The forecast was terrible. The rain had started coming down in sheets and the wind was up big time. We were forecast to heavy driving rain with 70 to 80 knot gusts. Lovely barging weather! Vrijheid cleared Teddington soon after 0700hrs, neither of us excited about the days prospects ahead but were driven on by the realisation we were getting closer to home and also the prize of a clean hull survey did help us to rise to occasion.
The rain did abate by the time we reached Chiswick so we just had the wind to contend with. We were going to fly down the river down river again. The flow was ffffast compounded by an outgoing tide and by the time we had passed through London and checked in with London VTS for barrier clearance it was only 1104hrs. We elected to moor off Margaret Ness and wait for the full tide before entering the Creek. So time for another quick snooze.
1415hrs we slipped our lines and entered the creek calling forward to ensure Katie would be in attendance to open the barrage gates to let us in. Moored with engine off 1450hrs Time for a Cuppatea. Journey into the unknown, now known, and well over for another four years. Time to catch up on some sleep and the chatter from the moorings in our absence.
23rd & 24th November
Early starts with more of the same except Friday Stephan arrived with the anodes along with Colin and between the two of them worked feverishly to get the anodes welded on before the dry dock flooding time.
Saying our good byes to Stephan, Colin, John, John the dry dock master and Tom we slid out of the dock at 1415hrs, moved up river to come about and head for home an hour later than planned but at least we would make Teddington before dark.
Rain during the week had further raised the river, the yellow boards were out and we later learnt the red board came out up river later that day. This was to be a hell-on-wheels, hairy fast trip, and it was. We were in Teddington, moored with the engine off at 1350hrs. That included two locks and the delay in buying the return licence at Sunbury lock. Physically drained and mentally knackered from concentration of helming a 42 ton floating missile, especially through Richmond we put all the gear away and returned to Chiswick to collect the car, Caroline had earlier taken there from EA Sunbury, and drove back to Barking. Leaving the car at the mooring we trained back to the ship close to exhausted and to bed.
Arrived 0715hrs and after a welcomed cup of Caroline’s hot strong coffees all round the hull survey began in earnest. By 1500hrs with the ultrasound and hammering complete we waited for the verdict. The chalked readings on the hull looked most promising but then historical pitting readings need to be taken and adjusted against the ultrasound readings for a final surveyor’s decision. A CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH. No over-plating required. We were close to tears with relief. We have a number of dear friends have not been so lucky resulting in thousands of pounds worth of plating being required to the min. of 3mm. Thank the Lord for anodes, regular surveys and a fine hull to start with. Such a relief. Saying our goodbyes to both John and Stephan John and I we got down to the dirty bit, applying two coats of tar around the wind waterline, over the round chine to underneath the ship. We would tackle underside the ship tomorrow. All in all great progress for the day thanks mainly to Stephan’s speed and invaluable help from John his yard lad of whom we would have been lost without. Again the light started to fade and as both of us were already feeling muscles that office workers have little calling for starting to ache, we closed up and left site for the day on real high.
Arrived 0715hrs ready for action. The river was flowing and by its speed I would estimate it would not be long before yellow boards would be out. Fortunately the entrance to the dock is designed for an upstream approach but it is still tricky when your aft is some 20meters into the stream and Vrijheid does not have a bowthruster. I’m relying on Caroline’s fantastic fender work to offset the lack of bow manoeuvrability. As it turned out we entered the dock like professionals and after the quarter lines were equally secured, draining the dry dock commenced. Time for a cuppatea and a wait for an hour. Having been here before John marked the position on the ship for the last trestle to ensure we did not foul skege.
I had the hull water blasted by 1330hrs and a call to John Bowan the surveyor, as previously arranged, suggested we would be ready for him at 1400hrs and would assist in chalking up the hull and walk through much of the interior information gathering and inspections as required.
All the anodes at the aft of the ship were depleted. They were smaller than those we used on the remainder of the hull but at least they had done their work. Not helped by us now being in brackish water though as they were for fresh water. Stephan Fritz arrived to start the hull inspection and suggested we change to aluminium anodes all round. Order placed and with little else any we could do for the day with fading light we packed up and let the hull to dry overnight in preparation for the ultrasound and hammer survey tomorrow , all departing at 1530hrs for digs off site.
Back onboard last evening triumphant. What a game, what a stadium, what an experience. The All Black won. OK we are biased! With the task ahead of us playing heavily on our minds we took solace from the boys at the Chiswick RNLI Lifeboat Station when we could see no change in direction of the flow with low water estimated at 0927hrs. Their view was we should proceed with caution as the draw-off compounded by the extra flow from last weeks rain would not change the direction of the flow until closer to high tide. It was now 1000hrs and we had places to go, so elected to push on toward Teddington relying on the echo sounder. Arrived Teddington 1246hrs, with plenty of water below the keel. Thanks Guys, what value is local knowledge, and so freely given.
There was only one high point of this phase of the trip that being Richmond Road bridge. The stream was so strong through Richmond and with this part of the river being narrower than upstream, the water height difference between the downstream and upstream of the bridge was astonishingly noticeable. On entering the centre span and under full power, the bow of the ship rose up as does a ski boat under acceleration. Our speed almost depleted to zero over ground giving me flashes of “what if”. (A fall back is to reduce power and slide back in the water to tie up to a steamer pile below the bridge and wait for the incoming tide. This manuover is tricky, for even the seasoned skipper but the stream would add an extra dimension I did not want to be forced to entertain). Our dry dock booking was for the following morning at 0730hrs and the full tide was after twilight so we both watched the wall of the arch for positive forward movement, willing Vrijheid on as we inched forward eventually clearing the bridge and thankfully gathered speed again. Huh!
1310hrs we cleared Teddington Lock and pressed on for EA Sunbury arriving 1500hrs to catch a mooring directly outside the lock gates ready to the next morning. It was great to catch a brief chat with John and Tom before we closed down the ship 1550hrs ready for an early morning start.
Mention boat survey to any barge owner and note the immediate winced face best likened to one that of one who has just sucked a lime and most probably accompanied by a rapid sucking in of air at the lips. As a classic old barge you can possibly sympathise with us for you have already been through the experience.
To the uninitiated arm chair barge owner, enter into one of the few downers of living on water. Experiencing the wrath of the surveyors hammer, ultrasound instrumentation and the meticulous application of ever tightening regulations. Should plating be called for the bills start mounting. Anodes are friendly and can save such expenditure.
As we barge owners know, most insurers demand a four yearly out of water hull, machinery and plant survey to renew cover. This is usually a costly “pleasure” of which the vessel owner settles all accounts including in our case the added cost of taking holiday allowance from our respective jobs to deliver the vessel to the dry dock and on completion of works return her to the home mooring.
Costs rapidly build having signed contracts with both the surveyor and dry dock. One is yet to add to anodes and hidden underwater essential maintenance that is only seen in the dry dock. We were both present when the dry dock was emptied and as the water receded, I likened it to possibly draining my bank account. We would replace the anodes as the new mooring is in brackish water and we will also take the opportunity to re-tarring the hull to just above the wind water-line, as many times as the week will allow.
We have always booked the EA Sunbury dry dock for a number of reasons to include it is one of the few facilities one can hire and carry out your own works, not to mention it is also completely covered from the unpredictable English weather. John, the dock master, is most obliging, as is Tom his sidekick.
The day was overcast with little breeze, in Barking. The forecast was for scattered showers and temperatures around 13 degrees C. We slipped our lines 0835hrs and with Katie already in attendance at the barrage gates we set off for Chiswick using the last of the incoming tide to suck us through London.
An uneventful trip of some four hours and we moored on the commercial pontoon at Chiswick Pier with engine off 1230hrs. Stowed the gear, packed for a few nights away in Paris to see the All Blacks play and put our heads done for a knap.