I wrote the title of this post 3 months ago. That should give you an idea of the kind of job we’ve undertaken.
Renovating a dutch barge is no mean feat it turns out my friends. Approach with caution!
It began back in April, when we glided (see bumped) gently out of South Marina with a hardy crew of 5 at 4am on a rather misty morning.
It was the time of the fabled pollution cloud, which paraded itself across the tabloids in lieu of any real news for the course of one week or so.
As we left the dock, the gates of Southdock hauled themselves open and Vertrouwen was let loose onto the great wide darkness of Thames, preceded by an orange football which drifted out ahead.
The Lawyer and I are both exceedingly anxious. We’ve just bought 29.54 hollow tonnes of steel, with no true certainty of the state of the underside and are about to sail (well… the skipper will sail) her along the murky waters of Old Man Thames up to the estuary over the course of 8 hours without any assurance that she is up to the task.
It’s worth a mention here that by buying Vertrouwen ‘in the water’, that is to say without a full survey of her hidden regions, we are taking a huge leap of faith/risk. We had access to a couple of previous surveys, the last dating from 8 years previously (note boats are to be taken out of the water to check their hulls every 5 years) and had had an ‘in the water survey’ so, although not an entirely a lunatic move, it was fairly dodgy.
It’s 4 am and our slim number, made up of Super Skipper Stefan, Engineer Extraordinaire Alex and Uncle John, the Lawyer and I, fire up the Gardner and move at a stately pace down past Canary Wharf, Greenwich and towards the mighty Thames Barrier.
The lights onboard aren’t all functional, but the tide is with us, the engine is strong (and smoky) and the conditions are good.
It seems now that the crew are getting peckish. The fridge, like the lighting is out of order, but is stocked with the makings of an excellent English fry-up. In an attempt to keep my team happy and prevent mutiny, I have decided to attempt a full English brekkie on the go. I don a miner’s torch and head down to the galley, light the stove and try, in semi-darkeness to beat some eggs, fry some bacon and grill some juicy tomatoes. The boat is wallowing now as we hit the Thames proper and glasses are tumbling off shelves as I beat the eggs.
After 20 minutes, the eggs and I both arrive into the wheelhouse, scrambled. No-one is as impressed as they should be.
We are fairly short on fuel so have arranged to meet a fuel barge en-route to top up. It turns out that time-keeping is not the forte of these fellows and we hang out in the middle of the river for a good while waiting for the barge to turn up. The fuel handover is short and sharp and we’re on our way.
Exhausted by the breakfast, I feel it’s my time for a nap. Our cabin is in the bow, right where the prow is pushing through the waves. You can feel the water charging up and around the bed and the thunder of the engine doesn’t help but I am shattered.
I wake up to find us in the midst of the pollution doom cloud. The Lawyer, Uncle John and Stefan have taken it in turns to steer her and are relieved when I turn up eager to take the wheel.
I soon find out that it is very boring to drive a boat in the middle of a pollution cloud. There’s nothing to see but some fairly gloomy looking tankers and brown water, the banks of the river are invisible. The route is plotted out on an Ipad and it’s a bit like a computer game, you are following a red line to and there are no baddies only buoys. The wheel moves between being super sensitive to stubborn as an ox without any real reason and soon you find yourself veering wildly towards the shallows. This is a heavy gig.
The toilet breaks. We are forced to resort to the ‘honey bucket’. I am not a fan.
Then 7 hours later Rochester comes into view and with it the shipyard that will serve as Vertrouwen’s home and hospital for the next few weeks. We chugg towards it passing a few castles and wobbling some lovely little fishing boats in our wake.
We moor up beside the slipway and 2 hours later a team of 5 men in overalls arrive, pirate-like and take control of the vessel, hooking her up to an enormous winch that drags her out of the depths onto dry land.
Beached. She seems bigger than ever. Angled at 45 degrees more glasses tumble to the floor.
I am absurdly grateful/proud that we have made it.
The toilet overflows.