A short film of The Floating Salon and our journey to London for the Queens Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant.
A short film of The Floating Salon and our journey to London for the Queens Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant.
I was interviewed a few weeks ago by Expedia about the canals of London and life on board.
You can view it here
The rehearsals are all done and we are all set for a wonderful day. If only we had known it was going to be so wet………………………….. It was wet, it was fun, it was tiring but, we did it!
We travelled up Limehouse cut to Bow. Through Bow back Rivers, Bow creek and back onto the Thames.
We stayed in West India until Sunday morning.
We put the bunting up and waiting for ‘the man’ to come and start his check list. Life jackets – check (including Bella’s). Passage plan – check. Anchor – check. Navigation lights – check. Horn……………..horn……..!!!! Our horn had stopped working that day! We had used it only hours before on the Thames. Luckily Mike fixed it in a jiffy and we got our certificate to say we were worthy! more importantly we got our pageant flag.
Our guests started to arrive on Saturday at various intervals. I had so many fellow pageant goers wanting a hair cut before seeing the Queen so I decided to open up for a few hours. 5 hours later with no break and no lunch Mike put the closed sign up and marched me off the boat to a bar! It was supposed to be a mini holiday after all! I hadn’t even said hello to my mum who had arrived about 2 hours earlier. A few drinks that evening and up early on Sunday.
Up at 5am to wait for other passengers to arrive. The dock was alive with engines revving and people gearing up for the big day. We were all aboard and finally into the lock to head out onto the Thames. It had begun to rain but we were in high spirits. Up stream we went.
We had practised picking up our swinging buoys in Chiswick twice so were felt confident we could do it with everyone watching. All good and the sun had even made an appearance.
It was lunch time and of course Pimms O’clock!
A few hours on the buoys and a costume change for Mike and I. Then the rain really came down and didn’t really stop all day. We cast off and got the mooring line from the buoy caught in the prop. Luckily we had many people on board to pass boats hooks and various other poking items to release us. Off we went…..in the rain.
They stood all day in the rain and as we passed under a bridge they would cheer. They really kept us going after all the rain.
We came under Tower Bridge and waved to the Queen, it was all over so quickly. By now it was about 5pm and we knew we still had another 4 hours on the River before we could get back into West India docks. We were booked in the last lock. There were so many boats needing to get off the River so we went round in a big cirlce they called the round about for a couple of hours. We so very nearly got into the end of the 3rd lock but we just couldn’t squeeze in so round thr round about we went.
To be honest we had had enough by this point. Finally we came up the lock into West India. It was worth the wait to come in in the dark. It looked fantastic and felt very special to be on the Thames at night in our little boat!
We were the last boat to moor up, by now it was 10.45pm we cracked a long awaited bottle of Champagne and had a well deserved drink. Some of our guests left straight away, it had been such a long day but a few stayed on and partied with us. We went to a free bar on a boat in West India and met up with other pageant goers. We were on to much of a high to be tired now!
The next morning we all dispersed to our various canals and moorings. It was sad that it was all over. We met some great people that we spent almost a month with taking part in the rehearsals. Onto the canal we went, back to work and a new life in London…………………
So we sold the car, and made our way to London. There had been so much rain we are anxious about the River Kennet and we were right to be! As we were nearing Reading the River was becoming increasingly fast flowing and difficult. Let’s just say that I’m glad I hadn’t finished the painting for the Jubilee!! We moored in Reading for 4 days waiting for the River Thames to calm down. It had been on Red boards for some time and there was no way we would risk that. Especially heading down stream. We’d never stop!!
Friday 18th May.
We finally made our way along the Thames, which was beautiful. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to stop and have a look around anywhere. We were now in a rush to get to Limehouse to take part in our first Rehearsal for the Jubilee. After arriving at Teddington we were faced with the beginning of the tidal Thames.
Bella, as always took it all in her stride!
Having been up the Severn Estuary last year we felt ok about doing this. Of course it was totally different from the Estuary!! It was still rough but that was due more to the commuter boats whizzing past and causing a huge wash.
The Severn estuary was just a vast expanse of rough water with little traffic. The tidal Thames felt so small but was packed full of vessels of all shapes and sizes dashing about. We really had to keep a good look out.
The turn into Limehouse basin off the Thames is particularly tricky we had been told. We held our breath and went for it. Mike steered us in under full revs to compensate the tidal pull and we made it in with no problems. It was so nice to be off the River to relax. At least for 12 hours anyway!! We moored abreast of 5 narrow boats, emptied the dog and went off to our first safety briefing before tomorrows rehearsal. Before we knew it, it was morning and we were back out onto the busy Thames heading to Chiswick where we would practice picking up our swinging buoys. Blackjack had been selected to be one of the boats that goes ahead to moor onto a buoy that is floating and pretty hard to grab hold of in the wind and the tide!! We managed it first time and then 4 narrow boats arrived on our flanks and tied off to us. We had a short lunch break and all left the moorings and tried to get into some sort of formation as we would on pageant day. Not easy when you have Thames Clippers, rubbish barges and speed boats coming from all directions. Back into Limehouse and then a week to wait until our next and final rehearsal!!
We spent the week painting, polishing, servicing and generally sprucing up Blackjack ready for her big day.
Friday 25th May.
Our second rehearsal was to last all weekend and involve about 26 canal boats. We had another safety briefing at 7pm ready for tomorrow.
Saturday 26th May
Up at 7am and into Limehouse lock to head out onto the Thames and through the Thames flood barrier!!!
Although the barrier will be in defence during the pageant we had to practice going through it in case it did not close! The weather was glorious. We had a lovely albeit tiring weekend.
We turned left out of Limehouse, downstream to the Thames barrier, through the barrier and onto Margaret Ness where we turned to face upstream but the tide was still going out so we went nowhere fast! It’s called punching the tide.
We crawled along at snails pace until the tide turned and we went with it upstream, back through the barrier and up to Brentford where we spent the night in the safety of the Grand Union canal.
We had a very early start so a few drinks with our new boaty friends and to bed.
Up at 4am to get back into Brentford lock and onto the Thames. Early but so peaceful. Apart from 26 canal boats queuing for the lock!!!
We were to travel downstream to Chiswick to practice mooring on the swinging buoys again. It was pretty windy so we had a few attempts but nothing went to wrong!! We had a short stop here once we were all tied on. The outer most boats let go first, then the inner, then the centre boat. That was us! Off we went downstream and got into formation with the other boats.
We were now in our pageant formation but just missing another 15 or so boats! The Thames was so quiet so early. Really nice but strange after being on it when it’s so busy.
We held formation pretty well but by the time we got down to Waterloo and the London eye some of the commuter boats were up and running. We fell back into single file and headed back into Limehouse lock.
So that was it………the next time it would be the real thing!!
After spending 2 and half month on the Gloucester and Shaprness Mike had finished the fitout and we headed up towards Gloucester with the aim of doing the rest of the Severn to Stourport and the River Avon all the way to Stratford.The Gloucester and Sharpness had been great. It is so wide, you can wind pretty much wherever you are. Plenty of water points and moorings. There are a lot of swing bridges but they are all manned!! Al in all a very easy, laid back style of boating. It was very well maintained. It made us realise quite how hard the Kennet and Avon can be!!
We spent the weekend in Gloucester docks which I can imagine would be brilliant in another 5 years time. It is still being developed and it hadn’t quite ‘come up’ in the up and coming stakes!!
Purely by chance we had timed it so we cruised through Upton on Severn while their annual blues festival was on. So we decided to join all the other boats and stay for the weekend. We have never moored abreast of so many narrow boats. Quite amusing after a few pints. The dog obviously was not so amused having to be carried!!
Our next stop was Worcester. The Cathedral looked pretty amazing as we cruised by. Beautiful inside too.
Again, purely by chance we had timed it so that we were passing the entrance to the newly renovated Droitwich Barge canal.It had only been open for about a week. They were still trying to get the flow of the water right with the locks and pumps. There was a lot of head scratching but mostly they were amazed to see a wide beam. They had never seen one before!! We hadn’t really noticed but when we thought about it we had passed many many cruisers and the odd narrow boat but hadn’t seen a wide beam since the Gloucester and Sharpness.
It took us a day to do the Droitwich. It got to a point where we though ‘this is getting worryingly narrow’ We knew we could not get into Droitwich itself as the locks became single but we had been told there was a winding hole. We had no map as the canal was to new! I was trying to read a sign in a bridge in the distance and suddenly it went from a wide canal to a narrow canal under the bridge. That could have been messy! We also realised we were now stopped in a winding hole. We hadn’t noticed as it was so over grown. So with a lot of huffing puffing we managed, only just, to turn around. We didn’t tell each other at the time but we had both had thoughts of having to reverse all the way back down to the entrance!
We made it back down the Droitwich feeling pleased it was another canal we could tick off our list.
Next stop Stouport on Severn. Perfect as there was a cider festival on! We were getting good at this! Stourport was the end of the road for us as the Severn becomes unavigable and the adjoining canals are narrow so back we go, down the Severn and take a right onto the Avon at Tewkesbury.
The Avon is a lot prettier than the Severn. The Severn is a big wide mighty river with high banks but not a lot to see. The Avon twists and turns through villages and meadows. We even cruised through a sailing school partaking in a race. A great scene but we were slightly nervous we might run one down! We were told just keep at an even speed over to the right and they would get out of our way. They did but it was close!
One thing that really stands out about the Avon is the locks. Nearly every one is different.
The photo’s speak for themselves I think. It made the journey very interesting.
Our first mooring was at Pershore. A fantastic open space perfect for a BBQ.
We were aiming to get to Stratford for the weekend so we could go to the Royal Shakespeare company to see A mid summer nights dream. Our good timing for the rest of the trip had caught up with us. The theatre was closed for rehearsals for another week!!
Never mind we would stop off in Bidford on Avon for a couple of days as it was so pretty.
We spent a few days in Stratford on Avon which was really great. We did all the touristy things and got to the theatre too. Before long it was time to turn around and head back down the Avon. We waved goodbye to some narrow boaters we had met that were continuing to do the Avon ring. It is a narrow section so no chance for us.
We made it back to Tewkesbury and called ahead to check it was ok to get out onto the Severn as there was a spring tide. we were told it was no problem to come out but Gloucester lock is out of action and they have divers in to fix it. We didn’t fancy hanging off the wall on the mooring chains at Gloucester so we stayed put for the afternoon. We soon heard that it had actually been fixed but the spring tide was coming up about 8 meters. We decided to wait until morning when we could time the tides. We woke up to the sound of……….rain!!!! The first we have had for weeks. The temperature had been averaging 25 degrees previously. It didn’t last long but we couldn’t wait anyway we had a tide to consider! We were advised to find a mooring as soon as we could after leaving Tewkesbury as the tide was so high. We looked on the map and headed for Ashleworth which is about 5 miles outside Gloucester. We were following a cruiser headed for the same moorings so we thought great, we’ll follow them. Within 5 minutes they were out of site!! We could feel that we were going against the tide but at this point is wasn’t to strong. We pushed on and got to Ashleworth just at the right time. We moored up leaving enough slack to allow for the tide rise. We popped to the coffee shop overlooking the moorings to have some lunch and by the time we had sat down the tide was flooding upstream at such a rate.
There was such a lot of debris rushing upstream. It has all been pulled up from the weir with the tide. Branches, gas bottles, even fridges!! I felt very relieved to be moored but we scoffed our sarnies and went to check the ropes. 20 minutes later the tide turned and the cruiser set off. We didn’t want to be caught up in the racing outgoing tide so we waited for it to calm slightly. An hour later we thought we have to go at some point let’s do it!! We untied and we were off……literally. We took off and tried to keep out the way of the debris. We knew the only moorings to wait for Gloucester lock was ‘the wall’. We didn’t fancy trying to moor up along here we wanted the lock ready and open for us to go straight in!
We called ahead and we were told to call again at 3 miles, 2 miles and 1 mile. The lock keeper was so lovely. We were going at quite a speed with the tide and the lock keeper told us he wished more boaters would call ahead as there oftern come into difficulties trying to hang off the wall. There is no barrier to stop you going over the weir so we were a bit nervous. He also told us “good job you did call as I’ve got a cruiser hanging off the wall at the moment who had a near miss with the weir”! We wondered how they had got on!!
Up the lock and into Gloucester docks again for the weekend and then onto the Gloucester and Sharpness. We were heading to Sharpness to get in touch with pilots to take us back down the estuary. The weather had turned wet and windy so our passage would be delayed. I have to say I was pretty anxious as to how the journey back would be in this wind. We waited a week at Sharpness and there was quite a queue forming with narrow boats wanting passage back to Portishead. There were 6 narrow boats who were all travelling together. I won’t say the cruising club they were with!!! One had done the estuary before but still they all wanted us to go first. We went into the lock and there was a lot of faffing while they moored up along side each other.
Turned out that they hadn’t booked a pilot and wanted to follow us and basically get free passage.
The pilot wasn’t cheap but worth every penny. Our pilot told us to hang back and make them go ahead as he can’t be responsible for us and 6 other boats.
We got out onto the Severn and it was so calm it was almost a little disappointing! The narrow boats were ahead but had already told us that they would go so slowly we would have to overtake them. With it being so calm you could pretty much be at a standstill you wanted. I thought seeing as it’s not rough and I’m not needing to hold on I may as well do something useful. I put 4 loads of washing on to make the most of engine being at full pelt!!
So in the end they followed us all the way into Portishead where we stopped over for 4 hours to wait for the tide to turn. Again they followed us out of portished and into Avonmouth. Now this is the bit where we don’t have a pilot so we did feel responsible for the 6 narrow boats snaking behind us.
We left Portishead lock and we were confronted with a ship!! We just hung back and got well out of the way. A bit of a shock when the lock opened and there it was!
Again the Severn was calm. It was beautiful as the sun was setting.
We got close to Bristol lock and just as at Gloucester the tide wants to take you round to the right but the lock is on the left. We kept left and glided in beautifully. We tied up and watched what I can only describe as chaos unfold before our eyes.The first narrow boat had kept left but not quite as much as us.
They got in the lock ok but each one that followed drifted further right until number 5 missed the lock altogether!! Luckily the weir is some way from the lock and somehow they managed to turn the boat and fight the tide to get back into the lock. It did take about 15 minutes and we couldn’t see them so we had no idea if they would be back!!
Boat 6 saw there mistake and managed to correct the problem but came into the lock at a very jaunty angle!! Once they were all in the lock it took forever for them to tie up. It was getting dark.
Finally we came up the lock and into Bristols floating harbour. We moored up and went straight to the pub!! We had been on the go for 12 hours and we were knackered!
We spent another few days in Bristol but reality was looming and we had to get back onto the Kennet and Avon for work.
By now it was almost 4 months since we had left the K&A. Part of us was looking forward to familiar sites and faces but we knew we would find it hard to settle back into work.
Up the river Avon and onto the K&A. We went up the first 2 locks including Bath deep lock no problem. Lock number 3………………..we ran aground!!!!! All we could think was Welcome back!!!!!
We were instantly reminded what hard work the K&A is. We had already decided that come spring 2012 we would be off again probably to London…………….!!!!!
So now, finally we are all up to date with last years antics! We spent the rest of the winter on our old patch doing what we do best wondering what spring will bring. Little did we know we would be offered a place in the Queens diamond jubilee Thames flotilla AND get an Olympic trade mooring for 6 weeks!!!!!
So that is where we are at. In 3 weeks we going in for Blacking. We’ll sell the car and make our way to London.
Watch this space!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
27th April 2011
Portishead to Sharpness.
I have to say it was still pretty windy but we felt ok(ish) with having Rick with us.
So we headed out of Portishead lock and into the estuary. We felt very small. We are so used to being a 12′ wide beam on the inland waterways and feeling quite large!! We seem to be getting smaller and smaller!!
So Bella is strapped on oblivious to what is about to happen. We left the safety of the pier and the waves hit us again straight away. I braced myself for a very rough crossing. It didn’t disappoint. Rick chose this moment to say “these conditions are borderline but if we don’t go today you could be waiting in Portishead for a week or so” Now, I’m grateful to Rick for saving us the £35 a night mooring fee but part of me wanted to turn around and go back! Not an option. Rick swiftly followed this up with ” I haven’t had a crossing this rough in a canal boat for about a year” Great!! So we thought well let’s just try to enjoy this experience. Cup of tea anyone? Trying to drink a cup of tea was very funny. You would go to take a drink and the wind would blow the tea out the cup and all over your face!!
We were still travelling with ‘Mystic Bliss’ It was so nice to have another boat to share it with and take photo’s of each other, now we have some fantastic photo’s of Blackjack passing under the Severn bridge which we not have if we had gone alone.
Actually once you got used to the movement of the boat it was ok.
The worst thing was going inside to make the tea and hearing the boat creaking and thinking I do hope the welding holds out. It was only built for the inland waterways after all.
In no time at all we were coming up to the Severn bridge. We must have been enjoying ourselves!!
Going under the Severn bridge was fantastic. We really felt like we had achieved something.
Raga and John some great pictures of Blackjack. So grateful to have them with us to capture this.
The best souvenir we could have. Give us a wave Mike!
Sharpness lock was even bigger than Portishead.
A couple of large road swing bridges later we were onto the Gloucester and Sharpness canal. Beautiful.
As much as we all enjoyed the experience we were happy to set foot on land. Bella was enjoying the sun as soon as we moored up.
After a glass of bubbly we set off on foot to have an explore.
We could see where we had come from and we couldn’t quite believe it. Seeing the Severn bridge in the distance put it into perspective.
This is where we would be spending the next couple of months while Mike worked on the wide beam fit out. It was going to be nice place to spend the first half of the summer. The second half we planned to travel the length of the River Severn and the River Avon as far as we could on a wide beam. Now……….to work.
26th April 2011.
After waiting a few days for the wind to calm we were eventually on our way from the safety of Bristol lock, along to Avonmouth, out into the Severn estuary and onto Portishead for an overnight stop to wait for the tide to turn and to pick up our pilot!! We had stowed everything away and were feeling nervous but excited!!
Heading down to Avonmouth was lovely. The sun was out. It was still a little breezy but the river was so calm.
We passed under Clifton suspension bridge and we were well on our way when we passed a cruiser that was going into the lock and it was our friend Sally!!! She shouted across “I’m surprised to see you out, has the pilot said to go?” We were all smiles. ” yes, we are meeting him at Portishead in the morning” Sally did look a little concerned…….”You do know it’s a 4 foot swell out there don’t you?” Ummmmm……..no! By this time the boats had passed each other and we were left heading out the estuary knowing it was going to be a bit rough!! We thought surely it can’t really be that bad as the pilot has said to go. He wouldn’t make us go knowing we have no previous experience. Would he?! A deep breath and we pushed on.
We were nearing Avonmouth where the Avon joins the Severn. We could see the end of the harbour wall, the Avon went from flat calm to white horses as it broke free into the estuary. This was it!! As soon as we hit the estuary we were being pushed and pulled in every direction. The waves were coming over the back deck and over the bow.
This was going to be a long 20 minutes to Portishead. I turned to see how the narrow boat that was following us was bearing up. I almost wish I hadn’t. They looked as if they were rolling even further over than we were. We could see roughly where we were headed for.
Well, really all we could see was the end of the land, we had to stay to the left because if we went to far right we would end up the Bristol channel. We were definitely not ready for that!! We rang Portishead lock and were told to cruise up as far as the pier so we could get out of the tide and the swell and wait for the lock to be prepared. Trying to keep a canal boat still on the sea is much easier said than done!
We kept our eye out for the green light to enter the lock. It seemed to take forever. Finally we were heading into the safety of Portishead lock. We would be spending the night here and picking our pilot up the morning for the largest section of our journey so far. I think that our dog Bella was the bravest of us all! She was harnessed in and just sat on her bed out on the back deck!
We did feel a little out of place amongst all the sailing boats and cruisers!
We went and found a restaurant and had a large glass of wine. We would catch up with Raga and John in the morning. We were pretty exhausted we felt like we had crossed an ocean!!! We were trying not to think about tomorrows journey. At least we were hoping it would not be so rough. Today was only 20 minutes. Tomorrow it would be about 3 hours!
Part 3 will tell you about our journey up the estuary, into Sharpness docks and onto the Gloucester and Sharpness shipping canal.
Some of you will know parts of this story. For others it is a journey from Bath to Stratford-on-Avon via the Severn estuary!!
After spending 3 years on the Kennet and Avon canal we decided it was about time we took off and saw more of the Inland waterways. We always thought we would venture to London before anywhere else but fate took us to Gloucester! Mike had uttered the words “We ought to do the Gloucester and Sharpness canal seeing as we are this side of the country”. That meant heading under the Severn bridge and up to Sharpness. I wasn’t convinced. About a week later Mike received a phone call form a boater who had bought a wide beam shell and was based on the Gloucester and Sharpness!!!! The owner wanted Mike to fit out his boat and it seemed silly to drive up every day…..yup you guessed it. It was time to start getting organised, we were going to take our boat up the Severn estuary! I had never believed in fate until the day we found Blackjack. She has this knack of making things happen in our lives.
The furthest west we had been until this point was to Bath just above the deep lock as this is the last place to wind (turn the boat around) before you hit the River Avon. We had never ventured onto the Avon as it was always in flood when we moored in Bath! So on April 18th we headed into Bath from Bradford on Avon. A cruise that can take 3-4 hours. Today it took 7! It was the start of the Easter holidays and there were hire boats everywhere and a distinct lack of water. April 19th we ventured into unknown waters and into Bath deep lock. It was a balmy 22 degrees. We had our first taste of the River Avon and it didn’t disappoint. So wide and relaxing compared to the Kennet and Avon canal. We moored up to some trees at the edge of a meadow and opened a bottle of white. Bliss. Our dog Bella was enjoying it as much as we were.
We spent a lovely couple of days on the river and then headed into Bristol. Mike was on his way to work after all!!! We saw lots of Kingfishers, cormorants and Blackjack had her first experience with tidal waters. We were travelling into Bristol on a spring tide and it had come up as far as Hanham. We arrived in Bristol after having to wait for the tide and we were told to moor anywhere as the floating harbour was at capacity as it was Easter. We found a perfect spot right next to the Cider boat. What a fantastic place!
We spent a week in the floating harbour. It was absolutely wonderful. The sun blazed down but the wind was fairly strong still. We were waiting for the go ahead from our pilot to make the journey from Bristol to Portishead. While we waited we met a lovely couple who were also making the journey up the estuary. We thought how nice to be with another boat. Turned out none of us had done this before!! We made the most of our week and had friends to stay, sun bathed on the roof, BBQ’s on the back deck and watched the world go by. Work would have to wait!!
Part 2 coming soon. Bristol – Portishead – Sharpness.
In 2007 Mike and I became the proud owners of a wide beam canal boat. She was a 9 month old shell, still in red oxide and had already been neglected by her previous owner. The owner said he had already purchased all the exterior paint but had never quite got around to doing it!! We asked “what colour”? “Black” he responded. So we thought, we can live with a black boat and so came about the name Blackjack. It is a shame that the previous owner seemed to have a habit of not quite telling the truth. After searching through all the rubbish he left behind on the boat we could not find a single tin of black paint……..Nonetheless the name stayed and off we went to buy black paint!
In September of that year we took 6 days to cruise from her mooring in Reading and bought her ‘home’ to Bradford on Avon where we ‘camped’ on board with basic facilities while we set about building the inside.
Mike was made redundant in 2008 and became a full time marine electrician. This was a blessing in disguise as it meant we could really get on with finishing our boat. This is the year The Floating Salon was born. All of my lovely loyal clients would come and find us come rain or shine and seemed to love every minute of it!!
Jump forward to 2011 and both of our canal based businesses are thriving. Considering we are going through a recession, not bad we thought!! We had spent 3 years on a 20 mile stretch of the Kennet and Avon canal that ran from Bath to Devizes. We were getting ready for our first big adventure…………………………………………………………….
Hello, this is the blog for Blackjack. Keep up to date with our travels and our upcoming adventure later this year. Sign up for email alerts when a new blog is posted.
Bye for now