Part 31

We departed from Rochester across the Thames Estuary, all hope of taking photos or video footage of our historic departure were gone, as the blanket of a dark dawn wrapped around the boats. I contented myself with sitting quietly on a chair at the end of the wheelhouse and attempted to be invisible as the booming voice of Alan continued to shout instructions to his crew. I got the distinct impression that I was in danger of being given an instruction I did not understand, therefore totally out of character I choose to remain silent.

Slowly the blanket lifted and I could see Misterton bobbing up and down in the waves behind us. As the line of vision increased as the dawn broke around us, I was surprised to see we were in the middle of the sea, I could only make out land on one side, I idly wondered where we were as I thought we were going up the river Thames, a place I would be able to see land on both sides.

‘Simon are we on the Thames?’ I asked trying to give across an air of nonchalance to hide the inner panic that we were lost at sea.

‘We are crossing the Thames Estuary first then we’ll join the river, exciting isn’t it?’

‘Yes.’ I replied wishing I’d paid greater attention to the route.

The weather suddenly diverted my attention and distracted me from further thoughts about the directions, an almighty wind blew up and started to blow the tug boat about, the wind created water waves that seemed to rise up and eat the tug as they crashed above our heads on top of the wheelhouse. I begun to notice that the door seal was loose in places as water found its way through the cracks and started to cover me, I zipped up my coat and was grateful that I had worn a full thermal suit, as I was beginning to feel cold despite the layers. I momentarily let my mind drift to the way I had envisioned this trip, Simon and I in summer wear, I as a self confessed sun worshiper was lying on deck watching the water drift past as I sipped on a gin and tonic, back to the harsh reality, no gin, no sun and freezing cold surrounded by waves larger than the tug and I begun to pray for our lives.

I then remembered that Misterton was on tow behind us and hoped she was still there bring held in place by some heavy duty ropes. I turned to look out the rear window of the wheelhouse, and I caught my breath as the waves that were eating the tug appeared to be swallowing Misterton, miraculously she was still attached, and I watched fascinated as she kept disappearing from view hidden by the sea, I looked to Simon and smiled in what I hoped was an encouraging manner. Surrounded by professional crew and the only woman on board I felt that now was not a good time to show the total panic ~I was feeling inside. Our new home was being tossed across the sea like a feather, and the years of work that had taken place so far could be sunk beneath the waves. I decided to occupy my mind by videoing it, no one was going to believe the size of the waves if I did not produce evidence, after all the weather was not awful, there was just a ferocious wind at play.

‘Seems quite choppy at the moment,’ I said to Alan, ‘is it often like this?’

‘This is not too bad, choppier that I’d like but it will calm down once we are on the river,’ Alan said still at boom level. The amount of noise being made by the engine and the waves was equivalent to a poor quality Drum and Bass nightclub with the bass turned up extra high and I now understood why he spoke at a continuously loud level. We were forty five minutes into the trip, it was going to be a long and loud day.

We joined the river Thames much too my relief as this was where Alan said the waves would disappear, and I waited to start enjoying the view, and I waited and I waited.

‘We are on the river now?’ I asked.

‘Yes we certainly are.’

‘When do the waves drop?’ I asked feeling proud of my nautical weather terminology.

‘Not sure,’ Alan said. What did he mean ‘not sure’; I was convinced he had given his word that the waves were only on the estuary. If he wasn’t sure that was a bad sign as he was a pro surely? ‘The thing is,’ he boomed, ‘the wind is blowing against the current on the river and creating waves, once we go through the Thames barrier it should calm down.

‘Is that far?’

‘Maybe two or three hours, depending on how strong the wind is’

I smiled at Simon and Alan, in what I hoped was a convincing manner. Alan had switched on the boats sat nav system that showed what was on the bed of the river, and was skilfully manoeuvring the boats around any hidden dangers and pointing out the fish. I decided to watch that and keep videoing whilst ignoring the fact that the size of the waves had not diminished at all. No one else seemed concerned and there was a lot of interesting things we were going past.

We went under the Dartford bridge in Kent, a project that I believed my Dad had worked on when he was alive and shared this with Alan. The next point of interest was Tilbury docks, this was where Simon and his family has sailed to on their arrival from Canada, and Simon was able to entertain Alan with tales of his transatlantic voyage. Perhaps this is where his love of boats was born, and I was amused to realise that despite all his jokes about my Essex roots, Simons first steps on UK soil would have been in Essex.

Once we past Tilbury, the wind calmed down and the size of the waves diminished, this must have given Alan confidence in his crew, he set them to take over steering, and ushered us to the cabin in the bow of the boat. There he had prepared a full English fry up, as I don’t eat meat I had one of the bagels Simon had prepared earlier but joined them for a mug of tea.

It occurred to me that Simon and I were good sailors as the water had been and was still rough and we were happily tucking into our first food of the day. This was a good thing and boded well for future trips. All of a sudden Alan sprung up and ran up the stairs cursing the crew, leaving Simon and I alone to finish our breakfast.

‘How are you babe?’ Simon asked.

‘Alright,’ I replied, ‘although I’ve been surprised at the size of the waves, and amazed I didn’t get sick.’

‘Me too,’ said Simon. ‘I was worried about you, but every time I look at you, you are smiling, are you enjoying it?’

‘I am, although some of the smiles are definitely nervous smiles.’

‘I think the worst part is over, we’ll be at the barrier soon and then we will be going through the heart of London with Misterton.’

‘I’m looking forward to that.’

The crew then came down to clear up the breakfast dishes so we returned to the wheelhouse and continued the journey with confidence and feeling fed and warmed.

Alan became quite chatty so clearly the worst of the waves were over. We discovered I was a similar age to his daughter who he was clearly very proud of. He told us the story of her birth and then different anecdotes from his life on the water. I was really beginning to enjoy myself now.

‘Here’s the barrier,’ Alan said, and I picked up the camera and started filming, this was yet another project my father had worked on, and taking the boat past all his work somehow made Dad feel part of our new adventure, I was sure he would be proud of Simon and I, and probably would have been keen to join the trip.

Alan said he would slow the boat down while we went through the centre of London so that we could go out on deck and use the cameras, this was great and clearly he was warming to us. My phone beeped and it was a text from our friends Piran and Loretta asking how near to Tower Bridge were we as they were going to wave us through. I asked Alan and he said about half an hour so I sent a reply.

Simon and I went out on deck and marvelled at the change in view of all the sights that were so familiar to us and yet looked so different from the river viewpoint. I was also surprised by how much traffic there is constantly on the river in London, and began to see why it was one of the busiest in the world. The volume of boats does not really register when you are walking along the Thames path,  but when you are in a tug towing your new home behind you the number seems to significantly increase, and I was pleased that we had someone as experienced as Alan guiding our home.

We passed Greenwich, the heritage moorings that had rejected Misterton because we changed the wheelhouse, and then there was Tower Bridge, one of my favourite parts of London. When I was single and long Sundays were looming I would often catch the tube to embankment and walk along the river, crossing over at Tower bridge and the walking all the way back up to Waterloo, past the NT, NFT and the Festival Hall, I’d also pass the Oxo tower and think that one day I’d go there with a handsome man. Simon had taken me there for lunch on our second date and I had been very impressed. It had been a beautiful sunny September and we had sat out on the balcony, watching the boats go past as we sipped Gin and Tonic, all of our early dates had some water or boat connection, I hadn’t realised that nearly exactly three years later we would sail past the Oxo Tower with our new home. The one place I still had to go for a drink was the bar at the top of Tower Bridge, that day will come. As we went under the bridge on the tug I was filing and keeping an eye for Piran and Loretta, then as we passed to the other side we spotted them and waved like mad things, I felt like a child at Christmas, it was amazing to be on the river with our home and waving at our friends. I was really enjoying the day now.

We continued up the river, passing HMS Belfast, Big Ben, Millennium Wheel, houses of Parliament and Battersea Barge the boat we had one year earlier held our wedding reception on. This part of the trip flew by as everywhere you looked was a picture postcard, or another memory of times gone by, dates with Simon, boat hunting with Simon and I remembered why I had loved living in this city so much. There was always new things to do and new experiences to be had. I could not quite believe that very soon I was going to be living on the Thames on our barge. Look where the world of the internet had got me, somewhere I would never have predicted for myself, but a life that I was really enjoying.

Before meeting Simon I had planned my life from one holiday to the next, enjoyed spending time with friends and trying to have as many experiences as I could, with Simon I still did all that but the big change was that we were planning the life we wanted to live together. We had spent time making the boat the way we wanted, looking for a mooring where we could live, saving towards a future that meant we could finish the inside of the boat to be the way we wanted, and create not just a home but a lifestyle. Inside I knew the next time we were on the tidal Thames we would have undertaken a lot more work on the boat, and we would have undertaken further boat training, but I also knew it was really going to happen.

As we approached Richmond lock to leave Tidal Thames I smiled at Simon and told this was a brilliant trip, nothing like a trip on the water to ground you.