Monday, December 11, 2017

The London Stones: on the charts

Earlier this year I visited the London Stones and there was a comment on one of the posts about whether they have any navaids so they can be identified to shipping.

The answer is no, which could partly be related to how they are historic objects and partly to the fact that they are typically close to shore in drying parts of the Thames estuary, well away from the shipping channels.

However they are marked on charts, which you can see for yourself above (the one off Chalkwell / Leigh / Southend-on-sea) and below (Yantlet Creek), in both cases taken from the Navionics Webapp.
The one on the north is described as "City or Crow Stone" while that on the south as "London Stone", and nearby the latter can be seen the buoy marking the creek's entrance.

There was no sign of the lost Yantlet or Lobster Island, washed away over the centuries, though I did notice an anchorage at the inlet to Yantlet Creek.

This remote location had no yachts bobbing at anchor the day I visited, though some yougsters did zoom up and down the creek in a jetski:

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Wingardium Leviosa vs. Expecto Patronum

It might be a long time until the Oxford vs Cambridge University Boat Race but the crews and busy preparing out on the Thames.

Today the Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club crews have their Trial Eights match-up and they have name the two crews Wingardium Leviosa and Expecto Patronum.

Given that Cambridge University does indeed look like something out of Harry Potter this is very appropriate.

As to which is which (above & below photos) I must admit I have no clue.

However it is possible that I have been hit by a confundus charm.


Updated: victory for Expecto Patronum!

TBH, I'm not surprised as the Patronus charm was clearly more useful to Harry Potter than the levitation one

Monday, December 04, 2017

Book Review: Sailing in Grandfather's Wake by Ian Tew

I initially had the wrong idea about this book. For some reason my expectation was that given the author was someone's grandson he must be young, but it turned out if anything he was older than the grandfather in question.

The author sailed round the world in the years 1998 - 2000 while the grandfather did his half-circumnavigation just before the start of the Second World War in 1938-39. Indeed, it was the start of the war that cut the voyage short in New Zealand.

It was an enjoyable read though not without flaws. The book is part written by Ian Tew and part the diary of his aunt who was crew of the first voyage. It must be said that the earlier writing is a lot better and the later rather full of exclamation marks.

Indeed the first voyage seemed to have numerous advantages, including:
- a more beautiful yacht, 30 foot gaff yawl called Caplin
- more sympathetic crew and master in Commander Graham and his daughter Marguerite plus Dopey the ship's cat (the author admits he's quick tempered and not the easiest person to get along with)
- more unspoilt locations, before the times of ubiquitous development and no doubt plastic in the oceans

If you read blogs or vlogs of those doing circumnavigations you'll know the sort of thing they encounter. Things break and they have to wait for replacement parts, there's confusions and tensions about paper work not being right, locations are idyllic apart from those that are over-developed, crews get sea-sick and argue....

An addition to the circumnavigator's bookcase rather than a classic like Hiscock's Around the World in Wanderer III or Liza Copeland's Just Cruising.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Death in the Ice at the NMM

Death in the Ice is an exhibition currently on at the National Maritime Museum (NMM) about Franklin's lost expedition to find the North-West Passage.

The expedition set sail in 1845 with two ships, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror and 129 men: all were lost.

At first they just vanished, last seen by some whalers sailing west, and then nothing was heard for years and years. Expeditions were sent to rescue them, then when hope was lost, to discover the truth about their fate. In the last few years the ships themselves have been found, sunk in icy waters.

This brilliant exhibition considers this tragedy from many angles. It starts with a description of the land and its people, the Inuit. It is remarkable how much of the story of the Franklin expedition was recorded in their oral history, and shaming how little it was believed by Victorian Britain.

One artifact on display was this Inuit model of a European ship, the wood it was made from no doubt drifted from outside those treeless wastes:


Note this photo, like all images on this post, comes from the NMM web site as it was one of those "no photography allowed" exhibitions.

There was also a copy of the wood map of the coastline around Tasiilaq, as posted previously. This one had a copy of the copy which you could feel.

After the scene has been set there is a description of the British view, from Frankenstein to the art work showing explorer's ships battling mountains of ice:


There was amazing video that showed the various expeditions and how they gradually revealed what has been called the Arctic Labyrinth:


There was then a description of life on-board the boats, with lots of artefacts, the rescue missions and Franklin's wife Jane's exertions to find them.

Alas what they discovered was too much for Victorian Britain, and the tales of cannibalism considered so horrible that none other than Charles Dickens slandered the explorer who repeated what the Inuit had told him.

Finally there was the discovery of the wrecks by the Canadians and some videos of dives plus the bell from the Erebus.

It was very moving to think of the possessions of the men, such as the shoe in the photo at the top, found in the wreck, kept unchanged by the icy waters.

Also, amazingly, many of the officers had had their photographs taken which were on display, so there was the feeling that they were not just names but real people.

It must have been a terrible end, stuck in the ice, tragically close to the break-though and achieving their goal of discovering the North-West passage.

Definitely worth a visit: on in Greenwich until 7th January 2018.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Thames Tideway Tunnel in Fulham


I've blogged before about the Thames Tideway Tunnel, aka the Super Sewer, and at the time of those posts it was mostly in the planning stage, with debates about where the access sites should be. 

This proved controversial - for example the one planned in Putney at Barn Elms was strongly objected to (including by round the world sailor Tracy Edwards) and so another site in Fulham was chosen instead.

Now work is progressing rapidly and there was an open day at the Carnwath Road site where you could have a look round and talk to engineers.

The most visible sign of progress is the huge "acoustic shed" (top and bottom pics, before cladding was put on) which is designed to keep the noise down when drilling gets serious to allow 24 hour operation. Within it will be a shaft down which the tunnel boring machine (TBM) will be lowered.

This can be seen in the model below: the real thing is 150m long with 8m diameter head, part of a set of TBMs to drill the 25km of tunnelling required:


This will generate a lot of waste and rather than hammering the local roads will be taken out by boat with two new tugs on order called Felix and Christian to handle the lighters from the Fulham site.

When the work is complete there'll be a small public park where the shaft end of the acoustic shed is at the moment plus the quay side for the lighters will remain as a protected wharf.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the works progresses!


Monday, November 13, 2017

Five Cowries Flotilla; Six Traditional Canoes from Lagos

As part of the Totally Thames festival, there was this installation called "Five Cowries Flotilla" outside the Tate Modern.

Initially it was a bit confusing, given that there were, after all, six of them.

But apparently the name relates to the Five Cowries Creek in Lagos, which is where the artist Polly Alakija got the inspiration. The traditional fishing craft were painted by school children there and then brought to London.

Very colourful they were too!

Monday, November 06, 2017

Dolphin visiting the Thames in London!

There's been a lot of excitement in London recently at the repeated sightings of a dolphin (or maybe porpoise) far up the Thames, reaching up to Richmond!

Its been seen on several days and on Sunday was in the Putney area and I managed to see it and shot a short very jerky and blurry video of which the above frame is one of the better ones.

News reports suggest that this could be a good thing - as in its come in search of fish - rather than a bad thing it being in distress.

Anyway, worth looking out at the river to see if you can see its fin passing by!



Updated: alas this story has a sad end.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The big smoke on Halloween-een

Ok, not actually taken on Halloween but rather yesterday - but anyway a nice sunset.

Today is, of course, also blog anniversary day, but the number of years involved is too big a number to mention in polite society.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Wildlife watch: the heron and the green thing

Ok, so above is definitely a heron, keeping a beady eye out for passing fish, but what is this green thing, spotted on Putney Embankment?

I'm not really an expert in bugs but after a bit of searching it could be the Pale Tussock caterpillar.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Boats! Boats! Boats! .... at the Putney Embankment Foreshore Festival

At the Totally Thames Putney Embankment Foreshore Festival (as posted here) there were a fair share of boats pottering around, from rowing boats, lifeboats, kayaks and stand-up-paddlers, just back from a Putney to Westminster and back race.


Oh, and there was also the royal barge Gloriana, out for a charity row:


Monday, October 23, 2017

Boats! Boats! Boats! .... at Richmond

At and above Richmond (where had gone to visit the Richmond Bridge Boatyard) the Thames is non-tidal and becomes a pretty idyllic playground for boaters of all types.

Above are some afternoon kayakers and below rowers by the historic Marble Hill House, built for one of the mistresses of King George II:

I also spotted this steam powered launch:

Its smoky smell wafted quite a way down stream: while atmospheric it probably doesn't do much good to London's already poor air quality.

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Richmond Bridge Boathouse

Richmond is one of those places where the craft of boat building has remained strong. As the Richmond Bridge Boathouse's web site puts it:

 "Master Boatbuilder Mark Edwards MBE leads a team of dedicated craftsmen excelling in traditional Thames Boatbuilding, heirs to a heritage stretching back centuries."

Mark Edwards was the builder of the Royal barge Gloriana and can be seen above putting an extra layer of varnish on this boat:
This is actually a film set boat which was used in the Robin Hood from 2010 (not that I saw it) and was about to be shipped to the island of Islay for another.

I had a chat about it with Mark Edwards who said the shape was designed by filming needs not sailing and it would be pretty hopeless upwind given the lack of proper keel. He also explained the difference between the hull shape and that of the Vikings - all pretty fascinating.

Also at Richmond during the Totally Thames Festival was the creation of artist Ros Burgin which used wood from various Thames built boats to recreate the curves of the tidal river from Teddington Lock out to the Thames Barrier:

It was good to see both forms of craft work on display in such as nice part of London, and was all part of the wider Totally Thames focus this year on boat building on the river:


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

No Cash, No Splash, a film about Thames Boat Yards


I could tell you what I thought about this film but its a lot simpler just to say I found it fascinating so suggest you give it a watch.

It was put together and shown as part of the Totally Thames festival back in September.



Monday, October 16, 2017

Boatyards on the Aits

One of the focuses of this year's Totally Thames was the boatyards along the river.

As well a film (post to come), boatyards in Richmond there was also talk by archaeologist Dr Fiona Haughey on the boatyards on the aits. I'd been on one of her walks before looking at London's pre-history on the Vauxhall foreshore where we'd found some old flints and Anglo-Saxon fish-traps.

This talk covered a lot more than boatyards, covering histories of the London and the riparian counties going back up to 5,000 years ago, and given she is an expert on the history of the Thames this was packed full of interesting nuggets.

An ait is an island, in particular in the Thames, and the word goes back to the Anglo Saxon for little island. There were many more back in those days when the Thames meandered more and the tributary rivers had small deltas.

The word also was attached to various places, such as Battersea, where the island has now been absorbed into the land (as is the case for the island which used to be where Westminster is now).

Given the location in Brentford there were many local stories, such as why Brentford was such an important place (it connected the Thames, and hence the Port of London, with the British canal network). Another story was about the film The African Queen, much of which was filmed around Brentford including that scene where Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn went swimming.

The non-boatyard history of the aits was also covered, including that of Oliver's Island. This was once where the City of London had tolls for use of the river (after all, this bit is within the scope of the London Stones). Now that island is owned by the PLA and a nature conservation area where deer have been seen, swimming to/from land in the direction of Richmond Park.

Many of the aits were owned by Richmond to the south and they would often plant trees to hide the dirty industry of the north bank from the gentry living on the south.

There was of course coverage of the boatyards of the ait, but you can get a good idea by watching the film as in this post so will leave that to tell that particular story.

Dr Fiona ended up with the quote above which sums up brilliantly the joys of rivers and in particular the Thames.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Putney Embankment Foreshore Festival

The Putney Embankment Foreshore Festival was part of Totally Thames with support from the Thames Tideway Tunnel (aka the super sewer) team.

There was a band (above), opportunities to try out paddle-boarding or rowing and chance to meet the PLA, RNLI and Tideway Tunnel team, with whom I had several interesting chats. Apparently comedian Bill Bailey was there, but I didn't see him, though I did spot our local MP, Justine Greening.

The environmental angle and theme of the plastics in the Thames was also covered by a stand about microplastics with this mini- Future Dust installation (made by the same artist):


There was also a chance to go onto the foreshore with a historian and discover a bit more about the history of Putney, such as this remnant of the old bridge:


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Future Dust at Canary Wharf

I was pretty impressed by the Future Dust installation, part of the Totally Thames festival, which I saw in St. Katharine Dock. It wasn't just at that location but moved around London during September, and in the last few days managed to see it in its final home, Canary Wharf.

It was quite a dramatic sight, with the towers of the City of London in the distance and Thames Clippers coming and going, ferrying commuters going home and the likes of me up and down the river.


Sunday, October 08, 2017

Cory, Blue Funnel and the Working Thames

An earlier post described one of the main working boats of the Thames, namely the sailing barges. There used be hundreds of these and other craft thick upon the waters.

Now they have almost all gone, but there are still some working boats on the river. One of the main tasks is to take rubbish from the centre out to incinerators and dumps down the estuary.

One of these is shown in the photo above, part of the Cory fleet, heading downriver as seen from Canary Wharf.

But it is a rare sight, unlike that of a crane in central London, an uncountable forest stretching to the skies building the tower blocks of the future.

Random fact of the day: for a time Blue Funnel's parent Ocean owned the Cory fleet as part of an ultimately failed attempt to diversify in response to containerisation.

Friday, October 06, 2017

London Open House: Clipper boat at the Foreign and Commenwealth Office

The London Open House weekend is an opportunity to visit the insides of some of London's most iconic buildings.

One of the grandest of them all is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office built at the time of Empire and the sun never setting.

Rooms, hallways, staircases and courtyards echo back to the days of India and wars in far away places or the fallen of the World Wars.

This building was almost demolished in the architecturally dire 1960s (can you believe that?) but fortunately was saved, even if it does need continual TLC. For example, the staircase below is actually a double staircase with a mirror image behind this view, but this was covered up as it is being restored:


There was nods to Britain's maritime history around the building, but also the present, with this very detailed model of one of the Clipper Yacht race boats:


We were also welcomed by a video from.... well you can probably guess who:


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

London Open House: inside Customs House

One of the Thames Sailing Barges I posted on early can be seen above in front of the Customs House.

This grand building was built in 1825 to handle the collection of customs duty for the shipping of the Port of London. It was open in September as part of London's Open House weekend.

I went in expecting a historic building, which it was indeed, but what I didn't realise was it is still a working office of HM Government's Customs and Excise. So the grand Long Hall was being used as a large open plan office:

One of the top tips of visiting a Government office for Open House is that the people directing you around usually work in that building and if you get chatting you'll hear really interesting stories of their work.

So one such Customs & Exercise worker told his story of catching people exporting weapons illegally to Iran while another investigated tax evasion of the very rich. There was something about it that made me exclaim things like "we have never traded with Iran!!!" and "I just do what my accountant advises!!!".

Elsewhere, there were sniffer dogs demonstrations and displays of things caught during airport searches - all very interesting.

Apparently they are about to move out to much less glamorous offices in Croydon so this might the last time to see the Customs House actually doing Customs and Exercise work.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Thames Barge Parade by Tower Bridge

There's something very right about seeing a Thames Sailing Barge on the river that is its natural home.

As part of Totally Thames a mini fleet of them assembled downriver and then passed under Tower Bridge, which was raised in their honour.

They then assembled for a parade in the traditional Pool of London, and were rather a magnificent sight (above).

Then sails were raised (or tugs deployed) to turn their noses round and head back down river under Tower Bridge again:
On the way they passed by the Customs House, which was to be my next destination as it was London's Open House weekend in addition to Totally Thames.....

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Riparian, the London Stone and the Ferryman's Seat


As well as the London Stones (plural) there is also The London Stone (singular), currently kept in the Museum of London but usually at 111 Cannon Street.

No one really knows about what this stone is for and why it is so important, though there are many legends about its past. One story links it to Brutus of Troy and the prophecy that "so long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish", but this tall tale seems to be the product of an eccentric Welsh clergyman in the 19th century.

Excavations in the late 20th century found a Roman building, which was then speculated to be the Governor's Palace and this was a stone from it, but it should be emphasised that this too is one of many stories.

Today the London Stone is honoured as a 21st century relic should be: it has its own Twitter account:


To distinguish the London Stone (singular) from the London Stones (plural) Wikipedia adds the word "riparian" to the latter, which is a lovely word, new to me.

According to dictionary.com this word means "of, relating to, or situated or dwelling on the bank of a river or other body of water" and so is very appropriate for those stones.

Also by the bank of the Thames, literally in the part called Bankside in Southwark, is the Ferryman's Seat (below):


Apparently it was installed to allow weary ferrymen to have a rest while waiting for custom to transport between the north and south banks of the Thames.

Bankside must have been quite a hot spot for ferrymen, just yards from Shakespeare's Globe and across the river from St. Pauls and the City of London:

You can in theory sit on it, but unless you are particularly short it will feel more like being perched upon it.

Now of course we have fewer ferries, but then we have a lot more bridges. And to walk from the Ferryman's Seat to the London Stone you cross the Millennium Bridge, which has rather a good view:


Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Thames Barrier: Protecting London

In early 1953 a storm out of the North Sea drove the sea up the Thames estuary towards the capital. A storm tide, low pressure and high tide, overwhelmed London's defences and water poured onto the streets.

It was a wake up call and the response was the magnificent Thames Barrier (above), formally opened by the Queen in May 1984. A series of radial gates can be rotated into position to halt the waters and protect the city's gleaming towers and vulnerable tube tunnels.

Once a month there is a test in which all gates are raised and once a year an open day (also part of Totally Thames) when you can talk to staff, so I went along.

When I arrived all but one of the gates were in the up position but as I watched the final one, D span, started to rotate:

Within a few minutes it joined the others to a full raised barrier, stretching the 520 metres from bank to bank:

Each of the four main gates are over 20 metres high and, with counterweights, weigh about 3,700 tonnes.

The visitors centre gave further information, such as a moving cut-away model that showed inner workings. It also reveals some hidden features of the barrier - such as how the gates can be rotated beyond 90 degrees to create an underspill that allows the water flow to remove silt and avoid its build-up.

Most of the structure is purely functional, to ensure that there is as near as possible 100% availability, with back-up power supplies and in-house repair workshops.

But the silver arched roofs on the piers are not just functional but also architecturally elegant. They are self-cleaning and are built in a similar way to cathedrals.

A remarkable structure, which alas due to global warming, is increasing being called upon to protect London.