A Bridge Over Troubled water

Tower Bridge, built in 1892 from  over 70,000 tons of concrete. Clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone. This is to protect the underlying steelwork and to give the bridge a pleasing appearance.

Plan A

Along with some friends we planned a trip on the Thames with the idea being  to cruise through central London to the Thames barrier and then back to St Katherine’s Marina at Tower Bridge for the evening.

We set off on the ebb tide from Brentwood Marina heading west, down river. A slow meandering journey enjoying the sights.

All is going well as we get to Westminster Bridge where all hell is let loose. We find ourselves dodging huge commercial barges, high speed water taxis, huge RIBS and a plethora of wide beam cruise boats.

We live on the South Coast and so we are use to the commercial traffic in the Solent but this is a navigation nightmare. However we make it to Tower Bridge and onto Greenwich at which point the tide turns.

All plans to reach the Barrier are now scuppered as what I can only describe as a tsunami hits us. We have forgotten that it is a Spring tide,  one of the highest tides of the year and there is no slack water in the Thames. It goes from quite calm to boiling surging frothy eddys in a blink of an eye.

River Thames
River Thams

Plan B

We make a decision that as we have an hour before the lock at St Kats Marina opens we will take refuge on the inside of one of the water taxis pontoons. OH BIG MISTAKE! So strong is the flow of water that it rips our central cleat clean out of the boat. The spring line it’s attached to snaps back like an elastic band just missing hubby. We think we would be safer in the midstream so we make our way back out into open water and slowly back to Tower Bridge.

St Katherine’s Dock is just below the bridge and has a few mooring buoys to tie up to and wait for the lock. The marina is tide dependant.

St Kats Marina
St Katherines Dock

I gingerly made my way to the bow armed with a rope and boat hook. The tide was racing in. Wearing a life jacket made it difficult to lie on my front over the bow of the boat in order to lasso the buoy and I dropped the rope. Hubby unaware of this is at the helm fighting the current and decides to get closer. He swings the boat around unaware of the loose rope, which promptly wraps its self around the prop and cut the engine. We are in a 8 knot tide, no power and heading for the buttress of Tower bridge. Not good news.

The Rescue

Remember what I said earlier about 70,000 tons of concrete and granite?

Our friends, sense we are in trouble and put out an emergency MAYDAY call. The next thing we knew 2 Thames police boats turned up with full blues and twos. “A fouled prop” I shouted. The entire stretch of the Thames between Limehouse and London Bridge was brought to a complete standstill. We were thrown a rope, which was thick enough to pull the Queen Mary and towed into St Kats lock where we could untangle the engine.

Thames River Police
Thames River Police

As with all boating incidents, spectators had been bused in. Bear in mind that  it was August bank holiday and there were hundreds of Japanese tourists on the bridge capturing us on every smart phone imaginable. People are 5 deep on the lock side and all armed with cameras. Facebook and Youtube are going to be busy tonight night. We are going viral!

I thank the officers and apologise for the inconvenience. Traffic is still stationary and backed up on the river.

“You will be amazed at the amount of fouled props we get darlin’” says the officer. “All sorts of rubbish gets thrown into the river, you’re lucky that it wasn’t a steel cable or a body! Mind you we do get a few idiots that get tangled up with their own rope. Bloody amateur sailors”.

Redfaced, I just didn’t the heart to tell him.


Swinging from the Hook

Swinging from the hook is a colloquial saying meaning to Drop Anchor
Anchors are a pretty important part of any boat. They keep it in place out in the open sea. They bring up mud and discarded shopping trolleys at inopportune moments and anchor lights are designed to discharge all batteries before daylight.
The vast majority of anchors that you see on the bows of boats in the marina are woefully inadequate.  Your £200-£400 anchor is going to be holding your £25000-£500,000 boat, so spend more money if you need to.  Most boats come with rubbish anchors, even new from the manufacturer!
Anchoring is a form of art and needs practise to get it right.

Choosing your Anchorage

You cannot simply lob the hook out willy nilly where ever you feel like it. The south coast waters are littered with potential hazards such as under water cables and submarine barriers. Marine protected areas are a considerable “verboten”
Ideally, your anchorage should be as flat as a mill-pond as any swell will make it extremely vomit making.  If the boat starts rolling, things seldom get better.  Get the heck out of there  and seek  alternative anchorage.
The sea  has  challenging bottoms. Mud, clay, weed, sand and rock. You need to choses an area where you anchor will bite. The best surfaces are sand or mud, which allow the anchor to dig in deeply. however a nightmare to get the blasted anchor out of again. Rock and weed or shingle will provide a less secure holding and will require either a good anchor alarm or someone on constant lookout.


Nothing to do with partner swapping! All boats will swing as the wind or tide changes. Your boat should have room to swing through a 360 degree arc, without hitting  nearby boats.
As you approach a busy anchorage, every eye will be on you, praying that you are not going to invaded their swinging circle. Mind you after a couple of stiff Bombay Sapphires, anything is possible
Don’t be shy about picking up and moving if you come to rest too close to another boat.  You will know if you are getting too close as there will lots of bad-tempered shouting and your neighbouring boats will be chucking every available fender in your direction.

Not Enough Scope

An anchor functions by digging in while it’s being pulled along, horizontal to the sea floor.  For this to work, there needs to be enough rope or chain out that the angle of the force is mostly along the floor, not up and down.
It’s surprising how many times you see someone throw out the anchor and then tie it off as soon as it touches the bottom.  How could a 15 kilo anchor hold a 1 tonne boat by just resting on the mud?

 Tide and Wind

In areas with significant tides, you need to have a general idea of the current state of tide and the highest and lowest tide during your stay at the anchorage.
Check the highest tide, nothing more embarrassing to find you don’t have enough rope to let out as the tide rises.  Also check the lowest tide and make sure you’ll still be floating!  Living life waiting for the tide to come back in at a 45 degree slant is not Fun. Champagne glasses simple slide off the table
Often, if the wind starts blowing hard, it will also blow in one direction, so you can forget about your swing circle but you will need to let down more weight. When the wind starts whistling in the rigging at 3am, you’ll go up top to find everyone in the anchorage letting out more scope in their underwear and headlamps.


If you’re anchoring with all chain, then you have a very strong but rigid system that will shock load the anchor. Your boat will snap back and forth on the rope with a large clanging noise. At  3am it’s like Chinese water torture and you will spend the night talking to the big white telephone in the heads.
Snubbers are not antisocial people but energy absorbing pieces of rubber you thread onto your mooring lines. Well worth the money.
If you avoid the  mistakes above, you’ll be able to have many confident, sleep filled nights knowing you’ll be right where you expect to be when you wake up in the morning.
Finally, we were leaving a popular anchorage on a sunny afternoon. We spotted another yacht leaving but he had not hauled his anchor in completely. It was swinging  precariously off his bow threatening to puncture his gelcoat.
I stood on the topside yelling and pointing “your anchor, your anchor”
He just calmly turned round and gave me the 2 finger salute, not quite sure why. You just can’t help some people.

Grab Bags

Anyone who knows me, recognises  I have a bit of a Mary Poppins handbag. Enormous, bottomless, full of impractical  “crap” and completely useless in an emergency.

No one wants to abandon ship, but knowing what to pack in  grab bags could one day make a short stay in a life raft more bearable and might even save your life

You need to chuck out the sticky fluffy boiled sweets, the crumpled tissues, odd loose change, leaky biro and pack these essential items instead. Remember you will never ditch in a warm mill-pond calm sea under cloudless blue skies. It will be dark, cold, blowing a hooley and hissing down with rain.

Essential Items

Handheld VHF
Essential to communicate with the rescue services.  A DSC-enabled VHF with integral GPS would be a great help. Waterproof and floatable is useful Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Navigation tools
A handheld GPS will let you communicate your position accurately to a potential rescuer, as well as work out your drift rate.  A hand bearing compass is a good back up. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Reading glasses
Essential to peer at the tiny buttons on the radio in the gloom – Cheap, flexible plastic ones will do. Poundland do a nice range. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
A good torch is important. Something waterproof and powerful. Essential to illuminate tiny buttons on radio. Pack spare batteries, cold water is notorious for draining power.. A strobe function is particularly useful. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Make sure it’s sheathed or is a safety knife . One of those multi tool knifes are useful. The type boy scouts use to get stones out of horses hooves. Cold wet hands drop things so add a lanyard to hang round your neck.
Hmmm. Remember they are classed as EXPLOSIVES. A decent strobe torch or one of the newer LED flares are a better idea. Not a good idea to hang them around your neck.
Some sort of high-energy food, like chocolate, as well as something that releases energy more slowly, like a fruit/nut mix, is good for keeping energy levels and spirits up. Keep them in the bag. Hanging them around your neck will make them go soggy.
Foil blankets
You may look like a ready basted turkey but they are essential for helping cold people warm up. They are not expensive, but could keep hypothermia at bay.
Personal effects
What is the point reaching terra firma if you can’t drive home, unlock the front door once you get there or being unable to call a taxi due to lack of funds and phone? Include your house/car keys, wallet, credit cards and mobile phone in the bag whenever you set off somewhere. Common sense but I guess most of us forget. I know we do.
A small pack-towel to dry off with, a hair brush and decent lippy, well have you seen some of these hunky lifeboat men??
Last but not least, a neck brace, you have some considerable weight around your neck.