was short lived relief as the line from Red Roo was way too short to reach a bollard to tie off to and whats more in the 3 seconds it had taken to get onto the barge and realise the line is short Red Roo has drifted off the barge and is now a good 10 meters away – hmmm…..best be letting go of that line from Red Roo (again, not keen on swimming in the Thames in winter after dark).
OK . . . a small feeble wave to Phil as he drifts off down the river and a mumble of “yeah I am fine” what could possibly be unsettling being left alone in the dark in the river on a small barge . . . At this point I was actually hoping the dark would come quicker so no one would see me stuck.
Anyhow off he went to come around again as we re-thought the situation.
Each time he was having to go a few hundred meters up and down stream crossing through the fast river traffic to be on the correct side of the dark river, watching from the barge (my little island) he really looked vulnerable rocking around and not at all lit well at water level. Three attempts later (and the joining of three lines of rope making it long enough to reach the bollard on the barge) we had success – well kind of success. . .
Phil managed to throw a line across to me and I got the end on the bollard but in the mean time Red Roo had been taken away by the tide to the very end of our long line, so for the next 20 minutes I pulled and pulled and pulled Red Roo (12 tonnes) back towards the barge through the current pushing it away from me. Phew – hard work …. understatement.
We eventually got her back close enough to the barge to get a second line on and pull her almost parallel and for me to get back on board, covered in bird shit from the barge and totally exhausted. In all the action we had managed to fill in a lot of the time we had before the tide was up enough for the lock to open to the marina. Therefore it was time to start the river dance again and do another lap and dodge the fast river cats, the slow barges and everything else in the dark. Again it took us a few goes to time our approach to get into the lock as the entrance is right beside the ferry terminal and giving way to the fast ferry’s meant we were taken in the current away from the lock so around again we would go!
Finally we were in the lock (30 minutes after the allotted time, the poor marina lock keeper staying overtime to let us in – many thanks). The small odd shaped lock in the pitch dark usually would have been a stress to us but after everything it was the least of our concerns and was easy, and then, finally we were in the marina around the corner and into our berth for the next month (thank goodness no moving for a while). The battle however was not quite over yet as despite booking in with our dimensions, the pontoons were small and tight so a 6 point turn to allow us to turn 90 degrees to our berth, which was a whole 10 cm wider than the boat – someone or something must have been helping us as we managed to get in without hitting the pontoon or the boat beside us, fenders squashed up tight between us, the pontoon and our neighbouring boat, we were in and not going anywhere and that suited us fine!
A full spare day before our guest arrived, much of which was taken up washing and making room for a third person on board, however we did manage to work out the public transport to the city centre both on the river ferry’s (right outside the marina) and the nearby tube station and enjoyed a walk to Trafalgar Square, the Mall, Buckingham Palace, Wellington Arch and Green Park.
Well the next 4 weeks went like a blur . . . we can certainly say “London – been there, done that” and it was great.
Having Mum with us allowed us to see a lot more than we normally would have thanks to her generous purse (normally we avoid things that cost money to visit in an attempt to keep the dream going longer whilst we are not working).
Neither Phil or I being hugely keen on big cities and lots of people were relieved to be able to go back to the boat each evening to our familiar home, the crowds were overwhelming at times but so glad we did it and despite the struggle getting Red Roo into London it was the best place to be and easy to travel to and from anything yet located in a calm neighbourhood and a very quiet marina (mostly filled with people living on canal/narrow boats) so hardly a boat moving in the time we were there.
Really there is too much to write about so I will keep it very brief and the let the pictures do the talking (a link to pictures in a slideshow is at the bottom of this post).
To break it down the first week was in London, the second week we hired a car and visited the country, namely the Cotswolds, Bath and Portsmouth, the third week was a girls trip to Paris (amazingly just a two hour train journey!), then the last week back in London. Note the picture here displaying the time it was to take us to travel the final 15km in the hire car back to the boat after our week away, it took a whopping 1 hour and 10 minutes for 15km!!
A little lesson learnt by Captain Phil was to not take a pocket knife into the Queens residence at Windsor Castle! Our first day out in the hire car took us to Windsor Castle, apparently one of the Queens favourite residences and she usually travels out on a Friday to spend her weekends here returning to Buckingham castle Monday lunch time-ish, so she may in fact have been here when this happened…
Phil always carries a pocket knife in his pocket (after all that is what they are for), his knife is just a one blade knife that folds out and locks in position, it’s very small and used often and actually at the time pretty blunt. Anyway we arrived at Windsor Castle and to enter you go through security very similar to an airport, with the screening of your handbags, jackets etc through the machine, and then walking through a metal detector. Well, as we approached Phil realised that he had the offending item in his pocket and approached the gentleman at the machines (before going through) asking if he can please just leave his pocket knife with him and pick it up when we leave, otherwise he would take it back to the car and catch us up . . . well you would have thought Phil pulled the knife across his throat. The guard took the knife and took it past the machines (inside) to his supervisor – Phil still being on the outside of screening at this point. The supervisor was terrible, she made such a big deal out of it, declaring it was illegal and how dare you bring a knife into the queens residence etc, Phil calmly explained he didn’t bring it in, the security guard did, Phil mearly asked if he could leave it here or should he return it to the car.
Well she wasn’t happy and said it had to be confiscated as the blade locked open, it made it an illegal weapon (seriously a bread and butter knife would do more damage than this really small item). Phil wasn’t happy about the confiscation as he has had this knife for many many years and it’s sentimental to him (he actually told them it was his fathers knife), she said she would have to call the police.
So the police came (they also patrol the castle) asked a few questions realising we were from Australia took a look at the knife and said “that’s not a knife” ha ha ha at least they had a sense of humour (crocodile dundee). The bobby’s were great and understood why he had the knife (living on a boat), and knew it wasn’t intentional. However the Castle Security Supervisor was insisting on it being confiscated and destroyed. One of the bobby’s snuck away and called his supervisor and got permission to hold onto it outside the castle (describing it’s potential as no more threatening than a teaspoon, and how he had actually declared it before entering the security), and we were then told very secretly we could collect it later from the police outside the castle on the proviso that later in the day it was mailed back to Australia (as it is illegal to have a locking blade knife). The Officer then proceeded to pacify the Security Lady by making a show of confiscating the knife and filling out a form with Phil’s details etc.
All the whil Mum sat in the corner giggling, asking if she could take photos of Phil with the police and saying what a b$&#h the castle security lady was.
Anyway we picked it up later after leaving the castle, but we certainly did get the feeling we were being watched extra carefully by everyone during our visit. As a side note Windsor Castle was absolutely amazing, you are not allowed to take pictures inside, so nothing to show but its everything you imagine a castle being in use by Royalty to be. Just Amazing.
Mum flew out of London on December 8 and we sailed out on December 9 – getting out was so much easier! We backtracked to Queenborough for the night, then again the next day backtracking to Levington (next to Shotely where we stopped on the way down) where we waited out the fog for 24 hours before travelling further up the River Orwell to Ipswich where we were going to wait out the worst of the winter weather before heading across to The Netherlands.