In this month’s Confession tidal conditions and bad decisions combine to bring the capital to a standstill
We own a Shetland 4+2 and this summer, along with some friends also in a Shetland, we planned a trip on the Thames with the idea to cruise through central London to the Thames Barrier and then back to St Katherine Docks at Tower Bridge for the evening.
On the allotted day we set off on the ebb tide from Brentford Marina. All was going swimmingly until we got to Westminster Bridge when all hell let loose.
We found ourselves dodging huge commercial barges, high-speed water taxis, huge RIBs full of tourists and doing the equivalent of boat wheelies, plus a plethora of wide-beam cruise boats.
We were used to commercial traffic in the Solent but this was a navigation nightmare. However, we made it to Tower Bridge and on to Greenwich, at which point the tide turned.
All plans to reach the barrier were scuppered as what I can only describe as a tsunami hit us. We had forgotten that it was a spring tide and there is no slack water in the Thames. It goes from quite calm to boiling, surging, frothy eddies in a blink of an eye.
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We decided that as we had an hour before the lock at St Katherine Docks could be opened, we would take refuge on the inside of one of the water taxi pontoons.
It turned out to be a big mistake as so strong was the flow of water that it ripped our central cleat clean out of the boat. The spring line it was attached to snapped back like an elastic band, just missing hubby.
We thought we would be safer in the midstream and so made our way back out into open water and slowly back to Tower Bridge.
St Katherine Docks is just below the bridge and has a few mooring buoys to tie to and wait for the lock.
I gingerly made my way to the bow armed with a rope and boat hook. The tide was still racing in. Wearing a lifejacket made it difficult to lie on my front over the bow of the boat in order to lasso the buoy, consequently I dropped the rope.
Hubby, unaware of this, was at the helm fighting the current and decided to get closer. He swung the boat around unaware of the loose rope, which promptly wrapped itself around the prop, cutting the engine.
We were in an eight-knot tide, no power and heading for the buttress of Tower Bridge. Not good news.
Sensing we were in trouble, our friends put out an emergency call and the next thing we knew two police boats had turned up with full blues and twos.
“A fouled prop,” I shouted. The entire stretch of the Thames between Limehouse and London Bridge was brought to a complete standstill.
We were thrown a tow-rope and towed into St Katherine Lock where we could untangle the rope.
As seems to be the case with all boating incidents, spectators had been bussed in: hundreds of Japanese tourists on the bridge capturing us on every smartphone imaginable and people five-deep on the lock side, all armed with cameras.
Facebook and YouTube were going to be busy that night, I thought. We were going to go viral!
One chap asked if he could throw us a rope. My unladylike reply was drowned out by the police boat sirens. I thanked the officers and apologised for the inconvenience. Traffic was still stationary and backed up on the river.
“You would be surprised at the amount of fouled props we get, darlin’,” said an officer. “All sorts of rubbish gets thrown in the river; you’re lucky that it wasn’t a steel cable – or a body! Mind you we do get a few idiots that get tangled up with their own rope.”
I just did not have the heart to tell him.
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Stephen Shaw cartoon artwork (above) and an Icom IC-M23 Buoyant VHF Marine
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