Monday, 1 October 2012

Back on the Barge

Mum having had her 'turn' at holidays, it was Dad's turn to have a break from us all here on the 'farm' so it was almost inevitable that he'd choose to spend some time with the Thames Sailing Barge Cambria. The old girl is between charters these 2 weeks, so is moored on the big new floating pontoon by St Andrew's Wharf in Gravesend. The charters are for young carers 'respite breaks', youngsters who spend most of their non-school waking hours looking after disabled, blind or sick parents, siblings or other relatives and are rescued by the Rotary Club for a week each year to have a complete break from these onerous duties and go play on a sailing boat while the Rotary funds a replacement carer to fill the gap.

The intention had been for the barge to go on display to the public on 'the wall' (the concrete quayside) at St Andrew's Wharf, but as the barge was coming into the Thames the weather took a turn for the worst and fierce squally winds meant it would be dangerous to try to come alongside on such an unforgiving structure and the barge diverted to the pontoon with a plan to move to the wall when the weather calmed down. That side of the pontoon can not be opened to the public. Dad had intended to join the volunteers showing the barge off to the public but now only had to man the barge at night for security reasons, like a night watchman of old. He would be free to wander about town etc during the days and spend some time away from the barge to visit Pud Lady, (brother) Tom and friends.

Mum dropped Dad to the Knock Airport on Monday 24th from where he flew to Gatwick, collected the hire car (Seat Ibiza) and drove round to Gravesend to park in the Port of London Authority (PLA) car-park and find his way aboard down the new pontoon. This proved OK except for having to hop over a padlocked barrier but the barge keys were in the prescribed hidey-hole and Dad was able to get in, open the aft hatch, climb down the companionway (all familiar territory even in the pitch dark) and find some light switches. The fridge was well stocked with milk for coffee and with food from the previous charter, so supper was easy and the Captain's Cabin was set up with duvet etc. The Cambria Trust Ops Manager (Rob Bassi) dropped in briefly to check all was well but then left Dad to it, rocking gently in the swell from the storm.

Morning dawned sunny and mirror-calm. Incidentally, you can see on the 'full barge' shot here the black plastic kestrel kite which hovers very realistically  above the pontoon keeping the nasty poo-y pigeons off. Behind the scenes, the 'management' were now trying to get the barge onto the wall or to the inside of the pontoon where it could be open to the public, but Mr Insurance Man (and common sense) says you can only move the barge when there is a qualified skipper aboard and we needed the back end of an ebb tide to do the job. These days possible Skippers are our Master Shipwright, Tim Goldsack, or one of the two charter Skippers, Richard Tichener or Ian Ruffles. The first to come available was IR and he not till Thursday's afternoon ebb tide. This meant Dad would just have to amuse himself through Tuesday to Thursday lunchtime, with no public to show the boat off to, so it was going to be a relaxing break. There were occasional visits from fellow-volunteers like Dave B and photographer Jason A and from Rob Bassi again and then Chairman Bruce Richardson and there are plenty of eateries and pubs in Gravesend, especially the Rum Puncheon and the Three Daws which are right on the River. The Three Daws does a rather fierce chilli con carne!

On the Wednesday Dad heads for Hastings to visit Pud Lady and his own brother Tom for a long chat and lunch. He returns via Challock where he can drop off some genuine peat turfs (from John Deere Bob's bog) to Irish chum Rona, who'd been missing the smell of peat fires. From there to Boughton to drop in on another chum, Mazy-Lou and then Faversham to visit ex neighbours Angel B and Jim and then newly married Diamond and John. Back in Gravesend and on board he is joined by a gang of the former painting-volunteers, Dave B, Mrs Dave B and 'Mum' and Owen P for a trip to a Chinese restaurant for an 'all you can eat' style meal.

Thursday was the day for moving the barge, so they were joined by Skipper Ian Ruffles and Mate Denis Johnson. The short version of this task’s description is that you let the barge drift backwards off the pontoon while controlling the drift with the thick mooring warps (ropes) and then, when the bow is clear, put the helm over so that she slides sideways in the current till she’s line up with the other side of the pontoon, and then winch her back up against the tide using the dolly line. Needless to say it’s not as simple as that and there’s a lot of preparing by, for example, hauling the barge-boat inboard, then nipping about letting go one rope and making fast another, setting ropes up so they do not tangle on bits of pontoon, fending the barge off the sharp corners of the pontoon and, of course, heckling Ops Manager Rob Bassi (red overalls) on the pontoon. Also hauling up the anchor, taking the outboard back off the boat and squaring away ropes etc at the end.

In this, a pic from  Jason A, on deck (l to r) are Denis Johnson (admiring the view while dangling a fender ‘bladder’), Skipper Ian Ruffles keeping an eye on things and issuing instructions, Dad taking up some slack on the big yellow and black warp and Dave Brooks giving it some on the dolly line, a surprisingly strong but thin cord. Looking at it, you’d not think it could start a 90+ ton barge into forward progress against a 3-4 knot tide flow, but it did with Dave leaning on the windlass. All good clean fun!
Thursday night had Dad and Dave B heading for Hoo Marina to see if they could find and photograph the only known Galway Hooker in Kent, Ray Rush's 'An Dreoilín' (The Wren) and to visit Dave's barge-model builder father, Tony. 
That brings us to Friday and the end of a nice break. Dad repacks his stuff, retrieves the Seat Ibiza from the PLA car-park and returns it to Hertz in Gatwick, grabs a breakfast in one of the cafés and waits to be called to his gate for the flight home. Mum brings me to Knock to meet Dad so we can all have a happy excited re-union. Brilliant holidays!



mazyou said...

Was GRATE to see you!

redshoe said...

great to see the dreoilin there kept well ..