Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Paddington arrives in London

Left Woolverstone at 7am on Thursday morning and had a long but beautiful sail down the coast and entered the Thames in the late afternoon. Continued on to pick up a mooring in Gravesend halfway up the Thames at 8pm and settled in for the night to ready ourselves for our sail into London. We waited until 11am on Friday morning for the 3-4 knot tidal currents to turn and sailed speedily along the Thames with a 15 knot wind from behind. At around 1pm, we were suddenly approached by an unmarked speedboat with four menacing looking men dressed in black safety suits and helmets. They pulled up alongside and identified themselves, to our relief, as customs agents. Despite their looks they were very friendly and teased Emma as we filled them in on our plans. They left after about ½ hour with a very cheery wave and a small comment of regret that the they always seem to target the wrong boats.

Our excitement grew as we approached the Thames tidal barrier and I busied myself in re-checking our Reeds almanac for the seemingly strict radio protocol for crossing the Thames tidal barrier. After reminding Seb for the 7th time to let me know when we were at Margaret Ness so I could call in and ask ‘permission to proceed’ I finally got the go-ahead. I took a deep breath and radioed in our intentions and was instructed to proceed through the ‘Golf barrier’. As we motored through the space-age looking barrier we were suddenly surrounded by the city, big skyscrapers and structures of every shape and size. Continued along until we came to Greenwich and crossed the meridian with me and Emma fore and Seb and Macsen aft. Macsen was wriggling about in a makeshift crib in the cockpit dressed appropriately in a yellow Paddington bear hat. At 3pm we arrived at Tower Bridge, an amazing sight from a sailboat. Just next to the Tower Bridge is a small secret door in the wall of the Thames. This is actually the entrance to the locks at St. Katherine Docks and it opens only at high water. We waited on a bumpy mooring buoy until the secret door opened and we were able to enter the tiny locks with footbridges on either side. St. Katherine Docks is a pretty little harbour surrounded by fancy shops and restaurants, luxury apartments and full of ducks and coots and enormous carp swimming about to entertain the monkeys. Unfortunately, a large ugly hotel blocks the view of the Tower Bridge only 200 metres away but even this does not spoil the location.

Martijn, an ex-colleague of Seb’s who has become a good friend came down to the docks to welcome us. He is working for Skype in London at the centre of the Web 2.0 world and brought us up to date on all of the latest trends in the world of internet technology including ‘augmented reality’ and ‘virtual goods’. We put the kids to bed together and then took the baby-phone to an Italian restaurant next to the dock with a view over our boat to continue our discussion there.

Seb’s mother, Wouter and Linda arrived on Saturday and we spent the day walking around Notting Hill under the guidance of Martijn, and finished the day lying about in Hyde Park while Emma and Martijn cavorted about. We spent a really nice weekend taking very long walks around the city, eating huge meals and generally enjoying the feeling of sleeping on our rustic little sailboat surrounded by a huge modern city. Seb’s family left on Tuesday morning and Seb felt the need for a little cheer up so he filled the cockpit with water and Emma and Macsen splashed about in their birthday suits. Well, Emma performed very important chemical experiments with her buckets, scoops and the outdoor shower and Macsen squealed insults when she sprayed him with cold water. Hard to believe that this charming activity took place in the middle of London.

Our last day in London was spent touristing about to see the changing of the horse guards and to visit the London aquarium. Emma was fascinated by the fish, touched a starfish and gave Macsen a very knowledgeable explanation of how turtles work. We had a wonderful dinner with Azita and Amer. Azita was Seb’s ‘exchange’ when he worked in the Richmond office of eBay in 2006 just before Emma was born and we have stayed friends with them since. Amer gave Seb some new fishing lures and waxed eloquent about the finer points of both fly and deep sea rod and reel fishing. They also gave us some excellent tips on how to get the most out of our trip (“only do the amazing things”) and thrilled us with some great descriptions of their travels in South America. Amer left Emma with an important but little known fact; “Your hair grows faster when you sleep. Mermaids have very long hair because they sleep a lot, that’s why you never see them.”

Tomorrow morning we are off to visit my grandmother and ‘great uncle Owen’ in Hereford where we will celebrate Macsen’s first birthday.

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