Barging up the River Thames DAY ONE: BARKING TO GRAVESEND

Well that was quite the cliff hanger, wasn’t it?! 

I would say I’m sorry, but I’ve been enjoying every moment with the Bun and it’s been heavenly, so… 
Casting my mind back with a wrench to those halcyon days of summer, and the 1st July which was if you remember, the hottest day of the year. 

  
Because Life is a little tinker who never misses an opportunity to make a point, not only did she introduce us to one of our favourite new families of 2015 two months before we left Barking; but they turned up to wave us off bringing The World’s Best pastel de nata from a glorious little Portuguese cafe around the corner that we never knew existed. Still, the cakes were nice.

  

After an ever-so-slightly anxious moment leaving Fresh Wharf where we cast off before the tide was high enough to open the barrier and had to hover midstream against a minor current until the gates parted (don’t know if you’ve ever tried to do that but it’s almost impossible), we were off. 

   

  
    
 
  
 
   

  

  

  

            
I couldn’t quite believe it, to be honest.

 There was an amazing moment of stillness as we meandered down Barking Creek through slack water towards the Thames, basking in the sun as we left the industrial estates, scrap yards and sewage works behind us and all those niggling little weights that had accumulated over the past two years slipped gently one by one from my shoulders and plopped into the water.  It was a glorious feeling to be under way – in our very own boat, heading for an incredible mooring, on such a beautiful day, with two fantastic days of boating on the finest river in the world ahead of us. I’m sorry if that reads as smug – it’s not intended. We couldn’t believe our luck. 

On board were: 

– Us and the Bun

– My mum (who’s been with us all the way since that first trip to Holland and wasn’t going to miss this for anything)

– Our skipper Edward and his wife Pamela, and their friend and engineer Carlo

– Our good friends and longtime partners-in-mischief Tom and Sophie joined us for day 2

         
 

We turned left at the Thames and headed out into the estuary and the commercial reach of the river. My god but it’s wide. Obviously – but you don’t often get to see it from the middle like that… And bumpy! 
The Bun wasn’t phased however – she proved her mettle as a true-born boat baby and slept solidly all the way down to Gravesend. 

         

 

After two peaceful, uneventful and wholly satisfying hours, it felt as if Gravesend came upon us rather quickly.  But there we were, and as we all cooed and marvelled at the swans (“Swans! Loads of them! In the sea!”), our skipper expertly manoeuvred us into the place he’d reserved on the pontoon at the end of the pier as the last of the tide ebbed away, and we gathered ourselves to go to the pub. 

 
  
 

Except it wasn’t the right pier. 
It looked a bit grubby and neglected  I grant you, but we only really started to smell a rat when there appeared to be no way off the pier except by pre-approved vandalism (is vandalism still vandalism if you’re given permission?)

 
  

Sure enough, it soon transpired that the PLA pier was the next one upstream, and we were going to have to try and get ourselves off our now distinctly shallow berth and onto the right one. Which in its favour had a very nice-looking pub easily accessible just at the top of it. 
In our excitement we had failed to realise the following useful fact:  to contact the PLA whilst navigating the Thames, use call sign LONDON VTS and vhf channel 14 (West of Crayfordness) OR vhf channel 68 (East of Crayfordness). All that time we’d been patting ourselves on the back on the wrong pier, they had been trying to reach us on VHF68 to no avail… Awkward.
To cut a long story short, it culminated not only in a snapped jackstaff and the PLA having to rescue us with a very powerful tug, but further in a sternly worded letter of reprimand which we received just last week (I take some small consolation in the knowledge that the PLA are evidently as inefficient at admin as I am). The nice harbourmaster did give us a useful map though which is now stuck to the bathroom wall for us to memorise while we’re brushing our teeth:

 

So. Live and learn. Duly chastened, we did eventually make it off the pier and into the pub, before bunking down ahead of our Big Day still to come. Hopefully I’ll get to that bit a bit faster, because it was genuinely EPIC. 

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