Catapult cruising the tidal Thames:
September 2018

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Indian summer sunshine and warmth opened the way to a final Catapult cruise, down the lower tidal Thames.

The launching place was a little ramp at the tip of the Isle of Dogs with smooth sand (placed there to make a beach by the contractors for the residential block?)  building  the boat amongst the high-rise apartments.

  (Right:  About to launch, opposite the Cutty Sark and the dome of the Victorian pedestrian tunnel under the Thames.)

The WSW breeze was due to give only 8-10 mph through the day, so the plan was to run downstream with the tide, turning as the ebb died.

From launching, the first stages were through the sweeping S-bends around the Isle of Dogs and Greenwich Penisula.

 A sailing challenge soon obvious was that the hardened embankments on these stretches reflected the wash from other craft (the fast catamaran commuter boats) back from the bank into the stream, to give steep crossing and standing waves, able to be coped-with the tide assist.

Above: Past the cliffs of the Canary Wharf complex; unsurprisingly the wind coming round it died, puffed, and swung. The tide assistance took me round the corner (below) past the O2 Arena, barges, and the marching residential towers growing beside the Arena.

   (Above) After the next straight stretch the Thames Barrier loomed up, hospitable to small craft unable to radio in for permission, and with a wide passage on the starboard side, taken easily with the wind and tide. The broad industrial Thames opened out, wide even at low tide with broad mudbanks either side. (Below)  A plane dips  into City Airport  over new residential blocks.       

(Above)  Passing the Ford factory at Dagenham, and (below) the river very wide, with scattered industrial development. I ran down to Erith (with the sailing club out at slack water) before the turn back on the making tide, beating back easily up the long wide stretches and through the Thames Barrier again (with a sailing barge going downstream though the channel on the other side.)

(Above) The ship which I gave careful precededence to through the Thames Barrier, with Canary Wharf in the distance, and the cable car across the Thames (one of the white elephants of Johnson's mayoralty, but intriguing to sail beneath.)

Then back past 02 and Canary Wharf, nearing Greenwich with (above) the first part of the fascinating Greenwich. waterfront: (left to right) Georgian houses and pub along Ballast Quay, then the power station built to run London's trams, looming over the 17th-century Greenwich Hospital for seamen replaced by the grand Naval Hospital (below, left) and a Mississippi paddle-steamer passing Cutty Sark.

The westerly breeze, which had picked up in the stretches tacking back up to the Isle of Dogs, started to fade and the plan to continue upstream to Tower Bridge as an iconic destination looked increasingly unwise ... easy to get there with the sweeping tide, but with the possibility of being stuck upstream. So it was a matter of turning back, running slowly down stemming the tide (below) to the launch place opposite Greenwich Hospital and the clipper

Alastair Forrest


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