Man Overboard

In stark contrast to my last post about the hottest days of last summer, it’s currently the coldest it’s been all winter. Which admittedly isn’t saying much, but putting it into context, it’s now 7.40am and 0 degrees (“feels like -4”).
Imagine then my shock, when I nipped out onto the pontoon at 6pm last night to turn the water off to hear a quiet, “help” from the river.  I barely heard it but I peered into the icy gloom and was horrified to spot an upturned scull (thank god it was white) with a woman holding on for grim life as the tide whisked her out towards the sea. Man, that river can move. 

To be honest, I didn’t know what to do for a second – I was so surprised. It was FREEZING. It was a seriously serious situation. I yelled down the pontoon to the guys who thankfully were still on the marina working on the black water pump/tank installation, who stationed themselves on the outside of boats further downstream to try to catch her. 
The life ring at our end was tied on against the wind – “textbook fail”, I thought – it was like being in a thriller – but fortunately it was just hitched and I got it to the first guy on Volharding before she went past. We missed. 
The next guy was already on Seahorse waiting, so a couple of us grabbed another ring and ran down to the very stern, shouting for an ambulance and to call ahead to Kew Pier in case we missed her again. Thankfully Stuart caught her from his position on Seahorse and pulled her onto the roof. 

She only had one oar – we later learned the other had snapped up by Brentford lock and she had been stuck in her boat caught in branches for half an hour as the sun went down before something gave (tide or branch) and released her, and she tipped over into the river and started moving – we estimated she must have been in the river for half an hour or so. Fortunately she is 17 and super fit, and pragmatic enough to keep her head and as much of her body out of the water as she could, holding onto her upturned boat. She didn’t even get her hair wet!  I was humbled by her dignity – she very nearly died. 
We quickly decided our boat was the warmest and helped her back up along the pontoon and inside Maria Elisabeth. Thank god our friend J was here and doing a sterling job entertaining Sadie, who by this point should have been in her bath and on her way to bed but instead was still in her highchair eating blueberries and yoghurt and giggling. 
Meg was shivering so hard she could barely speak, but she knew what she was about and knew her mum’s mobile which we called as we got her out of her icy things and into dry warm clothes, made her hottie bottles and hot sweet tea, and installed her as close to the open door of the fire as we could without singeing her. 
Her coach arrived – the poor guy had been scouring the river trying to find her since he’d seen her boat was missing from the clubhouse, and finally found it empty on our mooring and thought the worst. He must have gone past her a couple of times in the dark which is a scary thought. Her mum had called him, demonstrating the value of a crisis comms plan (as my BBC days drummed into me!)
The RNLI arrived, who were as great as ever. She warmed up, the club’s safety officer turned up. The Bun’s bath was cancelled. 
It was all incredibly dramatic, and not in a fun way: once everyone had finally gone their ways and I’d got the Bun to bed, I acknowledged my headache and descended into a migraine. I haven’t had one since the junior doctor tried to make me go cold turkey on the dihydrocodene in hospital when I had Sadie: Not. Good.  
I have no photos – obviously, but a pity for you as it was v dramatic – so you are dependent on my powers of description. Go crazy. I’ve been up since 4am so I’m going back to bed. 

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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. 

Catastrophe

As you know, I have a six month old baby. She is the best Bun in the world – she sleeps like a dream, she eats like a horse, she beams at everyone she comes across but especially at me: she’s great. I do have the odd moment of feeling completely knackered and ever so slightly over it, but by and large my life feels pretty perfect these days – I am actually Living the Dream and I think I might be the happiest I have ever been. 

So imagine my regret when I recently started to feel the odd twinge of nausea. 

Then I felt a bit dizzy. I had a bit of a headache. Over the course of a few days and a few more symptoms, I realised I might have a Situation. Hmmm.

The first pregnancy test was negative. I weighed the fact that it was impossible to tell whether I definitely had several other symptoms as they are also symptoms of / absent during breastfeeding (sore breasts, missed period, sore back), so I waited a week while the nausea and dizziness persisted and the Owl suffered a bout of my ill-humour, and did another one. 

Still negative. Hmmm. 

I reviewed the facts and checked my calendar. It started about three weeks ago. My main symptoms are occasional waves of nausea and dizziness. 

The dates coincide with our move up the Thames to our new mooring. It’s a busy stretch of the river, and fully tidal – I’ve really enjoyed spending so much time on board watching all the activity and being rocked about by the wind and the wake of the bigger boats going by, and by our own boat as she bottoms out twice a day. 

I have a mild case of sea sickness. 

Ha! 

A new-ish Alternator and Slippery Crew

After the crushing disappointment of Sunday, this has been the longest week I can remember.  The Owl has been working hell for leather to get the engine part we needed in time to leave Barking on Monday, when our skipper and crew have said they’re next free. 
It turns out our lovely Volvo Penta engine is not as doddery as initially suspected – thankfully the ‘dodgy’ fuel pump is in fact fine, it was just an air lock.  After two hours of expert tinkering on Sunday night by our friend T and engine man P however, the alternator was still screwed: putting out waaaay too much voltage.  Something needed doing.  To be fair, it is over 30 years old.  
As such, they don’t make them like they used to, so Plan B of getting it reconditioned wasn’t going to work out as the parts were likely to be so hard to get hold of, so back to Plan A we went to find a replacement. 

By Tuesday, the Owl had found a knowledgeable man called Steve from London Essex Auto Electrics who had another more recent Penta alternator that would probably do. 

By Thursday night, he’d been to Steve’s (armed with photos of all the connections to make sure the new one would fit and he’d know how to reconnect it), swapped the alternators, and run the engine for the requisite 2 hours without stalling. What a hero – we were ready to go, two days early. 

Here is what success looked like from the outside: 

  
And from the inside: 

Sadly our jubilation was short lived – precisely two hours in fact – before we checked our email to discover that our skipper had decided he could not now afford us 24 hours on Monday/ Tuesday after all.  He might be able to manage Friday… Or maybe (we’re away on Friday) mid July…?
I deleted the email quickly to prevent myself from causing an unfortunate occurrence.  First thing Friday morning we started looking for a new skipper. 
We have now found a skipper who will not only get us where we need to go when we need to get there, but will also teach us how to drive her so that we don’t find ourselves in this pickle again. All we need then is a VHF radio and license, and we’ll be golden.  Maybe being let down (twice) by our original crew is no bad thing in the end…  

#keeponlookingforthesilverlining

Bye bye, Barking

And we’re off! In approximately 2 hours, aiming to document our progress as we go on Instagram, if anyone is interested: @minkypink.
But first, a word on Barking, our home for the last 2 years, before we leave it behind forever.  (Dumper’s remorse? Maybe).

If we had the money, we’d buy a place in Barking. Somewhere nice near the river to rent out and hold onto until we decide to retire and live either off it or in it. In a few years’ time, my bet is that Barking is going to be smoking hot property – Dalston East, if you will. They’re thinking Big, and all those stupid Fresh Wharf shenanigans aside, I kind of love it.   It’s got a fantastic sense of community, and aspirations in the creative industries that I wish I could be a part of.   

A few things I appreciate, in no particular order: 

– the crazy-good history! Barking Abbey was built in the 10th century by Saint Erkenwald for his sister Saint Ethelburga (evidently a family of high achievers). It was so rich and beautiful that William the Conqueror couldn’t shoot Harold’s eye out fast enough, so keen was he to move in and made all the kings of England eat humble pie off the nuns’ flagstones.

– Captain Cook got married in St Margaret’s church.  Fact. 

 

– The new Abbey Leisure Centre’s soft play area The Idol received £100,000 Arts Council funding (of an annual £0.5million Barking/ Arts Council pot) and was designed by Turner prize nominee Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. 

Admittedly it’s all black, but conceptually it’s great. And apparently the black is to create a sense of danger, which is rare in council soft play areas, so I applaud it. 

Also it was designed by a Turner prize nominee, which is super cool and inspiring, so who cares.  

– The Granary development right opposite our boat is positioning itself at the heart of a new “artistic quarter” which if the existing building is anything to go by will be really quite beautiful. Especially once someone gets around to sorting our poor, neglected river out. (Don’t all leap up at once – rumour has it that Ilford Film used to dump all their processing waste into the river, so the silt is full of nasties. If true, no self-respecting dredging company will want to touch it with a barge pole. This is hearsay incidentally, so hopefully  it’s not true. , because this river area deserves to be bloody lovely one of these days.

  The Ice House/ Granary development, from the road 

  And from our roof (riverside) when we first arrived in 2013, before they filled in all the blue with tower blocks  

  
  
 The turning pool at Town Quay; in need of a good dredging 


– The scraggy Fresh Wharf industrial estate that overlooks us has already been contracted to developers. I haven’t seen the plans but it can’t possibly be worse than it is already. And frankly the sooner the owners hand it over and the mooring residents can try to build a cordial new neighbourly relationship not riven with petty arguments and historical resentment, the better. (See: the arrival of Concrete Singh below). 

  Our next door plot two weeks ago

   

 Our next door plot now
– Barking has an arboretum! A proper one, with loads of different trees in it. It’s lush. Also next to it the Creative Square outside the beautiful Town Hall puts on occasional light shows and concerts. In two weeks there’s a Folk Festival with Dagenham son Billy Bragg headlining. 

  
   The arboretum

  Random ‘fake ruin’ art installation by the Town Hall   

  Barking Town Hall

   Creative Barking & Dagenham


– There are a couple of great little cafes, notably: 
1) EzO Bistro within the Barking station concourse, open since summer last year and lined with second hand books and original art. They serve great fresh coffee, crepes and sandwiches. The Owl gets his second caffeine hit there every morning (they remember how he takes it) and the owners work their butts off to make it a genuinely nice place to spend time, which if you’ve seen Barking station is something of an accomplishment. 

   
     

2) Relish, the council run community cafe in the Barking Learning Centre (home to the library, the Barking Bath House and a gallery, amongst others). The food comes in abundant portions and is really very good. The Bun and I take ourselves out for lunch there at any excuse really… Which is easy as the GP is right opposite and our Children’s Centre is just over the road. 

  

– the Gascoigne Childrens Centre is deservedly OFSTED rated Outstanding. I’m really going to miss it.
– they have sex ed posters like this hanging from the lampposts: 

  (This makes me giggle like a teenager every time I pass by)


– the Queen is coming to visit next month. Apparently it’s the 50th anniversary of the borough but whatever – THE QUEEN! I love the Queen.

 

– Finally: the transport infrastructure is really good. The C2C, the Overground and two underground lines run from Barking station so you can be at Kings Cross in half an hour. Not bad for zone 4…

So things are Happening in Barking. I like it.  And in a way – family proximity and a beautiful stretch of river notwithstanding – it’s more “us” than Kew is (which has a Society specifically dedicated to making sure NOTHING EVER CHANGES).

But we have no investment in the area; even once the development is completed (assuming there are any boats left), the mooring fees will just go up in line with the improved local area and facilities…  All hope lies with a few brave boaters and their community mooring aspirations.

In the meantime, the situation at Fresh Wharf is as precarious and frustrating as ever.  The latest word is that mooring licenses won’t be renewed after October, and in our immediate area, living conditions are actually worse since PMC Soil Solutions packed up all their lorries and left.  The estate managers in their eternal social compassion and wisdom moved the friendly but very noisy and excessively hardworking Concrete Singh into the plot next door.  (highlights so far have included clouds of cement dust billowing over our decks and through our portholes, and all-day Sundays and 10pm week night finishes, bless their grubby cotton socks.)

All in all we’re over it, and we’re off. We’ve met some truly lovely people who we hope we’ll see again, and we wish the best of luck and fair winds to all the friends and acquaintances who are staying on to fight another day.  If they can stay the course and emerge triumphant, it will be so worth it – Barking Riverside is truly a diamond in the rough. 

So, with a song in our hearts and smiles on our faces, we wave goodbye and turn our backs on Barking, heading south through the barrage and down the River Roding, to sail up through London Town and into the sunset. 
It’s the summer solstice, so with any luck it’ll be a good one. 

Moving the Barge from Cuxton to Barking

The irony was not lost on us when we realised, a little over two weeks ago, that having regrettably alienated many of our friends and family during months and months of fastidious effort to keep our diaries clear for The Move, the date we ended up with turned out to coincide with the only exception we’d allowed ourselves: tickets to see the hottest show in town this year, The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theatre (if you haven’t seen it, book tickets and go immediately).

So Monday last week was always going to be a bit of a hoo-ha, but there was nothing to be done; we packed our overnight kit and sleeping bags on Sunday night, took them to work on Monday, fell out over the time I took to arrange a cool bag and ice packs at work for our picnic, cutting it excitingly close to get to the theatre in time and check all our clobber into the cloakroom – INTERMISSION while we howled our socks off for 2.5 hours – then we pegged it out of the theatre astonishingly early enough to catch the 10.25pm HS1 train from St Pancras International, on which we had a much-needed but still-slightly-grumpy sandwich from the Picnic Box of Contention before arriving at Strood at 11 and jumping in a pre-booked taxi to Cuxton where we were met by R at approximately 11.10pm and invited to rest our heads for a couple of hours before preparing for departure at high tide, around 2am.

We made it! so this, then, was strictly-speaking our first ‘night’ on board. Albeit just 2.5 hours long.

At 2am I bounced out of bed (yes, really) to be greeted with a hot cup of sweet black tea by our crew for the trip: R (our broker) and P (his friend and colleague who had been the crew coming from Holland and also the key holder and general source of all knowledge all those times we hauled ass to Kent in the past few weeks.) Between them they have decades of experience and vast volumes of knowledge on all things boat, so we were in good hands.

At 3am, we cast off. P did the first hour at the wheel to get us over and around the worst of the Medway’s mudbanks, and then the Owl took over, like this:

20130717-193734.jpgCool, huh? Admittedly Sheerness Power Station helped with the drama… Although I maintain most things look dramatic at dawn, especially when you’ve only had 2.5 hours’ sleep and a poxy sandwich the night before. Here is a wonky Sheerness landscape:

20130717-194027.jpgAnd here is us in the middle of it as the Sun Also Rises:

20130717-194441.jpg (Incidentally, I spent much of the trip finishing a fictional autobiography of Zelda Fitzgerald which had Ernest Hemingway down as a heinous, manipulative and misogynistic egotist. Somewhat ruins his writing for me, if true…) anyway, here’s a fast-forward to me reading it:

20130717-204132.jpgThose of you who made it all the way through my post on the Shipping Forecast a few weeks ago may remember a penchant for buoy names. This one’s is no exception – in fact I liked it so much, I’m considering promoting it to my new favourite insult:

20130717-211006.jpgAnd just for the hell of it, here’s another one. Can’t remember what the down arrows mean, but no doubt it’s very nautical and interesting.

20130717-230350.jpgI should mention that at some point between the Sun Also Rising and my tryst with Zelda, I hit a wall and went to lie down for a bit (ok: about 4 hours) which means I ‘felt’ rather than ‘saw’ the only real bit of sea proper we dealt with between the Medway estuary and the Thames. It was still fun though, rolling about with the big waves all wrapped up and dozy in my new cabin. By the time I woke up, the Owl had also succumbed and was snoring gently next to me; the sun was up, and the water looked just as big and brown as it had earlier.
More industrial buildings…

20130718-094213.jpg Lots of ships both big and small:

20130718-100108.jpg Hello, Gravesend. (It’s actually rather pretty, I rather liked Gravesend. Sadly on retrospect however I don’t think this is a picture of it… It’s too far away to tell)

20130718-100246.jpgHello London International Cruise Ship Terminal, you dilapidated monster of embarrassment, you:

20130718-100523.jpgHello, container ship.

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20130722-183953.jpgHALLO, CITY OF LONDON!

20130722-184626.jpgAt this point we realised we were actually going to be early (which felt kind of amazing given how achingly slowly we’d been going for the best part of 12 hours – we’d even slowed down at one point. That’s the magic of tides for you). We stopped on a chunky yellow mooring buoy in the middle of the Thames and tried to think up all the questions we might want to ask the experts after they’d departed, and then about 45minutes later we set off again, into the jaws of this bad boy:

20130722-191112.jpgThe Roding Flood Barrier. A bit like passing under a guillotine, though of course we’re not in France which was some consolation.

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20130722-191558.jpgAnd then we were on the home straight – the view back was like this:

20130722-192814.jpgand this lay ahead:

20130722-192957.jpgjust kidding. That was on the east bank, along with loads more industrial sites. The river ahead looked like this:

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20130722-213021.jpgActually there was the most horrendous stench around about now which I later realised was an enormous – and I mean ENORMOUS – sewage plant on the west bank (to port, if you will). So mostly we stuck with the industrial view and tried not to imagine we were entering the Bog of Eternal Stench…

20130722-213150.jpgAfter a few more bends…

20130722-213319.jpg

20130722-214302.jpg…and under the A13 (this is evidently NOT the QE2 Bridge as originally stated which looks like this . Not sure where that red herring came from to be honest, but in case you’re interested: the QEII bridge is  apparently the only bit of the M25 that’s not actually the M25 because it’s privately owned and thereby gets demoted back to an A-road for those few metres)

20130722-214413.jpg… we found ourselves approaching The Barking Barrage…

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And lo! The ode to Mondrian which marks our corner…20130722-221538.jpg

And then here we have ourselves a barrage. Kind of like a lock, but with only one set of doors, a special little dude from the council to open them, no gates, and a weir to the left. Sorry: PORT. And we’re going in… 20130722-221723.jpg

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This is what high tide looks like when it hasn’t rained for a while: 20130722-222159.jpg

And suddenly here we were, waving to the first of our neighbours like we were the Spirit of Chartwell, only a bit less damp…20130722-222340.jpg

this likely looking gap has had our name on it since May, so we just needed to get down the end, turn around and come back, past all our new neighbours, watching to see how we did. Which wasn’t intimidating at all.20130722-222425.jpg

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so basically they’re amazing: a more colourful motley crew of piratical, remade fantastical floating inventions I’ve never seen. Together they look like how you might imagine the cast of the Wacky Races on a boating holiday… Although up close they all make perfect, if sometimes slighty eccentric, sense. For a second, I felt slightly boring with our trad, safe Luxemotor… And then we moored up in our final spot and our eyes rested for the first time on the view. We have a folly! And a timely reminder to know your limitations. This will do us very nicely for now, thanks. Hello Fresh Wharf, thank you for having us. We’re very happy to be here.
And I am unspeakably pleased to have finally finished this interminable post. 20130722-222829.jpg