Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Birds by the Thames

Can you spot the fish this heron has caught? It was still wriggling!

The numbers of birds out there suggest there are many other fish in the river:

I'm currently reading a book about sea birds and there was an interesting section on why cormorants need to dry their feathers:

Got to keep those feathers out of the water:

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Thames Clipper Challenge - the Attempt

Friday the 21st of December, the shortest day of the year, and I had arrived at Putney Pier for my first attempt at the Thames Clipper Challenge.

The RB6 boat was late arriving at Putney: but I was pretty relaxed about that - as long as it did turn up, as there was time spare at Embankment.

The times for this leg were:

  • 17:18 Putney 
  • 17:25 Wandsworth Riverside (1)
  • 17:29 Plantation Wharf (2)
  • 17:34 Chelsea Harbour 
  • 17:38 Cadogan
  • 17:44 Battersea Power Station
  • 17:47 St George Wharf (Vauxhall)
  • 17:53 Millbank (2)
  • 18:00 Embankment

(1) Didn't dock and not sure what happened here. It might have been too low tide and/or no passengers but the boat ended up banging into the pilings for the new pier being planned for 2019
(2) No passengers so slowed but didn't actually stop.

So got to Embankment on time and here there was a pause. I could have continued from Embankment but there was the danger of getting the boat that stopped London Eye (Waterloo) but not Westminster. The only way of being sure of picking up the next boat from Westminster was to walk to Westminster. As it was a short way and had plenty of time that is what I did.

The South Bank was looking very seasonal and the moon was full:

Finally the RB1 arrived and off we went:

  • 18:40 Westminster
  • 18:44 London Eye (Waterloo)
  • 18:54 Blackfriars
  • 18:58 Bankside
  • 19:03 London Bridge City
  • 19:06 Tower
  • 19:18 Canary Wharf

That was a huge relief! Got to Canary Wharf in time for the RB4 over to Doubletree Docklands. But it wasn't over yet as had to get there and back and catch the next Woolwich clipper. They were slightly in "its CHRISTMAS" mode, with staff wishing each other "Merry Christmas" and "See you next year" but they (as I found generally) were very efficient and so soon off we went to the south bank of the Thames:

  • 19:24 Canary Wharf
  • 19:26 Doubletree Docklands
  • 19:30 Doubletree Docklands
  • 19:32 Canary Wharf

I then rushed to the display to see the next Woolwich boat only 3 minutes away - hurrah!

So I was in time to catch that and for the final time was off, stops including Greenwich (below, also looking seasonal) and on to Woolwich.

The final times were:
  • 19:38 Canary Wharf
  • 19:41 Greenland (Surrey Quay)
  • 19:44 Masthouse Terrace
  • 19:47 Greenwich
  • 19:55 North Greenwich (The O2)
  • 20:06 Woolwich (Royal Arsenal)

I used my phone as a stopwatch using the gangway up/down as the trigger and the times were:

My Thames Clipper Challenge time was 2 hours 48 minutes - exactly as predicted by the timetable!!

I was pretty pleased by that: but could it beaten, if so how?

Anyhow, it was good enough for me to declare the first Thames Clipper Challenge a success.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Thames Clipper Challenge - the Route

So what route to take? It seemed obvious from the map above that the most efficient way would be to start at one of the two ends (Putney or Woolwich) and then head either east or west respectively.

To get a more detailed view, I downloaded the timetable the Thames Clipper web site. It was immediately clear that a limiting factor was that the RB6 Putney route currently only runs during the week which ruled out a weekend attempt.

So, looking at the weekday timetable, lets first consider starting at Woolwich in the morning:

The problem here is that the first boat arriving at the London Eye (Waterloo) pier isn't until 09:26 while the last boat to Putney has already passed it and is at St George Wharf (Vauxhall) at 09:10, so that's no good.

Next let's consider starting at Woolwich in the evening:

Here the problem is Millbank: the last RB6 that stops there is at 17:37 while the first evening boat from Woolwich (Royal Arsenal) is at 18:01.

How about the other direction? Let's look at starting at Putney in the morning:

There's a similar problem here: Millbank (which is clearly a pinch point on the route) has its first arrival at 10:05 but Woolwich (Royal Arsenal) has its last boat arriving at 09:27.

Things were looking pretty difficult and I was wondering if this was one of those mind-bendingly complex scenarios when I turned to the Putney in the evening page:

What's that? A route that goes through all the piers? Yes!

It starts at 17:15 at Putney and yes is scheduled to stop at Millbank (the last one!). Then its necessary to pick up Westminster and London Eye (Waterloo) so have to get off and change. Alas the next boat at 18:08 doesn't stop at Westminster (why?) so have to way until 18:32 (Embankment) or 18:40 (Westminster) to continue the journey.

This picks up all the stations to Canary Wharf at which point must alight to pick up the RB4 over to Doubletree Docklands:

Then back to Canary Wharf for the 19:37 to pick up all the remaining piers to Woolwich, arriving at 20:03, making a schedule journey time from Putney of 2 hours 48 minutes.

This RB4 over to Doubletree Docklands is the most critical connection: if the RB1 18:32 arrival is late then might not be able to take one of the two possible RB4 connections over to Doubletree Docklands. For example, if have to get the 19:34 over to Doubletree Docklands, I wouldn't manage to pick up the 19:37 and so end up on the 20:01, arriving 24 minutes later.

And there can indeed be delays or cancellations on Thames Clipper. Around that time I spotted these tweets:

If the RB4 was suspended (or indeed, any of the routes used) then you could call the whole thing off.

On the shortest day of the year, Friday 21st of December 2018 I headed off to the Putney Pier to take the Thames Clipper Challenge.

What do you think happened? Did I make it to Woolwich? 

If so, how close to the target time was I?

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Thames Clipper Challenge

During the summer of 2018 I went on all the scheduled river services on the Thames in London, which was a lot of fun and a good way to explore the city. But it took quite a long time and during those hours watching the riverbank glide by I wondered if there was an optimum route that covered all the piers in the minimum time.

It was a bit like the Tube Challenge in which urban explorers try to visit all the tube stations on the London Underground network in the shortest time possible, as described by that article on Wikipedia. There are similar versions in other cities, such as the Subway Challenge in New York.

You can see videos of it - such as this and this - and it looks fun though hard work. So I thought about whether they'd be an equivalent for the river. Googling "Thames Clipper Challenge" didn't seem to come up with anything so I decided to invent one.

I decided to limit it to the Thames Clipper routes as they run all year round unlike the scheduled services to Hampton Court and other upper river piers. I also excluded the tourist boats as I've never been on one and have no idea what they are like.

This gives the following list of piers:
  1. Putney
  2. Wandsworth Riverside
  3. Plantation Wharf
  4. Chelsea Harbour
  5. Cadogan
  6. Battersea Power Station
  7. St George Wharf (Vauxhall)
  8. Millbank
  9. Embankment
  10. Westminster
  11. London Eye (Waterloo)
  12. Blackfriars
  13. Bankside
  14. London Bridge City
  15. Tower
  16. Canary Wharf
  17. Doubletree Docklands
  18. Greenland (Surrey Quay)
  19. Masthouse Terrace
  20. Greenwich
  21. North Greenwich (The O2)
  22. Woolwich (Royal Arsenal)

The Thames Clipper Challenge is then to:
  • Visit at least once all piers served by a Thames Clipper vessel
  • A visit involves arriving or departing from the pier by a Thames Clipper vessel
  • The time starts when the gangway is raised at the first pier
  • The time ends when the gangway is lowered on the last pier
  • It is allowed to go between piers on foot but not use any other forms of transport
  • A visit is a scheduled stop but it's not necessary for the vessel to actually moor up for those piers where there aren't actually any passengers (like a request stop on the trains as per the All The Stations rules)
  • It is not necessary to get out at each pier

The day I chose to do this was the shortest day of last year. i.e. 21st of December 2018.

But where to start and what route to take?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Ghosts of London Boat Show's Past

This year there isn't going to be any London Boat Show, neither in December (in Earl's Court) or January (in Excel). Apparently visitor numbers dropped too low, something I feared a few years ago when Thursday night (above) was quieter than normal.

Its a shame as I have enjoyed wandering the halls, listening to talks, visiting a wide range of boats. In particular have met all sorts of interesting sailors, including:
Ah well, there's always Southampton Boat Show later in the year.

Updated: or, alternatively, something called the London Yacht Show has been announced for May in St. Katharine Dock. Its focus: "elite individuals visit London Yacht Show in order to seek out the extraordinary in luxury yachting and living". Hmm..... sounds like a different focus than the list above.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Visiting Neverwhere: Walking the Mail Rail

The Berlin bunkers weren't my only exploration in 2018 of the world's underground, as I also visited Neverwhere.

What is Neverwhere, you might be asking? Well Neverwhere was originally (back in the 90s) a TV series on BBC written by Neil Gaiman that was turned into a book and then lots of other things (comic book, stage play, radio play etc. etc.).

The idea of Neverwhere is that underneath London there is a second city, inhabited by those lost from the real city above, full of mythical peoples that echo the places above. So there is a real Earl's Court, a real Angel of Islington and don't ask about the Seven Sisters....

It was filmed in all sorts of brilliant locations, from Abbey Mills Pumping Station (as visited earlier), to the (at the time) derelict St. Pancras Hotel, to the (then abandoned) Battersea Power Station. There was also a scene on a small underground railway that I didn't recognise (@ 6 seconds):

Where or what was this railway?

This turned out to be the Mail Rail, a special railway for the Royal Mail that connected some of their main sorting offices as in this map from Wikipedia:

It was closed on the 31st of May 2003 and for many years the tunnels were dark and empty. But last year it was opened up to tourist rides of a special train, less dangerous than the one in the trailer above.

Just before Christmas there was an opportunity to walk through the tunnels, to get the real Neverwhere experience. 

It was fab!

There were even stalactites:

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Above and Below Berlin

I didn't get to see any boats in Berlin so no chance of a Boats! Boats! Boats. Instead, here's two views of Berlin.

Firstly from above, the best views are from the TV tower (above) as can be seen here:

Can you spot the tethered balloon near the sunset?

Another view of Berlin can be found by going on one of the tours of Berlin Underworlds. The one I went on visited a Second World War bunker and then a Cold War fall-out shelter, complete with airlock, shower and claustrophobic bunk beds:

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Exhibition Review: Europe and the Sea

The museums of Berlin are pretty good, so good that some you have to buy tickets in advance while others are a bit dark (Stasi Museum anyone?).

But I saw an exhibition on Europe and the Sea that turned out to be very interesting and tickets were available on the door. It told the relationship between Europe and the sea via some of its major ports over the last few millennium, including:
  • Athens
  • Venice
  • Seville
  • Cadiz
  • Amsterdam
  • London
It felt refreshingly straight-up show and explain. There were lots of good maps of the various places and the main shipping routes of each of the ports:

This one was clearly the wrong colour:

As well as examples of cultural elements, maps, navigational tools (top) there were also some good quotes, from Homer to Sir Walter Raleigh:

Very interesting, worth a visit if you're in Berlin.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Berlin by night

Back to Berlin, with some night-time shots.

Rather than going to the endless Christmas Markets (yawn) I went out with my camera and tripod. Brandenburg Gate above, Reichstag below:

The Holocaust Memorial was pretty thought provoking, particularly at night:

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Looking back at 2018

It's time to look back at 2018 and those blog posts that got the most views, of which the top ten were:

  1. The Tudor Pull: Gloriana, Stela and a photo-bombing heron
  2. London Boat Show: Random Photos
  3. Boats! Boats! Boats! .... in Geneva, at night
  4. Cambridge wins everything!
  5. London Boat Show: Golden Globe Race Anniversary & Susie Goodall Racing
  6. Frozen Boats! Frozen Boats! Frozen Boats! .... in Geneva
  7. This blog is a TEENAGER
  8. Reflections on the Thames
  9. Thames River Routes: RB1
  10. The last days of the old Woolwich Ferries

Not sure how random photos from the London Boat Show got in the top ten, must have been one was picked up by Google photo search.  However I can see where the hits on Susie Goodall racing come from given the recent drama she's been through.

The largest category was about the Thames in London (5 of the top 10) so maybe that's something to post about in 2019. None were about the Svalbard trip, the highest of which was "Longyearbyen, Svalbard" in 13th place.

The simplest to write was the "Cambridge wins everything!" which had no text and the image was a light blue rectangle (go figure that one).

As noted in the "This blog is a TEENAGER" post, a lot of the top scoring posts seem to be photo related, but that's ok, I like taking photos.

What would my favourites be?

I suppose I'd highlight not individual posts but the series, as they've been the fun ones to do and write about - in particular:
Often these projects have opportunities for good photos and also tell a bigger story than can be fit in a single post.

I wonder what 2019 will bring.