Happy New Year all.
Anticus has been moored in the centre of Bruges since we came across the Channel in October. We are in a lovely Yachthaven (yacht club) in Flandria close to the railway station and 5 minutes walk from the city centre.
Bruges takes Xmas seriously and the size of their Xmas markets testifies to this. The yacht club was not to be outdone, and our monthly visits to check on Anticus have coincided with many of their celebrations. From the lights switch-on at the beginning of December, to the arrival of St Nicholas and his helpers a couple of weeks later, and on to the New Year lunch on the 12th Jan.
Over the next few weeks we will be bringing Anticus slowly out of hibernation and warming up her vitals ready for casting off from Flandria at the beginning of April. Before that, though, I’ll get out with the camera and get a few pictures of this fabulous city to share with you all.
In the meantime, we now have our own Facebook page just search “Barge Anticus” and you should find us.
See you next time!
Whilst sat in rural France I’ve just collated a few facts from out time on the non-tidal Thames, from launch in June 2018 to passing through Teddington Lock at 7am on 2 October 2019 :
Total number of locks passed through 186
Total hours sailed 203.1
Total miles travelled 637
Average speed 3.1mph
Total fuel used 1,385 litres. Around 250 litres used heating the boat through winter.
Average fuel consumption 1.8 miles per litre 5.7 litres per hour.
New friends made – too many to count.
Beer and wine drunk – too many to remember.
Well if truth be told not quite a life time and not quite an ocean! From Queenborough to Calais took 2 minutes short of eight hours, 4 of which were spent crossing the English Channel shipping lanes at as near to 90degrees as we could manage. Apparently anything less direct would ensure the wrath of the authorities, and confuse the skippers of the HUGE boats that were travelling east to west and west to east. Surprisingly the large boats were few and far between. I reckon we saw about 8 in the Channel and only got close (0.5 mile) to a couple of them.
The crossing was more challenging in the weeks leading up to it than it was actually piloting Anticus across. I seemed to have checked and re-checked the weather ever hour (at least) trying to find a weather window that would allow us across. Anticus is built to operate and insured to use in winds of up to 13mph (force 4 on the Beaufort scale). Not only this but as autumn is fast approaching then we have to consider daylight hours – and therefore not fighting against the tide too much. This gives us a couple of tidal opportunities each month where we hope the wind is blowing fair.
When we rounded Ramsgate on the north east corner of Kent the wind freshened slightly and the waves increased with the odd white horses across our path. So started four hours of rocking and rolling – I’ve not done that since a youth club disco in 1976 !
The dotted line show our route
Anyway, in Calais we duly arrived, moored in the inner harbour next to the ferry terminal and eventually moved through a lock onto the Canal de Calais, where I was to wait for a couple of days for Nicola to come over. She was braving the wilds of the high seas on a P&O ferry !!
Finally I must here give out some thanks. To David Piper for his superb nautical skills and his unfailing acceptance of all the responsibilities of Admiral, and also for his great company over the two nights and a day he was lodging in the Master Cabin. Also to Mark my brother-in-law who kept the tea brewing, a weather eye out for waves and ships and accepted his fate by kipping in the wheelhouse. Praise is also due to Simon and Andrea Piper and all the lads and lassies of Piper Boats in Biddulph who have produced a vessel that has not only met but exceeded our expectations, and, if only briefly, gave me a taste of life on the open waves.
As I posted some of the pictures of our journey down the Thames, I was thinking that some of you may be contemplating making your own passage to the continent. So here is an insight into the planning, preparation and procedures that we went through to get Anticus safely down to Queenborough. Bearing in mind this was my first time on the tidal Thames and I couldn’t find an ‘idiots guide’ on how to survive the trip! There was a huge amount of advice gleaned from the members and the site itself of the Barge Association and also from all my friends who make up the Piper family.
Last month, at the Piper Show at Henley, I had Josh, one of Piper’s engineers, check the boat over, especially the engine. This is particularly important when taking a single engined barge into the Thames estuary and onwards across the Channel. It probably goes without saying that everything needs to be ship shape and Bristol fashion when you don’t have a secondary form of propulsion.
I have old-fashioned paper charts and electronic charts (Navionics) on Anticus, available to view on the Simrad chart plotter. a laptop and an iPad. I have found the the Simrad is very clunky using Navionics, especially zooming in and out and finding details quickly. However on my iPad and laptop works superbly. The iPad also gives me an option to overlay the chart onto Google Earth, this proved very useful. During the trip I had the laptop showing an overview of the route and the iPad showing a more detailed view with my heading showing as a line drawn from the front of the boats position. This was especially useful navigating from buoy to buoy in the estuary.
iPad Navionics view – red arrow is Anticus, red and green objects are navigational buoys and aids
The first thing when planning the passage was to find a suitable tide at a suitable time of day to get us to Queenborough without having to spend too much time struggling against the tide (punching the tide, as it is know in nautical circles). This is especially important in spring or Autumn when daylight hours are shorter. I takes around 10 hours from Teddington Lock to Queenborough Harborough and there was only 11 1/2 hours of daylight on the day we planned.
And so it saw a 5.30 alarm call to get ready to sail at high tide from Teddington at daybreak. This would hopefully mean not too much slow going after we passed Dartford. As you will read later – it nearly worked!
Dawn breaking as we exit Teddington Lock.
When we have cruised on the Thames during the summer we have travelled at about 4mph for around two to three hours before relaxing for the day. Travelling with the tide down the Thames past the House of Parliament and the London Eye we were reaching the heady speeds of 8 – 10mph even with the engine just above tickover. Advice given to us before hand was to make as much time up as you can when travelling with the tide. We didn’t quite do that, keeping our revs down and enjoying the experience of piloting our boat through the heart of one of the greatest cities on Earth. Fantastic.
There was a little heavy mist / light fog before we reached Hammersmith Bridge which we got to at a perfect tide height to pass under with a couple of feet to spare. On spring high tides this can be a bit tight for a boat of our air draft (2.85m). This was another aspect to bear in mind on our passage plan.
After Hammersmith we were expecting to encounter a lot more river traffic and were a little nervous of the high speed catamarans that work as taxis on the river. Below Tower Bridge they can let the beasts growl and speed along at more than 20 knots. As luck would have it, we only saw 4 of these Goliaths and they slowed down as we were passed. something that we weren’t expecting but were very grateful for.
After passing Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast, flanked by a couple of super yachts (one with a helicopter on board) our next agenda item was to contact Thames Barrier to ask for passage through. We rang from Tower Bridge and were told to radio them as we got the barrier in sight. This we did, and gate Delta showed two green arrows either side indicating us to proceed through.
The river really starts to widen from here and there are quite shallow areas either side of the shipping channel marked by buoys. As we were travelling downstream we passed red buoys on the right and green buoys on the left. Some of these markers are a fair distance apart and only just visible with good binoculars, this is where the Navionics charts came into their own.
We continued to make good progress to the QEII bridge when we started to push against the tide. It was here that we realised the wisdom of those who told us to push on while we could. We were only 16 miles from Queenborough but as our speed reduced to under 4mph we were looking at nearly another 5 hours before we tied up. Ah well, nothing to be done now other than knuckle down and press on. The monotony was frequently broken as huge container, grain, fuel and gas ship some 200m long passed us in both directions. As with the catamarans in London, we were pleasantly surprised and very grateful as these huge vessels travelling at 20mph gave us a lot of room and reduced their way as they passed. Even so the effects were certainly felt. If they wash was approaching us the tactic was to steer into it, this helps reduce roll which is not so nice, but has the effect to producing a great plume of spray over the bow onto the cabin roof. Exhilarating is one word to describe it! As a ship overtook us it’s wake had the effect of picking Anticus and sort of surfing us forward. At first this was a bit disconcerting but as we realised our Piper was built for this sort of stuff, we enjoyed it more and more.
As we approached the Medway and our turning towards the Swale and Queenborough Harbour the shipping channel spilt with the huge ships steering left and heading out to the English Channel (the same rout we will be taking in a few days), whilst we took the right hand (starboard) route. As we got into the mouth of the Medway, we started travelling upstream and consequently to red boys changed to our left and the green buoys to our right. This isn’t as confusing as it sounds, but does concentrate the mind a bit, which is no bad thing.
As we approached Queenborough we radioed on VHF Chanel 8 and asked to moor up. And so 10 hours and 70 miles later we arrived at our morning for the next few days. Now we just have to wait for a wether window that allows us to get to Calais. At the moment this looks like it maybe Monday 7th. Fingers crossed.
Well, firstly apologies for not writing on here for a month or two. We were off Anticus during August more than we were on her! This included a wonderful cruise around the Western Isles of Scotland on the magnificent Hebridean Princess. Wonderful new friends made from Nicola’s extended family, and the chance to roam around the bridge and engine room of a proper ship! What’s not to like?
Anyway, September was spent on the lower / mid Thames and getting ready for the annual Piper Boats show at Henley. If you click on the link there is plenty of information there.
Today, 4 October, I am sat at Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. The wind is gusting quite strongly hence the reason I am not getting any closer to Calais for a few days. Fingers crossed, Monday is looking ok. Let’s hope so.
Yesterday Alan of Piper Barge ‘Plan B’ and I successfully brought Anticus from Teddington Lock here to Queenborough. It was both of our first time on the tidal Thames! It was a fantastic, if long day. Here are some of the things we saw on our way.
I was just sitting in fabulous sunshine at Marlow, with the bridge and the Church just downstream of us, thinking what a great 5 or 6 weeks we have had out on the river watching the world go by. Nicola has had a couple of trips home for appointments and to check her son’s had managed to keep the house in some sort of order. I, though, have not left the boat other than shopping, the odd pub and restaurant and a walk with Alfie.
We have basically travelled from Shepperton to Wallingford and back, a trip that would take around 2 hours in a car, and has taken by the time we get back to home, around 2 months on the barge. Fabulous!
The boat has behaved wonderfully and we seem to have snagged everything before our next great adventure – taking her across the English Channel in September.
By way of a change, here are some captioned photos of some of the things that have caught our eye.